Feminist Fracas: The Debate over Gender Roles in Video Games

Yep, we’re getting into this again.

Back in October of 2014 I published a post about Gamergate, that controversy that brought issues of sexism within video games to the forefront of the debate.  That movement has long since died down and the debate has once again relegated itself to a quiet corner of the world, but it is still one worth having.

In that post I also referenced Anita Sarkeesian, an outspoken feminist critic of the video games industry.  Now, back then I said that I didn’t have much of an issue with her.  And that’s still true in a sense.  However, I have found myself frustrated with the movement that she represents.  Often, it feels to me that they’re critiquing certain portrayals of female characters in video games but (willfully or not) ignoring others that would serve as evidence against their agenda.

But that’s getting a little ahead of myself.  Let’s start at the beginning.  Let’s start with what triggered my interest in talking about this again.

Thirty years ago, the original Legend of Zelda video game released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (or NES for short).  It was an adventure game steeped in the age-old fairy tale of “hero saves princess”.  You trekked through the world, clearing dungeons and defeating bosses until you came to the final boss and rescued Zelda.  Now, this series has gone on to have over a dozen major entries in the franchise as well as other spin-off titles.

Now, in recent years, the series has gotten some flak from feminist critics (including Sarkeesian) for the fact that it is always the male Link saving the female Zelda.  Now, to be fair, many of these people are also big fans of the series (again including Sarkeesian), but feel that it would be nice to see a change.  To her credit, she seems at least level-headed when she talks about the issue, which is far removed from the so-called “feminazis” who think that a man simply looking at a woman for too long could be constituted as rape and once pulled a fire alarm at a university to silence a speaker who didn’t agree with them.

No, I’m not joking.  This actually happened.  And the speaker they silenced was a woman no less.

Now these people do not represent feminists as a whole of course.  Far too often these days I’ve seen people cherry pick one person or subsection of a group and use them to represent the group as a whole.  “Look at this stupid liberal,” conservatives on Facebook often post when sharing a video.  “Aren’t liberals dumb?”  Of course, this can go the other way as well.

But I digress.  Recently Zelda gained some internet notoriety when producer Eiji Aonuma gave this statement on why Zelda would not be the playable character in the latest announced Zelda game Breath of the Wild:

“…if we have princess Zelda as the main character who fights, then what is Link going to do?  Taking into account that, and also the idea of the balance of the Triforce, we thought it best to come back to this [original] makeup.”

People critiqued the statement, saying that the reasoning seemed flimsy and a poor excuse.  Some accused Nintendo of simply being lazy and not wanting to make that change.  But is the change really necessary?  As I said earlier, the Zelda franchise is very much based in the old tradition of storytelling where a hero embarks on an epic quest to save the princess.  Sarkeesian herself acknowledges this in a video on what she calls the “Damsel in Distress” trope.

“Of course the Damsel in Distress predates the invention of video games by several thousand years. The trope can be traced back to ancient greek mythology with the tale of Perseus.  According to the myth, Andromeda is about to be devoured by a sea monster after being chained naked to a rock as a human sacrifice. Perseus slays the beast, rescues the princess and then claims her as his wife.”

But unlike the old Greek myth, Link never takes Zelda as his wife.  They never get married and have kids (the games never show or even hint at it).  As far as video games go, Zelda is one of the lesser offending ones when it comes to gender tropes which is why it baffles me as to how it can get so harshly critiqued compared to some other games.  An example is this Salon article, which is literally titled “‘The Legend of Zelda’ is classist, sexist and racist”.

And yet, despite Nintendo’s refusal to make anyone other than Link the playable character (at least for the main games…they’re open to doing a side game with a different character), they did budge on one issue.  Some started petitioning for a playable female version of Link, so Nintendo did create one in the form of Linkle.

 

Linkle.

Linkle as seen in the game Hyrule Warriors Legends.

 

But this of course didn’t satisfy the people who were clamoring for a female version of Link.  Sarkeesian herself tweeted under her “Feminist Frequency” twitter handle that “Linkle’s cutesy name and appearance make it clear that she is not actually a female Link but a separate female character modeled on Link”.  She goes on to say that “because of the ways in which she is so clearly set apart from Link, Linkle only works to reinforce the notion of ‘male as default'”.

