Problematic Ethnocentrism & Identity

The Boy with Sapphire Eyes

Boy-with-the-saphire-eyes-2 by Vanessa Bristow

When a photo of a young lad in Africa with pale blue sapphire eyes was posted on the internet the immediate reaction from non-Africans was that it must be photoshopped.  It is the typical reaction because how could an African have the blue eyes typical of another race?

No one considered for a moment that (a) all of humankind are descendants of Africa (b) blue eyes, like blonde hair and pale skin are genetic mutations that westerners consider ‘normal’ (c) race is a social construction not a biological one – this is the power of cultural hegemony.

Domesticated dogs were the genetic mutants descended from wolves that were rejected by the pack for their differences and found companionship with humans who bred them for greater genetic abnormalities that have resulted in the dramatic diversity of breeds today – why do humans think they are so different?

We are all a part of the African diaspora, and many clans travelled far and stayed, adapting to new climes and situations that favoured such mutations. That is biology. Our categorization of people into essentialist ‘races‘ is not. There is less genetic diversity between a European and an African than between two Europeans or two Africans and all the genetic diversity of humankind are within Africa.

Video Games and the Construction of Violent Masculinity

Much of the research I have read on this topic (and I have exhausted myself doing so as I have two children who play video games and one of them is male) suggests no “direct” cause only correlations – in other words it is complicated, and the propensity for violence cannot be blamed on any one factor just like listening to heavy metal music, or reading comic books does not “make” you a sadist however if you already are, you are likely to enjoy the masculine and violent themes of much of that media and the same goes for games like Grand Theft Auto or Doom.

So producers wash their hands of the issue saying they are just catering to the consumers. The problem is that culture and media are so imbricated that there is no pinpointing of ONE source of messaging – it all works together to send hegemonic messaging to citizens that women want manly men, and you are supposed to want a woman, therefore you must be a manly man, and to do that you must be tough, and then there are various interpretations of what that means.

Social and evolutionary psychology studies suggest that the drive to procreate, and to survive underlies all this, then of course there are the factors that affect your psyche before you are seven. By then the messaging from your family, your community, your society and your culture are well embedded in your brain, before you have the capacity to think critically about it. As youth or adults we can laugh at some of these themes and assess them for the ridiculous fantasies that they are, but as children we cannot and if this is the main messaging that we are sending to our children, then we cannot be surprised that these concepts are so deeply engrained in our culture.

Anthropologists and psychologists will also argue that what was appropriate for the survival of aggressive nomadic sheep herder tribes (like the Britons and Celts – who many White Canadians are descended from as opposed to more peacefully-oriented agricultural societies) are not always the same skills we need to navigate contemporary society…so there is our ancient, inherited knowledge and belief systems, along with our individual drives, our cultural values, media messaging, family, community and school dysfunctions (that likely have included violence on some level), mentors or role models, hormone levels of testosterone and personal goals, abilities and resources that all factor into whether or not a man, or a woman for that matter, is likely to be more or less violent and aggressive.

My point is – that humans have the unique capacity to over-ride their lizard brain urges with frontal-lobe critical thinking, which is what makes more so-called civilized, chivalry and gentlemanly conduct possible, but it is slower and takes more effort, and is sometimes impeded by chemicals (drugs, alcohol, etc) or different physiological/psychological abilities. So there is no one answer to this issue.

Personally, I limited outside messaging (TV, Internet, Magazines and newspapers) with the youngest members in our household and when it was allowed, it was never restricted, but always mediated and deconstructed by older family members that usually resulted in interesting discussions. I think this is the key because I don’t believe in censorship or “molly-coddling” children – they need to learn about the world and know the ugly and the beautiful parts of it, so they can deal with it. Therefore, I think that training children to think critically is more important for personal empowerment and the future of humankind than blaming media.

nb: My son and daughter are now in university, seemingly well-adjusted and generally doing well in life. Although they spent a few early years annoyed with me for the differences in our household when compared to that of their friends – by middle school they were more appreciative and could quickly recognise biast messaging. 

Only 20-mins and well done!

