OpinionatedDavid: The PewDiePie Scandal: Hate or Humour?

In the interests of full coverage of the story, this column contains description of content that some readers may find disturbing. Fair warning.

Well…that just happened.

This past week has been something of a rolling disaster for PewDiePie (real name Felix Kjellberg). For almost half a decade now, the 27 year-old Swedish vlogger has been undisputedly the biggest name on the internet’s supreme video-sharing platform. His channel is subscribed to by over 53 million people, and he was famously the first ‘YouTuber’ to publicise making over $1million in a single year as a result of his content. It’s is not unfair to say he is one of the most influential entertainers of our time, even if most people over the age of 40 have probably never heard of him.

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And yet, in a single week, PewDiePie has been dropped by Maker Studios (Disney’s online content publishing subsidiary), had his upcoming YouTube Red series cancelled by the platform, and been taken off the ‘preferred tier’ for family-friendly advertising by Google. Those are some giant names in the tech and entertainment business, now treating this high-pitched, zany guy who largely just screeches at video-games like the most toxic thing around. So, what on Earth is going on?

This scandal has actually been rumbling on for a while, but only recently did it catch the attention of the Wall Street Journal, who ran the story that has provoked such a widespread severing of ties with Mr. Kjellberg. It all traces back to a video PewDiePie published involving the website Fiverr (not a typo). The theme of the website basically involves people on webcam responding to requests made by their audiences in real time for the promise of small amounts of money (which, of course, is an idea that can only lead to good things, on the internet of all places). In the video, PewDiePie persuades a man dressed as Jesus to tell the camera that “Hitler did absolutely nothing wrong,” before persuading another two men to write ‘DEATH TO ALL JEWS’ on a sign, and hold it up while laughing and dancing.

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This has gone down about as well as anyone with a brain should have damn well expected it to, right before pushing that idea back into whatever diseased part of their mind it came from, and proceeding to do literally anything else.

For what it’s worth, I see absolutely no reason not to take Felix at his word when he says his intention was to “show how crazy the modern world is” (namely that he could get people to do literally anything for $5 on the internet). I don’t believe he is a Nazi, or an anti-Semite. However, where I take issue with the statement he has released in response to the backlash against him is where he states that he is “in no way supporting any kind of hateful attitudes”.

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Because you see Felix… you did. Objectively, that is what you have done. You may not have intended to, and speaking out now against the Neo-Nazi scumbags who are now attempting to use your content to claim legitimacy for their beliefs is somewhat commendable. However, I promise you that those same people do not give a damn what point you were really attempting to make. As far as they are concerned, you have given them ammunition that they will not hesitate to use, and no condemnation from you now is going to stop them. You have been a prominent internet personality for several years. You (should) know these people and how they operate as well as anyone. When are we going to stop giving these people cause to celebrate? We should all know better by now.

You screwed up. You should have known better.

I am saying all of this as someone who believes that, where comedy is concerned, there should be nothing ‘off-limits’. Indeed, some of my favourite comedians have mastered the art of pushing the boundaries of propriety. George Carlin, for example, could pull off telling a theatre full of people they were being stupid for washing their hands after going to the bathroom, and that was one of his cleaner (pun intended) jokes. PewDiePie, however, is not George Carlin. He’s not in the same league as Carlin or any of the other genuine masters of the craft. A comedian understands that jokes can be used as a skewer, to prod mercilessly at our hypocrisies and force us to confront taboos we’d rather not pay attention to. What comedy is not is a shield you can cower behind that renders all criticism of what you said invalid. Yes, Steve Hughes’ skit on the empty nature of being offended is both funny and apt, but Hughes’ never used that idea to try and shut down anyone who ever criticised his point, unlike the legions of internet edge-lords who have misconstrued it.

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Let’s take a moment to examine what the ‘point’ of PewDiePie’s joke was supposed to be. That people will debase themselves for money and fame, even tiny portions of it? Well gosh, Felix! I’m sure that’ll throw the masses for a loop, assuming of course we’ve all just woken up from a coma we’ve been in since 1995. Who is the target of the joke supposed to be, if not Jews or any of the other groups who suffered at the hands of Nazi’s? The people who you paid to follow your instructions to say and do offensive things? Here’s a tip for you: The ‘I’m with stupid’ joke doesn’t work when you’re the person engineering the stupid. You aren’t ‘holding a mirror’ up to anybody in that situation, not when you’re paying in to the same ridiculous construct that encourages their behaviour.

You know you’re no good at this. You’ve said it yourself, that you consider yourself to be a “rookie comedian”. Here’s the thing: You’ve had a lot of practice by now, so if you’re not getting any better at it, it’s time for you to stop.

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I have no doubt that PewDiePie will come back from this incident. Anyone can come back in this industry, and while losing such lucrative contracts is undeniably a big hit, he’s got a big cushion to fall back on. What’s more, the rate of increase in his subscribers has actually rallied in conjunction with the increased publicity surrounding him. If I were him, however, I would be concerned about exactly where those new subscribers are coming from. His career is far from over, I just hope he learns from the mistakes he’s made. If PewDiePie really doesn’t want to be seen as lending legitimacy to any kind of hate movement, the last thing he should want is to wind up with only hateful people rating his act.

But hey, that’s just my opinion, what’s yours?

Let me know in the comment section down below, on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Beartrails/ or on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/BearTrails

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bearsleuthWritten by: David Sayers

Edited by: Ivy Miller

Art Must Cross Borders That Politicians Close

Hey there. If this is the first column of mine you’ve read, welcome. If you were one of the people who followed the Bearsleuth team last summer, welcome back. Glad to be doing this again.

It’s awards season in Hollywood once again and the shortlists for the Oscars have been released. Originally, this article was supposed to be mainly about that, but recent events have pushed these things very far into the back of my mind.

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What’s really pressing on my mind right now is that director Asghar Farhadi, whose film The Salesman has been nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film category, will not be attending the event. This is because Mr. Farhadi is Iranian, one of the nationalities that, at time of writing, have been barred from entering the USA by the Trump administration under seemingly any circumstance. It has been suggested (though far from confirmed) that special dispensation could have been made for Mr. Farhadi. Whether those rumours are founded, he has declined to attend anyway as he feels allowances being made for him as an individual are hardly the point in the face of a much greater, nonsensical injustice.

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To be clear, my anger and shock extend farther than the treatment of Mr. Farhadi personally, as it would seem does his own. I have chosen to focus on him because: A) he provides a link between the currently dominant news-cycle and the world that I am used to commenting on in these articles; B) I need to tether myself to something specific right now so this article doesn’t just devolve into incoherent screaming; and C) banning an artist from entering your country when he has neither done nor been accused of doing anything wrong is one step away from banning the art itself.

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Hollywood is a realm of incredible privilege. You won’t hear me denying that; and yes, the preening stars of the red carpet may be not-unfairly seen as flawed idols in a fight against the injustices committed by the faeces-hurling gibbon and his oversized suit. They seem to be so shielded from injustice themselves, after all. However, they are not immune from attacks by those in power and we should all have reason to fear it. The people making acceptance speeches on podia across America this month all know how to make their voices heard in the back. The squatting, alt-right bloggers in the White House know this and recognise it as a threat. That is why ‘Hollywood Liberals’, along with the rest of the media, have become a prime target for their propaganda.

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I can’t help but see the treatment of Mr. Farhadi as a dark tiding of things to come in regards to the effect of politics on the arts. It’s true enough that not being able to attend an advertising convention for very rich people is far from the worst individual injustice inflicted by that sagging ape’s Executive Orders. I’m sure this won’t be the only time he will be mentioned here, as he continues to act like the bull to the US Constitution’s china shop. Nevertheless, it matters, and it matters that we fight it.

