Monday, June 26, 2017

Twenty Years of Wizardry

Twenty years ago, Harry Potter's story appeared in black print. A young wizard with a lightning bolt scar and messy black hair takes charge of his destiny, by attending a wizard's school. He would spawn a franchise that would include eight movies tied to the books, a play that did not happen, a theme park, and lots of merchandise. 

My feelings of Harry Potter mainly comprise love. I was a big fan of the series as a kid, nursed a major crush on Daniel Radcliffe, and wrote fanfiction that mercifully never saw the light of day. These days, I only see Harry Potter fic on Tumblr if someone reblogs it, or if a writer I know is compiling a wicked awesome zombie apocalypse fanfiction. 

These days, I feel more divided. While Harry Potter remains a great series, and one that impacted international culture, it also has its flaws. So does the author. It's difficult to reconcile that what you read as a child has different implications when you are an adult. I will be discussing what feels different now that I am an adult, rereading dog-eared and in one case a torn edition of the Prisoner of Azkaban that I bought when I was nine. 

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Entering the Snape Spoiler Zone


Snape is a prime example of these unsettling implications. The grumpy Hogwarts professor bullies Harry and his class, while serving as a double agent to both sides. We later learn that he's on the heroes' side, but doesn't do a good job of showing it. He was originally a Death Eater but defected on learning that his big mouth would get Lily Evans Potter, his childhood crush, killed. JKR on Twitter recently apologized for killing Snape. 

I hate bullies. Let's get that out of the way. Snape is a worse bully than Malfoy, because unlike the latter he has power and wisdom to know better. The slimy Slythern takes out his frustration about his life on children, namely the child of his crush Lily, and another potential chosen one Neville Longbottom. Lily ended their friendship because Snape couldn't renounce bigotry that targeted Lily, and one that would eventually get her killed. Snape refuses to learn from his mistakes when he tells off Hermione Granger, who is as brilliant as Lily and Muggleborn, for always showing off when she means well.

Fanfiction and fanon noticed this gap. When Order of the Phoenix took several years to come out, people wrote fics where Snape got more character development beyond the "bullying professor". A few fics accurately predicted that he had a crush on Lily and begrudged Harry for surviving. Others gave him moments where he didn't harass students for the fun of it. What did we get in canon? Useless Occlumency lessons in book five, and an explanation in book seven.  We had to wait until the last book to get the development we craved.

Image source: https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8339/8178443318_f83371ce8f.jpg

The Good Qualities About Snape

Snape's first redeeming quality was his correct observations. He notes that Harry thinks he's above the rules, doesn't apply himself thoroughly, and needs to learn to block his mind to become competent. All of these criticisms apply and play out through each book. Harry obviously doesn't listen because Snape also exaggerates these points, and uses them as an excuse to belittle Harry. 

His second redeeming quality was his actor. The late Alan Rickman also portrayed Snape well. The man was a talented actor, who could portray the Slytherin with measured sympathy. He in fact refused to play the part until JKR told him a few backs about the character. Off-camera, he mentored the child actors, and even asked Rupert Grint to sign a caricature that the latter made.

The third redeeming quality is that Snape kept us guessing. He served an integral part to the overarching plot, but he inspired a driving question: why did Dumbledore trust him? When we learned he was good at blocking his mind, a necessity for spying on anyone, how were we sure he didn't fool the older professor? We didn't know which side he was on for several books, after it was established that he only saved Harry in the first book to satisfy a life debt. Harry and the reader had to tolerate a nasty teacher for six books, and that mystery remained. We finally got an answer. Boy did we have to wait for it.


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The Nonredeemable Qualities: Snape's Entitlement

Snape's crush on Lily is not cute. They grew up together, but that doesn't mean he was entitled to her heart. He ostensibly hated Muggles because his Muggle father was abusive; Lily had a sister that hated her for being the pretty magical one, but she hoped to remain on good terms with Petunia. (Petunia also doesn't get any redeeming moments for her actions, only a deleted line from the film where she expresses regret on having lost her sister.) Lily made a lot of excuses for his racist behavior while they were in school, but eventually his cruelty reached a tipping point. Snape had an option to renounce that bigotry if he valued their friendship but ultimately decided that his little gang was more important. If he hadn't become a Death Eater, Lily wouldn't have become one of Voldemort's many targets; even if we assume another Death Eater had eavesdropped on the prophecy, Snape made a disastrous choice. If he truly cared for Lily, he would have realized that Death Eater bigotry would kill her. But he didn't, until it was too late. 