Now, I agree that Nintendo’s reasoning can be a little flimsy on the issue (they can pretty much write the games however they want).  But here’s the thing: I don’t think they should have to justify their decisions.  It’s their property.  It’s their creative product.  If they want Link to be the main character in all the core Zelda games, then that’s their business.  Besides, these people complaining about the lack of a female Link weren’t very clear on what they wanted.  They can talk all they want about how Linkle isn’t truly a female version of Link, but I haven’t seen any clear definition for what WOULD be a female Link.  And besides, why is Zelda the one getting lambasted when there are far worse offenders in terms of gender stereotyping out there?

 

Armor woes.

Armor woes.

 

In any case, that’s all besides the point because there are plenty of video games out there that do female characters well.  In The Last of Us, the female character Ellie becomes a playable character at one point because the male character Joel is grievously injured and has to rely on Ellie to find something to treat his wound.  And this isn’t just a five-minute affair.  This section of the game lasts at least an hour if I remember it correctly.  But Ellie isn’t the only one.  We have Sam Greenbriar from Gone Home, a game I’ve talked about at great length before.  We have Elena from the Uncharted franchise.  We have Samus Aran from Metroid, another Nintendo character who seems to be conveniently left out of the discussion (and she’s blown up an entire planet in her games).  Hell the new Tomb Raider games take Lara Croft, a character that was originally given gigantic breasts as the result of a programming mistake, and made her into a well-rounded, interesting protagonist in the franchise reboot (sans over-sized cleavage of course).  In the first reboot game, she starts off afraid and largely powerless against the danger she faces, but gradually grows stronger until she’s rushing headlong into danger without hesitation.

One of my favorite moments in the game is when she first acquires an grenade launcher.  She uses it to blow through a weak section of wall, causing the enemies behind it to scatter and retreat.  “That’s right!  Run you bastards!  I’m coming for you all,” she yells after them.  It’s a satisfying payoff to a character who starts off panicking and hiding from the enemies she encounters.

But even Zelda herself isn’t without some kind of agency.  In Ocarina of Time (WARNING: SPOILERS FOR AN EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD GAME AHEAD), Zelda evades capture for most of the game by disguising herself as Sheik and assisting Link on his journey at crucial points.  Sarkeesian even acknowledges this, although she simply calls it the “helpful damsel” variant as if trying to brush it off.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I don’t think these issues are meaningless.  I do believe they deserve to be talked about.  However, I think we tend to lose ourselves in the bad, which paints video games as this culturally backwards thing when in reality they can deal with subject matter in ways movies and television shows have yet to touch.  I think people like Sarkeesian have a tendency to nitpick, to choose things that advance their agendas while ignoring anything that goes against it.  There are still some backwards elements in video games as a whole, but focusing on them alone casts games in this negative light which only perpetuates the dismissive attitude many people have toward the medium.

Remember, movies and books were once looked at as little more than entertainment before they became the renowned forms of expression they are today.

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

Like the Rumination on the Lake Facebook page here.

Advertisements

Caustic Overreaction: The Importance of Freedom of Speech

Have you ever played Mega Man?  It’s a series of video games about a blue robot boy (or maybe cyborg…I’m not really sure) who runs, jumps, and blasts evil robots with the gun he has on his arm.  The franchise began in 1987 with the release of the first game and has spawned over fifty different games on various game systems.  It’s a classic series that most gamers (and perhaps even some non-gamers) have heard of.  So why do I bring this up?

Cue Mighty No. 9.

Mighty No. 9 is a video game that just came out this month from the original creator of Mega Man, Keiji Inafune.  But before it came out, there was a trailer for the game.  And in that trailer, there was this line:

“You kill an enemy, and you can absorb their powerups…stuff that will make you faster and stronger and make the bad guys cry like an anime fan on prom night.”

Some of you might know where I’m going with this already, so I’ll get right to it.  People weren’t happy about the anime fan joke.

“Why do you have this Douchebag Dudebro, Insulting Otakus, or Sexual Innuendo about Combos,” reads one Youtube comment.

“I’m an anime fan. Big fucking deal, I guess I’ll be alone on prom night won’t I? Waaait, nope. I won’t be alone because I’ll be chilling with my friends who are mostly female and are anime geeks as well. Guess that means anime fans aren’t very lonely and this game is completely ridiculous,” reads another comment.

