Sex, bombs and rock ‘n’ roll: Tsarnaev on Rolling Stone.

James Petty

o-ROLLING-STONE-TSARNAEV-570Everyone, it seems, is talking about the upcoming cover of Rolling Stone. The cover, in case you have been living under a rock, features a picture of one of the alleged Boston bombers, Dzhokar Tsarnaev. I emphasise the word ‘alleged’.

The public response to this has been described as a ‘firestorm’ and sales of the magazine have reportedly dropped in protest to this apparently unethical and tasteless editorial move. Though framing a dip in sales as a reduction in the consumption of the image and therefore the magazine itself is short-sighted and false. As we in Australia are well aware—the 2008 Bill Henson Continue reading

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Star Trek: a new hope?

James Petty

Star-Trek-Into-Darkness-Official-Teaser-Trailer-realesed-625x452Gay cinema and my father are not two things that would usually mix, especially not in a way that involves my father and I attending a gay film together. Not that my dad would be vehemently opposed to the idea, it’s just unlikely to happen. However, there is, as they say, a first time for everything: Dad and I went and saw Star Trek: Into Darkness. Continue reading

Steubenville

James Petty 

rapeOver the past few days there has been a lot of criticism of CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville rape case that has been dominating the news in the US. Many critics have condemned CNN’s coverage, claiming it was overly sympathetic with the rapists and framed them as the victims, ignoring the impact upon the life of the real victim, the girl who was raped, degraded and humiliated by these boys.

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No nature, just nurture: alcohol-fuelled violence.

JAMES PETTYcurbing-alcohol-fuelled-violence-1160593

Given the topic of last night’s Four Corners and Jill Stark’s recenarticle in The Age’s Daily Life section, Australia is beginning to face up to what is one of its  biggest ignominies: our relationship to alcohol.

Not that anyone should be surprised, we’ve all known it for years, we just don’t admit it. The ‘larrikinism’ of the ‘Australian’ character, the cheeky-wink-and-a-nudge attitude of ‘Go on Continue reading

One step forward…

James Petty

Sport, it seems, is finally starting to come around to the fact that some people aren’t straight. It has taken quite a while and—apart froEBL-art729-gay-rugby-team-20130119193216256748-620x349m a few isolated and terribly admiral incidents, notably within rugby both here and in Wales—has been a long hard slog. And of course it still will be.

In both of Australia’s national sports, AFL and cricket (rugby being generally sequestered to Queensland) there are currently no openly gay players, even though Britain has both openly gay cricketers and football (soccer) players. Continue reading

Sex sells (unless you’re ugly)

BENJAMIN RILEY
(Originally published in the Star Observer on 17 January, 2013)

Increasingly, I find excuses not to go to the plethora of indie queer nights sprouting throughout the northern suburbs of Melbourne.

Each one seems to be run by a friend of a friend of a fuck buddy who once put their MP3 player on shuffle at a party and had their best friend say the lounge room was totally pumping for about half an hour there. I seem to have a good time when I actually go along, but more often than not the prospect of lying in bed with a plate of soysages and a season of New Girl keeps me from leaving the house.

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This is what freedom looks like.

James Petty 453224-connecticut-school-shooting

Last week I was walking with a friend down Smith St toward Gertrude in Collingwood. Ahead of us a motorbike was pulling in to park; it was a Harley Davidson to be precise. The man—middle-aged, full-bearded, heavy set and dressed in biker leathers— backed it in at an angle, his legs tottering either side to ease him back against the kerb. On the bike behind the seat was a storage compartment; attached to it were two flags, an American one and an Australian one. Below these was a sticker blatantly announcing “Freedom Is Not Free.”

A couple of tourists snapped some pictures of him, he pretended not to notice though his movements became more forceful and stiff under the sudden observation. I rolled my eyes at the spectacle going on before me as well as at the sticker’s sentiment and what it implied about this man’s beliefs and politics. I doubt this man and I have much in common; for one I grew up taught that Harley’s were useless pieces of shit; expensive, unreliable and ridden solely by wankers—my dad and his friends rode Hondas. However, the sticker’s proclamation (and him by proxy I suppose) is not wrong, freedom is not free. This week some kids in Connecticut paid freedom’s tithe.

We often forget that freedom is an ideology, a cultural value and an invented concept. Its modern Western form was conceived of by the founders of liberalism, and is a foundation of this system of belief along with equality. I purposefully say ‘conceived of’ because liberalism itself claims to be universal and to have been ‘discovered’ rather than invented. The belief being that liberalism—the ultimate good of freedom—has always existed; it just took a certain degree of civilisation and sophistication to unearth this truth.