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I hope that on Oscar night, every acceptance speech mentions Asghar Farhadi by name and the Dorito-hued Duterte not once. I also implore everyone reading this to get out and see The Salesman if they can; not because it’s good but because it will be an act of objective good to make Asghar Farhadi a household name in America without him ever having to set foot there. Solidarity matters; and resistance to the, hopefully short, reign of the clammy stench of white-nationalism currently impregnating the White House can take many forms.

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When politics seek to regress and when politicians seek to isolate us from each other, art can always seek to render their barriers meaningless. Through it, those who believe in reaching across cultural divides will continue to do so, regardless of the physical barriers put in our way by those undeserving in authority. If their ego requires them to wall themselves off from a world that is bigger than them, a world full of knowledge and experience that they cannot or do not care to know, then on their own heads be it. They will be left behind to wallow in the stagnation they cultivate for themselves. They can tell us what to do, but not what to think, and art will help us keep thinking.

But hey, that’s just my opinion, what’s yours?

Let me know in the comment section down below, on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/Beartrails/ or on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/BearTrails

Also if you want daily BS remember to sign up for emails or follow with your WordPress account.

bearsleuthWritten by: David Sayers

Edited by: Ivy Miller

Adaptive Panels Presents… Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol. 2: Shadows and Secrets

(Sorry this is late everyone, I have been seriously burnt out this week. Hopefully by next week I’ll be out of this slump and back to my regular schedule.)

Shadows and Secrets does two things I never imagined would work in a Star Wars story: One, it riffs on Sherlock Holmes of all things; and two, it casts Darth Vader as Doctor Watson.

I’m making it sound like a parody, despite the scenario being played completely straight, and yet it works. It’s bizarre, but it works, and goes to show that a storyline genuinely comfortable with itself can make just about anything engaging, even making Darth Vader of all characters in many ways a sidekick in his own series. Okay, in truth it’s not quite as simple as that, but we’re still in very new territory. While Vader in a way has always been a subordinate (he is the Emperor’s apprentice and is technically outranked by most of the Imperial high command), throughout the Star Wars films he is easily the most threatening presence of any room he’s in, and acts like he knows it. He’s not the kind of character I expect to respect anyone as his equal, be they enemy or ally; and yet, on both counts, Shadows and Secrets proves me wrong.

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Overview


Shadows and Secrets, naturally, has a lot of twists and turns to unpack in its plot. As a result, I may be skimming over a lot of it here.

After busting another crime syndicate in the Outer Rim (because there can never be too many of those), Vader confiscates a mother-load of Imperial credits, and makes arrangements for them to be delivered to Grand General Tagge. However, he then secretly hires a band of mercenaries through Doctor Aphra to steal the shipment while in transit, making the raid look like an accidental collision in an asteroid belt. HOWEVER, he then has Aphra fake most of the shipment getting lost in the vacuum of space during the raid, so he only has to pay the mercenaries a tiny fraction of the original take, and keeps the rest for himself to finance his continued scheming.

I wonder what part of Anakin Skywalker’s Jedi training covered con-artistry?

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Reporting back to Tagge, a spanner is thrown in Vader’s plans when he is ordered, not to track down Luke as he had hoped, but to instead to investigate his own heist, Tagge’s intelligence having apparently seen through the ruse. To make matters worse, the man perceptive enough to suspect foul play, Inspector Thanoth, is assigned as Vader’s new minder. With an intellect to match, or possibly even exceed Vader’s, Thanoth proves to be far more of an obstacle to the Sith Lord’s plans than the last escort he was saddled with. Now Vader must find a way to succeed on three opposing fronts. He must find a way to succeed in his mission in order to score points with Tagge against the candidates to replace him, all the while removing any evidence that could implicate him from under Thanoth’s nose. Finally, he must also find a way of sabotaging his competition, as they target both the Rebellion and Luke. It’s a dilemma that pushes Vader’s cunning to the limit, and makes anyone close enough to him to be an asset also a potential liability. It isn’t long before Thanoth is hot on the trail of Doctor Aphra, whom Vader has sent to learn more about Luke and his whereabouts. Will loyalty to Darth Vader end up costing Aphra her life as surely as betraying him would?


Analysis

While the whole ‘Vader gets a supervisor’ thing in the previous book was such a short and ultimately meaningless detour I’m honestly not sure why they even bothered, here it’s the main thrust of the narrative, and so it’s incredibly fortunate that it works. It’s not quite perfect. There are a couple of occasions where Vader should come off as looking guilty as hell but Thanoth lets it slide. However, it’s also entirely possible that he’s playing a longer game, because hey, if your mission is to prove Darth Vader guilty of treason to the Empire, you probably don’t want to make a move unless you’re going to catch him red-handed. That’s what makes the relationship between these two characters fascinating. They’re both playing games with each-other to an extent the audience cannot be entirely sure of, and yet we know is probably going to end badly for at least one of them. Yet, throughout it all there’s a genuine undercurrent of respect. You actually get the sense that, even though he is an adversary, Vader genuinely likes this guy, as much as Darth Vader is capable of ‘liking’ anyone. Thanoth in turn is fond of the manner in which Vader conducts himself. This culminates in a moment where Vader has a chance to use Thanoth as a scapegoat in front of Tagge, perhaps ridding himself of this most stubborn obstacle, but chooses not to take it. Is he trying to get Thanoth on his side? Is he sending him a message that he’s got nothing to hide? Is it simply not how Vader operates to try and vanquish his opponents in a debrief rather than on a battlefield? Whatever the answer, it’s clear that both of these characters enrich each-other, and I’m eager to see more of their dynamic.

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Elsewhere, Aphra and the rest of Vader’s team that were introduced last time get somewhat of the short end of the stick. They’re still entertaining (Triple-Zero and Beetee in particular), they just for my mind don’t get enough to do. Aphra’s investigation doesn’t end up fielding anything that Vader doesn’t already know. Along the way, we get some back-story on her and are shown a little more about her nature, but to be honest I could have done with not knowing. The book even comments on itself that her ‘sob-story’ is nothing new, but the fact remains that her personality is more interesting if the audience is left to guess the reasons behind it.

I don’t want to nit-pick too much, but I can’t deny it’s easier to point out elements that fall short versus those that don’t, so as a final point I really wish Marvel, when given a whole galaxy to explore, wouldn’t take me to quite so many underground bars and gambling dens. I get it guys, the criminal underbelly of the Star Wars universe is a huge part of its law, many of its most compelling characters are scoundrels of one brand or another and a story like this in particular is ripe to exploit that. All that said, it is starting to get a little stale. You keep taking me to ‘new’ locales and then not showing me anything I haven’t seen before. A prime example here is when the various parties converge at a galactic holiday resort. When I saw that I was excited, because its something I’ve never seen the likes of in Star Wars before. However, all I ended up seeing inside was more shady drinking establishments and holochess tables. Really? Come on! You couldn’t have used your imaginations just a little bit? Is Darth Vader not allowed to go to the beach even once!


Conclusion

Despite a dew hiccups, Shadows and Secrets is an engaging and genuinely surprising read, and probably the best this series has to offer so far. Don’t hesitate to get your hands on it.

Do The Disney Remakes Get A Free Pass?