And then there were those who weren’t bothered by the joke.  “Well I like anime but I don’t feel insulted by the trailer, I think it’s pretty funny (please don’t kill me). Sooo, are those dislikes just for that,” one comment asked.

At the time of this writing the trailer is sitting at just over four thousand likes on Youtube as compared to over thirty-thousand dislikes.

Now, was the joke a bit tactless?  Perhaps.  But it serves as an example of the things people should be allowed to say.  It serves as a reminder of the importance of freedom of speech.

I talked a while ago about what I called our “course over-correction”, our tendency to try to limit what people say because others might find it offensive.  You may or may not know this, but some months back the mayor of Superior, Wisconsin was criticized for making a comment that basically accused Obama of being a Muslim who was destroying the fabric of democracy.  Now, when this occurred, two different camps sprung up.  There were those who thought the mayor made a bad move and should apologize to the public.  And then there were those who thought that he had every right to say what he said and harshly condemned anyone criticizing him for it.

Again, here’s the thing: free speech allows all of this to happen.  The mayor could say what he wanted to say.  No one was saying that he couldn’t.  But as an elected official who is essentially the face of an entire community of people, he really should have been thinking about how it would affect public perception of Superior.  To his credit he did apologize and make amends for it, but the point still stands.  When you’re in the public eye, things tend to work differently.  And you have to be prepared to deal with criticism for the things you say.

The bizarre thing about this situation is that I know that if he had been making a derogatory comment about Christians, the sides would probably have flipped.  Those who were defending his Muslim comment likely would have been raking him over the coals and demanding an apology.  Because apparently, some people love freedom of speech until confronted with something they don’t like.

Here’s another example: I’ve seen a lot of posts on Facebook that show pictures or video of people trampling, burning, or defacing the United States flag in some manner as a form of protest.  Naturally, the people sharing these are outraged.  “If they don’t like this country, then they should just leave,” they often say.  But that’s not what free speech is about.  There’s no law against using the flag as a protest symbol.  In fact, that’s protected under our system of law and known as “symbolic speech”.

It all comes down to something we’re told a lot as children: if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.  Well, I’m sorry, but I think that’s a load of bullshit.

Sometimes, negative things need to be said.  Now I’m not condoning bullying or anything like that.  I believe in free speech up to the point where speech becomes harassment and infringes on someone else’s rights.  But sometimes, we need to say negative things.  We need to point out stuff like “hey, our education system sucks these days.”  Or “hey, the political system is broken and needs to change.”  Or “hey, that guy is a total asshole.”  Simply shutting up and not saying anything at all because you don’t have anything nice to say is not what freedom of speech is all about.

Freedom of speech isn’t there to protect the people who chant “peace and love”.  It isn’t there to protect the people who proclaim “God is great”.  They don’t need protection.  They’re in the majority.  Freedom of speech is there to protect the guy who says “Hitler had a point”.  It’s there to protect the people who say “I hate America”.  It’s there to protect groups like the Westboro Baptist Church.  Because as despicable as they may be when they picket military funerals, they have every right to do so.

But we have every right to call them out on it.  We have every right to counter-protest them, to speak out against them.  Because freedom of speech is not freedom from criticism.  Freedom of speech is not freedom from things you don’t like to hear.  Freedom of speech means that those who have, for so long, suffered in silence can have a voice if they so choose.  Freedom of speech applies to all people and all ideas, not just those that fit our tight little view of how things should be.  Freedom of speech means that yes, someone can make a tactless joke about anime fans.

Because, as the saying goes, I may not like what you say but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

 

Well that’s all I have for this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

If you’re so inclined, you can like the Facebook page for the blog here.

The Discussion Needs to Change

So…here we are again.

Another tragedy.

Another round of outrage.

Another vicious cycle.

It happened after San Bernardino.  It happened after Paris.  It happened after Brussels.  And now, it’s happening again after Orlando Florida.  People are taking sides, staking their claims and making their arguments.  They’re getting angry.  They’re getting frustrated.  They’re scared and confused.  “Why,” they keep asking.  “Why?  Why?  Why…?”

