Content Warning: I discuss dealing with abusers, violence, and tragedy. This one sucks. Trust me, it’s not a fun time.
I have a strange love for losers.
I mean, I make fun of the Confederate flag waving assholes, and it’s worth remembering that that’s good, because they’re losers, and they should always be forced to confront that they’re losers, and they lost because they were bad at winning, and this is just a long aside to dunk on the Confederacy. But not all losers are that kind of loser. Sometimes you lose not because you were wrong, or because you were on the wrong side, or because you’re bad, but you lose because the bad people had more stuff. They had more money and more people and they didn’t even realise they were the bad people, because they were removed from the bad things they did.
I think about the people that lose against empires.
I think about Carthage.
I think about Carthage, and the story of Hannibal, a general who tried audacious things and succeeded. I think about bloody battles in the desert by mercenary armies. I think about the strangeness of a country whose big sin was not really doing enough for military infrastructure and how it was the victim of an empire next door that was. I think about how you can win a dozen fights in a row, but if your enemy can handle losing, and you can’t, then it doesn’t matter.
Carthage is on my mind because while history tells us that Carthage lost, there were a lot of times and places in Hannibal’s campaign that he won. There’s a lot of people who were living their lives and having what they thought of as important conversations about the future of Rome and their campaigns for political office and governorship or whatever, and then Hannibal happened to their territory, and they’re just gone.
This is what I’m thinking about, when I’m thinking about this card game I’m making. The different things nobles can do, these little festivals and parties and politics and territorial disputes and fights over who has the best land or best marketplaces, all while quietly aware that you can’t change the future.
That Hannibal is going to happen.
The idea for this game, the idea that I’m working with, is that of a stacked deck. At the start of the game, players get their cards, then the deck gets loaded; you shuffle up and deal out stacks of cards. Into each stack, you shuffle one of a number of cards, then you put those stacks on top of each other. Now you have a deck of events that everyone draws from, to play their cards and live their lives, and then one point, near the end…
Time to time Jesus comes up on the timeline and I watch as people who are generally well-meaning people try to harmonise together the Bible and the oppressive behaviour of Christian hegemony. There’s usually some sort of deference to a Gandhi quote, some sort of next-levelling smugness of well Jesus was great, Christians are bad. Maybe you’ll see something like Jesus was a leftist or Jesus was an ally or a truly amazing take Jesus was more of a trans person and on the one hand I try to file that under ‘fanfiction’ but then people use it to discuss real world political behaviour of a culture that has probably a third of the world’s resources and is using them to kill people.
It’s basically an attempt to make Christians feel ‘not so bad’ about being part of a great big dreadful machine, which is not something I see typically extended to things like heterosexuality or cisgenderness.
It annoys me, personally, because Jesus isn’t a cool guy who’s being mangled by his followers.
Jesus is a total dick and his teachings are full of confused morals and justifications for evil. The only reason people treat him like he’s good is because we treat his story as if he’s meant to be good and interpret his positions that way. There’s a constant decontextualisation of Jesus – that’s what Sermons are for! – that turn his positions into whatever we need them to be, and want to pointedly make sure you don’t relate what he said today to what he said yesterday, because if you do, you might go ‘hang on a second, fuck you Jesus.’
For example, the story of the Widow’s Mite. Now for the purpose of this consideration we’re going to treat Jesus like he existed and did the things that are kind of fundamentally necessary to the Christian narrative of Jesus. He didn’t, and he didn’t, but let’s just pretend for now. Treating this text as a text.
The story, which appears in Mark (the first draft) and Luke (the second last draft), tells of a time when Jesus and his disciples were rubbernecking in the temple and watching people do their weekly donations to the temple’s upkeep. Rich people came in and dumped large amounts of cash, and a poor widow came in and gave a ‘mite’ – one of the smallest currencies they could give. Jesus turns to his disciples and says:
3 And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all:
4 For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.
Then we nod and tap our chins and we move on to the sandwiches and coffee after church.
Now think about this in the context of the fact that Jesus is meant to be the perfect human sacrifice that redeems us our sins. Remember that Jesus is God in this interpretation of the faith, that he talks to and experiences the voice of God, and that he is aware of God’s plan.
When Jesus submitted himself to torture and death, that was a bad weekend out of an infinite life and he knew he was going to survive this. We’re told it’s an important, meaningful sacrifice, it’s meant to be the ultimate sacrifice, but in this case, Jesus is the wealthy, giving a meaningless fraction of his wealth (time), and it wasn’t going to bother him a week later. It was performative, it was literally done so he could show off to people millenia later for whom he had done nothing.
If it costs you nothing, Jesus, what does it mean that you’re giving it up?
As you can tell, this month, I’ve been thinking about magicians.
Hey, you know the Exodus of the Israelites? I have this thing about that and poop-
(Hang on, is it Passover today? It is? Uhhh… Maybe read this next week)
One of the most dangerous things to fundamentalism is a desire to be good.
This post was in part spurred by relistening to the absolutely dreadful Camp Kookawacka Woods by Patch the Pirate, a subject so dreadful I feel a bit like I should do a rewatch podcast just so I can impress upon people just how utterly yikesy the whole franchise is at its core. Listening to it, though, with Fox, I had to let her know that some of the songs (that were performed pretty well) were hymns, and some of the songs were based on old campfire songs, and some of the songs were rip-offs of pop songs, and how the whole thing was just so cheap and hacky.
This is a pattern.