Well this week was a very slow news week indeed, at least as far as this space is concerned. Even YouTube hasn’t done anything particularly dumb since last Saturday (well, nothing new at least); and so, with only a few hours to go until I’m supposed to upload this article I’m still struggling to decide what it should be about, let alone what the most interesting angle to come at it would be. I very nearly decided to write about the ADL declaring Pepe the Frog a racist hate symbol, but even I have limits for how grumpy I can stomach being when writing these things. While we’re here, my only comment on the matter is this: If you know what Pepe the Frog is, and if you know why he has become seen as a symbol of hate, please do something better with your time. Get a job (if you have one, then get a better one); go to the gym; ask that girl (or guy) who serves you coffee out on a date; marry them and start a family; or go and conquer distant lands in the name of the Empire.

Please, do literally anything else, apart from asking me to comment on it, because I’m honestly ready to freewheel the rest of 2016 by now. I’ve had about as much as I can take.

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So, something lighter this week, to cleanse the palette? Oh hey! Jon Favreau, fresh off his directorial success remaking The Jungle Book, has just announced he’ll be giving the same treatment to The Lion King. That’s… actually fairly exciting, and the first time I’ve ever decided without needing to hear any more that I’ll be going to see one of these live-action Disney remakes. Although, does that term really apply here? Mowgli was the only character in The Jungle Book who wasn’t CGI, and I’m guessing The Lion King will push that up to 100%.

Previous attempts by Disney to re-sell ‘alternative’ versions of its classic and 90’s renaissance animated films, such as Maleficent, Cinderella and Tarzan, received mixed receptions; however The Jungle Book was widely lauded, and became the highest grossing movie of the summer in the UK, and I’d be surprised if Favreau can’t beat his own record with The Lion King. We all have our favourites of course, but Lion King is probably the movie of its era for Disney, so this is going to be huge, especially if Favreau goes for an accurate-as-possible retelling of the original, with maybe just a little bit of padding for act two. Simba doesn’t need to grow up entirely in the space of one musical montage in this one, but otherwise, as little extraneous elements as possible (Jungle Book needed them, Lion King doesn’t). Do keep the musical numbers though. Absolutely.

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While there’s no concrete release date yet, The Lion King will presumably follow on from Beauty of the Beast, Disney’s next effort starring Emma Watson as Belle. Now, I can’t say at this point if it will be a good film, but I can say, considering the public image Watson has cultivated since Harry Potter concluded, that it is perhaps the most perfect casting decision in the history of cinema. So yes, while I wasn’t convinced at first that Disney’s new line of live-action remakes would live up to their pedigree, it seems right now that they’re on something of a role.

It does give me cause to wonder though… do I, along with everyone else my age, give Disney preferential treatment? Entire generations of children have been practically raised by them after all, and regardless of whether or not you think that’s fine, do we now give a corporation a free pass for cashing in on our nostalgia, where we malign the rest of Hollywood, with its remakes; reboots; endless sequels and genre homogenisation, for lacking imagination? It’s no mystery why big studios want to remake every dormant licence they can get their hands on. We keep going to see them and making them profitable, and yet almost every time we do we complain. We complain that The Magnificent Seven is derivative and clichéd, with no aspiration beyond going through the same motions as its predecessor with today’s stars and production effects. However, when a remake dares to actually try and reinvent its source material, like Ghostbusters did, then it’s a betrayal of everything we loved about the franchise. Why the dissonance, one way or the other? What makes Disney so special?

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Now, I’m not one to object to capitalists taking my money so long as I’m enjoying myself while they do it. That’s how fair exchange works after all. So long as Disney can hold my attention for an hour and a half or more, then they’ve earned the price of my ticket; and as soulless and corporate as the monolithic Disney conglomerate is at heart, they haven’t managed to build and maintain their quintessentially magical image in spite of that fact without really knowing what they’re doing. As much as any production company that has ever existed in Hollywood, the Disney brand is and remains synonymous with quality, which is all they really owe any of us. That reputation may be in part built on buying out the achievements of others, such as Disney have done when they brought Pixar, Marvel Studios and Lucasfilm into the fold, however where other parent companies might have chewed up and spit out all of these names, under Disney’s wing they’ve continued to make good work.

Is that the end of the discussion then? Well, not yet, because I don’t think the odd remake is enough to mar Disney’s reputation for creativity, as well as quality. After all, it’s not like Disney has stopped making films for the current generation of kids, in favour of catering entirely to my generation’s nostalgia and disposable income. In fact, I’d go as far as to say the last five years or so have heralded a new Disney renaissance. Frozen revived and expertly subverted the princess genre; Wreck-It Ralph did the same for the Herculean Disney ‘hero’ all while being the closest thing we computer game nerds have ever had to a good game-movie adaptation; Big Hero 6 tackles grief, depression and acceptance, as well as showing children a vision of diversity and science as positive forces for a better world. Finally, Zootopia (it’s called Zootropolis here but for once I prefer the US naming conventions) turns talking animals into metaphors for racial profiling and affirmative action and never once lacks the confidence to pull it off. These films are creative, funny, bombastic, visually striking and important, both for children and adults, without ever forgetting that their target audience is very much the former. Yes, in many ways Disney is the last word in faceless, overbearing corporate entities, but in my opinion there really is no getting around the fact that they became the biggest by being the best, and they still are.

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Even within the remakes, there are signs that Disney isn’t content to just leech of its past successes. Maleficent, for example, retells the story of Sleeping Beauty from the perspective of its once one-dimensional villain, and can even be said to have been an allegory for rape survival. Whether or not this was a move that sat well with all audiences is beside the point and the reason why rage at remakes often confuses me. Yes, it can be frustrating at times to see Hollywood apparently so strapped of original ideas, but as I’ve said before that’s our fault as audiences for putting so much stock in brand recognition. If they didn’t make money, they wouldn’t get made. Regardless, if a remake is good, it’s good, and if it isn’t good, then so what? A remake never erases its source material from existence. The original will always still be out there for you to enjoy, so what does it matter if someone else’s attempt doesn’t measure up?

I could be wrong about all of this, but in any case, if there were ever a film studio in history that had earned the right to rest on its laurels, it would be Disney.

Okay Seriously, What Is WRONG With You YouTube?!

Oh YouTube, I was ready to let it go. I’d said my piece. You probably hadn’t listened but that was okay, because plenty of people with higher profiles than I were busy nailing you to the wall with the same arguments. Our point was made, and as far as I was concerned, we were ready to go our separate ways, and for me to move on to, I don’t know… attempting to comment as a white man with little to no experience of Polynesian culture on whether a children’s costume for an upcoming Disney film was racist or not? Yeah, that sounds like something I’d have probably been doing right now.

What happened? I’m genuinely interested. Did the interns get loose? Was it Larry the Office Gibbon’s turn to chair the weekly pitch meeting? Is somebody trying to inflate the fund of the Terrible Ideas Jar so you can really splash out on the Christmas party this year? I want to know YouTube, and you Google, what it takes to turn such monolithic organisations, employing a staff of thousands upon thousands of what I have to assume are adult human beings, in an industry lead by people we’re always being told are so clever, so breathlessly, window-licking, arse-from-elbow moronic with such regularity. The rest of us need to know so we can find you a cure for your stupidity, because it’s almost not funny anymore. You guys are responsible for a ridiculously large portion of online discourse, and I have to live here!