It’ll follow the same path it always has.  First there was the shock and horror, the absolute disbelief that something like this could happen.  “The deadliest mass shooting in US history” the news called it, as if that distinction somehow matters or changes things.  Now, we’re in the grieving phase.  We’re reaching out to the survivors, letting them tell their stories of that horrid day this past weekend.  We’re preaching messages of solidarity, telling each other that love is more powerful than hate.  It’s beautiful really, seeing all these people coming together, hearing them say things like “this won’t stop people from being who they are” and “we can’t let fear run our lives”.

But then there’s what happens next.

And it’s already begun.  The dust and smoke hadn’t settled yet, the bodies hadn’t even been counted yet, and it has started like it always does.  On the one side, you have Donald Trump tweeting that he knew this would happen and that we need to be “smart” and “vigilant”.  He reiterated his plan to block Muslim immigrants from coming into the United States.  And on the other side, you have Hillary Clinton making a statement saying that the shooter should never have been allowed to purchase the assault rifle he had used to commit the atrocity he did.  Knowingly or not, these two have set the stage.  They have drawn the lines of battle.  All that’s left is for the hammer to drop.

After our grieving is done, we’ll start getting angry.  We’ll start looking for someone to blame.  And believe me, we’ll have no shortage of targets.

We’ll blame the shooter’s father, because obviously if he had raised his child better, this never would have happened (even though the shooter was in his 30’s).  We’ll blame whatever security the nightclub had, because they should have caught the gun the shooter brought in before he took it out and started shooting.  We’ll blame the FBI because they interviewed the guy three separate times and didn’t find anything strange about him.  We’ll blame conservatives, because they won’t allow any gun control legislation to happen.  We’ll blame liberals, because they won’t let the good and responsible people of the country carry more guns.

And it won’t make any goddamn difference.

I’ve mentioned it before, but I work at a news station here in Duluth.  During one of our morning broadcasts, we played a clip of President Obama giving a speech about the Orlando shooting.  And I remember thinking to myself that it’s almost like you can see it on his face, that he’s thinking “it doesn’t matter what I say here.  Nothing will happen, just like it always does.  I could come up here, cry my eyes out and beg for change.  But it would do no good.  They would just accuse me of hiding an onion under the podium.”

Which would sound utterly ridiculous if it hadn’t already happened.

Now, I’m no huge fan of Obama.  He’s done some stuff I like.  He’s done some stuff I don’t like.  He’s not the greatest president we’ve had, nor the worst.  But in the end, the fact that he has gotten up there fifteen times during his presidency, fifteen times, to talk about gun violence in the aftermath of a shooting is insane.  And it highlights something that I think needs to happen.

To put it simply: before the issues can be fixed, the discussion around them needs to change.  Before we can even begin solving the problem, we have to reevaluate the way we talk about it.

For one thing, we need to stop acting like we have all the answers.  If you’re on Facebook in any shape or form, you’ve likely seen the throngs of people who will start sharing photos featuring captions espousing some point of view or another.  And they all pretty much imply the same thing:

“This is my view and if you don’t agree with it you are stupid and dumb and you are the problem with this country.  How can’t you see that my view is better than your view.  I will not accept any discussion on this matter because I am so obviously correct and you are so obviously wrong.  I’m just trying to enlighten you on the right way to do things.  You don’t need to get so angry about it.”

And this is how it happens again and again.  There’s no discourse anymore.  There’s just people sharing meme photos and videos, then having little chats among their insular group of friends where they all say “yeah those other people are so dumb and stupid”.  And the politicians aren’t making things better.  If anything, they encourage that type of behavior with their actions.  Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both so assured that their way is correct that they won’t compromise, they won’t discuss it.  They’ll just sling attacks at each other while the memory of the shooting gradually fades away and nothing changes.

We need to end this nonsense.  We need to sit down at a table with the people on the other side of the fence and say “here’s what we believe, here’s what you believe.  Let’s work this out and try to find a solution that will work for all of us in the end.”  Because there is a discussion to be had about the merits of gun control just as there is a discussion to be had about the merits of gun ownership.  There is a discussion to be had about what the second amendment means in modern times.  But until we change the way we talk about things, we’ll never get there.  We’ll continue driving that wedge between the sides, making the gap wider and wider until it becomes impossible to bridge.

And it isn’t going to start with groups like the National Rifle Association (NRA).  Because the NRA doesn’t care about having a discussion.  They never have.  In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, all they did was shovel money down Congress’ throat until all attempts at gun control legislation died out.  And all the while, they keep stirring up that rhetoric of “they’re taking your guns, they’re taking your guns!”  They paint themselves as an organization for the common people even though their CEO makes nearly a million dollars every year.  And he’s not even the highest paid member of the organization.

