Re-rebranding: What we talk about and how we talk about it

Adult concepts warning.

Today, a colleague teased me saying, “Sean has the talent to use one hundred words where ten would suffice.” While my previous sentence had only contained twenty-five words or so, it had a definite grain of truth in it. I let her know the horror behind – that the truth is if I use one hundred words it’s because I’ve edited what I have to say down from five hundred.

Before my blog hiatus, I had been working on deriving an editing method in search of truth. While not aiming for sparsity, I discovered I am capable of brevity, and created a series of micro-short poems before sputtering into relative silence for a time.

Relative silence was comfortable, and I’ve spent most of intervening time exploring the most meaningful phase of my adult life – the discover of my perfect other and the birth of our daughter.

This place used to be called “Discourse Analysis Overdose”, a wry nod to various wrestlings with my own language and the language of others. A place to disassemble and explore. In a way, this is still my intention, however I’d like to suggest the exploratory phase is over, and I’ve outlined a mission I’ve perhaps been working on.

I’m inspired by Plato’s Cave, in which we’re said to be in a cave watching shadows on the wall and confusing them with reality. Plato (or Socrates, as the case may be) suggests should we be dragged towards the light of reality we’d cry out in fright and run back to the comfort of our seat with the fire at our backs.

I myself am not proposing to drag myself or any readers from the cave. I am suggesting we work together to study the shadows in order to create better theories about what they reflect. To agree, or disagree, but talk. Language may be an imperfect tool, but in using it (and together if possible), we can move from being frightened gazers to actors. We can decide what we find to be true and act on that decision.

I believe this to be a healing process; therefore the new blog name of “The Discourse Analysis Cure”.

An example culled from a recent conversation on Facebook. A friend shared the following:

What's the real issue?

An online discussion, for discussion online.

My immediate thought was to agree with the wit of the counter-argument but question who were the imaginary “guys” asking to masturbate as a response to breastfeeding. I felt the responders were preparing themselves to fight shadows. Fi breastfeeds our daughter, and on occasion we have had need to arrange this in public spaces. We are yet to encounter someone angrily exposing themselves to prove a point, for which we are thankful. While I can’t concretely verify this has never happened, I can reasonably state that those arguing for public masturbation as equivalent to breastfeeding are not doing so in ways that will gain them time in jail.

This idea must have originated from somewhere. The Huffington Post lists it as the first of four arguments countered in a post called “If you don’t support breastfeeding in public, you don’t support breastfeeding.” So who’s the original “guy”?

Possibly it’s Bill Maher. While he identifies as a liberal, I tend to view him – largely because of his anti-Islamic rants – as a possible closet conservative holding on to a liberal label while sneaking in very illiberal ideas. At least, that’s how the shadow he casts on the cave wall appears to me. I may be wrong.

His stance on breastfeeding was expressed in his commentary on an incident that took place at American Chain restaurant, Applebee’s. In the original story, a mother organised a nurse-in protest in response to poor treatment at the hands of a manager of a branch of that chain in Kentucky.

I have been unable to find the original video online. Only eight second soundbites remain. I did find a synopsis on a Wikipedia Talk Page which linked to a now-nonexistent video of the full segment. It suggests the argument was originally used as hyperbole by Maher to excuse the overbearing family restaurant manager. His conclusion wasn’t that masturbation should be allowed, but that breastfeeding should be discreet where possible. I don’t 100% agree with this in all cases, but take away the teenage joke and it’s a fairly arguable position. Yes, people shouldn’t have a problem, but some people do and so long as children aren’t being caused distress it is appropriate for their parents to manage the situation so as to nurture their child without provoking unnecessarily. I say this both as the parent of a breastfeeding child and someone who has delivered children’s entertainment to groups including breastfeeding mothers.

The context was that the feeding woman in the restaurant did so while packing a copy of the relevant Kentucky State Law, which at least suggests she was aware that a conflict could arise. Then again, the manager was (a) acting illegally and (b) extremely rudely, suggesting that the feeding take place in a public toilet. We ourselves enjoy the opportunity to use a feeding room while out. Our daughter feeds poorly when distracted, and a calm environment with a privacy curtain allows everupme to relax and complete the job to best satisfaction. We have on rare occasions been recommended a toilet as a feeding space, and found the experience highly distressing.

Back to that copy of the relevant legal code. It seems to me it could only have been on her person should she have been anticipating the manager’s reaction and wished to deliver a strong response. I may be wrong. If I’m right, she was using her child as a tool in her political fight. This is something I personally feel very strongly about. I’m supposing a first incident at the restaurant. Was she not able to round up support the first time she was asked to feed her child in a small room created for the elimination of bodily waste?