If you’ve ever gone looking for what I call Christian Replacement Media, you might have noticed that it’s kind of bad? Not necessarily remarkably bad, no glorious-trainwreck The Room style hubristic excess, it’s just that the best of these movies tends to crest a Pretty Alright level. Probably the best Christian Media Escapee band is Five Iron Frenzy, which is to say that the entire right-wing music machine was able to produce a single good ska band of leftists, which considering the number of times they’re rolling that dice is not a great average. The movies, the branding, the graphic design, almost everything you see in the Christian Replacement Sphere is a slightly shit version of whatever it’s replicating.
Oh, they’re often expensive. Yet even the things that are expensive in this space tend to be gaudy, or overpaid for. When it comes to art and media these stories are almost always just slightly inferior, confusingly weak versions of things that aren’t actually that hard to get right. There are bestselling Christian authors whose work crests the quality of maybe a decent fanfiction.
This is weird though! It’s not like being in the Christian cultural space asks you to be bad. Assuming a random selection of the Christian media space is an equally random selection of the culture of the world, you have to assume that a certain percentage of them are just going to pick up decent artists.
I have a theory.
No, wait, I have a hypothesis.
The hypothesis is built out of my experience, and the experience of a few ex-fundie friends. We’ve talked about it, about the things that pulled us away from the faith, and how those things that pulled us off the path were not the fun, excellent temptations we were warned against, but inevitably, a drive to be good at something. I didn’t learn my eschatology and biblical foundational theory because I wanted to prove it wrong. I learned it, because I wanted to be able to prove it right. Nonbelievers would come at me with arguments, I was told, and so I wanted to understand those arguments so I could show how they were wrong. One of my friends wanted to do excellent work rendering graphics for their church, and so they wanted to study how graphics worked and how to convince people with the icon rendered in front of them. Another was driven by a desire to Make Computers Work.
None of us set out to fall.
The basic idea is this: To be good at something requires context and practice. Gaining either of these things inevitably exposes you to the ways in which fundamentalist church spaces fail.
It’s not that church seeks out awful artists. It’s that the modern American church is a sorting algorithm that wants to throw out the good artists in the name of keeping the people who are content to be average at things. Oh, they may want the numinous and the excellent, but if you ask a preacher to choose between a ‘faithful’ artist vs a ‘troubled’ one, they’re going to plomp for the pious one every time.
Plus, the faithful don’t tend to charge what they’re worth.
One of the things patriarchy teaches men is that they own, in a way, what they look at. It also teaches non-men that that they are, in part, owned by being looked at.
Simple little lesson. Simple little idea. Advertising to men often just shows them things and the natural intuition is that they’re entitled to it. Women are shown things with an explanation for what’s wrong with them and why they need to get them.
This idea is part of why there’s not really a structural comparison between the male gaze and female gaze. The thing is, The Male Gaze is the default structure, an observable trend that comes about not because a bunch of dudes looked at a textbook for Male Gaziness, but because men, given control and means to, did things, and afterwards, people observing that work were able to find a really clear, consistant pattern.
It was a byproduct of giving guiding control of a medium to mostly a single gender for generations. And it grew in part out of that same starting mindset: The idea that you were entitled to the things you looked at.
In the Bible there’s this passage:
27 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:
28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.
This passage has been used heavily to talk about the dangers of lust as an action. It’s one of the times the Bible weighs in about whether sins are things you do to people or objects, or if they can happen in your mind. Which, well, the Bible is pretty clear, yes, they can. If you think it, you did it, and adultery isn’t just about bodies and grinding, it’s also about the mere capacity to want it.
Which makes a kind of sense, if looking at something is an action of power.
It makes sense if you own the things you look at.
Let’s talk about love for a moment.
Content warning; I’m going to mention some bad people, bad actions and some church stuff.
I had a weird nightmare last night –
I say last night, based entirely on when I’m writing this. You know I load this blog ahead of time so it’s no secret that I’m not writing this literally right now. I actually really like the distance it gives me when I write about something emotionally entangling. With the knowledge I’ve written about it, I can talk about it dispassionately, but nobody I know is going to react to this text now when I’m raw about it, and nobody’s going to read my blog like tea-leaves trying to work out my mood or whether or not I’m okay.
Anyway, it was a really weird nightmare because all I can really remember is the end. I was at a revival church meeting with my parents. Big white tents, sunny day, and like, there were tubs of soda drinks, and bags of chips and lots of things that normally make me happy – indulgent things, the kind of free food nobody checks up on you about or tut-tuts about you having too much.
Then the organ started to play and everyone filed to sit down… and I realised I didn’t have any paper or pen.
And that was… strange. It was deeply strange to wake up, with the lurching feeling of horror from that. Every time I went to church I took notepaper along, ostensibly to ‘take notes’ but realistically speaking it was to draw things, write things, or just play in paper space while I listened. Really, the main discipline of church was being taught how to sit quietly and not cause a fuss – you don’t actually learn much. Sermons are often really basic, really bad demonstrations of ideas or points, they’re much more about setting a tone and a style, and part of that means they have to be boring because if they were fun or exciting or interesting or easy it’s not ‘serious’ enough.
To be caught without paper and pen means staring down this boring demonstration of information by someone who is interpreting a book and if you’ve read the book as well you know what they’re leaving out. It means you’re going to be bored and angry and you will be so for eleven billion hours.
The story of the city of Sodom is barely worth recapping, but in case you’ve never heard it, basically there was this place that God didn’t like that was basically named Doomedsville, and the only good people who lived there were shown in one incident how they were too good to live there, before God told them the town was hecked and they left. I’m glossing over some plot points, but it’s honestly not important, because what’s really remarkable about this story is what it’s about.
See, right now, if you ask people, it’s about the sexual immorality of the city, the way that the people of Sodom used to stick their hoo-hahs into butt-holes and that’s why it was a sign of what a problem things could be. That’s why God hates gay marriage.