Snape is also a bully in the classroom. He terrorizes any non-Slytherin and reserves special nastiness for Harry and Neville.This bullying leads to Harry not learning Occlumency from him, and the remaining Hogwarts students committing mutiny when Snape becomes headmaster. What's worse is that no one calls him out on his selfish, mean behavior; while Dumbledore keeps reminding Snape to be kinder, no one else does apart from an impostor teacher that points out the unreasonable grudge. The fact that Moody's impostor pointed this out speaks volumes about how a loyal Death Eater sees the absurdity.  Snape also holds himself accountable to no one, except to Lily's ghost. Even that doesn't carry far; Snape doesn't apply the logic that Lily would hate him further for being nasty to her son. 

Image source:https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2444/3988945921_0e9f8d4080_z.jpg?zz=1

Do Snape's actions throughout the books redeem his bullying moments? To me, no. He had a clear choice to become a better person, and to change his attitude. In fact, he had multiple opportunities before Harry had to go on the lam, but he squanders most of them.

With that said, I don't mind that Harry named his second son after "the bravest man I've ever met". Harry made the choice to forgive Snape and bury his grudges, something the man couldn't do. He couldn't justify Snape's cruelty, or forays into the Dark Arts, but he could acknowledge Snape's courage. For that I commend Harry, though I hope he names one of his kids after Hagrid.

JKR, you let us into your private world for fifteen years and counting. I may not agree with all your choices, but I commend you for trusting us constant readers. Our lives changed as we grew with the Boy Who Lived, and the people who became his new family. Thank you for Harry, and for his legacy.

Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/00/Hogwarts_Express_at_Harry_Potter_Experience_at_Leavesden.jpg

Friday, June 9, 2017

Our Internet Reputations: When YouTube Stars Disappoint

Hey all. I hope you had a happy Memorial Day. We're still here, and let's honor those that aren't. Let's honor victims of hate crimes, of emotional abuse, and of prejudice.

This summer I have a novel coming out, Neo Mecha Mayhem. It will be a sci-fi novel, set on the island of Okinawa, inspired by Batman and by Satoshi Kon's films. I'll be posting more information as I get the publication details.

A fiasco happened earlier this year, regarding YouTube gamers. These Internet celebrities, the lucky ones, gain a following by playing a game with style. I've been following Markiplier and Jacksepticeye, since they make scary games less scary. They gained so much fame that mainstream entertainment companies like Disney took notice. Then they didn't.


Image source: https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4046/4290622577_cdc83bc7ab_b.jpg

One gamer messed up. Felix, aka PewDiPie, made the mistake of paying two South Asian actors to dance around with a sign saying "Death to the Jews". He claimed it was a joke and was horrified they actually did it, even though most South Asians would most likely not understand the implications, and $5 USD is roughly 332.95 rupees in Indian currency. That isn't chump change. The Wall Street Journal reported on the video, as well as how white supremacists and Neo Nazis took the video, and others with similar humor, at face value. Disney ended a multi-million deal with Felix, and YouTube Red cancelled his second season of Scare PewDiePie. Felix later made an apology video, while he condemned the Wall Street Journal for painting him as a Nazi. The apology felt backhanded. 

Felix was insensitive and didn't think through the consequences of his actions. He also had a terrible sense of timing, posting his videos right when Neo Nazis were becoming mainstream again, and when the Trump campaign was attacking everyone none-white and neurodiverse. Disney of course has a history of standing against Nazis, despite what conspiracy theorists may think, with its war films and cartoons made to speak against fascism.

Image source: https://pmchollywoodlife.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/pewdiepie-apology-ftr.jpg

Of course, one has to ask why Disney would go with Felix. Disney has its adult franchises and minor companies, but he isn't child-friendly material. Felix is foul-mouthed for one, and has an abrasive character. He's entertaining, I will admit. 