What of Maher’s argument. Is it being used widely? There’s no evidence of that. A search for “breastfeeding masturbation analogy” shows one link to Maher at the top, one link to a reddit discussion mocking a single commenter elsewhere on reddit for using the argument, and a second on page three linking to a discussion of breastfeeding in public on a gaming site. Again, the person deploying the argument is being roundly derided.

So, there are two guys who aren’t Maher, and they’re not in cahoots, and nobody agrees with them. In fact – everybody thinks they’re funny, special and a bit stupid.

So who are the “guys” the post above is referring to? Nobody in person. Hardly anybody online, and you’ll have to queue up for your turn to mock. Where does the perceived universality – the mass of shadows – for this argument come from? My guess is from the Lactivists (breastfeeding activists) who responded to Maher. Time and time again they focus on Maher’s masturbation analogy before, and sometimes to the exclusion of, other parts of his discussion. My suspicion is that at some subtle point, the once-current volley of criticisms of Maher entered the group’s annals of victories secured over ignorance and became anonymised so the argument was now attached to a more nebulous “guys”.

So Maher originated the idea but it seems to have been vastly more publicised by its opponents than by Maher and his army of two internet commenters. While there is a litany of individuals and companies that have made statements against public breastfeeding in attempts to justify policies or practices, there simply isn’t an organised anti-public-breastfeeding community in opposition to the organised-to-the-point-of-protest pro-public-breastfeeding community. There are companies that are choosing which customer complaints they handle, and individuals who feel ooky in the way one might feel ooky about seeing a stubbed toe (a better analogy I think than the one Maher used). Yes, people who are vigorously offended by stubbed toes should get over themselves, but feeling ooky and misreacting happens. I personally know breastfeeding mothers who themselves aren’t comfortable with the notion of very public breastfeeding. If they have a right to that feeling, surely so does anything else.

This is where I think our shadows come in. A community can do productive work scotching instances of injustice, but it surely feels frustrating – like shadow boxing. They can’t really stop the looks from the next restaurant booth, but they can focus on companies. If the people targeted are just managers doing their best to deliver on company policy and getting it wrong or sarcastic tv stars, they can be challenged and silenced but then nothing is to be done until the next instance arises. A cabal of “guys”, evilly laughing as they show their privates, can be infinitely used as a target. Their nonexistence is unimportant as their possible existence validates an important need – to defend our rights and the rights of our children. Articles can be written every day to inspire the troops against such an invisible cohort.

Inspiring the troops is good. Mothers have a right to feed their children without feeling under attack for doing so, or retreating to unsanitary cubicles. My concern is energy spent fighting largely imaginary fights dissipates as much energy as it generates and alienates fence sitters.

We are each others’ shadows. If concepts of authentic selves are valid, we still face the problem of presenting ourselves to the world-as-seen. Maher chooses to couch his serious discussion in knowing quips to provoke reaction. The Lactivists choose, or respond to at least, the knowing quips because they are easier to contradict than the notion that parents could, where possible, use discretion to achieve the important goal of feeding without risking the distraction of being interrupted by an irate interloper. Each chooses their strongest position; and each stops stating their truest opinion. A public figure arguing for a moderate position slides into caricature and a movement to protect children wastes energy fighting ghosts.

In my re-rebranding I will hope to draw out other conversations where substance has been replaced entirely by the play of shadows on a cave wall. I hope to hold myself accountable to this as well. With that in mind, I mentioned earlier a journey to brevity in search of truth. If it finished with my finding one key truth, it is this:

I may be wrong.

Or, at the risk of offending my athiest friends: For now we see through a glass darkly.

The furor around paid mods for ‘Skyrim': Listening to the baying mob

Overly Long Preamble

TL;DR: I’m thinking about economic strategies, and looking at the protest movement around Steam’s decision to make Skyrim mods for sale as an example. Look at that, an issue in gaming that’s not about its terrible gender dynamics… much.

When we talk about the economics of the world, we generally talk about macroeconomics. Recessions. Booms and busts. The Trans-Pacific Partnership. We forget the importance of microeconomics – which is sad, because these are where we can be real players. We can’t change the world. We can’t vote heads of state out by ourselves. But we can study smaller cases, see what works and what doesn’t and find ways to use that knowledge in negotiating situations we find ourselves in.

This is on my mind at the moment because I’m involved in the sale of a house. While I don’t have a stake in the property I do have an interest in the outcome because the profit realised will form the deposit on a house that my salary, for the most part, will maintain in the near term future because Fi as a stay at home mother only has access to a few small but useful income streams right now.