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You may have heard about YouTube’s new ‘Heroes’ initiative. If not, it goes a little something like this: In a minute-and-a-half long video uploaded this week, YouTube announced its intention to mobilise its own user-base to monitor and moderate content on the site. Those volunteering to be a “YouTube Hero” (and can you not just picture the kind of over-inflated Little Hitler who would actually put themselves forward for such a duty), will then ascend through ‘levels’ of power to police content in accordance with their performance, from subtitling videos to mass flagging them for takedown, along with certain ‘perks’. This is, again, a likely well-intentioned approach to addressing the very real image problems some areas of the site have been garnering in recent years (‘Don’t Read The Comments’ has practically been YouTube’s unofficial motto going on a decade now). However, if you’re already raising your hand to ask who on Earth thought it was a good idea to turn to the community who’ve made YouTube such a wretched place to be in the first place and ask them to fix it… then you obviously have more common sense than whoever had final approval over this hare-brained scheme.

So how is this plan going so far? Well, at time of writing, YouTube has had to disable comments on its own announcement video, due to the tide of very negative feedback it’s received, as well as mass down-voting.

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In case this initial response hasn’t convinced the architects of this lunacy that their idea is dead on arrival, let me try to cover, as succinctly as I am able, all the rotten, nonsensical bases of this initiative…

Firstly, being on online moderator, or a translator, or any of the other duties our new Heroes are expected to cover, is in most places considered a real, sometimes full-time job. A company as wealthy as Google should not be asking its own customers to do its job for it for free. That’s the sort of thing that last week I would have assumed was obvious. Remember those ‘perks’ I mentioned before? None of them are paid. In fact, from what I can see they seem to almost entirely consist of ‘opportunities’ to attend seminars to advance your skills as a moderator. So, even assuming a Hero actually does a good job and doesn’t abuse their position, their prize will be… more unpaid work to do. We’ve barely started but that alone should be enough to kill this idea in its crib. I mean really! Who thought this was okay?! If you want people to act like professionals (and God knows in this case you need them to), then you have to actually treat them like professionals.

Also, just as a matter of interest, if you want good law enforcement, the first thing you need is good laws. While YouTube has a terms of service agreement, naturally, it’s so vaguely written, poorly visible and inconsistently enforced as to be essentially meaningless, and doesn’t even begin to cover a lot of the site’s most recent problems. Even if you believe that a citizen’s militia is a good way to establish order (it isn’t, by the way), without a meaningful rule of law to enforce in the first place, they’re just gangs of people with proverbial nightsticks.

Assuming YouTube bother to address that little snag, what assurance do both viewers and content creators have that these rules and their enforcers will work for the community? Despite YouTube faux-casual presentation of the idea, ‘Heroes’ will stop being ordinary users the moment they are given power over the rest of us. Will they then be forced to give up their anonymity, so they’ll be visible to the people they’re accusing, and so people with accusations to make can engage directly with them? For their sake I hope not; but then doesn’t that present a bit of an ethical problem if the people responsible for ruling the community are anonymous and therefore unaccountable? Say I wanted to appeal a decision (assuming I even can), will I be allowed to see who I’m appealing against? Will I be able to talk to an actual person, such as their supervisor, or will my complaint just be entered into an automated, behind-the-scenes labyrinth as happens with Content ID claims? Hell, would I even be informed if I was penalised at all; or, as was the case with their recent ad-friendly initiatives, would posts/videos be removed without warning or notice of any kind, giving the offender no opportunity whatsoever to defend themselves?

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One last question: Why am I even asking? This is YouTube, I think we all know how this is going to work. This move has been compared to giving everyone in town a gun and a badge because the Mayor couldn’t be bothered to organise a proper police force; and… well yes that’s exactly what it’s like. I would go further though. I would say that this is creating a town full of deputies with no Sheriff, and the town charter is written on the back of a napkin… that’s had coffee spilled all over it… and been buried down a local mine-shaft.

‘But David!’ I hear the bootlickers cry ‘It’s too soon to judge. The Heroes will obviously be supervised. They say Hero levels will only be increased on merit after all, and Wikipedia has managed with volunteer curation for years!’

Okay well, supervised by who; a higher level of invisible moderators, free to interpret propriety as they wish, or by more bots? Neither inspires me with confidence. Also, that raises the obvious question: If volunteer moderators need to be moderated by higher, presumably employed moderators, why can’t YouTube do the bloody job themselves, you twits!

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Oh, and Wikipedia? Seriously? What kind of fever dream have I slipped into where people are sincerely holding up Wikipedia as an example of sensible curation? Wikipedia, which is known far and wide for having the exact opposite of that; where feuds between users frequently ruin articles; where corrections of their mistakes are unforgivably slow; and where the general volume of shoddy work has left the brand with less than zero credibility. Wikipedia? Spare me!

It’s clear to me at this point that YouTube is in dire need of new direction. A complete rethink of its managerial philosophy is what’s required. Its bosses obviously don’t want YouTube to be the Wild West anymore. They have too many corporate sponsors to afford to let their community run rampant; and yet, somewhere deep down I think they still see YouTube as ‘new media’, an outsider free of constraints where anything is possible. I’m sorry, but that’s just not how it works anymore, if it ever did. YouTube is big, it’s corporate, and it has the attention of the entire world, so meek half measures when it comes to managing its image won’t cut it. You need moderation? Hire an actual moderation team! Make them visible and easily contactable by the community at large, and make the rules that they are responsible for clear and well published. Enforce those rules strictly and consistently, but give the opportunity for those accused to defend themselves before they are punished out of hand.

None of this is impossible. It’s not even complicated. It’s common sense, and what websites with good reputations with their communities have been doing for years. If YouTube wants to clean up its act, first it has to get its hands dirty.

Adaptive Panels Presents… Star Wars: Darth Vader Vol.1: Vader

Hey, with a subtitle that creative you know it’s good…

In all seriousness, yes, Darth Vader Vol. 1 is good, living up to the bar of quality set thus far by this Marvel series. It’s better than Skywalker Strikes, but in many ways presents me with the same problem.  In the way I’ve mentioned before that nobody needs me to tell them that Star Wars is good, that goes double for a story entirely focused on Darth Vader. I mean, come on! It’s Darth Vader, perhaps the greatest cinematic villain ever created, and the benchmark to which all others have, and will, be compared. There exist no adjectives here, he’s replaced them! I genuinely cannot think of the words to describe to a complete Star Wars virgin why this character has become perhaps the most iconic in all of popular culture. Fortunately, I don’t need to, because unless you just came out of a coma you’ve been in since 1966, you already know!

And just in case you really have just come out of a 50 year coma, and for some reason my ramblings are the first thing you’ve tuned into, here are some things you should know: This thing you’re on right now is called The Internet, and it’s great… most of the time; we landed on the moon, that was fun; the Berlin wall came down; and, what else? Oh yeah, Star Wars was awesome and Darth Vader was the most awesome thing about it!

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So yes, if my babbling didn’t tip you off, I’m finding it kind of difficult to expand on simply telling you that Vader doesn’t disappoint the legacy of its namesake. I reckon about tw-no, three shots of whiskey should do it. I’ll just be a moment…

Overview


Vader’s story-line runs roughly in parallel to the events of Skywalker Strikes, and after the destruction of both the Death Star and Cymoon 1, the Sith Lord appears to be on something of a losing streak. The Dark Side does not forgive failure, and so Vader is called back to Coruscant to answer to the Emperor. After making it very clear that his apprentice is on thin ice, Palpatine puts Vader under the orders of Grand General Tagge, the new supreme commander of Imperial forces, and sends him off on a mission to re-secure the Empire’s supply lines. Vader, however, suspects that his new duty is meant to get him out of the way, so Palpatine can replace him, and he’s not so far under his Emperor’s thumb to take that lying down.