The counter-argument to this, Sandy-Hook-Connecticut-school-shooting-22-jpgmy argument, that absolute or as-close-to-absolute-as-you-can-get freedom is not necessarily a good thing, can be hard to swallow, even for me sometimes. How can freedom be a bad thing?

Well there is ample evidence for it. A few examples: economic capitalist markets cannot regulate themselves; ‘freedom’ here leads to abuse, exploitation, financial crises and those with the least (the poor) bearing the brunt of the consequences. Cultural uplift—bestowing the gifts of liberalism and freedom on ‘less civilised’ people—doesn’t work, instead you get cultural and often actual genocide, more exploitation and cultural marginalisation and oppression.  The right (freedom) to bear arms does not hold back invidious state paternalism or result in a politically engaged and empowered populace; instead, you get high gun-related mortality rates (about 85 shootings a day), you get Trayvon Martin killed while buying a pack of skittles and you get twenty children murdered in a school by a 20-year-old with a legally purchased semi-automatic assault rifle.

bushmasterThere has rightly been a lot of talk about gun control since the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut and just as importantly, talk about mental health—an often neglected issue in the wake of such events. These issues do need addressing but they remain symptoms of a more deeply rooted issue. The intractable and blind resistance to gun control (as well as to healthcare reform and other issues) reflect the most extreme forms of the principles of liberalism; the very principles upon which America was founded.

This ‘Mayflower mindset’ of America was born out of the religious persecution of Puritans and Catholics under James I of England. It conceives of freedom as black and white, something you either have or lack entirely. This conception of freedom leads to the ultimate expression of the ends justifying the means. The idea that freedom is the ultimate good regardless of what it is used for, what it achieves and what cost is paid to acquire it is incredibly fraught and corrupting.

connecticut-school-shootingSuch an ideology resists reflection, guidance or the provision of welfare, it occludes any consideration for the greater good (utilitarianism, liberalism’s nemesis) and paradoxically ignores the rights of everyone (equality) in order to uphold a 400-year old idea, the relevance of which has diminished to the point that its proponents resort to inventing scenarios to justify their position.

Look at Newtown, at Columbine, at Virginia Tech, at Oklahoma City, these are part of what freedom looks like and are part of the price paid for it. The man on the Harley was right, freedom is not free, but if this is the cost, perhaps it is getting too high. Maybe we should take my dad’s advice on Harleys—perhaps ‘freedom’ should be traded in for something better.

A line in the sand.

James Petty

Spec-Ops-The-LineI have just finished playing Spec Ops: The Line, and like many others, was mercilessly engaged and confronted by its engrossing, if verbose and unrealistic, narrative. For those unfamiliar with the game, it is the latest in the Spec Ops series of wartime third-person shooters that focus heavily on warfare gameplay and squad-based tactics.

The game is set in a post-catastrophe (bordering on post-apocalyptic) Dubai, which has been devastated by six months of sandstorms and has been largely evacuated. The game is apparently based on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and has been said to be this century’s Apocalypse Now, a film set in the Vietnam war also adapted from Conrad’s novella.

Initially the game appears to be—and was explicitly marketed as—just another tactical shooter, and in terms of game play and mechanics, it’s just that. Anyone who has played a wartime shooter before will feel right at home with the game’s controls, style and broad aesthetic. That is, until the narrative kicks in and here ‘kick’ is the operative word.

What sets this game aspec-ops-1part from previous titles in the series or the bulk of other wartime shooters is not its practical elements—these are good, not amazing—but the game’s startling mise-en-scène and the narrative that takes place within it. What starts out feeling overly familiar—tough-talking and hardy American soldiers investigating and covertly infiltrating a troublesome ‘exotic’ location—slowly develops into a difficult, harrowing and, most surprisingly, quite reflexive moral and ethical morass.

The Gordian Knot that unfolds forces the player to reflect upon their own actions, which mainly consist of shooting and killing a lot of people—not just faceless Arab militias but American soldiers and, most discordantly, local civilians.  Where this game diverges from its brethren is in its questioning of the right of the character—who embodies glorified American ideals of justice, rightness and interventionist authority—to be there at all.The actions you engage in have no obvious benefits and achieve very little other than death and destruction—often regarded as the necessary evils of war. But here, these seem like the only outcomes, the only things you achieve.

What’s more the game takes the glory and righteousness of war and turns it on its head. This it achieves through a variety of filmic, visual and narrative techniques. For example, your character and comrades become increasingly wearied, bleak and unhinged, their gear and bodies becoming torn, scorched and caked in sand, their conversation, initially witty and brimming with machismo slowly devolves into dejected grunts or bitter, thinly-veiled threats toward each other.