Except those people, these days, are also opposed by people, equally certain of their familiarity with the religious texts of the now, who want to assert to you that, in fact, the sin of Sodom was their failure to show the messengers proper comfort: That the story of Sodom was a place that failed to respect people enough, and right, and therefore, God loves gay marriage.
This is not, in any way new.
Back during the 1930s, the city of Sodom was a story about a failure of the people to care for their travellers and interlopers, brought up as an example of people who weren’t in the proper spirit of Christian Charity. In the 1940s and 1920s, Sodom and Gomorrah were known to be about the vile practice of race-mixing. In the 1890s, Kelogg was certain that Sodom and Gomorrah were a story about the foulness of indulgent humanity who ate fancy food.
Now this is no secret to anyone familiar with Christian movements: Everything in the story is just a justification for today’s latest problem, and nobody wants to read any further than the destruction of the city for their metaphor.
The stories we tell, and how we tell them, shape our worldview. This isn’t ‘media programs you,’ not a satanic panic fear-of-the-demons-in-your-media, but something slower, more grinding, more insidious. There’s an acretion of the world around you as you pass over it, little bits of the everyday. Making everyone’s clothes show ads, we thought, would be about making sure you were always showing off the #brand. Turns out that it mostly just meant people saw ads on clothes as normal and not worth noticing any more.
It’s hard to turn that kind of ubiquity into money in a pragmatic one-on-one sense. It’s difficult to monetise a brand if the main job monetising it is to be everywhere all at once, you need a certain scale for that to have an impact. You need to be Pepsi, for example. What you can do with it, though, is reinforce an idea of what’s normal, and thousands of sources doing it all the time can do a lot to shape that idea of normal.
It’s Marketing Whiteness.
CW, gunna talk about slavery and fundamentalism and whiteness and dismiss the historicity of the Bible, which just gets some people up in a dander.
Five years ago, I spoke about myself very differently.
As with Rachel and Clay before them, I once more turn to point to someone I know, and love, and care about, who hasn’t had a fair shake.
Melissa Elliott, two ls, two ts, is one of those people who, if the 17th century wasn’t just the most awful, would have been one of those academic thinker types we sit around now wondering where they find the time. She’s done infosec research, drawn comics, built a twitter brand, built videogame AI, done some work on videogames, reverse engineered some things, won a My Little Pwnie award for her work in information security –
er, specifically for writing a silly song –
Now, none of these are raging successes, by the standards we use to determine success. This is in part because none of us grew up in cultures that value artistic expression, and I know that moreso of Melissa’s upbringing because she and I shared a particular horrorshow that was American Fundamentalism. This is not an experience and a place that, let me tell you, does much to encourage the creative efforts of young women.
I am grateful this year that Melissa has been part of it – the whole way. I feel like a walking firework alongside her, where she needs some degree of quiet, some emotional space, and I, with my big loud idiot elbows smack into spaces that can distress her without even trying – but despite it, she still shares with me what she makes, and what she wants, and what she’s interested in, and that means a lot to me.
Incidentally, she hates card games, and that’s okay – because when I share what I do with my friends, I don’t do it because I want them to feel obligated they should like them.
I said I’d say something about this and I never did, and this sucks and it’s in my head and now I’m going to share it with you. For as there are good things in this world, there are dark and miserable reflections, and with Christian Replacement Media on my mind, let us speak now of some of its worst examples.
In the late 90s there was a ska boom. Ska music got on the radio. There was also the peak era of South Park, as a generation of teenagers tried to convince their parents that they didn’t care about your opinions, dude and they liked edgy, powerful, dangerous media like this thing about children talking to poop.
Two media trends, two chances to capitalise and milk money out of other Christians? Well, of course it was time for the Christian Replacement Media machine to get involved and get involved hard.
“What,” you may be asking, “the fuck was that.”
That, my friend is the evil mirror to Five Iron Frenzy. It is the fundamentalist-enough Christian alternative to South Park’s visual aesthetic branding and opposition point to the radio’s sinful Mighty Mighty Bosstones. It is a musical Waluigi, an entity created entirely in opposition to values rather than expression of values. It is ash. In as much as art can be, it is sin.
By the way, boy, the people on the Mexican border really had a problem that they weren’t getting enough Americans telling them about Jesus. Mexico’s a country with a real problem with Christianity, right? Let’s set aside the Anti-Catholic and patronising probably-Racism of Mission Trip To Mexico and instead examine what I feel is probably their worst song, Homeschool Girl.
Public school is full of drug addicts, boring, and lies to you. But Homeschool girl, well, she’s super great.
Augh I’m listening to it again.
It literally exhorts how good she is at preparing him stuff! It holds up how smart she is by how many grades she is ahead except because she’s homeschooled that doesn’t mean anything, since the person telling you that isn’t a fucking teacher! This is literally propoganda for a lifestyle that I know’s inflicted tremendous harm on people!
Sometimes you can think about the impact of a piece of art in terms of what it made seem normal, what it impacted, who it really influenced. And I am sadly certain that there are people, right now, homeschooling their kids, who are doing it in part because when they were young teens, they heard this song and it helped to form what they thought of as ‘normal.’
Hmm, let’s see, other countries, homeschooling with some overtones of sexism, what about –
Oh yeah, Abstinence!
Fucking hell this fucking group of fucking dickheads.
Okay okay, not going to talk about the lyrics or message of this media – the pain of having had sex? the fuck, you’re doing it very wrong – but I’m going to talk about how boring this ska music is. It’s very competently arranged, but very poorly mixed, and if you listen to all this stuff in a row you’ll be struck by how all BOB songs more or less sound the same.