I'd like to think that Felix really didn't know about the rising conservatism and hate. Given by his reaction in the video, and how he later responded, he didn't seem to realize what weight his actions would have. His friends and fellow gamers Markiplier and Jacksepticeye vouched for him. Jack also had the decency to admit that Felix messed up badly, while Mark has asked for people to remain respectful.

Image source: https://gomessq.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/od.png

Then we contrast this behavior with that of another gamer. JonTron, half of Gamer Grumps. The son of immigrants, of course Jon Jafari stands with racist right-wing anti-immigration rhetoric, even though he benefited from the system and labels himself as white. After Rep Steve King came under fire for his comments on anti-immigration, Jon defended them and added his fuel to the fire with inflammatory comments during a stream. He then offered a back-handed apology where he claims his views were misconstrued, and that he's against "tribalization" of America. He still got cut from an upcoming game, and his channel has lost multiple subscribers.

There are minor differences, but the rhetoric remains the same: "We think that we are above the consequences to make these jokes and we can justify our words using 'context'". It's shameful that we have to remind people that the Internet has consequences, and that our image can easily shatter. I wonder where the basic human decency goes. While Felix may have the excuse of not understanding bigotry, Jon ought to have known better when having an immigrant family.

Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9a/Neon_Time_Out.jpg

Granted, we have a history of celebrities behaving badly. Actors and actresses had dalliances, while authors like H.P. Lovecraft faced criticism for racist rhetoric. Daphne Du Maurier chronicled her father's affairs, while ignoring hers as a married woman. None of this is new.

The difference lies in how the Internet rapidly increases communication, and breaks down the barriers that were there before. Before people would write letters, or send telegrams. There would be time to think of what one would say. You could still mess up: Alexander Hamilton, for example, published the infamous Reynolds Pamphlet at a time when one had to assemble metal blocks on a printing press. These days, it takes less time to destroy a reputation.

We can't control if people misbehave. We can chide them, or educate calmly about when not to make a tasteless jokes. Sometimes we get lucky and get a celebrity who will own their mistakes. Markiplier, for example, has apologized to his friends for being controlling over video production.

Let's keep reminding each other about basic decency. The world is much more ominous than it was two years ago, and we should remember that the Internet has changed society. I hope Felix and Jon shape up, realizing their words and videos have consequences. If not, we always have Mark and Jack.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Letter to Myself While Recovering from a Virus

Image source:https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2796/4215836509_55a8b7a7ce.jpg

Dear Priya:

You were sick last week. You are sick this week. Because of that sickness, your writing output went down. That is nothing to be ashamed of. You still managed to write a fantastic artilce and now you are fighting to get back on track and prove that you are not a waste. I say this because the negative thoughts need to battle with ongoing affirmations. You already know that you are not a waste. You submitted two columns this week, and have sent off a story to an anthology.

Not everyone can write when sick. Neil Gaiman suffered acute meningitis and couldn't write for months afterward, until he produced the brilliant "Problem of Susan". Probably there are other writers that were bedridden and needed to muster the energy, just as you have. While your nose is still runny, and you have a mild headache, the sickness isn't making your head fuzzy.

Image source: https://c1.staticflickr.com/6/5606/15552378181_94ebe34801_b.jpg

The blog hasn't updated for about two months, not since Valentine's. That's because you are making a transition to another blog that has a Wordpress-based server. You also hope to post more optimistic content, since the most recent draft concerns the closing of Ringling Brothers, and you have content on your phone that you need to translate over to it. That blog will update more frequently and have constant feedback.

Reminders for this week: You will be attending RetroCon 2017 this weekend, at the Miami Airport Convention Center. You will be selling books with Phil McCall III and ideally show off your writing repertoire. You are also filing taxes for the first time, and learning what income to track. A writer's friend wants content for an introversion contest, and a column about literacy activism has a deadline on the 23rd. You also need to update your blog with a proper profile picture, an Instagram, and probably a buffer of more positive posts about writing and gaming.

