Quote for Today: Iain M. Banks

B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber Public Domain Image via Pixabay

B-2 Spirit Stealth Bomber
Public Domain Image via Pixabay

It was a warship, after all. It was built, designed to glory in destruction, when it was considered appropriate. It found, as it was rightly and properly supposed to, an awful beauty in both the weaponry of war and the violence and devastation which that weaponry was capable of inflicting, and yet it knew that attractiveness stemmed from a kind of insecurity, a sort of childishness. It could see that– by some criteria– a warship, just by the perfectly articulated purity of its purpose, was the most beautiful single artifact the Culture was capable of producing, and at the same time understand the paucity of moral vision such a judgment implied. To fully appreciate the beauty of the weapon was to admit to a kind of shortsightedness close to blindness, to confess to a sort of stupidity. The weapon was not itself; nothing was solely itself. The weapon, like anything else, could only finally be judged by the effect it had on others, by the consequences it produced in some outside context, by its place in the rest of the universe. By this measure the love, or just the appreciation, of weapons was a kind of tragedy.

Iain M. BanksExcession

The Shadow of Innocence: Villainous by Paul Constantakis

Children are often characterized as innocent, but watching them play reveals otherwise. Deep down, aren’t we all a bit villainous?

A sleeping boy lies peacefully in his room, but all is not as it seems. Here and there are toys, vintage toys that represent some of the most evil characters in recent memory, staged as if they have been murdered. How do you react to this scene of bloodless carnage, all that pierced plastic?

This ingenious and well built short is the work of filmmaker and writer Paul Constantakis, who previously worked for major advertising firms, but left that world to pursue a passion for telling stories. We are glad he did, because Constantakis and his crew have put together something truly thought-provoking. This masterpiece brings up a great deal of questions in less than three minutes.

© Digital_Rampage with CCLicense

© Digital_Rampage with CCLicense

Are you cheering on the hero? Those baddies deserved everything they received and it isn’t as if they were real people anyway. Perhaps it is natural for kids to play like this, although the level of artistry seems frighteningly adult, in this case because it was intentionally heightened by Constantakis. Does play violence come from inside children or do the movies and books they encounter implant those thoughts and feelings? If we see playing with action figures or dolls as a behavior that models future interaction with human beings, then we may wonder what we are training our boys to be. It’s no accident that the child featured in Villainous is male. Ask yourself if you would be more uncomfortable if this was the work of a little girl.

Even if a child grows up without movies and books–and I don’t recommend it–he or she can’t be unplugged from society or from the collective unconscious, which passes instincts and motivations down from generation to generation. This boy will come in contact with others who shape his life: family, friends, enemies. Nature and nurture are an unpredictable recipe and we can’t say that he will become a monster as he grows up. He’ll probably be fine, just like we are.

But isn’t violence part of who we are, too? Look at the reaction to the death of real life villains like Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden or even the use of the death penalty. It’s one thing to see these executions as something that must be done to protect ourselves, but many take that to a deeper level by celebrating death. Aggression finds a suitable target and releases itself, striking out with all the frustration we feel in our own lives. Is this some sort of release valve for the survival instinct latent in otherwise civilized human beings or is it self-indulgent and dangerous? Perhaps that depends on how much we enjoy the experience.

© hawker king with CCLicense

© hawken king with CCLicense

Maybe you felt a shiver of discomfort or something more ominous as you watched Villainous. The dramatization, the shots, the music, beautifully play up the darkness of the room and of the subject matter, adding to the feeling that maybe this isn’t about a child at all, but about a man’s subconscious. His innocence lies sleeping in the midst of all the monsters he has had to face and overcome. Like us, he has been unable to keep his hands clean. We each play a part in the struggles of others and sometimes we are the bad guy in another person’s story. We can scarcely imagine what happens if we fail to fight for ourselves. The very invention of heroes and villains, which is universal, points to the human instinct to frame life in terms of conflict. Is there nothing else?

© Saiwan-S with CCLicense

© Saiwan-S with CCLicense

The final image, Batman acknowledging our presence, is the key to this puzzle. Batman is unique among the superhero archetype. He is one of very few that do not have any special powers, only technology and anonymity. His humanity, which raises him above the villains he fights, also tempts him with dark thoughts that threaten to make him a greater villain than any of them. The reflection of darkness within us can increase our compassion and empathy for others. It can also turn us into ruthless avengers and punishers. Batman has always walked that precipitous edge. Villainous seems to suggest that he has gone over it and is asking if we care to join him.

Quote for Today: Eula Biss

© derekGavey with CCLicense

© Derek Gavey with CCLicense

British researchers recently found that girls between the ages of seven and eleven harbor surprisingly strong feelings of dislike for their Barbie dolls, with no other toy or brand name inspiring such a negative response from the children. The dolls “provoked rejection, hatred, and violence” and many girls preferred Barbie torture — by cutting, burning, decapitating, or microwaving — over other ways of playing with the doll. Reasons that the girls hated their Barbies included, somewhat poetically, the fact that they were ‘plastic.’ The researchers also noted that the girls never spoke of one single, special Barbie, but tended to talk about having a box full of anonymous Barbies.

Poor Barbie! Healthy or not, there is certainly plenty of hate out there for this icon, the world’s most famous doll. Have you heard about the recent uproar over her appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated? You can read about it here.

Here’s an oldie from Aqua that seems to fit. Keep in mind that humor is often a way to deal with issues that are too deep and dark to be approached with seriousness.

Quote for Today: Utah Phillips

© Fiona Bearclaw with CCLicense

© Fiona Bearclaw with CCLicense

I didn’t know what exhausted me emotionally until that moment, and I realized that the experience of being a soldier, with unlimited license for excess, excessive violence, excessive sex, was a blueprint for self-destruction. Because then I began to wake up to the idea that manhood, as passed onto me by my father, my scoutmaster, my gym instructor, my army sergeant, that vision of manhood was a blueprint for self-destruction and a lie, and that was a burden that I was no longer able to carry. It was too difficult for me to be that hard. I said, “OK, Ammon, I will try that.” He said, “You came into the world armed to the teeth. With an arsenal of weapons, weapons of privilege, economic privilege, sexual privilege, racial privilege. You want to be a pacifist, you’re not just going to have to give up guns, knives, clubs, hard, angry words, you are going to have lay down the weapons of privilege and go into the world completely disarmed.”

Quote for Today: Pablo Picasso

Operacion Guernica @ Hersson Piratioba with CCLicense

Operacion Guernica @ Hersson Piratioba with CCLicense

Whatever the source of emotion that drives me to create, I want to give it a form which has some connection with the visible world, even if it is only to wage war on that world….I want my paintings to be able to defend themselves to resist the invader, just as though there were razor blades on all surfaces so no one could touch them without cutting his hands.

Pablo Picasso