All their album is up on Youtube, if you give a shit to go listen to it. I think their least obnoxious track is I Saw Pastor Dancing, which is just intensely cringey.
Oh and if you’re curious: Yes. I owned this album. And I owned it instead of owning All The Hype Money Can Buy.
Did I really choose that title? Is that what we’re going with? Mmh, well, okay.
If you’ve spent any time on the internet delving through the Youtube archives of people telling you about things you’d never heard of that suck, chances are good you’ve run into the ouvre of Christian Replacement media I was raised in. you’ve seen attempts to make Christian musicals, you’ve seen the Christian animations, and you’ve probably even come across the Christian superhero stories. Which suck.
You’ll see this kind of media absolutely everywhere but only once you puncture into the social space of the Christian media sphere. There’s an actual suggestion when you’re inside it that you should buy this stuff and wear the branding because it’s a good way to get people to notice you, it’s a starter of conversations and it makes sure people recognise that you’re Christian, Not Ashamed, in your pursuit of the attention of the heathens, moving about in their space and being a better person than them. That is absolutely not what happens. What happens is you go to a youth camp and see everyone wearing the same general genre of t-shirt showing off Christian bands, Christian branding, Christian media franchises and that’s all. And some of it is pretty lazy – I mean, seriously, Jesus → Reese’s is as far as that idea got.
There’s a lot of this stuff, and I know I’ve spoken in the past about the absolutely awful band Bunch Of Believers – wait, I haven’t? I haven’t subjected you, my readers and friends to that particular flavour of garbage? Well, heck, I’m going to have to work on that. Anyway, the point is, this stuff exists and it’s almost always derivative and it’s extremely weak in its execution. Often anything that calls for a thoughtful interpretation or even something where there’s a clear, useful connection to existing media, it’s not taken. Heck, it’s sometimes missed so widely you can be left wondering if the people in question are trying at all.
Which they’re not.
Know why this stuff is all garbage?
There are two basic reasons that the Christian Replacement Media is low quality. The first is it’s an industry; it wants to churn out things with as little effort as possible to scoop up as much purchasing power as it possibly can from the networked church system of industries, and it wants to do that as cost-effectively as possible. People aren’t buying clever or good, they’re buying in-group markers. The other reason, though, and it’s the reason that makes so many of those tv shows and the like look so bad is because they’re often aiming for an audience that has no idea about quality. They’re not dealing with audiences who have seen and tried a lot of things – they’re dealing with some audiences who have only really experienced the Christian media landscape, people who are dismissing non-Christian media out of hand, and people who are trying to insulate their family – usually children – from the harmful influence of Things That Exist.
These things exist to suck because they literally do not want you to have anything better to compare them to.
I grew up – okay, let me start that again.
I lived, from the age of four to the age of fourteen, in a suburb of New South Wales called Engadine. Engadine is where I learned how money works, how to read, what a library was, how to talk to a doctor, about family restaurants and VHS tapes and watched the Beta cases slowly disappear off the shelves. It’s the place I walked with my mother as she went to a business to pick up an actual physical paycheque and hand it into an actual physical bank. It’s the place I tried a paper route.
To say I ‘grew up’ there is a misnomer, though. Because in Engadine, I was in an environment that deliberately sought to stifle what I learned of the world, watching a small number of years left in the world tick down. But Engadine is still a big part of my life, and time to time, we pass through it on the way to Sydney, from where I live now.
Engadine has a KFC and a McDonalds on the highway, meaning that on a long con drive out of Sydney, it’s a place to refuel and restock, and also, crucially, a place where you’re not going to get caught up in a brutal Sydney snarl of traffic if you stop for a while and sit down.
Dad used to say Engadine had a lot of flat ground – it was just all vertical. The terrain of Engadine is all hills, homes perching on uneven backyards, with the biggest flat areas being the football pitch, the mall, and the public pools, which sat across from the school I went to. We would cross the road and do sport on the big field, or in the public facilities to play hockey.
I really do love the public works part of Engadine, in hindsight. There were so many things that were available to me that I didn’t know, or didn’t appreciate. There was a walkway to the Train Station that went under the road, so as a child, I could safely make my way to the station without having to go up a huge number of stairs or some other way cross six lanes of highway.
When we revisit Engadine, though, the thing that blows my mind is how little it changes. Storefronts have changed – different businesses have come and gone and I’m sure nobody there remembers me, nobody remembers what I did or who I was, some nondescript little church kid with a bowl haircut reading Pratchett novels in the foyer. But the shape of Engadine is the same.
I think a lot of this is because of the roads. Engadine’s roads are all… pretty much the same? The big Woolworths is probably a Coles now, the NeoLife offices aren’t there any more (because the bastard who ran them is dead), but the businesses and the people have to follow the shape of the roads, the roads that are laid out on the land as best they can be.
I remember when I lived there I was genuinely confused as to how there were any other places in the world. How would you get there? The first time dad drove us out onto the highway and I saw that that little road I thought went nowhere in fact went everywhere, it blew my tiny mind.
But Engadine is still Engadine. It is older and it is different and it is dressed differently, but it is still a place named for the people who we took it from, wearing on its roads the scars of a culture that should never forget what we did.
You know what it’s like to walk into a world where David Bowie has existed your entire adult life and you have no idea who he is?
The man’s like a fucking space alien.
I grew up in a media bubble which means my actual appreciation of media as having some sort of continuity and inter-related field of study. So imagine if your first encounter with music is jumping from church praise songs to, around 1997, suddenly having access to popular radio and media, which you listen to in your room, with headphones, for fear of being found out.