*SPOILER ALERT*

The most confronting part of the game is undoubtedly the mortar scene—the subject of a lot of talk since the game’s release—where your character must use a computer screen to aim a white-phosphorus mortar at an encampment of enemy (American) soldiers. As the mortar hits its targets and the screams and pained cries of the victims echo in your ears you see your character’s face reflected on the screen, its expression a mask of grim determination yet the horror and gravity of this are revealed in his eyes and small facial twitches. By forcing you to look at yourself as you exterminate dozens of lives with cold expediency the game forces the player to ask “Why am I doing this? Is it because I enjoy it and if so, why?”

specops_story11What’s worse is then your character must slowly pick his way through the remains of the camp as still-burning bodies twitch and moan around you, only to discover the soldiers had been sheltering civilian refugees, all of whom are now dead and it was you that killed them. As much as you try to do the ‘right thing’ in this game, whether you define that in terms of necessity or an inflated sense of entitled morality, you will be forced to question the consequences of your actions and therefore the actions themselves.

Games, particularly these types of games, traditionally encourage players to revel in violence and carnage with very few consequences for doing so; enemies are faceless, nameless drones, blood and bodies fade away, the antagonist is established as undoubtedly evil from the beginning. However this game lacks any kind of traditional ‘bad guy’ upon whom the burden of responsibility rests. The violence a player engages in is usually legitimated as a reaction to the illegitimate or ‘bad’ violence of another. Ultimately this game forces you to consider your own responsibility; whether your own violence is indeed justified and perhaps, whether you are the bad guy here.

SOTL - Concept Art (4)Since the game’s release it has received some fair criticism, certainly it is far from perfect. Regardless, nothing I have read about it has claimed that this game and what it does is not important. While I, along with some others, found parts of it slightly crass and the ending somewhat tired and bathetic, there was one piece of dialogue that felt really important, yet was lost in the melodrama of the final cut-scene. When confronting the man who your character believes to be responsible for most of the carnage (appropriately named ‘Konrad’) he turns your argument around and lays the blame squarely at your feet. Your character forcefully denies this accusation, deflecting responsibility and citing a lack of choice, which due to the nature of the gameplay, feels accurate. Yet Konrad continues, he states that you were never supposed to be there; that what you have done was never your mission, that ‘you could have just stopped’.

spec-ops-2And I (the player) realised he was right; your character’s original mission was reconnaissance, a simple scout around and then call in an evacuation, but even before the shooting starts in the first chapter you (both myself and the character) never stop to think that maybe you shouldn’t keep going, maybe this isn’t what you’re there for. This is obvious political commentary and has relevance beyond the confines of the game; it critiques America’s (and more broadly the West’s) assumption that they have a right to intervene, that this (or that, or whatever) is unequivocally their business. This drive to ‘fix’ the world’s problems, to ‘correct’ atrocities and dispense this apparently universal ‘justice’ is something I have never seen criticised in this medium before.

The game’s ending references a few texts, most obviously Heart of Darkness and Apocalypse Now but also Picasso’s Guernica. Yet it also echoes a claim that Žižek makes in his book Violence, that forceful reaction and intervention is not always the best response, that sometimes it is better to just stop; to think, consider and most of all, to learn.

Spec-Ops-The-LineThis is a nice yet undoubtedly naïve sentiment. So what does it mean for me or for those that make these games and others that play them? Should I stop playing shooters? I won’t and nor will others. Should game developers stop making shooters? They won’t and if they did others would. While I think what this game does is a positive thing, I’m not sure why it does it. Are its motivations simply to absolve the guilt of those that play it, to give these games a fresh coat of ethics?

“Yes, I play shooters but I play the confronting ones so that’s ok.” Or “Yes, I make shooters but I make them realistic so that’s ok.”

I’m not sure if this game is a step in the right direction for shooters, but its definitely a step.

Islamophobia/homophobia

Benjamin Riley

The violent protest on Saturday in Sydney’s CBD against an American-made film has disturbed me to an extent I wasn’t expecting.

The film, allegedly produced by a radical Coptic Christian and designed to provoke, has sparked extreme reactions around the world. An attack at the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya last week resulted in the deaths of four Americans.

It is a complex issue.

It appears the film was made specifically to incite violence, and many involved were deceived about its true nature and content. As such, a strong reaction by an already disenfranchised community is understandable.

That said, violence is not acceptable, and I find the incitements to violence depicted in the pictures from Saturday’s protest abhorrent. The most circulated photo showed a young child holding up a sign reading: ‘behead all those who insult the prophet’.

As a gay man and a member of a minority, I try to use my experiences of persecution to empathise with others undergoing similar persecution. I recognise anti-Muslim sentiment in Australia and try to relate to anyone who feels judged and harassed for who they are. I try to remember that as a white male in a wealthy, democratic country I have it pretty good.