This change of discussion needs to start with the people on the lower rungs of the ladder, the people who are impacted by this stuff the most.  Because the people who are higher up, the people who make the money and the policy decisions, they’ve proven they don’t want a discussion.  As long as they can keep enforcing a rigid, two-party dynamic and keep riling people up enough so that they continually vote for one side and one side only, they will do nothing to make changes.  In the end these people are  so far removed from the plight of the common people they’re often out of touch with reality itself.

In the end, I’m only one person.  I don’t have all the answers, and that’s okay.  I’m not supposed to.  This has to be a group effort if we’re going to get anything done.  But if we keep standing there on opposite sides of the fence, slinging mud at each other, then it’s over before it even begins.  We’re like a skipping record, a song on repeat.  We keep dancing to the same tune over and over again, and nothing will ever change unless we want it to.

I don’t know exactly where to start.  I don’t even know if this blog post will have any impact.  But what I do know is that I can’t live with myself if I don’t at least try.

 

Thanks for reading.  I put up a new post every Wednesday, so check back then if you want to read more.  If you’re on Facebook, you can like the blog’s page here.  Otherwise, have a great week.

Would They Believe? Religion and First Contact with Extraterrestrial Beings.

So a friend of mine from work read me this headline:

“NASA gives $1 million grant to a theological organization to study the religious implications of extraterrestrial life.”

And my reaction to this was along the lines of “oh no…”.  Because whenever religion and science get mixed up together, things have a habit of getting murky and confusing.  And then people get mad.

Now, the blog post I just linked you to isn’t a big fan of this idea.  The author believes it is a waste of money as well as a violation of the First Amendment, “for it is an unnecessary entanglement of church and state.”  On some level, I do agree with this.  However, I also think that the subject is worth discussing.

Humans have been fascinated with the idea of alien life for centuries.  Whether it is in literature, art, or conspiracy theories our ideas of what alien life could be range from the intimately familiar to the terrifyingly bizarre.  We can’t help but think of it.  The universe is so large that it seems unfathomable that it would just be empty and devoid of life aside from our little planet in our lonely corner of existence.

Have you ever heard of the Fermi Paradox?  The basic gist of it is that there are so many stars and so many planets that some of them would have to give arise to Earth-like conditions.  And these conditions would give rise to intelligent life that would eventually seek out a way to cross the interstellar void.  Enrico Fermi, one of the authors of the argument, came to the conclusion that Earth should have already been visited by intelligent extra-terrestrial life, leading him to ask “where is everybody” and give rise to the paradox in question.  The paradox has been answered in many different ways, but here are just a few: that evolutionary life is rare or non-existent, that other intelligent life lacks the advanced technology, that it is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself, or that Earth is specifically avoided or isolated (which reminds me of the story “They’re made out of meat” by Terry Bisson…it’s a very short read but a good one).

But say that one day humans did encounter intelligent life?  What would we do then?

First off, let’s backtrack a little.  A long time ago, someone posted a chart to my Facebook wall which proposed what you should do if you end up being the first human to interact with intelligent aliens.  I remember this specifically because at one point it suggests leaving religion out of the equation and choosing instead to show these creatures the concept of our evolutionary history.  Some of my more religious Facebook friends took issue with this, wondering “well why can’t we present them with religion?”

 

Here's the chart for your viewing pleasure.

Here’s the chart for your viewing pleasure.

 

The first problem that arises with presenting aliens with religion is the question “what religion do we start with” or “what religion do we present to them that best represents humanity?”  If we were to go on a cold, logical level, we would say Christianity.  According to the Pew Research Center, as of 2010 Christians are still the majority around the globe.  But by the time we make contact with alien life, things might be different.  Pew estimates that by 2050, the number of Muslims and Christians around the world will be nearly equal because Islam is the fastest growing global religion.  So even on a pure logical level things may get murky in a few decades.

But from my perspective, none of this matters.  I see two possible outcomes when aliens are presented with our religion or religions.

 

Outcome 1

The aliens have no religion anymore or never had any concept of religion in the first place, in which case they would find our steadfast belief in a creator being that we cannot see or even know for certain exists baffling and possibly primitive.