Now you might think this means I learned a lot about trash, and boy howdy did I. My knowledge of pop music started in 1997 and that was not a great time for Australian pop. And somehow, in the intervening years, I never actually went that far back. I never really got ‘into’ Bowie. He was part of the landscape already. I could literally never experience his songs new, see his impact new.
But he was everyfuckingwhere.
When I learned the man had passed, I tried to think about what he’d done that I really knew. Oh he was in Labyrinth. Oh he made The Man Who Came To Earth. Oh he was in The Prestige. Oh he was referenced in The Venture Bros. Oh he was responsible for that song in Elite Beat Agents. Oh he was in Shrek 2.
In his lifetime, David Bowie became part of the landscape. Fluency in him didn’t just become important to understand the world at large, but he became osmotic. And that’s just from me, from someone who is as close as you can come to not having anything to do with the guy as possible. For a lot of people, for my friends, David Bowie is the Michael Jackson of the queer set – an ideal of concepts and values that has underpinned their entire lives since it was introduced, something so fundamentally ur to their modern now that they don’t even realise he had formed it. The people who are all fucked up and sad right now because he’s gone but don’t know why because it’s not like they listened to his music all that much.
It didn’t impact me much, but I get that it did.
There, that ought to get a bunch of people to not read it. Anyway. Continue reading
Yesterday, editing the podcast, I caught myself saying five-man dungeon. It’s a common phrase, used in World of Warcraft discussion. It grows from a common phrase for crewing things – man the cannons – and basically it means the same thing as five person dungeon.
I thought about this turn of phrase, as yet another little bit of everyday sexism that’s worn into my mind, and where the alternative isn’t just unfamiliar, it’s linguistically kinda worse. Without trying to sound like a whiner on this, five-person and five-man are two terms that have distinctly different flows; the consonant stop in the middle is a distinct thing and it shapes the term differently. This isn’t to say I want to keep using five-man – I corrected myself both times.
I also kept in that I made the mistake.
There’s a strangeness that comes from hearing yourself, played back, regularly. My podcasting compatriots don’t hear it, unedited, the same way I do. They don’t hear the raw audio, over and over again. I’m not responsible for anyone else’s manner of speaking, but I am responsible for my own. My language is not just embedded with the signs of the typical intersectional overlay of kyriarchic bullshit that we all deal with but I have an extra bonus layer coming from my fundamentalist upbringing. Even the way I swear, explicitly a rebellion against that kind of thing, reflects that upbringing. I learned to write and read under an American regime, then had Australian corrections amend it in some superficial ways dating back from before modern spelling. I learned to spell ‘waggon’ and ‘gaol,’ words of no practical application in the modern day but as strange curiosities.
I feel a need to be honest about these mistakes. I mess up. There are others I don’t catch. Editing audio – especially hours and hours of it – is really hard. There’s stuff that slips through. Sometimes, hugely embarassingly, sometimes not.
Lemme tell you about socialised speech.
You learn a lot of how you talk from the things around you. A lot of kids learn slang and shorthand from one another. Swears and other language, things that have meaning that they share with one another. I didn’t have many friends – I very rarely ‘socialised’ with other kids. Not just awkwardness, but also the divides and factionalism in our church, and the, you know, violence. Common public media wasn’t okay either – and any words that were ‘wrong’ were met with a pretty consistant punishment.
I remember reading Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy and seeing Zaphod Beeblebrox use the word ‘photons’ as a swear. He used it like the word ‘heck’ or ‘dang.’ It was a good word, it had that nice ‘t’ in the middle and it wasn’t a word, as far as I could tell, that was rude at all. It had something to do with laser guns, I think? And so I used ‘photons’ when I was hurt, when I was frustrated, when I fell off things or when I touched my chest and felt the bruise spreading. “Ah, photons.”
Then one day, my dad grabbed me, by the side of the head, and yanked me out of the flow of traffic. He looked me, very seriously in the eyes, and told me to stop saying that.
“Is it a rude word?” I asked, terrified. Had I been doing A Wrong?
“You know what you really mean,” he growled, and that was all the explanation I got.
I was lost. I was confused. That… what did I reall mean? Was Photons a dirty word in another language? Was it in the Bible somewhere? This prompted a little research project that took me six months before I finally gave up. The guilt of the action wracked me.
Another source of my language flowed from the god-awful media I had access to. There were these strange 1970s nostalgia pieces my dad and mum kept, the videogames that slid in, but ultimately, what I read and saw was from that particular Christian media bubble. I read a lot of fundamentalist Christian literature, and the ‘cool’ edge of that (trust me, you’ve no idea). Narnia, But Written In 1990 America To A Word Count.
One of the hallmarks in that kind of story of the protagonists? The character you were meant to emulate?
He called people sir.
Oh, he called women ma’am, too, that was definitely part of it, but the sir thing stood out. When I left that media bubble and called teachers sir they looked at me confused. When I called strangers sir on the street, they gave me the same look. When I called a woman a few years older than me ma’am, I got a filthy look.
As a teenager, it was weird. As a young adult working service industries and low-skill jobs, it was old-fashioned. Now, in my life, a ‘sir’ at the wrong time can be an act of violence.
This is scored in deep on my mind. This is etched in my brain. It leaps out of my mouth barely passing my conscious mind, and not doing so sets me on edge because those terms are tied to respect in my life, they are tied to politeness and in refusing to do them, I am in some way, preparing a defensive or offensive posture. They are words meant to reassure that have stopped working, but my urge to be kind, my want to be nice to be people tries to re-apply these broken tools.