Africa is a Country (Old Site)

In Between Storiesis a short 2012 documentary directed by Roda Siad. Originally Siad’s Master’s thesis in Media Production at Ryerson University, the film offers a portrait of four young artists of African descent living and working in Toronto. The film draws a connection between one-dimensional media portrayals that focus on war and crisis in Africa, and negative perceptions of predominantly black communities in Toronto. The false depiction of Africa—and by extension Africans—as chaotic, violent, and dangerous, Siad’s film implies, leads to similar stereotypes being applied to Africans in the diaspora. The film’s subjects, however, offer a way out of this miasma. Watch it first: 

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Custer’s Revenge – Atari 2600 Game (1982)

Custer's Revenge - Atari 2600 Game (1982)

These are the kind of games that today’s game makers grew up with… sold in a leather case with a lock on it (someone should have thrown away the key). In the game the player must guide General Custer across a mesa littered with falling arrows and prickly cactus to enjoy raping a bound and submissive native woman named Revenge – reinforces “noble savage” stereotypes as a path to sexual ecstasy, romanticizes violence and trivializes rape. Luckily this game maker went out of business.

Internet Addiction

…what can happen when flesh and blood human beings become subordinated to, and indeed absorbed into, the realm of virtual commodities.

– John Sanbonmatsu (note #6, 435)

News stories in Korea of a young couple neglecting their baby in favour of 12-hour cyber cafe sessions playing Prius Online & Second Life that resulted in her death; also in Korea a young man keeling over dead of a heart attack after a marathon 50-hr session playing Starcraft have led to much discussion regarding internet addiction; in China a young man dies after 15-days of gamming; in Taiwan a teenager dies after 40-hrs of playing Diablo III; a young man in Thailand was found dead at his home in front of his computer video game; a young man in the UK dies after a long gamming session on his X-Box; in the USA even a fit and healthy young man died while ‘jogging’ with his Nintendo Wii game (Sudden Adult Death Syndrome) and so on…

But it is not just gaming online that is the problem, people stay connected to look at/produce pornography, access news/information, engage in cyber sex or gamble as well. The mental-health community is apparently divided over whether an Internet addiction disorder (IAD) actually exists (despite stories like the ones above featuring in the news for the past three decades)  but researchers in UK believe there is a link between depression and internet addiction. The American Psychiatric Association did add “Internet use gaming disorder” in this years revised version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (May) but only as a topic bearing ‘further research”. Some studies have found that 95% of citizens under 29 spend a significant amount of time online and that up to 20% of the population in the USA may have an internet addiction. China, Germany  and Korea have recognised IAD since 2004 however and have done more research that has lead to some innovative treatments such as horse-back riding and boot camps as well as some not so innovative – like electric shock therapy (now discontinued).

For more on this:

Online education potentional

civilization 3 - screenshot

  Kevin Schut suggests that games like Civilization might be useful in teaching history with the understanding of its hegemonic framing that involves misogynistic, chivalrous and violent masculinity, solipsism with capitalistic solipsism and technocratic tendencies – but I would argue that Civilization is far too ethnocentric and essentialist to be useful as an educational aid. I would also argue that it is difficult to avoid the hegemonic framing – as seen in World of Warcraft (WoW) and Second Life (SL) where it has been seen that users have more agency, but end up reinforcing and even contributing to their own marginalization.

Experts in virtual spaces such as Sherry Turkle believe that the role/s that identity play/s in worlds like multi-user dimensions or domains  (MUDs), MUD object oriented (MOOs), and other virtual spaces such as Second Life (SL) are complicated. Turkle asserts that the “anonymity of MUDs . . . provides ample room for individuals to express unexplored parts of themselves” (xii). These spaces have great potential for dynamic identity exploration, and self-expression without the risks of condemnation, rejection or isolation that could result in real life.

Michael Rymaszewski et al. plainly state that SL is a place for living out fantasies, to be someone else or to work out who you are (301).

