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Book Launch!

This is my first attempt at launching my new novel.  Sort of a pre-launch as it were.  I’m taking it slow and just seeing how it goes, so this isn’t the complete work.  Rather, this is a taster / part 1 of a series of 3, in order to get a feel for how my writing is reviewed.  If I get positive feedback, well, then I’ll try pushing the book out in a full (and expensive) campaign.  If people think its not so good, well then, it’ll disappear to another corner of the internet, to haunt me as students laugh at my foolish attempts 🙂

The book is a set of observations of Rural and Urban Taiwan.  I spent a few years living in Taiwan, both in the southern city of Kaohsiung as well as in the countryside, and I have to say it was an eye opening experience in many ways.  There’s something about Taiwan that gets under the skin, and this book was causing me nothing but anxiety until I got it out and on the page.

It’s an experimental sort of a book, in that its not really a novel with a plot.  A significant influence would be Haruki Murakami.  It’s also very much a la mode, and if you enjoyed Five Star Billionaire, then this work may appeal to you.

Rather than a conventional novel, instead, it’s a series of short stories, that work together to create a portrait of the country.  However, the stories all intersect.  Characters harbor secrets, which come out in others’ stories, and time collapses, as one woman’s life is told in retrospect.

Please check out the site for the blog at

http://arlopublishing.wordpress.com/

I’ll be posting snippets on a second blog in the future.  But if you want to read it for yourself, you can find the book exclusively at Kobo books:

http://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/even-grey-skies-get-the-blues

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And remember.  This is part 1.  If you like this, I’ll send you part 2 for free!

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Survivor

We’re back into the new season of survivor, and I find it particularly interesting that we are once again being asked to believe in the survival of the fittest as a natural order.  Or at least that is what the show presents itself to be.  However, the show’s conception of ‘fit’ seems to be very much in accordance with the codes and conventions of television:  charm outweighs ‘goodness’ and once again we’re watching characters grapple with their own sense of morality (see baby Hants) only to be cast aside for being somewhat untrustworthy.  And so the show reinforces the notion that he who charms best (see Boston Rob) is somehow most effective at survival – is somehow most fit.  But if all life were a vote for prom king, that may well be true, but life is not engineered by votes – life is never truly democratic in the way that Americans fantasize.  Democracy is not about getting the most votes (or in this case, the least) but about getting your name on the ballot.  These people were, after all, selected by the producers of Survivor for exhibiting strong character traits, and being easily categorized into types (the nerd, the beauty queen, the schemer, coach).  And surely, then, the vote is rigged from the outset.  The survivor will be the one of a limited group, who best conforms to what the show’s particular environment has determined is most telegenic.

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In this episode I look at the question of race.  There are claims that this is now a post-racial society, a claim that is pure nonsense.  Because we have been a racist society, we cannot ever move beyond a question of race.  Film and media too often uses the stereotype as a shorthand for creating texture to a character, but casting characters with certain iconographies, media ‘fleshes out’ a character very quickly.  However, the stereotype is so prevelant within the collective unconscious, that as soon as any character exhibits qualities of a type, it immediately evokes our racist past.

If we take reality television as a very easy example, a show like Jersey Shore has selected characters that fit snugly into an established racial type – the ‘guido,’ and any challenging to that type is immediately countered with the supporting casts’ flak.  For example, in the ‘guido’ type, men are supposed to exhibit agressive masculinity in contrast to women as objects.  If any of the men exhibit characteristics of femininity (delicacy, taste in clothing, consideration for others) they are immediately berated as ‘unmanly’ or as exhibiting homosexual tendencies.  This then, serves to reinforce the known stereotype as being racially (shared by all with Italian American heritage) driven.

Such typing is far more insidious with African American characters who are still positioned in very limited roles:

The Uncle Tom:  An educated paternal figure a la Bill Cosby, Bernie Mac or the dad on Fresh Prince

The Buck:   the agressive sexually active young man – 50 Cent, most rappers.

The Step-and-Fetchit:    A stupid side kick, generally useless but often played for comic value, often portrayed as lazy and conniving.  D.J. Jazzy Jeff played this role on the Fresh Prince, but this character while used less, is still a main figure of much black entertainment programming.  (Chris Rock show had an interesting reversal of this, with Chris’ white friend playing the side kick.)

The Mammie:  (who has often morphed into the Sassy Aunt or, the loving, wisecracking elder woman) Tracy Jordan’s wife on 30 Rock.