I’ve taken to using ‘y’all’ a lot. It has the nice side effect of also being a word that can be used to obliterate ‘you guys’ or ‘guys.’ That sort of substition is something my brain can handle. When the ma’am comes up I can replace it with y’all – “How are y’all” somehow sits right in place of “How are you, ma’am?” Of course, now, I’ve traded the chance of upsetting strangers and misgendering people for instead, a familiar conversation with people who want to know why I’m using it. It inevitably results in someone cleverly pointing out that they are not multiple people. My efforts to expunge harm have instead exposed me to pedantry, and boy hoy howdy do I love me some pedantry. The concern about it usually comes from people who only deal with me in text, and what’s weird there is it’s not like any of them have any idea how I do talk, or how I should talk.
That in particular is weird, because I don’t talk like an Australian.
I mean I barely ever say the word ‘c*nt.’
I think about this sort of problem a lot. And I think any time someone retweets or shares a tumblr post that ends with “THIS ISN’T HARD PEOPLE.”
It’s hard for me.
What follows is a discussion that features a not-pleasant truth about my childhood. I don’t go into detail and I don’t provide a lot of context, but there’s just one little sentence I know will upset some people if you’re not braced for it.
Much was made of the Christian overtones of Man of Steel, to the point where the movie was advanced-screened to some churches, a point that some folk got outraged about but really just seemed silly to me. Thing is, after it came out – and sucked – I gave it a cursory examination, read some script excerpts, saw the critical reaction, the advertising and figured I wanted nothing to do with it. Then the greater analyses came out and wow was I justified in my observations of this piece of crap, this Jesus-as-Judge extrahuman narrative ordained by human military powers.
Today, I want to talk to you about one particular scene in the building of this narrative, because it’s an incompetently constructed sign of a fundamental misunderstanding of Superman the character and Superman the narrative. Continue reading
Now look, I need some disclaimers up front. First and foremost, you are hearing twenty-year old memories that were encoded, at the time, by an eight year old. Second,I was at the time, a second-hand source. I did not see the events, I saw the news reporting on the event, I saw my family talking about it, and eventually, spoke to the person in question. With that disclaimer in the way, let’s talk about one of the more goofy parts of my childhood, the persistent presence of Arkaeology. Continue reading
I’ve mentioned the Christian media bubble I grew up in, this little landscape of carefully controlled worldview. It’s conspiracy theory garbage, and unfortunately, a lot of people in the real world live in it. But while I’ve made hay out of the replacement media, the ‘Christian Versions’ of things we were given to replace the higher-quality, less-Christian versions of same, I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the strangeness that was the times we tried to claim something from outside the bubble.
Now, my dad was not a purist for the bubble. Broadly speaking, he does not believe it’s that which goes into a man but that which comes out of him that corrupts him, ignoring exactly what the context of that sentence was saying in the Bible. It’s still an interesting perspective, which means that my dad read Harry Chapin lyrics from the pulpit confident in the knowledge that nobody in the congregation would know he was quoting a popular songer.
There were others, however, who liked things outside the bubble, who would argue for the Christian-ness of things that they brought in. Age worked in their favour in a lot of ways; both older people and older media were usually more wholesome. John Wayne movies, for example. I saw True Grit and it was okay, even though it had a swear. There were some… edge cases though.
See, one of the ideas we really clung to in these environments was the christian as an oppressed minority. We were sure that there weren’t that many Christians in the world (so missionary work was always important), and that we had almost no power. Hollywood was a vast, christian-eating machine and we warned people to stay away, or if they must go, go knowing they would be hated. Therefore, any ‘big’ media we could attribute as Christian was the result of some clever, insidious trickery on the part of a covert operative Christian, sneaking up the villainous Hollywood’s tower and waving a tiny Christian flag, reminding us all to stay strong.
I’m not kidding.
The first one to stick in my head was Enemy of the State, a conspiracy movie from the late 90s which focused on Will Smith as a hapless victim in a government conspiracy carrying information that was dangerous for someone. I saw it in theatres and heard, a few nights later, a member of the congregation argue that it was a good movie, as it was clearly trying to demonstrate the government of the End Times. It was, they said, a movie that was made for post-Rapture Christians (people who convert after the rest of us leave town), to be prepared for and understand the world they were going to live in. The main thing I remembered in the movie was the lingerie store scene.
The second movie was The Matrix, which we went and saw as a Youth Group because of course we did. See in this movie, there were Bible words, and there was Trinity and that meant that we were clearly seeing a covert missive from our Christian brothers (and sisters I suppose) in Hollywood who had made this movie. We read into the metaphors of this movie convinced that the Nebuchadnezzer was a reference to timescales, that there was some prophetic divination that we could untether in our little youth study classes. Just imagine a youth minister saying, ‘Much like Neo, in the Matrix, Jesus-‘ and you have the image of what happened.
Now I want to make it clear, if you’re a Christian, if you espouse this faith, that’s fine. And I think if you do, you might be a bit insulted to think that the Matrix movies were made for you by a secretive conspiracy and not, as they probably were, created as a sci-fi anime mishmash by a trans woman and her brother, with references to thousands of different sources in cinema and literature. Find your Christian reading, sure, but claiming it was made to be a Christian movie is…
Let me just settle on ‘weird.’
The third one, though, the third one was a movie I loved. That was The Transformers movie. How did we know the secret of that one? What gave away the secretive Christian nature of this piece of toy advertising? Was it the death-rebirth cycle of Primes? Was it the Matrix of leadership and the martyrdom and resurrection of Ultra Magnus? Perhaps it was the way the Junkions fought and did not become tired. Nope, nope, nope. The reference to Judas that was Starscream?