The three of us with interests in the property sale work well together as a team. Fi’s ex, Steve provides excellent financial insight, Fi just happens to have a commerce degree with a minor in marketing, and I with my time in customer service delivery and development am a dab hand at negotiating. Our first attempt at auction was a setback, so I used my skillset to renegotiate a relationship with the sales team that incentivised their giving the result that we need for our family’s future.

All this is well and good, but the need for that keeps my mind centred around negotiations, strategies and interpersonal economies. Competing interests, and how they can be turned to mutual benefit. Fi’s possibly a little tired of hearing me describing every single thing in terms of its economic import. So I’m turning my eye to Steam and Bethesda’s decision to give mod developers the option to set a price, if they wish, for for their mods for the game Skyrim.* Read more of this post

Mr Key and his little ways. A look from an organisational point of view.

Caveat: This post was written in Facebook conversations last night and edited during breaks today. I’m wanting to get my thoughts out, but further edits may result. The sense will remain the same.

Recently the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Mr. John Key gave his usual half-apology for the oversensitivity of a young woman who blogged anonymously about a series of incidents in which he pulled her ponytail.

Those of us in the real world, freaked out at the details – the creepy remarks, the unusual mind games and then later even further at the revelation this was part of an ongoing pattern of behaviour including pulling the hair – on camera – of a girl of approximately 10 years of age.

New Zealand being a very small pond, the anonymous victim’s cover was soon blown, and most recently a lawyer has started proceedings against Mr. Key alleging damages.

This matches the discussion online and in the media about John Key’s actions as harassing. Mr. Key is definitely harassing the Ms. Bailey in the vernacular sense, but from my experience in the workplace, it doesn’t fit the legal definition of a harassment case. Allow me to explain.

I have worked frontline in many libraries during my career. A customer who pulled the hair of a staff member would be asked to leave, and on the second attempt they’d likely be the subject of a trespass order.

It’s simply a different context to interactions between colleagues in a work place. In that situation, the harassment can be a misinterpreted gesture – say a colleague touches an arm, during a normal work conversation and the recipient finds it uncomfortable. Because both have a right to work there is a duty of care that allows for an explanation followed by monitoring for a change of behaviour. If the action (or pattern of harassment) doesn’t repeat – no organisational problem. Otherwise; consequences. The harassing employee is put on the path of warnings written and verbal, and ultimately dismissed if they cannot hold back from invading space.

The duty of care changes in a situation where staff work with the general public. The staff have the same right to a safe workplace, but the public’s attendance is a privilege predicated on their not harming the wellbeing of other users or the staff.

I have literally asked people to leave libraries I’ve worked in for telling colleagues to f… off, and been supported by management for doing so. Given this standard being commonplace, it’s obvious policy in reasonable workplaces prevents physical interference from members of the public.

Moving away from my experience, let’s look at a hypothetical. We’ll stay with the hospitality industry, but take out middle class mores and the adverse publicity and loss of income that comes with asking the PM to leave.

In a busy bar, an overly demanding patron grabs the waitress. She talks to the bouncer. He’s thrown out. End of story.

I find sometimes privilege arguments are over applied. Not here. A tony café has excused this customer’s conduct because the possible financial loss resulting from that customer’s annoyance vastly outweighs that which could be caused by a young woman employee.

Even in speaking up, she’s forced to do so anonymously to prevent harm to her negligent employer. And now, she’s exposed, and her future is very much damaged.

What’s worse, going to Mr. Key will not result in a payout. It’s her employer who hasn’t exercised a duty of care. It is they who should be sued. She may lay an assault charge against Mr. Key. It’s not at all certain the New Zealand Police will find sufficient cause to prosecute, and if he can be charged it will certainly not be at the aggravated end of the spectrum.

Mr. Key may find this is the straw that broke the Teflon camel’s back. That a discovery of moral repugnance may finally give the lie to his permanent affability, and cost him his job in the next election.

After that, he’s consigned to a fate of talking engagements, expensive dinners and appointments to prestigious post-Prime Ministerial roles and directorships granted to him by the mates he’s let at the trough over the term of his government. It’s a hard life.

In summation! #blogjune 30

I’ve enjoyed taking part in blogjune this year. Many thanks to the good Constance Wiebrands for coordinating the effort as always.

Even though if I’ve skipped a couple of days across the month I haven’t felt that I’ve lost momentum in doing so. Having missed a year or so of blogune, I’m actually very interested to see how I write now. Suffice to say it’s very different.