Before he can do anything about it though, Vader must escape from under Tagge’s control. Tagge proves to be a far less accommodating boss than Tarkin, considering both the Death Star and Vader himself to be vanity projects when next to increasing the strength of the fleet. He assigns a young officer to tail Vader and evaluate his every move, on a mission to take out a pirate space station, which Vader suspects is getting intelligence from an Imperial mole. Vader accomplishes his task; and all too conveniently uncovers Tagge’s officer as the mole, freeing him up to pursue his own agenda.

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Next, Vader starts building a small team from outside Imperial ranks, to avoid any information getting back to the Emperor. He recruits Triple-Zero and BT-1, a pair of droids who operate as a psychotic reflection of C3PO and R2D2, as well as doctor Aphra, a rogue archaeologist with an… appreciation for violent people and droids. They journey to Geonosis to recover a company of old battle droids from the Clone War, and then on to a station, built into the carcass of a live space-whale on the edge of the galaxy (and that’s a sentence I never thought I’d say), where Vader believes he will find and put an end to his replacement.

However, when they arrive, Vader discovers Palpatine has been on to him this whole time, and allowed him to make his way to the station in order to begin a set of trials against other cybernetically enhanced warriors, to prove he’s worthy of retaining his place as the Emperor’s right hand.

Analysis


If there’s a big problem with Vader then it’s a common one found in most arc-beginning books, in that it feels like mostly set-up while providing very little pay-off. What action is here is just fine, but the final brawl the book spends all its time building up to isn’t actually final at all, and none of Vader’s opponents spend enough time on the page to really get a handle on whether they’re going to be interesting or not. In any case, if you’re at all familiar with Star Wars, then you know the outcome of this contest must be a forgone conclusion, so it’s hard for me to get invested about any of it. Hopefully the following books will make it worth my time, but for now it’s fortunate that Vader has a lot else going for it.

There’s really no getting around it, Doctor Aphra is the stuff fan-fics are made of. A young, attractive, rogue scientist and adventurer who probably also writes love letters to death row inmates in her spare time meeting Darth Vader? The hormones practically leak out of the page…

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Actually, no. Don’t think about that too much.

To the book’s credit, it doesn’t go so overboard with this that it becomes icky, and jokes aside it’s actually a fascinating dynamic. This is a scenario where the limitations of writing expanded universe fiction are a help rather than a hindrance. Obviously, the relationship between these two characters can’t actually amount to anything, because we already know how Vader’s story ends. The comic does an excellent job of letting Vader’s moments of silence, and the fixed expression of his mask, do the work, allowing the reader to, well, read into them. However, regardless of whether or not Aphra really is stirring the ghost of something human in him, he’s not going to change, and if he did she probably wouldn’t like him as much. These characters are on an inherently destructive collision course, and they both know it… and they’re both just crazy enough to roll with it.

Another interesting relationship is that of Vader and Palpatine. In the original Star Wars trilogy, it was always left as a fairly open question just how loyal Vader was to his master, versus his own interests. In The Empire Strikes Back, he seeks to turn Luke to the dark side in the name of overthrowing the Emperor. Is violent usurpation just the nature of the dark side, that places so much stock in hate, cunning and ambition, or are Vader’s objectives personal?

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It was a question the prequels raised, and never answered, that irritated me (when I bothered to think about the prequels at all). Why would Anakin Skywalker, after his rebirth as Darth Vader, bother to keep doing Palpatine’s bidding when his original reason for betraying the Jedi is lost to him? It can’t be gratitude for saving his life, not after what his life has been reduced to, and it’s not as if Vader is overly invested in the success of the Empire. Victories of the fleet and gains of territory are mundane compared to the power of the dark side, which is the only thing he openly shows any reverence towards. Most of the time, it just seems like his position gives him an excuse to take out his rage on the rest of the galaxy, and that’s the closest thing he has left to a will to live. However, when Vader finds out that Palpatine has been considering replacing him since long before the Death Star, he seems to feel genuinely betrayed. This is shortly followed by the discovery of Luke’s real identity, and the book seems to interpret this as the moment where Vader truly understands what his relationship to his master is, and the first moment where he desires to be rid of him. Could it be that Vader has for all this time still been clinging to the image of Palpatine as a father figure, and only with the knowledge of his own fatherhood does he realise how ridiculous that idea was?

Conclusion


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If you think Darth Vader is cool, read this book. If you don’t, then I find your lack of faith disturbing.

(P.S. Apologies for the delay. Normal scheduling should resume next time.)

OpinionatedDavid: Has Adblock Plus Crossed A Line?

We seem to have something of a theme rotation developing on these columns don’t we? I swear it’s not intentional, but the topics that rear their heads for me to cover seem to go in couplets. We had twin entries about DC getting pie on their face; followed by two weeks of uncomfortable conversations about the nature of free expression;, and now, we’re in our second week of advertising related nonsense online. Any bets about what’s coming next? Reboots? New console hardware? Maybe a double-bill of gushing over Disney announcing a live-action Gargoyles movie?

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Shut up! It could happen, you don’t know!

Time for me to get to the point. Adblock Plus, sellers of the leading browser extension of the same name (the function of which should be self-explanatory) have recently announced a new feature of their service known as the “Acceptable Ads Platform”. In partnership with Google, among others, this platform will allow certain advertisers that meet Adblock’s standards of acceptability to buy their way through the filters of the software, meaning those ads will be seen by end users ever when they have Adblock turned on. Adblock Plus then gets a tidy cut of the revenue from said ads, naturally, with the rest going to the advertisers, with a further division of that sum presumably, at some point (it’s really not very clear) finding their way to creators who host ads on their content as a way of making a living. If that all smells a little funny to you, then it might be because a similar business model in the outside world might be called a protection racket.

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So yes, after years of building a brand on shutting advertisers out of the loop and denying creators revenue, Adblock has decided ads are a-ok by their user base after all… so long as they decide they like you… and so long as you pay up. As you can imagine, this news has not gone down so well with everyone, particularly with content creators who had a dim view of Adblock to begin with. In their view, Adblock Plus has spent years enabling consumers of their content to consume without any money getting back to the person who worked to create it (as well as nurturing what some of them see as a consumer culture that inherently doesn’t value their work and feels entitled to everything for free), and is now proposing to make even more money by cutting in to the creator’s share of what ads are allowed to get through. While we’ll be getting into how I don’t necessarily agree with all of that, I have to admit that if I were them (which I may well be before too long) I’d be pissed off too.

Adblock, for their part, have been quick to marshal a defence against the backlash. Their line is that they’re not just trying to make money off ads, they’re trying to improve them. They site market research that claims only 25% of their user base wouldn’t tolerate any ads on the pages and video’s they view, and that by filtering through ads that meet their standards of legitimacy and unobtrusiveness, they will be allowing the ad-supported model to carry on while still delivering a quality end user experience.

Now, once I’m finished washing the marketing spiel out of my mouth, it would be remiss of me not to concede that they may have a point…

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To uncomfortably confess, I am an Adblock Plus user. I took me a long time to throw in the towel and install the browser extension, but ever since I have I can barely conceive of going back under any circumstances (a testament to just what a difference their filter makes to the end user). The reason I was originally reluctant to jump on board was primarily a huge technophobic streak, if we’re telling the truth, but there was a point of principle in their somewhere too. I cannot agree with the sentiment that using blockers is ‘stealing’ from creators. It’s not. It objectively isn’t. For one thing, ads or no ads, the experience for the end user is free to begin with. You can’t steal something that you weren’t paying for in the first place. However, it does still feel kind of morally grey in its own right. I wanted to see creators who I valued getting paid for honest work, so I stuck it out… until I didn’t anymore.