No, the thing that tipped off the church member arguing for this was that in the opening of the movie, Hot Rod runs over a barricade guarded by Kup.
His Kup Runneth Over.
I saw an adult make that argument with a straight face.
Every time I write about fundamentalism I feel like I need to make this huge-ass preface and denoument to explain that I’m not applying this to everything and I’m sure you know some totally nice fundamentalists and all that. It’s tricky. I don’t want to be an asshole about it, but I do want to make it clear that thing is bad and I am allowed to think thing is bad. Just this tug between ideas.
In fundie school-churches, we’re trained to be disruptive assholes. Not to ourselves – oh god help you if you were disruptive in my school. No, we were taught to be disruptive and harmful to other people’s lives, with the most self-righteous of motivations.
The thing with the fundie bubble is that they know they can’t hold you forever. They can’t keep you from interacting with outside. If they want to control you when you’re not under the thumb, then, they need you to work to keep yourself enslaved – and guilt will do a lot for that. Know what else does a lot for that? Being an asshole.
There’s this wave of behaviours I have and I’ve recognised in myself and in other fundies. We argue. We argue hard and we argue with this visceral sincerity that means we’ll often be an asshole even when we lose. We’ll break out arguments at picnics and family camps. We’ll interrupt teachers. And we share stories about the people who do such things, these sorts of ridiculous modern myths about being persecuted for being Christians that really, when you listen to the story, are actually stories about bein ignored for being assholes. This was the meme of my childhood – the idea that I would raise my hand in class, and ask a secularist teacher at some sad point in my future ‘were you there?‘ and watch as they crumpled. The world was full of ridiculous paper tigers, who would fall when you threw out these arguments, and you would sweep in the glory of the lord. And if they didn’t fall, you were being persecuted, and could embrace that, too!
So many stories, so so many stories. So many stories that taught us to challenge the other authorities, to act like petty assholes, and then act offended when people treated us like assholes.
I actively worked to make the science education of my fellow students worse. I argued with teachers who knew better than me but didn’t have it in them to tell me to just shut up so they could get on with the class.
I imagine if I hadn’t had the crises of faith I had, this sort of self-fulfilling perpetuating behaviour would have probably driven me back to the church, because the church had crafted me to outsider myself in all other situations. You become crafted socially broken, then told your brokenness will only be accepted in the circle of prayer.
First things first, a content warning. I’m going to discuss slavery and possibly get into the specifics of what that means, and my own upbringing. I apologise if this makes you uncomfortable and advise you to freely sidestep this post and go do something else. I am a white dude talking about my experience with fundamentalists talking about slavery in the Bible. If you’re a Christian sensitive about literalism or your individual interpretation of the book, well, you might also want to step outside elsewhere, too. Probably won’t make you very happy.
I’m cis –
Yeah sorry. About a lot of things. But anyway.
– and I never had to deal with a lot of the experiences I’m hearing about today. Some of them still echo in me, resonating with my childhood, with things I heard, with ideas I learned. One little story that sticks in my head, from a song.
This is a pretty weird song in a pretty weird album. I legit don’t know what it’s ‘about’ or if it’s about anything. They Might Be Giants do that sort of thing all the time and the songs on that same album also include the strangely horror-story driven Spiralling Shape and the mind controlling music of The Bells Are Ringing. It could be this song is about trans issues and I have no idea.
But I heard this song as a kid, in the secret clandestine way we heard music in our home lives during that stage of my life, and I liked it as part of the album it was on, which I had taped from a friend of a friend’s CD in an overnight borrow that I had to return the day afterwards, no option.
You kids with your ipods, I swear.
Anyway, I heard this song a few times, in my bedroom. And thought nothing much of it. It was just weird – I mean I could sing ‘like a girl’ at the time, which in my mind meant that I was capable of singing soprano. I actually flatter my memory to think I had a really good soprano voice before my voice broke to its more boringness now – I know that to properly put my voice behind a song in choir and at church, I had to really go for it. I got accused of pride for this a few times, which I dunno. Probably true, in the world of sins. The point being that that was all it was to me: A song wondering about having a ‘girl’ voice.
My sister, out of nowhere, at a family dinner, brought it up as if it was pornography.
The idea that this song was somehow obscene and disgusting was brought up and talked about. My parents didn’t know what the song was – so they relied on my sister telling them about it. I remember being confused and stunned by it – and finally being given the advice I should never sing that song.
Now I’m a cis boy.
But how fucking patrolled is that gender boundary? How utterly weird is it that a half-memory of a song I didn’t understand that just used the phrase ‘like a girl’ was something my family thought was important enough that my sister ratted me out about it? When I didn’t know I’d done anything wrong?
Also probably the first place I heard the word ‘objectified.’
I can’t imagine how awful the life I’d led would have been for someone who, in addition to the problems I had with violence and identity and want and self-acceptance, was struggling with being told their gender was wrong, and they were stuck with it. I can’t imagine being that cruel to someone who was doing nothing wrong. I can’t imagine it because we make that action, the policing of gender, a tiny invisible action we all do every day, so none of us notice when we do it.
Specifically, let us not talk about the Pope as a nice guy.
I get it. I know that there’s this reputation amongst people like me – white dudes on the internet in their early thirties – to act as if the existence of a pope is a personal affront. I know, there are plenty of religious people who would really like if people would just not bother them about it, or maybe even extend their beliefs some respect, and for the most part I operate in a fairly easy truce about this – where my friends generally understand my position, and generally don’t make an issue of their positions. It makes me feel a bit of a coward when I watch my friends talk about atheism or atheists but I make it generally clear, to myself, that I am not the person they’re talking about, or RTing about.