I used to feel driven to impress. I used to feel driven to fireworks – to create a series of arguments which would leave the reader moved, outraged or some other strong feeling. The thing is, I read back and I don’t see it in the writing. Yes, some pieces were strong, but more than that I recall feelings and motivations that went behind the writing.

They’re not there now. After this fiery period, I went on a quest for minimalist writing – and minimimalism lead, after a further brief flare up of wordiness to a long quiet. A regeneration.

In that time, I lived life and while reflection happened I didn’t feel a need to throw that reflection in other’s places. If I was, like some other writers, motivated by anger, over those years I let go of that feeling. Happily so.

This year I’ve written about whatever I wanted to talk about, and without disguised resentment for my potential audience. I’ve reviewed video games. I’ve lamented factors in managing my life. I’ve posted reports on furniture construction and shared pictures of cute cats.

I’ll finish with something Fi and I created together this evening. It’s not the most polished performance, but I hope it gives some pleasure.

Another short deal: #blogjune 29

OK, I missed yesterday. Big deal. I don’t have much for today either – not motivated, and nothing much to say. It’s been a happy day variously comprised of shopping and napping. Last night we enjoyed a wonderful dinner party with friends after church. So have a nice song, care of New Zealand band Bressa Creeting Cake.

A brief post: What we share. #blogjune 27

I came home this evening to find Fi at the keyboard. She’d been playing a piece and wanted to demonstrate it for me. While she often has fun with reinterpretations, she played and sung to a fairly straight version of U2’s “All I want is you”. Inspired, I joined in by playing a descant keyboard accompaniment an octave higher that mirrored, although didn’t duplicate, the Edge’s guitar line in the original. I’m very lucky.

Music isn’t all we share, but it is a great deal. When Fi was up more up to singing, we often sang duets during the offertory part of Mass, and we continue to sing and play together although she isn’t in a frame for a public showing just now.

We also share an appreciation of music. I’ve always enjoyed music from other cultures, and a fun wrinkle Fi introduced me to was covers of English language songs in other languages.

Here’s my favourite of this type: “Ça plane pour moi”, (arguably*) by Belgian performer Plastic Bertand. It’s a remake of New Wave hit “Jet Boy Jet Girl”.

I’ll provide a snippet from Australia’s own “Spicks and Specks” that features a translation.

* In fact none of Plastic Bertrand’s first four albums featured Plastic Bertrand, it seems. “Ça plane pour moi” was, in fact performed by Lou Deprijk, who also produced and composed the track. A real Belgian Milli Vanilli!

Review: Brothers, a tale of two sons. #blogjune 26

I’m making hay while the sun shines on the videogame front. In a very real way, my life won’t be arranged around such pleasures for a time to come, and I’m taking advantage of the Steam Summer Sale to score and play through a few cheap games while I can.

I chose Brothers because it included a nifty design wrinkle – puzzles are solved by controlling both of the titular brothers at the same time. Single player coop has been done before – an early favourite of mine was The Lost Vikings, however the standard has been to swap between characters to solve puzzles. Not so in Brothers.

Gameplay was frustrating at first. My left hand controls the older brother (who is about 13, strong and can swim) and my right controls the younger (who, being a slight 9 year old or so, can squeeze through some smaller gaps). I found that while moving around the screen, I had to keep each brother on the same side as their controls or I’d get confused. I also felt vaguely patronised; although I was on a mission to save my (or is it our?) father, the first part of the game was spent trying to exit the village and being heckled by a local bully. I’d resigned myself to quickly trying out and abandoning the effort, when a veil dropped, and I went from grumbling about being reduced to childhood to exploring a rich and beautiful world full of strange inhabitants and amazing machinery.

It turns out it’s the work of an award winning film director, Josef Fares, and it shows. Vistas of both beauty and horror arise and are integrated successfully into play; in the scene below our heroes have to make their way through a recently finished war between giants, including wading through rivers of blood.

Brothers - Giants War

Roger Ebert famously said that videogames can’t be art. Despite my obvious leanings, I see what he was saying – the puzzles in Brothers are well delivered, but they’re still puzzles. That being said, even the puzzles themselves can confront. The brothers find their way blocked by a dead giant – they have to topple him by drawing and then firing a giant crossbow which, hitting his head, knocks him over and out of the way. The younger brother loudly complains in the game’s nonsense syllables, and the older annoyedly fobs him off before they continue their journey.

I’m far beyond a quick play of Brothers at this point. I’m curious to see the end, but like many good stories I don’t want the end to come at all. I’d better get through before baby comes, though.

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