The Politics of Ghost In the Shell

I dislike movie theaters and usually wait to watch movies when they come out on demand or DVD. Ghost In the Shell was no exception, especially due to the “whitewashing” controversy which made me less-than-excited about this movie.

Finally having watched it just yesterday, my review of the movie is that they distilled some general themes and isolated scenes from the anime series (which was amazing in comparison) into a general action movie suitable for worldwide release.

Stripped from this movie was anything sexual or messily violent and the overall theme of government interference, human individuality, and freedom was boiled down to a fight against a corporate villain. The politics, issues of sexual identity, and even deeper character exploration, were all stripped away in order to create a PG-13 sci-fi action movie that would play safely across all target markets.

In my opinion, the reason for this is twofold:

  1. Movie studios need to recoup their investment and leading with content that is safe and digestible by large audiences essentially ensures that a movie is “safe” enough for the entire family. Predictable storylines and characters resonate with the masses (yeah, that last part sounds arrogant but I’m sticking with it because it is true).
  2. Chinese politics.

Investment and partnership from Chinese companies in US filmmaking comes with strings attached. And part of those strings are ensuring that any content meets domestic political standards as set by the government. Content must be non-threatening and meet the relatively puritanical standards set forth by the Communist Party.

Translation: violence is strong but not bloody, sex is toned down or non-existent, and corporations and people can be villains but never governments (or if there is a government villain, it will be a Western one).

Ghost In the Shell is just one example. The current flood of superhero movies (with the exception of Deadpool) fall into that category as do even small productions like Keanu Reeves’ Man of Tai Chi. In that movie, about an international fight club, a scene had to be inserted in which it is noted that only foreigners would watch two people kill each other and that none of the fights were broadcast even illegally in China.

The US has a history of film censorship so this not a unique phenomenon but it is a troubling one in terms of what we can expect from large film studios in the near future as they remain dependent upon foreign money and audiences.

In context of China’s troubled history between the Opium Wars in the 19th-century through occupation by foreigners, multiple wars including the Taiping Rebellion, World War II, and then the chaos of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution; this can be understood. China, under any government, would strive to ensure order, self-respect, and strength.

The government under Chiang Kai-shek both in China and then later in Taiwan, also introduced strict controls under the auspices of modernity and strength. Throughout the 20th century, the Communist and the Nationalist governments introduced hygiene, health, and empowerment programs dedicated to eradicating disease, the appearance of weakness and to promoting a vision of China as a strong and modern country.

However, the type of strength that does not allow for creativity and liberty is a brittle one and will not solve the issues at hand….and they will contribute to uninspiring movies in the meantime.

 

Russian Special Forces Competition

In the US and amongst our allies we have competitions like the one below (Best Ranger or the high-end international one in Jordan). Though competition can sometimes dilute the essence of the military or martial arts, the value is that it does make people bring out their best. Competitions are also good opportunities to network and learn from others.

Телеканал “Звезда”

Соревнования разведгрупп спецназа. Лучшие кадры

30 июля 2013, 11:25

Разведгруппы совершили 30-километровый марш-бросок, преодолевали водную преграду, скрытно выдвигались к назначенному объекту условного противника, оборудовали места укрытий в лесу…. Подробнее »

Courtesy of http://tvzvezda.ru

Memorial Day

This weekend looks to be a beautiful one and I will enjoy it but I will also take time to remember and respect those for Memorial Day was meant. Our fallen brothers and sisters and the people they left behind.

Elected officials who rush to war should be made to first speak with the widows and grieving parents and family of those from the previous conflicts. Just to make sure that a given conflict is truly worth the price.

The photo, taken by New York Times's Todd Heisler, while he was a staff photographer at Rocky Mountain News in 2005. The night before the burial of her husband's body, Katherine Cathey refused to leave the casket, asking to sleep next to his body for the last time. The Marines made a bed for her.

2nd Lt. James Cathey's body arrived at the Reno Airport in 2005.

Student Loan Debt: Time for Change

Student loan debt is at the $1 trillion dollar mark according to the NY Times and one of the long-term drags on the US economy. Flushed with taxpayer dollars, colleges have been increasing tuition across the board, putting students so deeply into debt that many of them are having to put off buying a car, a home, and saving for retirement.

College-at-any-cost is creating a generation of people with sometimes fancy and often useless college degrees that have little demand in the current job market. At the same time, companies are pressuring Congress and the Obama administration to loosen visa requirements for overseas professionals to fill jobs that Americans are not able to fulfill.