The more conscientious of creators will publicly admit that ads are can be terrible. Not ‘inconvenient’, not ‘irritating’, a terrible, ruinous experience for the end user. I caved to Adblock the moment I realised I was starting not to enjoy anything I was trying to watch or read anymore, as the advertising grew more and more intrusive and skeevy. If nothing else, a lot of users have come to see blockers as the most effective security measure their browser has. I may have felt guilty doing it, but neither can I say I regret it. At the end of the day, the consumer has a responsibility to get the best possible deal for the consumer, and nobody else. You can’t blame people for acting in their own best interests, and as a consumer, Adblock Plus has been a Godsend to me. That does not mean, however, that I am against adverts wholesale. So long as they stay at the margins where I can easily ignore or skip them when I choose to, I can tolerate their presence, which is the kind of vision Adblock Plus claims to be offering.

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Of course, that’s the theory. I may have said something last week about corporate entities not having a native moral compass of their own, and Adblock Plus is most certainly one of those. I have a hard time just taking their word for it that they will choose what ads they let through with care based on what I want (or rather don’t want) to see. They are out to make as much money as they can, and I have little doubt the ad space beyond their filters will be sold to no more or less than the highest bidder. The only thing that will keep that philosophy in check will be the tolerance of the end-users not to switch to different software if the ads start annoying them.

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I could end the article here, just giving Adblock Plus the middle finger, but in all honesty, I don’t see them as an outright villain here. Oh, I’m sure they don’t care that they make a living screwing other people out of theirs, but hey, welcome to the Free Market. In the end, their service wouldn’t be popular if end users didn’t hate ads; and as I’ve already covered, I can’t blame users for hating ads either. I don’t even blame the advertisers (not the legitimate ones anyway). They’re also just filling a gap in the market. So, does that just leave the content creators at fault for taking the money of underhanded advertisers? Of course not. Besides, it’s a fair assessment that the reason ads got steadily worse and worse over the years, was that the rise of blockers made the advertisers more desperate for our attention, and creators more desperate for money as their content became less profitable, driving them into the arms of advertisers with fewer moral scruples.

It’s the system that’s the real villain. The ad-supported revenue model stinks. It’s always stunk since long before the advent of the internet, and it brings the worst out of everyone involved. In my view, creators need to explore whatever other avenues are possible to free themselves of advertiser money, and consumers who value their work need to support them in that endeavour if they truly want to see the back of shitty ads, as it’s clear now that even ad-blockers aren’t immune to the temptation of ad-money. Paid subscription and merchandising models have been around for a long time, and user-donation models such as Patreon are on the rise. Despite the laws of self-interest, it seems consumers when given the option to decide for themselves what content is worth, actually do want to see creators get a fair deal. I know I do, and whenever I’m able to make up for my use of Adblock Plus by paying out of my own pocket for the things I like, I do so. I think it will be for the mutual benefit of both creators and consumers going forward for this trend to continue. Not so much for the advertisers or the ad-blockers, but hey, we’re all just looking after our own interests.

So long as there exists something in the world to be sold, advertising is probably never going to die, but I for one wouldn’t mind seeing its influence diminished as much as possible in the future.

…That was this week’s OpinionatedDavid!!! Check back tomorrow for a new VuePoint!!!

OpinionatedDavid: It’s Time YouTube Had Some Competition.

YouTube, I’m about to say a lot of things that are not very complimentary. First of all, however, I have to thank you…

I’ve tackled some pretty heavy topics recently. Topics that are by their nature delicate and that my own views on are conflicted; and, because I have no desire to be an obnoxious, wannabe shock-jock, I’ve handled these subjects with care. I like to think I’ve done a decent job. I haven’t censored my honest views for fear of offending, but I have chosen my words carefully because that’s what the subject matter deserves. Going in-depth about sensitive subjects is valuable and rewarding, but also exhausting. On the other hand, it’s refreshing and fun to have a subject to dig into that I can be unapologetically enthusiastic or furious about, and this week YouTube, when I needed you, you provided.

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So thank you, and what the fuck is wrong with you?!

So, to clue in everyone who doesn’t go to YouTube regularly, a quick clue-in. YouTube recently updated its parameters for monetising videos (where advertisements from outside companies play on the creator’s videos, in exchange for a fee of which the creator gets a cut). We don’t get to know exactly how recently, because YouTube made these changes with absolutely no announcement to its user base, and has since been de-monetising videos, also without informing the channels in question, for being advertiser un-friendly.

Now, to be clear, as a private business YouTube is absolutely entitled to set and enforce whatever terms of service it wants (more on that in a bit), but if the company cares about nurturing trust between them and the user base that rely on them, and visa-versa, then those terms need to be communicated, they need to be consistent, and they need to be clear. These new parameters are just the latest example of how YouTube, for a long time, has been failing on all three counts.

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For starters, these parameters read a lot like bollocks! A ‘helpful’ list of highlights for content that is considered bad for ads by YouTube includes, but is not limited to:

  • “Sexually suggestive content, including partial nudity and sexual humour.”
  • “Violence, including display of serious injury and events related to violent extremism.”
  • “Inappropriate language, including harassment, swearing and vulgar language.”
  • “Promotion of drugs and regulated substances, including selling, use and abuse of such items.”

And finally…

  • “Controversial or sensitive subjects and events, including subjects related to war, political conflicts, natural disasters and tragedies, even if graphic imagery is not shown.”

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Now I really, really shouldn’t have to explain what’s wrong with that list, but considering there are still people out there earnestly defending YouTube on this one, allow me to elaborate. With the possible exception of point number four, which seems to be relatively clear and concise (regardless of whether or not I agree with it), what the hell is most of this even supposed to mean?! “Sexual humour”? What, are we talking Carry On or Archer? “Events related to violent extremism” plus, well, everything in point number five, seem to suggest that advertisers are apparently too delicate for the news. Finally, and I assure you this is not coming from some Red Pill, phoney-free-speech crusader, words like “suggestive, inappropriate, vulgar” and most importantly “controversial”, much like ‘offensive’ are, when used in the context of policing content, left entirely up to the adjudicator (assuming a human is even in charge of enforcing these rules) to interpret the parameters of their meaning. That. Isn’t. Good. Enough. And has already lead to creators with video’s talking about their depression and other delicate personal subjects having their video’s penalised without any discussion. If YouTube is going to allow advertisers to pull support from videos that may contain content upsetting to the sensibilities of their target audience (which they have the right to do even if I do find it pathetic) then specific, detailed boundaries are vital to creators that rely on advertising. The way YouTube went about this, those creators didn’t even know they were being penalised for weeks, and even now YouTube has deigned to grace them with an explanation, it leaves far too much open to interpretation, and the language specifically gives them the power to go beyond even these boundaries into more uncharted territory for whatever reason it likes.

Of course, this has led to accusations flying left and right of YouTube trying to enforce some kind of political agenda by ‘censoring’ certain content. For what it’s worth, I don’t think that is the case, and the very fact I’ve seen people on both political wings accusing them of favouring the other side convinces me that YouTube has no political partiality here. I’ve had it suggested to me that this is YouTube’s way of ‘going after’ unscrupulous channels that are bringing the brand into disrepute. Now look, I would be the first person to cheer at the demise of the so-called ‘Drama’ community, or the ‘prank’ artists, but I don’t buy it. For one thing, if YouTube cared about shutting down that kind of content, it could just do that. As I said, YouTube is not the government. It has no obligation to uphold free speech, so by definition it cannot violate it. De-monetisation is absolutely the most toothless and cowardly way I can think of YouTube trying to clean up its act. There’s nothing in here about introducing some actual moderation into their infamously unpleasant comment forums; nothing in these rules that would catch out actual con-artists like the CSGOLotto guys, and all other unsavoury channels big enough to be harming YouTube’s brand have other revenue streams to rely on, such as sponsored video’s and merchandise, if they get their ad money taken away. I promise you, this will do nothing to help YouTube’s image.