The Pope is this dude who’s part of a religious institution. It can be very hard to talk about him without at least partially glancing at the power that religious institution affords him.
He’s also a member of what is, to some people, a moral and religious component of their lives.
Today the Pope said, again, that trans people should just miraculously not be trans. This continues with his existing stance that gay people should stop ‘doing gay’ but then mollified it with saying that you should love them anyway – a familiar dodge to me. This pope is still in a position to exert enormous power over people’s lives and the lives of the children of the people who follow him. And a lot of those people are going to do bad things anyway, and a lot of those people are going to do good things anyway, but there is a percentage of population between those two groups who will listen to what the Pope says and try to live by it. Who will try to tell their daughters and sons that they’re sons and daughters, or who will deny their enby children identity, who will – full of love and good intentions – tell their gay children that they are wrong, and sinful, and evil but I love you anyway.
Don’t tell me this guy’s a nice guy.
It’s super easy to be nice when your day job is ‘be nice, in a palace.’
So please, at least for a while, until the ash in my mouth of yet again, a powerful man with whom I have deep reactions has faded, don’t talk to me about what a nice person he is, or how much better he is than the last one.
Just… don’t, okay?
Today was my birthday. I spent it avoiding homework, failing to eat things because there wasn’t that much in the house, and leaving a can of shaving cream on the counter, which was pretty stupid because I know I’m going to get yelled at for it later even if I had a reason for it. It’s just how it goes, the little things you get wrong in a day pile up in your mind afterwards.
I also have been listening to and watching a lot of videos today that are filed as euducational, in part because I’ve also been writing in private about my childhood and my education and my experiences with religion, and those things do not work well together. I wound up watching the ever-gentle voiced Daniell Dennett, who I am sure someone I care about will happily tell me is a monster, and some work by the man David Fitzgerald and Matt Dillahuntie, people I wasn’t familiar with. They’re both white and male and as far as I know, cis, and they’re both atheists.
Anyway, while I was watching Matt Dillahuntie talk about talking with theists, he did deliver this very nice, simple line, a line which has some sinew to it but makes a few other things in my life more horrible, when I consider them.
When you’re talking to a theist, remember that they’re not evil, and they’re not stupid.
A line meant to remember the humanity of the people you’re talking to (which is nice, and good), and a practical piece of advice for engaging others in these large conversations about greater ideas, just leaves me sitting here, dreadfully, dreadfully sad.
I’m pretty sure it’s still a good general rule. I know many people who are theists and they are not evil and they are not stupid, and that’s fine and I don’t mean to think those people are. I am, as it were, not talking about you.
Many of the people I am talking about are dead.
Here in Australia, creationism is in trouble. Outside of Queensland (the Fuckhead State), it’s banned for mention in science, and since 2010, the Australian Academy of Sciences has stated categorically that any science education that includes non-science information, explicitly citing Intelligent Design and Creationism, does not count as any form of education and will not be considered as acceptable for any nationally recognised credit. Simply put, in Australia, if you teach creationism as a science, you’re messing up. In Queensland, you can do it, but if the kid can’t pass tests on Evolution – including questions about ‘how does it work,’ then bam. Get lost.
There are other problems, the efforts of the religious to earn Special Religious Institution status, and they suck, but the point is, in Australia, a minority of a minority with very little political power believe in creationism. If you were a creationism lobbyist, if you were trying to, on an ideological level, spread creationism for its own sake, you would probably want to be here, working as hard as you can to push back against this terrible wave of disbelief.
I mean, if that was your thing.
So why the fuck is Ken Ham in Kentucky?
Kentucky already is a creationist space. It’s a space where people can happily espouse the idea that Creationism is true and Evolution is a lie from hell. It has political representatives who espouse creationism. It may even have a creationist presidential candidate – or two! – soon. Its state government gave millions to a creationism museum and money to build an ark!
Kentucky is pretty damn safe space. Why are the crusaders milling there?
It’s almost like there’s some incentive system that pulls them there. Almost like they’re not actually all about the promotion and distribution of their ideology, and like they’re moving to the greater centres of reward.
Hm, hm, hm.
I didn’t listen to sermons very often. My dad preached a lot, but what knowledge I gleaned from the sermons tended to be while I was trying to distract myself, gleaning tiny notes I could add to conversations later on to avoid an ass kicking. But I did pay attention to the one my dad gave with his hand on the pulpit, his voice loud and terrifying, when he began THE ROCK IS GOING TO FALL ON US.
He quoted the whole song.
Not as a song, not as this tale of back and forth. He recited it as poetry, without pitch and timbre, and with the building, frothing cadence of a preacher. From the timid lurking fear of the beginning to the crashing, potent terror of the last segment, this song was turned to the Christ metaphor. He closed a sermon that was laden with eschatalogical terror as it was with exhortation to do better in our own lives, with the line the rock slips a little bit.
The story of the original song, when expressed by Harry Chapin didn’t seem to have that same religious potency. It was about people. It was about listening to the outsider in our midst. It was about a person who respected what could go wrong so well they worked and struggled and strived and used what they had, even to their last, to try and save people from worse fates.
It’s a scary fucking song.
But the thing about the song that I’m reminded of today is of a friend, dear and kind, who is up on the hillside, building barricades. They’re fighting against something that doesn’t have to happen again. They’re striving and struggling and they are doing their work in part with poetry and with music, things that scored this message into my mind in the first place.
You do not believe it right now, so I have written it down and you can come back and check:
You are beautiful.
You are wonderful.
You deserve to be heard, respected, and loved.
And anything that tells you otherwise wants to lie to you to control you.
Please do remember this.