The Promiscuous woman.  While much white entertainment plays to the idea that women are sexual objects, the narratives generally demonstrate the women as desirable but sexually unavailable (think of Rachel on friends – sexy, but always slightly out of Ross’ reach, and while often dating never constructed as promiscuous).  The beautiful black female roles are usually shown as not only sexually desirable, but also sexually available, their promiscuity being a part of their sexualized figuration.

And that’s it.  In 50 years of ‘progress’ black characters are still easily slotted into these five figures.  Three men, two women.

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The Ideology of Tarot

A very good friend of mine, in trying to unravel some of my rather tangled thoughts about love, life and moving, suggested we consult her Tarot cards.  Not being spiritual in the least, I of course first objected but then she stated to me that she doesn`t believe in it either.  This was puzzling to me, and so I asked her what`s the point?  And she said, it never hurts to have a second opinion.

This answer amused me, and I thought I`d give it a try.

To begin, she told me to keep my problem in mind.  Think about the problem, and ask the cards a question.  So I did.  She had me draw out five cards, and then place them in a particular configuration.  In turn, she turned each card over, and then consulted her guide book (she`s not an oracle afterall) about what the cards may mean, and then asked me to think about what that means to me, in relation to my problem.  So far not very supernatural.

So the cards had vaguley mystical – ish drawings of old trees being caressed by nymph like people, and wizened men holding sticks and such.  All terribly suggestive things.

They way it worked was quite simple.

Ask the cards a question.  Draw out a set number of cards.  One card represents `the problem,`  One card represents what you don`t know.  One card represents what you do know, one card is a solution, one card is a resolution.

The card`s all relate to different things, death, pride, courage, anxiety, etc, and depending on what position the cards may be in, the reading changes.

And I tell you what, they really helped me sort out my thoughts.  I`ve become a believer.

Rubbish, I hear you yelling at your screens.

Fuck off Rob, don`t tell me you`re a convert to mysticism, and what the hell has this got to do with Ideology?

Everything. . .

You see, I realized that what the tarot is NOT doing is tapping into a mystical spirit world.  What it is doing, is tapping into the sub-conscious, in a way that is highly controlled and directed.  What tarot is, despite its mask of spiritualism, is rudimentary psychoanalysis.

They are essentially Rorschach cards, that are highly suggestive, but when encountered, done so in such a way that the subject relates such things as `love` `selfhood` `anxiety` to the problem that is asked – generally something that has been `on your mind`.

So where is the ideology?  Well, it is an ideology of mysticism, its an ideology of distraction.

While psychoanalysis (except for Jung) is divorced of mysticism and relates entirely to human thought processes and an understanding of the culture of the mind- the psychoanalyst `reads` a person`s anxieties, thoughts and disorders as manifestations of unresolved issues that may be causing the subject to manifest dis-ease; mysticism, conversely, presents to solve the same problems through some form of spiritual or divine intervention.

And that`s precisely what Tarot presents itself as doing.  Rather than openly acknowledging it as a form of isolating certain aspects of the subconscious and questioning why those thoughts are present, Tarot professes to have spirit guides or ghosts or ghoulies or psychic waves influencing the messages the cards spell out.

But that is all bullshit.

For some reason, Tarot masks its human element (what does this picture mean to you – how does it make you feel in relation to the problem at hand.  If we were to see this image as symbollic of what you don`t understand about yourself, what do you think about that) and substitutes that for a supernatural element (`the cards know all`).

So here`s how it works:

Reader;  Ask the cards a question.

Will I find love?

Pick a card.  That card is the problem.  Oh, you picked a card about nature.  See, there is an old tree.  Hmm, what do you think about that?

Uhhhhh, It makes me feel that love is timeless.  um, but the tree is healthy, its still alive.

well, it says in the book that the tree represents wisdom.

Hmm, Maybe I worry that I`m not wise enough to find true love?

Hmm, why do you say that?

I don`t know, because it hasn`t happened yet, or love is difficult, and I fear I`m not wise enough.

Why do you say that?

I`ve made some bad decisions regarding love.

So that makes you scared?

Shouldn`t it?

Do you see where I`m going here?  That`s pure psychonalysis.  It`s asking the question what does this symbolically loaded thing, which could mean anything and everything, mean to you?  And why do you think that way?

But back to ideology.  I can` t help but ask why we as a society, in the 21st century, with sophisticated understanding of nature, technology, the world, the mind and culture, still feel the need to fall back on a supernatural world that is more knowledgable or more special than the one in which we live?