But my automatic reaction in support of a protest by an oppressed group is tempered not just by the violence, actual and threatened, but by the knowledge that many fundamentalist Muslims, including perhaps the more radical protesters at the demonstrations in Sydney, are homophobic.

When we constantly hear stories coming out of countries with fundamentalist Muslim regimes of violence and other human rights abuses against LGBTI communities, it becomes difficult for me to separate my problems with Islamophobia and US military action in the Middle East from the extreme homophobia present in many Muslim communities.

Being a member of a persecuted minority may engender the kind of empathy needed to engage with the experiences of other minorities. But the conflict here between the understanding person I want to be and the person I am, fearful of Islamic homophobia, doesn’t have a clear path to a resolution.

When the tenuous moral high ground that comes from having a minority status conflicts with the tenuous moral high ground of identifying as a progressive leftie, I start to wonder if maybe this high horse I’m perched on isn’t as stable as I thought.

26 y/o M seeks city for meaningful connection.

James Petty.

Recently I was in the US for a month long holiday, I went to New York City, San Fransisco and Portland. A few weeks before I left a friend bought me a book to read while on my travels, City Boy by Edmund White. White is a professor of Creative Writing at Princeton University, gay and is HIV positive. City Boy is an autobiographical account of his life in New York City during the 1960s and 70s, a rather exhaustive account of the sex, shame, love and failure he experienced there (all the while rubbing shoulders with literary and philosophical giants, Susan Sontag and Michel Foucault among them).

I was somewhat apprehensive at the thought of reading a (gay) book set in NYC while travelling there, I thought it a bit cliché and desperate; a vain attempt to pre-empt my own experience, to try to make it meaningful before I had even arrived. Another friend assured me it was good idea, that doing so would add a depth of meaning to neighbourhoods I visited, the sidewalks I wandered down.

It didn’t.

I tried to view parts of the city through rose-tinted (or sepia-tinted, or grey and grainy washed) glasses but I couldn’t. The romance of the sexual revolution, the nostalgia of the 60s and 70s and the hard-edged grittiness of pre-gentrification—read: pre-Guiliani—New York escaped me. I couldn’t access that spirit or mood, even with the book’s guidance. New York City was great, beautiful and exciting, but it didn’t much resemble the one I was reading about. I left exhausted and elated, and only a little regretful that New York City’s colourful and gritty history remained abstract for me, accessible only on an intellectual level.

I arrived next in San Fransisco without having finished the book. My enthusiasm for it had waned and I just wanted to get it finished, though I was more than half way though so giving up on it was not an option. San Fransisco was somewhat of a shock, coming from muggy, crowded, safe New York to the Dolores District of San Fran where it was cold, less crowded and, to my surprise, quite dodgy. Before I got my hands on a bike I walked and got the MUNI buses to most places.

One sunny but fresh day I was on the bus heading downtown, trying to speed through the last 50 pages of City Boy in spare moments such as this one. The bus stopped and a few people got on, including an elderly man. He would have been in his seventies and was wearing an old suit that looked as though it had seen better days. I got up and offered him my seat, certain my stop was approaching soon and anxious about getting off in the right place.

He thanked me and a minute later I heard his voice again. It took me a few moments to register that he was addressing me. I looked down and saw the old man looking up at me, waiting for a response. “Sorry?” I said, bending down toward him.“Is that the new Edmund White?” he asked, gesturing to the book I held in my hand. “Ahh, I’m not sure if it’s his newest… it’s from 2009.” I replied, checking the publication date and trying to keep one eye on the passing streets outside. “I think it must be…” the man stated, not providing any guidance as to how I was to respond. “Ok, yes, it must be. A friend bought it for me to read while I’m here on holiday from Melbourne, it’s about his life in New York in the 60s and 70s.” I replied, inexplicably nervous and trying to cover all of my bases in one sentence. “Yes, well, he was there then.” I nodded, unsure about the obviousness of his statement but desperate to be polite, “So was I.” He finished, looking at me with eyes suddenly wet and full of all the things I had been trying to access as I wandered through the West Village, stopping on the corner of Greenwich and Horatio where 30 years previous White had rented a one-bedroom apartment above a laundromat. In his face I saw what I had been looking for as I searched out the locations mentioned in the book—the grief and poignancy of nostalgic recall.

I assumed that this man was gay and I’d say he rightly made the same assumption about me. I’ve experienced that mutual recognition before, the sometimes-subtle perception of similitude (or shared difference), hidden in discreet cues and markers of identity. I fumbled with my words, smiling and not knowing how to respond without trivialising the moment. We regarded one another in silence then, each seeing in the other something missed or coveted, before the pressure of social etiquette became too much to bear. I nodded and smiled again, wished him a good day before hurriedly alighting, still half a mile from my stop.