Image source: https://i0.wp.com/floridasupercon.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/FLORIDA-supercon-site-header-logo-1200PX-blue.jpg?w=1200

Spring is here. You know it's spring because the curry leaf tree has new tiny leaves, a sign of warmth. The sun warms the water when you swim, and the air when you run. Starlings fly in and out of the hole in the roof, smugly noting that you and most people cannot reach them. A hole and leak sprung in the house library, which led to a lot of waterlogged books, but you managed to save most of them and will later figure out which ones should go to donation or recycling. There's still time to read through all the books on the shelf, to see what treasures you have missed.

In short, don't blame yourself for getting sick and not being able to write. It happens to the best of us. Your mother broke her arm, and so she could not cook. You learned to hone her recipes. You are writing now, and you are back on track. Reusing the tools that worked before, like writeordie.com, has proved a huge help. This morning you looked over one of your drafts as well as the comments that a thoughtful reader left on such a story. Sunday you did the same thing, on a tale that you wrote two months ago during a tough time and which nevertheless came out fairly well. You mailed a Netflix envelope without a problem, using priority mail, and you managed your Treasurer dues at Toastmasters. What's more, you are still creating.

Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0e/Stipula_fountain_pen.jpg

Write on now, while you are healthier. Find ways to return to fiction, and to remember the deadlines and self-imposed goals. Camp Nanowrimo may have gone off to a rocky start, but you can still add more to the black comedy about trolling. You can block out the events that really happened, and add fiction to make a dysfunctional family lovable. The story you have coming out this year from Alban Lake will prove a treasure. You have someone you trust reading it, and hope to poke them in two weeks if they don't respond. Other emails will get responses, courtesy of you.

Good luck, Priya. You will master this week's goals. Feel better after the runny nose goes away.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Start of the Year: On Loving and Living

I have a draft of a post about the Ringling Bros. Circus closing, but with the current events of the past week it feels inappropriate to post about nostalgia when an unconstitutional executive order is tearing families apart and has killed more than thirty people. That will have to wait for another day.

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Things have changed. On one hand, people are more united against anything our current president mandates, in due part to his not having signed off on any beneficial executive orders. On the other hand, our republic has turned into a dictatorship within a week. Most news items are train wrecks. My opinions and fears have caused me to doubt some people while allying with others.

Despite all this, we have to keep living. We have our jobs, our hobbies, and our families. While we make donations and spread the news, the dogs need walking, the dishes need cleaning, or our library books need returning. Sometimes living in the face of such disaster feels surreal. Yet we have to keep going through the motions, to find meaning in the little things while not knowing when the end comes. Sometimes watching other dogs, like the Animal Planet Puppy Bowl helps.

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Loving isn't that much different. We say that love is eternal, and in some cases it is with families and with good friends. When love ends, however, say for a fictional work or for someone we once admired, our heart breaks. Hearts don't care if Orson Scott Card once wrote books with diverse casts and now shows racism in his diatribes; they fragment, and repair slowly. Yet, as Aaron Burr in the musical Hamilton puts it, despite love taking our feelings and our hearts, "we keep loving anyway, we laugh and we cry, and we break, and we make our mistakes".

Valentine's Day is coming up, and it usually focuses on romantic love. This year, I think I'm going to focus on all kinds of love. We writers are more than romantic beings. We adore the craft, we adore the authors and books that came before us and that are coming out now, and we love the readers. We also love the people that support us, and the fictional characters that come to life. My friends have been there for me during the past two months, and so have my family.

Image source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/33/-LOVE-love-36983825-1680-1050.jpg

On Valentine's Day, I'll explore different kinds of love in detail, since at the moment the definition feels murky. The patron saint Valentine died converting people to Christianity; that sort of sentiment doesn't reflect the candy and flowers of today's holiday. I'm going to attempt to appreciate love again, and simply joys from knowing a person or an object is in your life. I'm also going to attempt to love living.

We are living in tough times now, but living is the greatest source of rebellion. The best way to fight an attack on the arts is to make art. The best way to fight injustice is to expose it. The best way to care for innocent strangers is to spread their stories, and to never let them go out of mind. We need to love those strangers and lend our hearts to them, to give them the chance that we gave.