Personally, I find the mind a fascinating, wonderful, terrible thing.  Surely, our own world is special enough that we don`t need to make up things as magic, psychic powers and religion.

And yet we still do.

In this age of knowledge, where scientific study has shown us how our world is made, how things are interconnected, a good 80 Percent of us, still think that it was made by a floating giant magic man of some kind.

Instead of believing in the certainty of slow, progressive evolution, there are large vocal populations that insist we were scraped together out of clay and mud through magic.

It baffles me that we in the 21st century, fall back on the supernatural to answer the hard questions, and yet rely on the science and technology to provide our entertainment.

Surely we`ve got things backwards somewhere.

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Here’s the link to the third trailer for my coming video series on propaganda and ideology in contemporary media.

Click on the image to watch the video.

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Here’s the second trailer for my coming show on propaganda.  Check it out!

So that’s Mind Control:  Propaganda in the 21st century!

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Propaganda in the 1950s was overt, explicit, and to our contemporary perspective, easy to identify as a codified and manipulative text.  This is a dangerous thing, because we’ve come to believe that propaganda is by its overt nature, easy to recognize.  Well, old propaganda is quite easy to spot and we congratulate ourselves in being smarter than our forebearers, but have propaganda and the desire to control the public disappeared entirely?  Such an attitude that propaganda is obvious and therefore easy to spot is a dangerous view to have, as this is to deceive ourselves into thinking that ALL propaganda is easy to recognize and therefore has little to no power.  But it is precisely that ‘I’m too smart to fall for that trick’ mentality that causes us to succumb to the persuasive power of propaganda.  Propaganda, and media indoctrinate us into believing that we are in control of what we consume, that as consumers we have choices (if you don’t like it, you can always change the chanel), however, if propaganda and ideological texts were indeed so obvious to spot, we’d dismiss it and it wouldn’t have any effect.  That is, we’d dismiss it until the propagandists refined their product enough to slip below our radars.

Propaganda is effective precisely because we DON’T recognize its presence.  It is only when ideology has changed, when our perspective has become different from that of the propaganda text, that we recognize it as such.  For example, cold war propaganda wasn’t seen as propaganda to those who were indoctrinated into cold war thinking.  Rather, American media consumers of the 1950s would watch film images of supposed Russian communists and compare those images with representations of them selves.  And yet, their access to such images were mediated and controlled by several different institutions; the military, the news presses, the government run schools.  Indeed, all information is filtered to us by several different institutions.  So, in teh 1950s, those who feared nuclear annhilation, were prepared to accept that Eastern Europeans had a nihilistic attitude which rendered them capable of escalating war to the point of mass global destruction.  Rather than being seen as a propagandistic attitude, such belief systems were passed off as common sense to any thinking being, and it was only ‘natural’ that with the mass proliferation of nuclear weapons, America would ensure its safety against Russian attack.

Cold war reporting was not seen as propaganda, rather, it was news, common sense, and seen as a sad but accurate portrayal of world events.  It was only with the collapse of the Soviet block that we began to recognize cold war attitudes as being cynical and manipulative.  Similarly, today, we may recognize Fox News as being highly propagandistic, and prefer to watch a show more in line with our own worldview (perhaps MSNBC, or even Comedy Central’s Daily Show) and yet these shows are no less ideological.  However, we tend to overlook the ideologies because they reinforce our own belief systems.  Over the next coming months, I will be looking at different media texts and exploring how ideology is invested in commercial media.

But have such strategies really changed.  The average person has an attitude or opinion about North Korea and its leader.  We have opinions about its cult of deifying leadership, its celebration of its rejection of Western (read progressive) values.  We believe it is a poor place, being held back by its communist principles.  And yet, how do we know these things?  North Korea is a closed state, it is a no fly zone for non-friendly trade partners.  It is a country notoriously difficult to enter and exit, and those who enter are prevented from travelling around without government escort.  Indeed, first hand reports about North Korea are scarce and few and those that visitiations that have been recorded are heavily restricted in what the reporters could have viewed.  This means that virtually all we know of North Korea is based on speculation and fantasy, our imagined extrapolation from tiny bits of mediated data.  And yet we have painted with very broad strokes a shared cultural fantasy of what North Korean life must be like – a composite image of Stalinist Russian communism, iron curtain Chinese communism, and a cartoonish vision of Kim Jhong Il based on fragmentary and anecdotal accounts.

North Korea, then, becomes our first example of  propaganda text of the 21st century.

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