The End of the Beginning

Graduation is on Sunday. Come the end of the day May 20th, I will be leaving Brandeis quite possibly for good, with a Bachelor of Arts in History and East Asian Studies. I don't quite know how to feel about that, to be honest. Now that the day has finally come, it feels almost anticlimactic. Kind of like, what really is different now? Come Monday morning, what will honestly have changed in my life?

There really isn't any one moment I can point to and say "this is the turning point". Unless you want to count an entire year (my junior year spent abroad in Japan, specifically) as a turning point, and I would tend not to. A college education isn't any different in my opinion - it's not like having a piece of paper evokes some magical change on my day-to-day existence, even if it is a piece of paper people recognize as a diploma. It will open doors and say something about who I am to potential employers, and I am grateful for that much. I don't regret getting a college education; indeed, I'm glad I did.

And I can point to so many things that the last four years have done for me. If nothing else, there's the Japanese. I went into college knowing not a word of the language, and I leave it having passed the N2 level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test intending to use my skill with the language as a key focus for my career. It's a little hard to believe today that I thought Japanese would just be a hobby for me, now that it's become something approaching a defining passion of my life. (That reminds me, I need to put more translations of things up here on my blog... I've been not doing that lately.)

Plus, the people I met. Oh yes. It is kind of sad to think that I might not see some of these people... well, ever again, possibly. Unfortunately, I doubt that any of my job prospects are going to keep me in the Massachusetts area. In between the club activities I participated in and the friends I made along the way, there's a real argument to be made for actually finding a reason to stay in this area! (Which actually wouldn't entirely help, since several of my friends are also going off to do their own things...) Certainly, compared to high school, I feel like I was able to form some semblance of a social life here.

Long story short, college life is coming to an end for me. I am reaching the end of the marked-out paths, the culturally expected route to adulthood, and the time has come for me to start making my own path. And there's definitely a sense of trepidation and uncertainty at that. But so be it - in the grand play of my life, the curtain falls on act I. And feeling uncertain about what will come in act II won't stop it coming, all the same.


Why I Didn't Attend PAX East

I imagine it should be apparent from my blog that I ended up going to Anime Boston a little over a month ago. Of course, there was another convention in Boston that same weekend, one that no small amount of my friends ended up going to. I was tempted, myself, to drop by PAX East, even if only to go talk to the Riot Games people about League of Legends. In the end, though, I ended up skipping PAX East this past April, and I don't regret that decision.

Part of that was simple apathy. I had a limited amount of time that weekend anyway, and it was easier for me to sit around the Hynes Convention Center at Anime Boston than it was to hike across Boston to the convention center in which PAX East was being held. Part of that was finances; it's not like I couldn't have spared the $35 to get in, but I just didn't have enough of a desire to get in to make spending the money worthwhile.

The largest part of it, though, was the fact that I am not really a fan of Penny Arcade, and never have been. Because I have never really bothered to read the comic, my knowledge of Penny Arcade is shaped by incidents like this one. Yes, I know, the dickwolves incident is almost two years ago now. Unfortunately for Penny Arcade, it's what I remember of their comic, and when friends of mine asked me if I was going to PAX East, it's what I thought of.

And perhaps I would be being a little unfair if it was an isolated incident, if you can even call an extended pattern of responses and arguments an "isolated incident" (you can't)... now what's this?

For the record, yes, he has every right to support whatever he likes, even a game that takes a tongue-in-cheek, satirical look at a particularly problematic genre. Just as I have every right to condemn him, Penny Arcade, and PAX for it. In short, "but free speech!" will not fly here.

For the record, yes, liking problematic things doesn't make you a terrible person. Not automatically, anyway. The blog post at that link there is really the best breakdown (that I know of) of how not to become a terrible person when talking about problematic things, even ones you like. I certainly can't do any better.

Speaking personally, I am no stranger to hentai, although I usually shy away from tentacle porn and any depictions of rape or assault. I don't find seuxal assault to be arousing or interesting, and playing games that end up trivializing or glossing over it isn't something I really want to do. What hentai I do look at is usually in the form of visual novels, a particular type of computer game that I find to have engaging stories (that do include sex scenes) and characters who actually have their own feelings and desires, who don't exist solely for the pleasure of the (assumed male) protagonist or player.