 

Outcome 2

The aliens already have their own religion, and so ours would be incorrect in their eyes.  They would likely brush off our beliefs the way modern Christians brush off the beliefs of, say, the ancient Egyptians.

 

Both of these circumstances hold the possibly for a violent outcome, whether due to our fault or theirs.  But then again, any first contact situation could result in this, regardless of the presence of religion.  But I stand by my point.  Our religions would likely be of no consequence to extraterrestrial beings.

Now, is it possible that these beings would find our concept of a god/creator so fascinating that they would want to learn more and maybe even be converted?  Yes, but I don’t see that really happening.  If their thinking process is anything at all like ours, they will hold steadfastly to their own system of beliefs and philosophies.  As it stands, the two outcomes I listed above are far more likely.  The third is based on this faulty assumption that the “truths” in religion are self-evident and would be immediately obvious to anyone intelligent enough (which is not to say that religious people aren’t intelligent…I know some people out there will take it that way even though that is not my intent at all).

But then, this isn’t the question the group NASA granted money to is looking to answer.  They’re more concerned with a question along the lines of “what impact would the revelation of other intelligent life in the universe have on US and OUR religions?”  Because humanity is sort of self-centered like that.

Again, the way I see it, there are two likely outcomes to this:

 

Outcome 1

Contact with other life leads to a drastic re-evaluation of religious texts in an effort to discover any meaning to the existence of alien life which either leads to the collapse of the current religions and the start of new ones or with the consolidation of current religions with the new knowledge.

 

Outcome 2

Religion will remain largely unchanged.

 

There will of course be other outcomes, like fringe sections of the religious community possibly associating the aliens with devils and demons.  But they would be a small voice in a large crowd, a tiny fraction and not representative of the entire human race.

Regardless, it’s an interesting thing to think about.  And it is indeed very difficult to say what would happen in the event of first contact.  It is possible that none of the outcomes I listed would even happen.  I could be entirely wrong in my assumptions.  To err is human, after all.

I’m sure others would have their own opinions on what might happen if and when we run into aliens out in the universe.  It is a part of our nature to theorize and hypothesize, analyze and criticize.  We’ve been doing it for thousands of years.  It is a part of our process.  It is how we adapt, how we change.  It is how we progress as a civilization, as a race.  Change is inevitable.  It may not always be good, but it will come.  There is no avoiding it.

So with that, let’s look to the future with bright eyes and curious minds.

 

That’s all I have for this time.  Check back next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.

It’s the Way We’ve Always Done it: The Dark Side of Tradition

If you took a poll of people around the world on what they think of tradition, I think more often than not they would say it’s a good thing.  Thanksgiving dinners, church ceremonies, Christmas…it’s all a way to bring people together and strengthen ties between family and friends.

Or it’s a way to slaughter over eight hundred pilot whales every single year.

But wait…I’m getting ahead of myself.  Let’s start at the beginning.

Google defines tradition as “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.”  And these traditions don’t have to be on a cultural scale or a city-wide scale.  They can just be the little things you and your family do every year: getting together for the holidays, going on an annual vacation, or even just celebrating birthdays.  And this is a good thing.  It keeps you in touch with the people in your family or community.  It gives you a tether, a way of remembering that you are a part of something.  Because no matter how far away in the world you are, these things stay with you.  They in part define who you are.

But there are times when traditions become outdated, or even harmful, but people cling to them for the sake of tradition itself.  And that’s not a good thing.

Back to that comment on pilot whales.  Have you ever heard of something called “the grind”?  Well basically, it’s a tradition in the Faroe Islands.  During the months of July and August the islanders use small boats to herd dolphins and pilot whales into a shallow lagoon.  And then they proceed to stab them to death.  No joke.  And this occurs every single year, and has for the past three centuries.  According to Cracked.com supporters of this act argue that it strengthens community relations and provides them with food.  But the article goes on to state that almost a thousand whales are being killed every single time this takes place.  And even this pales in comparison to the coastal Japanese town of Taiji, where local fishermen are allowed to hunt nearly two thousand dolphins every year.

Thankfully, pilot whales and dolphins as a whole are not endangered species.  But I have to wonder, would that even stop tradition?  Or would tradition only stop once there’s nothing left?

The bad side of tradition is not limited exclusively to how we deal with animals.  Tradition impacts how we deal with other humans as well.  Take India for example.