In this way many people can play the game with an avatar of a different skin colour, or represent a different gender or class to experiment in a virtual life in a way that is not possible in reality. I think putting these three key ideas together – software could be developed that has the freedom of Second Life with an open-source history-content focus, like Civilization but with input from different regions of the world, from different genders, classes and races. Within this framework students could create time traveller avatars to visit different time periods, learn about the history of different regions. There could be a contemporary period included where student could ‘virtual travel’ to different parts the world and have their text automatically translated to have a peek into a day in the life of someone of a different race, class or gender in a different geographical location.     Continue reading

Polyamory vs Monogamy



There are a lot of errors and misleading information on TV shows and movies about Polyamory (unsurprisingly) They generally  do not do a very good job of representing the whole community because (a) it is very hetero-sexist and (b) poly people have lives to attend to around sex just like everyone else (also Julia correctly assumed) – the white/hetero/sex focus of the show is what appeals to the mainstream because it validates primary couples and tells them it is OK to have multiple partners for sex (like: swinging and adultery) . Also many polyamorous relationships are ‘closed’ relationships not ‘open’ in that there are ground rules as to when/how/why/who/where/what can happen before another partner is taken on by an individual or a group – this is in the interest of respect for feelings, safe sex and protection of the core group.

These errors are typical because they reflect mainstream misconceptions about alternative forms of intimacy: • “the new swingers”: was on the byline and as one of the interviewees pointed out – polyamory is different from swinging – but only slightly. Both forms of relationship involve all partners as consensual, whether or not they are involved in sexual intimacies or not – they are recognized, respected and there are many discussions as to what is okay and not okay – which is different for every group.

• “open marriage”: polyamory is not a form of marriage – that is polygamy – polyamory is much more – it is an identity, a philosophy, a lifestyle, and a form of intimacy. One does not have to be be ‘married’ (in any sense of the word) to be be polyamorous.

• polygamy: is NOT about ONE man get a lot of hot young wives – that is *polygyny* (and the wives are not always young or what mainstream America would consider ‘hot”). Polygamy simply refers to plural marriages, and includes women taking many husbands as in Nepal, as well as a man taking many wives – however in polyamory communities there are many genders involved. If one wishes to refer specifically to women taking many husbands it is referred to as *polyandry* and is generally not included in the countries that hold that Polygamy as legal. Polygamy has ancient roots in many cultures and is even recognized a s a legitimate form of marriage by Australia and the UK, in addition to being legal in many other countries.

• So-called news and reality shows both usually present a model of polyamory as involving a primary couple (ie: married couple) hetero sexual couple who “have sex with others”. This is also incorrect. Polyamory is inclusive and diverse and practised by couples as well as singles (ie: no one is ‘married’ de facto or otherwise) and is probably an even more popular in other cultural and LGBT communities than among white, married, hetero couples. * the jealousy and fears that are often discussed are typical of hetero-normative discourse because it is based on competition and other tenets of capitalism – like scarcity and ownership – it is part of social construction and how we are conditioned to think.

These shows also generally fail (purposely I am sure) to acknowledge that: a) 45-55% of people in so-called monogamous are/or have indulge(d) in adultery b) monogamous relationships can end for the same reasons that polyamorous relationships do c) 40-60% of mononormative marriages end in divorce in under ten years d) there is little research on alternative forms for comparisons.

Lastly – the main couple on the tv show “Polyamory” are new age-Californians also involved in sex-positive practises and trends like so-called tantric sex. Kamala Devi is an intimacy coach and her ‘name’ is actually more like a title as it is part of her profession, as ‘devi’ is the female aspect of the divine and ‘kamala’ is the hindu world for the lotus flower (and popular Hindu girls name). The tantric sex movement in North America is a complete construction loosely based on Hindu and Buddhist religious rites and philosophies. (but that is another topic). I am sure that being openly ‘poly’ and on TV has helped her business (she calls herself a coach, author and ‘goddess’ on her website). Many poly-people are not, because there is no legislation to protect their rights and many fear losing custody of their children or discrimination in a mono-normative society. And of course the show focuses almost completely on their sex lives – so the show is more akin to a ‘peep show’ as is much of TV.

An interesting ‘webisode’ that is actually produced and acted in by poly people can be found on YouTube under 3 Dog Pictures – there are two episodes every month that are under 10-mins long (that get better and more interesting after the first few!)

We Are All Feminists Now?

Porn Again!?

Sexual liberation and empowerment? or exploitation?

Cindy Gallop talks about her new app BangWithFriends  which was launched last month, making it possible to tell if someone on Facebook might want to be more than just friends. She also plans to add gaming elements to the site to encourage users to expand their sexual horizons. You will also be able to create playlists of your favourite videos for different occasions. Participants will be able to build a sexual profile on the site that can be used to say ‘this is who I am sexually’. Gallop is working out more ways to ensure her site’s amateur sex videos will be publicly seen by lots of people.