That isn't to say they're not problematic, because they are. Some of the sex scenes depicted in those works are still highly questionable (whether by playing the "rape-as-plot-element" card, or otherwise by uncritically presenting sexual assault), and some elements of the stories are also problematic, or at least unrealistic. I'm not really prepared to go into the details here; a detailed analysis of the story of, say, Kanon, would probably be an entirely separate post. For the moment, I will leave it with this: that usually the stories and characters involved are interesting and engaging enough for me to find these things worthwhile, despite their very real problems.

Call it satire if you like - a game like the one he's promoting there doesn't actually say anything worthwhile about those problems, in my opinion. I don't think hentai should have to involve rape, and I think laughing at the prevalence of rape in hentai is counterproductive at best. I think it's possible to create games, whether card games like this one or computer games like my visual novels, that can be sexual or erotic and yet not involve sexual assault.

And the fact that the people who run Penny Arcade and PAX East don't seem to share my concerns is a problem. It is, in fact, a problem that has kept me away from PAX East this last spring, and will likely do so for many years to come. Condemn me for that decision if you will, but I have the ability to choose who and what I want to support. Until I believe that PAX East is more in line with the way I want the world to be, I won't be supporting them.

ETA: Shakesville linked to my post in their own coverage of this particular incident. I highly recommend going and checking out that post, because it's an excellent summary of the situation and collection of other posts on the matter.


President Obama on Marriage Equality

And just yesterday I called out President Obama for failing in his advocacy for LGBT rights... then this happened. (emphasis from original)
I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.
Words matter. Knowing that the President has now openly and publicly embraced the idea of marriage for all matters a great deal. It changes the way we as a society think about and discuss the concept of marriage, and it forces a shift in the discussion, normalizing the idea of marriage for all people. It energizes advocates for marriage equality to know that the sitting President of the United States has said this. For being willing to come out and support marriage equality on the record, thank you, President Obama.

However, I said this on Twitter and I'll say it again here: words only go so far. I don't say that to minimize the excitement and energy that has overtaken the progressive movement, because I truly believe that this has had a major impact on us. But there's still more to be done. I, for one, look forward to seeing these words become meaningful changes in national law and policy - the kinds of changes that would truly allow same-sex couples to be able to marry each other across the United States. Especially in the wake of North Carolina's vote yesterday, that's the kind of thing we need more than ever.

Your campaign slogan, President Obama, is now "Forward." Hearing you say things like what came out this afternoon can almost make me believe in your support of that idea of forward progress once again. As long as you're going to stand up and champion real forward progress, I will stand with you.


Socialism in the White House!

Days like these, with posts like this one, make me wonder if anyone actually bothers to educate themselves on what Obama's actually doing in office.
The ultimate task for the people is to remain vigilant and aware  ~ that the government, their government is out of control, and this moment, this opportunity, must not be forsaken, must not escape us, for we shall not have any coarse but armed revolution should we fail with the power of the vote in November ~ This Republic cannot survive for 4 more years underneath this political socialist ideologue.
Now to be fair, it's not like I haven't used similar rhetoric before - that the U.S. wouldn't survive four years of the wrong president (although I know I've never advocated for armed rebellion). Usually I confine that kind of thing to personal discussions with close friends and family, and given my own ideological bent I'm talking about people like Ron Paul or Rick Santorum. But I have said that kind of thing before, how I don't think the U.S. would actually survive four years of a hardcore Republican presidency.

For the record, I haven't ever said that of Romney. Which isn't to say that I would like Romney being elected as President, because I'm almost dead certain that I wouldn't particularly enjoy such a presidency. I'm just confident that the United States would survive those four years.

Likewise, it's not that I think Obama is all sunshine and rainbows. In fact, there are quite a few things I don't think I like about our current President. I think he's entirely failing in his advocacy for LGBT rights, for one thing, and he's only barely doing any better on reproductive rights or equality for women. Then there's the assassination of a U.S. citizen without trial and the continued problem that is Guantanamo Bay. Believe me, I can find plenty of problems with Obama's policies.

None of that, though, is the impetus for the stuff I quoted above. Hell, I rather suspect most of my problems with the Obama presidency would be counted as positive signs if the people that produced that quote ever bothered to traffic in reality. No, this idea that Obama is a partisan socialist ideologue is simply false, and has been since he took office. That doesn't seem to stop his critics from pretending that he is, but then the modern Republican Party seems to have little time or attention to spare on those pesky, annoying things the rest of us like to call facts. Why should they, when they can just scream "SOCIALISM!" and actually get people to listen to them?

(h/t to Right Wing Watch)