No. If there’s an agenda here, then it’s simply a pro-corporate one. YouTube is putting the concerns of its corporate partners ahead of the needs of its community, which is sad but unsurprising. Something more traditional media outlets on television have been doing for decades, but also something I had hoped new-media was helping us grow out of. YouTube, it seems, would rather become the system than define it, chasing advertiser money all the way into the traditional network TV model of milquetoast, dumbed-down, wallpaper-paste content, and why wouldn’t they? While network TV has spent the past half a decade getting its arse kicked by online streaming, YouTube has no real competition to worry about. Other online media players exist of course, but to put it bluntly, most of them suck. Like its parent company Google, YouTube has cultivated a brand that defines its entire medium, to the point where any independent online video-maker is called a ‘Youtuber’. So, much like how it screws over creators with overzealous and unfair Content ID measures that pander to corporate copyright interests, YouTube can afford to leave its community in the dark and without a voice, because where the hell else are they going to go?

It’s time for that to change. No, YouTube does not need to ‘die’ as some have hyperbolically suggested. Despite its faults, it took over the industry by being far better at what it does than anything else, and there’s no reason to burn that legacy down. YouTube is a corporate entity. Objectively, it has no soul, no native moral compass, and so there’s no use loving or hating it any more than there is in hating McDonalds, Microsoft or Apple (actually that’s a bad example, Apple can burn in hell).

I’m not an anti-capitalist; I just don’t fool myself into believing capitalism can ever be benevolent. YouTube, like any other business, is driven by profit, and right now its business model relies on corporate partners a hell of a lot more than it relies on you as a member of its community. The only threat a business faces from its customers is the threat of them taking their custom elsewhere, and so it is vital, even for creators who would always be loyal to YouTube, that that option exists. YouTube may not get money directly from creators or their audience, by they are an attractive corporate property because of the monopoly they have on their market. If more services emerged, perhaps pioneered by former big Youtubers who want an environment less creatively stifling, then YouTube would be forced, for the first time since its conception, to actually compete for our attention.

Overcoming that inertia will be difficult. It will take time, and I don’t doubt this isn’t the last time YouTube will infuriate its user-base.  However, for the sake of the community and the medium, I think it’s time for someone to be a pioneer.

…That was this week’s OpinionatedDavid!!! Check back tomorrow for a brand new Vuepoint!!!

 

Adaptive Panels Presents… Star Wars Vol. 2: Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon

Getting straight to the point, Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon is a lot more interesting than its predecessor, and in many ways is the kind of story I wish Skywalker Strikes had been to begin with. It’s not perfect (there is such a thing as too many bounty hunters Marvel), and in my opinion some of the characters and storylines get a little too spread out before converging. However, I feel like this book is far more creative filling in the cracks of the original story, which is after all what I believe good expanded universe material is supposed to do.

In the end, I define what deserves a good write up from me on whether reading it does or doesn’t feel like work, and I blazed through Showdown mostly in a single afternoon, and at no point felt like I needed a break. In all honesty, as far as consumer advice goes I could stop there. Everything else is just me showing off…

Overview


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Picking up where the Skywalker Strikes left off, Han and Leia have been joined unexpectedly by Sana Solo, a woman claiming to be Han’s wife, on Han’s Incredibly Convenient Invisible Smuggler’s Planet. Misunderstandings and hijinks ensue, as first it seems Sana is only after Han, only to become more concerned with collecting Leia’s Imperial bounty once she discovers the other woman’s identity, only to then reluctantly help both of them escape Imperial forces when she finds out Han is wanted by the Empire too. All the while, Han remains adamant than Sana isn’t really his wife, but naturally, is never given the opportunity to explain himself properly. Much to Han’s chagrin, Leia agrees to give him back to Sana as payment for her help in rescuing Luke, who’s managed to get himself in more than a little trouble.

His return to Tatooine having seemingly borne little fruit, Luke’s last and most desperate idea for learning how to be a true Jedi, involved getting himself smuggled into Coruscant, the galactic capital and heart of Imperial power, in order to locate the old Jedi Temple. In order to find some smugglers, he heads to Nar Shaddaa, the titular smuggler’s moon (not to be confused with Han’s smuggler’s planet from before). Predictably, Luke’s plan soon goes awry, as he is separated from R2D2 and falls right into the clutches of crime lord and collector of Jedi relics Grakkus the Hutt, who plans to enter Luke in a gladiatorial battle as the Last Jedi for the amusement of the rest of the moon.

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Meanwhile, Han, Leia and Sana meet up on Nar Shaddaa with Chewbacca and C3PO, who were in the middle of their own rescue operation gone wrong (I swear this all flows a lot better than I’m making it sound, and from there the race is on, to rescue Luke from Grakkus as well as approaching Imperial troops, and for the prize of dozens of Jedi holocrons locked inside Grakkus’ vault.

Oh, and by the way, all of this is just from chapter 2 onwards. Chapter 1 is its own special story within a story, following Obi-Wan Kenobi during his years in hiding on Tatooine. The aging, but still powerful Jedi master struggles to adjust to his new life as a fugitive and a hermit, protecting Luke as a child while avoiding suspicion. All this, while Tatooine threatens to die of thirst around him, with Jabba the Hutt’s thugs ready to pick its scraps off the bone.

Analysis


I left the first chapter for last in my summary because it was just easier to pick up where the last book left off, but also because I believe it deserves special attention. It works entirely as a standalone story, without having to have read the previous material to follow it. At most, all you really need to understand is a basic overview of Star Wars lore, for which I think you’d have to journey to the far side of Ganymede before you found any lifeforms that have no knowledge of it at all. As a standalone story, it’s one of the best tails I’ve encountered in this universe. Firstly, the art is beautiful, heavily emphasising harsh lines and shadows and with a washed out colour palette that reflects how everything on this world at this point in time is fading away (in more ways than one). The Kenobi presented in this story is a far cry from the unflappable Jedi seen in most other material, yet it makes sense for his predicament. What struck me most was the anger. Not an angst-riddled, overdramatic rage like we’ve seen in some depictions in this franchise before, but below the surface, everything about Obi-Wan’s final duty grates with him, and he desires to lash out against his better judgement. It’s sort of how I imagine a Star Wars story written and directed by Clint Eastwood would feel, and I mean that in the best possible sense.

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As for the rest of it? Yeah, it’s all still pretty good. The galaxy far away was never hurting for crime-riddled slums, so Nar Shaddaa may not be the most original or interesting locale, but the characters inhabiting it make up for that in large part. Grakkus is a very different Hutt from Jabba; more refined, but in many ways far more brutal. While I think in the end the question surrounding Sana and Han’s past to answered a little too neatly, she’s still a fun character to have around, who definitely enhances the banter between Han and Leia rather than feeling like a third wheel.

I’d like also for special attention to be paid to Chewbacca and C3PO, especially seem as theirs is the storyline that really gets short-shrift in this one. Their own rescue mission, perhaps unsurprisingly, doesn’t get very far, and they end up in the most unnecessary and uninteresting diversion on the story. Despite that, the two characters play off each-other really well, and it’s not very often we get to see Chewbacca actually take the lead on anything. The wookie is definitely more than Han’s burly sidekick in this one.