The solution is simple: the university system, which has remain unchanged since the Sorbonne in the 13th century, has to change. Degrees need to be rated (and paid for) according to their current market value. Computer science and medicine are worth more than sociology and journalism.

The delivery of educational content needs to change too. Drawing upon the Sorbonne example, information once had to be delivered in person to ensure that students could ask questions and that schools could reach their student population.

With current and future technology, there is less need for dormitories or for schools to require physical attendance in classes. That need does exist as education goes from the generalist BA level to a MA or research-style program. And for pre-med and similar programs that require lab work, some of that university tradition makes sense.

Don’t get me started on university sports programs. They are a multi-billion dollar waste of time, designed to satisfy alumni and the school’s financial bottom line. They are a far cry from the amateur sports programs predicated upon the ancient Greek principle of training the mind and the body

Kim Jong-Il and Korean History

So the Dear Leader has passed away, leaving his chubby-cheeked son to take on the mantle of kingship for his starvation kingdom. Most people would say his passing was not soon enough and we have all been sickened by the horrible mistreatment of his people and the massive gulag system used to abuse and eventually kill anyone remotely suspected of disloyalty (including their family – Kim Jong-Il has been quoted as saying that “criminality is a stain that lasts three generations”).

Kim Jong-Ill has also served as a comedic foil outside of North Korea, spawning many sadly funny internet memes. A few of my favorites:

G4TV Twitter round-up, Tumblr, YouTube

Beyond the well-deserved mockery and correct criticism of the North Korean regime and leadership is the tragedy of the Korean people, who have been used as tools by their Chinese and Japanese neighbors, fearing a unified and strong Korea.

Starting with their subjugation by China from the 17th-century until the handover of Korea to Japan via the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895 and then eventual colonization by Japan in 1910, Korea’s recent history has been a tragic one.

Even the liberation from Japan in 1945 was incomplete, with the regime in the South managed by officers and officials who had been trained and lead by Japan. According to the book by distinguished historian on Korean history, Bruce Cummings, during the Korean War, the majority of the South’s staff officers were Koreans who had served as officers in the Japanese Imperial Army and who were proud of their service.

Using the same tactics that the Japanese had used to subjugate the population, they maintained control of the South in face of North Korean military offensives and guerrilla incursions.

This fueled North Korean propaganda claims that they were the true freedom fighters and inheritors of a future Korean state. According to Bruce Cummings, it was true that Communist groups in the North did fight the Japanese, expelling or killing collaborators and trying to create an independent Korean state.

He goes on to say that while both sides committed atrocities on the civilian population during the Korean War, the North’s goal was to secure the majority of the population for mass education and conversion while the Southern regime liquidated suspected opponents so the numbers of dead in the South were higher.

Cummings goes further to say that former collaborators in the new regime settled old scores under the guise of fighting communism but, at the end of the day, neither side held the moral high ground. Certainly the post-war North Korean regime has been one of the most brutal and repressive in history, creating a culture of adoration for one family based on a combination of lies and half-truths. Meanwhile, the South has evolved into a democracy and powerful economy with the chance that it will one day face its past and emerge even stronger.

That leaves us with the two Koreas and neighbors who profit from their continuing split. A united Korea, especially a democratic one on its border is too close for comfort for China. Japan may have a more nuanced view of a united Korean nation but in either case, it will be up to time and the Korean people to bring about change since too many profit from the current divide.

 

What Happens When You Don’t Trust Your People

When you don’t trust your own people, you outsource.

According to the NY Times Erik Prince, the former Blackwater CEO, is creating a mercenary force for the UAE staffed by recruits from Latin and South America. Their one core principle: no Muslims allowed.

Outfits like BlackWater (now Xe) or Executive Outcomes have long been a part of the political landscape and they often work with Western governments. They have their uses and they know it.

None of this shocks me. What is sad and quite telling, in light of the Arab Spring, is the extent to which rulers and governments in the Middle East fear their own people to the point that they would hire foreigners (and specifically, non-believers – an important issue in that part of the world) to protect their regimes.

What Happens When You Don’t Trust Your People

When you don’t trust your own people, you outsource.

According to the NY Times Erik Prince, the former Blackwater CEO, is creating a mercenary force for the UAE staffed by recruits from Latin and South America. Their one core principle: no Muslims allowed.

Outfits like BlackWater (now Xe) or Executive Outcomes have long been a part of the political landscape and they often work with Western governments. They have their uses and they know it.

None of this shocks me. What is sad and quite telling, in light of the Arab Spring, is the extent to which rulers and governments in the Middle East fear their own people to the point that they would hire foreigners (and specifically, non-believers – an important issue in that part of the world) to protect their regimes.