Anyone who has studied the religion of Hinduism has heard of the caste system.  In broad strokes the caste system is a hierarchy that determines an individual’s placement in society.  It starts with the “Brahmins”, priests and teachers, and ends with the “Outcasts” or “Untouchables”, people who were relegated to cleaning latrines and other such dirty jobs.  The caste system is intertwined with the Hindu concept of reincarnation, where the spirit of someone who died will be reborn as another human being or animal.  What this means is that your place in the caste system was due to how you did in your past life?  Did you stick within your caste and not fight the system?  Well good, you’ve likely moved up in the world with this new life.  But if you disobeyed and tried to take more than your share, then you are placed lower in the caste system on your next life.

It’s essentially the Hindu way of saying “if you’re poor, you deserve it.”  And you would think that the caste system being outlawed in 1950 would do away with it completely, but no.  Tradition never dies easily.

Now, I have a sneaking suspicion some of you out there are probably soothing yourselves right now by saying “well thank god I live in an enlightened and progressive country.  These kinds of things would never happen here.”  And then you laugh to yourself, saying “Ha ha these places are so behind the times ha ha ha nothing so heinous or backwards would ever happen here ha ha ha ha ha ha-”

It’s legal to drug and sexually assault your spouse in the state of Ohio.

Let that sink in for a moment…yes, it’s true.  If the victim is married to the perpetrator, sexual assault can be legal under the law.  It’s something known as “marital rape”, and Ohio isn’t the only state with strange, backwards laws separating marital rape and other kinds of rape.  South Carolina even goes so far as to require the threat of a weapon or aggravated violence before it can prosecute cases of marital rape.  To top it off, you only have thirty days to report the rape.  And even then the person who raped you will only face up to ten years in prison at the max.

And if you think this kind of thing is only endemic to the United States, hold on a second there.  According to that same Cracked.com article from earlier, Germany has basically no laws preventing sexual assault.  That is, as long as it doesn’t pose immediate danger to “life and limb”.  And in Norway, a poll found that around nine percent of Norwegian women in Norwegian relationships were the victims of sexual assault, but approximately sixty percent of them never pressed charges.

But we’re not done yet.  For our last topic of the day, let’s turn to corporal punishment.

I’ve heard a lot of people over the years say “I was spanked and I turned out just fine.”  Well great!  That obviously means spanking has no harmful effects whatsoever and is a great method for teaching kids discipline.  I’m glad we cleared this up.  Now we can all go and-

Wait, what’s that science?  You say that’s not true?  Oh science, always ruining everything for everybody…

It’s true, studies have shown that spanking can have a harmful impact on a child’s brain development and affect how they react to certain situations.  Now, to be fair, statistics and correlations only go so far.  But this isn’t just one or two studies.  There are over hundreds of studies on the effects of corporal punishment and as far as I can tell none of them have found a positive to its effects.  This is where people tend to get dismissive and say “whatever…I turned out just fine…people are just too sensitive these days.”  Well you know what?  I wasn’t spanked and I turned out just fine.

But here’s the problem: my experience and their experiences are merely anecdotal.  They are but droplets of water in the ocean of humanity.  We cannot assume that our own childhood experiences would be perfect for everyone.

Besides, spanking always struck me as an almost lazy tactic.  It always seemed like something people resort to when the child misbehaves either because they don’t want to take the time to punish the child some other way or because they’re stressed out and their child becomes an easy way to vent that frustration.  It’s not a popular opinion (often people against spanking get raked over the coals by those who support it…which ironically adds more credence to the idea that spanking increases aggressive behavior in children), but it is my opinion.  Perhaps that’s a little unfair, but that’s just how I see it.

And simply holding on to the idea of spanking because it worked “back then” is not the way to do things.  That kind of thinking is why it took until 2014 for a school in Wilcox County, Georgia to host a racially integrated prom.

Whether or not you subscribe to or even like Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution you have to accept that the world changes over time.  And clinging to outdated ideas of how things should function is not a healthy way to live.  Sure, sometimes the older way of doing things might be better, but in a world that is constantly innovating and evolving, we have to acknowledge that things are going to be different in the future.

Tradition or not, sometimes they just have to go.

 

Well that’s all I have for you this time.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post, and as always, have a wonderful week.