Conclusion


Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon would be worth picking up for the first chapter alone. Fortunately, the rest of it is a damn good read too.

…That was this week’s OpinionatedDavid check back on Friday for a special BearSleuth Announcement!!!

 

Racist By Association: What Do Daniel Radcliffe’s Friends Say About Him?

Thanks internet. You really came through for me. After pleading last week about not wanting to go down the rabbit hole of bigoted fanboy reactions to movie casting again, our great online conversation has handed me another topic to sound off about. So instead, we get to have an even more serious and divisive talk about racism this week. What fun!

In the run up to his new film Imperium, in which he plays a cop going undercover in a Neo-Nazi terrorist cell, Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe got into a conversation about racism with the Hollywood Reporter, in which he mentioned that he knew some “really f*cking racist people”, going so far as to call at least some of them “friends”. Despite clarifying that none of them were on the level of White Supremacists, and that he vehemently disagreed with their views, Radcliffe went on to say that he associated with them regardless, because “I don’t think that friendship should be drawn along those lines”.

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This has raised an interesting question, when different facets of racism in Europe and the US are often front and centre of political discourse. Can a person belonging to the dominant racial demographic in their society claim to be an ‘ally’ of the cause of increasing equality and diversity while embracing people who hold racist beliefs with the other hand? It is a complex question, on which I would never be as arrogant as to claim to have the final, unique insight. However, with the internet famously not being very good at complexity when it comes to politically charged topics, perhaps my take on it will be somewhat useful to people in both camps.

Politically, I am a centrist, but not because I have a commitment to taking the middle of the road on every issue. I’m more of a ‘Type B’ centrist, meaning whether I lean Right or Left fluctuates depending on the context of individual discussions, and I have a tendency to be aggressively contrarian with an ingrained cynicism for any ‘movement’ that demands a degree of ideological purity. Put simply, I don’t like it when squishy, temporary mortals claim that they (or worse, their ‘side’) have all the answers, and my pushing-back against that attitude has probably led to friends of mine on both political wings thinking I’m an arse because of something or other that I’ve said. Yet, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to mix with so many people of differing perspectives, and to a certain extent, disagree with all of them. It’s fun. It’s interesting. It keeps my debating skills sharp, and it really makes me think about where exactly I should be standing on every issue.  If I started cutting out of my life people who I find myself frequently arguing with about these sorts of things, not only would I be making myself dumber, I’d also be destroying half of my social life.

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All of that said, there is a limit, and for what it’s worth I think the full extent of quotes from Radcliffe show that the same is true for him. Exactly where his line in the sand lies in comparison to mine I can’t say. I don’t know him personally. I do know, however, that I have on a few occasions been forced, for the sake of my own sanity and for the protection of other friendships that when push came to shove I valued more, to ostracise certain people. Despite my natural aversion to doing so, I’ve been forced to accept that some people are just beyond reason, committed to being as vocally offensive and ignorant as possible for seemingly little more than its own sake. Oratory sparring gets old when you’re playing against people who aren’t turning up to the debate with honest intentions, and are unmoved by anything that doesn’t meet with their preconceptions. I need a better reason than principle or curiosity to keep aggressive, die-hard bigots in my circle of friends.

I am also aware enough to know that sometimes, my ability to avoid taking certain views personally is a textbook example of my ‘privilege’. Yes, I know that has become a loaded term, and there are probably some people reading this who have decided to take nothing I’m about to say seriously based on my use of it alone. My response to those people? See above.

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I have a middle-class, Anglo-Saxon Protestant upbringing. I am male, able-bodied, nominally straight, and to top it all off, I’m whiter than parmesan. In a country whose ideological lines have historically been drawn by straight white males, I may as well have been made on an assembly line, and the only things that oppress me are pollen and ultra-violet light. To be clear, I don’t waste time being self-conscious or apologetic about any of that. It’s who I am. I can’t help it any more than anyone else can help the way they are, and I would consider it incredibly patronising and insulting of me to not be comfortable in my own skin around people who didn’t draw as good a ticket in the lottery of life as I did. As such, when I hear people around me sometimes express distasteful views about Black Lives Matter, or Gay Pride, the gender pay-gap or gender neutral bathrooms (to name just a few examples) I can engage with those people without fear, knowing A) My status offers me an immediate respect other people simply do not have; and B) Whoever ultimately ‘wins’ that argument will not impact my life in the slightest. This cannot be said often or loudly enough: People in minorities do not have the luxury of discussing minority rights, freedoms and protections as if they are abstracts. If you know a Jewish person who gets ‘sensitive’ during discussions of anti-Semitic behaviour, maybe that’s because the last time anti-Semitism became endemic in Western society, six million people like them died.

‘Allies’ of equality movements need to understand this first and foremost. What we can see as calm, ‘reasonable’ discussions of racism/homophobia etc. mean something very different to the people who will actually be affected by our verdicts, which is exactly why, sometimes, what they think about a certain issue matters more than what we think.

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And yet, I still can’t believe that, in most cases, shutting people out of the discussion is ever the best solution. People are more than one thing, and people can change their minds, but only if we allow them to. On a personal note: By the standards of my generation, my late grandmother was a racist, an anti-Semite, and a homophobe. Admitting that brings me no pleasure, but in the interests of intellectual honesty, I have to. However, she was also one of the most loving and generous people I have ever known, who always treated people (no matter what she might have said about them in private) as she wished to be treated herself. I don’t mean the latter to apologise for the former, but reconciling that both these interpretations of her are equally true, and do not exist in contradiction to one another, is difficult. It means not only coming to terms with the knowledge that someone I loved very dearly was also very flawed as a human being, but it also makes me think about other people in the world who’s views I find disgusting. Many of them are also loved very much by people who probably shouldn’t be forced to choose between the loved one they see, versus what everyone else sees.

What’s more, and more importantly, I have to admit that I have been guilty in the past of believing and saying many things I now know to be bigoted, out of ignorance either of the facts themselves, or how my interpretation of them affected those around me. I’m not perfect, but when I’m called out on it I try to learn from my mistakes. Can the same not be said for other people I’d call bigots today? Can the same not possibly be said for Radcliffe’s “really f*cking racist” friends? Sure, some people when challenged will only ever dig their heels in and push back, but in a rare example of optimism I don’t believe this to be true of everyone. When I remember things I once said that now make me cringe, I am also reminded of the human capacity to grow in empathy and knowledge. What’s important is that these views are challenged, strongly and publically. Allies cannot afford to be silent when they hear friends and family say bigoted things, be it out on the street or across the dinner table. Isn’t that exactly what Radcliffe just did, to be fair? He may not want to walk away from racist friends, but calling them out for it in front of the kind of audience he gets is a ballsy move, and more than most of us have done. The thing that really doesn’t help, in my opinion, is refusing to engage. When we ostracise people with views we find abhorrent, we give them no-one to talk to except one-another, and with each circular tirade about our ‘political correctness’ those views get more entrenched and more aggressive. That is, in part, what I believe has led to the rise of the Alt-Right reactionaries like Breitbart.

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This is a monster of a topic that could fly off on a dozen more tangents, but in closing… Yes, Radcliffe is fortunate as a white man to be so comfortable with racism in his social circle, but that doesn’t make him a racist, and I think a lot of the (white) people accusing him of not doing enough to combat racism, are actually the ones who need to get on his level.

Next week, something lighter, I promise.

…That was this week’s OpinionatedDavid!!! Check back tomorrow for a new VuePoint!!!