Orientalism: Is Wakanda a Rogue State?

The MCU’s Black Panther dazzles moviegoers with its representation of a technologically advanced African power, but to what extent does it’s foreign novelty cover up its admittedly brutal nature.

The plot of the movie (Spoilers ahead) centers around the benevolent and super-powered king Tchalla of Wakanda as his throne is usurped by the cruel and malevolent Killmonger, who seeks to use Wakanda’s weapons to overthrow the world order. The central conflict and setting provide some interesting set pieces for fun superhero action, but it also begs the question: Is Wakanda an African North Korea?

Both countries are poor isolated nations with xenophobic streaks and hereditary monarchs which wield absolute power and supposedly have supernatural abilities. Everybody’s favorite ‘Glorious Jucheist Republic of Korea’ is also technologically advanced, at least according to government officials.

Killmonger is doubtlessly evil and vindictive, yet the reason that he poses such a threat is because in Wakanda democracy is tossed out in favor of trial by combat. Killmonger even finds allies in Wakanda nationalists who believe in militaristic interventionism not-at-all dissimilar to Kim Jung Il’s communist revolutionary network.

Why does Wakanda get off the hook? (Other than the fact that Black Panther is a superhero film)

One possible reason is that Wakanda’s existence is steeped in orientalism, or stereotypes about non-western countries. The music playing in the Wakandan setting is literally called “(Tribal music playing)” in the subtitles for Avengers: Infinity War.

The trial-by-combat that decides the Wakandan dictator is not portrayed as a gross betrayal of popular sovereignty but instead as a “Noble commitment to honorable traditions”. With enough bone necklaces and Nigerian accents even the most archaic government can become a proud tradition.

In a cinematic universe filled with realistic national governments led by pragmatic and greedy leaders, the African one (Wakanda) gets to be treated like some fantasy kingdom such as Camelot or Andor. (Which to be fair it mostly is)

Of course, this is an over analysis of what is supposed to be a fun movie, so take this with a grain of salt.

What do you think?

King Lear, Hamlet and Tragedy, Was it Unavoidable?

I was re-reading Kentaro Miura’s amazing series Berserk (read it), a masterwork of tragedy and drama comparative to King Lear. During my second reading I began to realize more clearly that the threads of tragedy which culminated in the climax have been slowly wound together throughout the entire series.

This got me thinking about Shakespearean tragedies, to what extent were the fates of Lear or Hamlet determined from the start? To what extent was Lear’s fate determined by his character?

Hamlet’s situation can more easily be simplified: Hamlet was too fickle. Therefore, when an important situation demands initiative Hamlet was unable to act, eventually forcing him into an unavoidable and dangerous situation. I might not have had to turn out the way it did, but a climax had to come for Hamlet, whether he liked it or not.

Lear’s “fatal trait” is harder to pin down, would it be his blindness to the designs around him? Would it have been his mad decisions? Could it simply be that he had too much power for his character?

Would Lear have still experienced tragedy without Regan or Goneril?

I firmly believe yes. What comes up must go down, and Lear was up too high for too long. While the tragedy of Hamlet required a grave situation, Lear created his grave situation by disowning Cordelia, thus opening up the throne for the taking. Even if one left an old Lear to his own devices, he would slip up eventually and the paper castle of loyalty that he had built up around him would fall.

What do you think?

‘Come Out Ye Blacks and Tans’: an anti-colonial diss track.

“Colonialism. The enforced spread of the rule of reason. But who is going to spread it among the colonizers?”

Anthony Burgess

It has been said that “great” britain’s largest export is independence days, and in fact there are only 22 countries worldwide that have never been a victim of english aggression.

The song “Come out ye Blacks and Tans“, was written during the Irish war for independence and later recorded by the band The Wolfe Tones. The song details the struggles of the Irish Republican Army (IRA) against the royal Irish constabulary, called the blacks and tans because of their uniforms.

Note: out of respect for my Irish ancestry and name I refuse to capitalize any proper nouns relating to britain or england other than Ireland.

This song has a very simple thesis: the british army (Especially the royal Irish constabulary) is a bunch of losers and the Irish will beat them in the end. After this the song does go into some entirely justified depictions of English brutality, colonialism and hypocrisy.

“I was born on a Dublin street where the royal drums did beat

And those loving english feet they walked all over us.”

These lines emphasize the experience of living under an english-controlled city and contrasts their (supposed) intentions with their actual actions. As elegantly put by Anthony Burgess, the british thought that they were doing everyone they invaded a favour by making them more ‘civilized’ and European. The song uses ‘loving english feet’ to describe how english imperialism brutalizes and alienates a population under the guise of developing it. The song declares such actions to be ignorantly hipocritical.

The song also decries the english military as weak and overconfident in their numerous successes over native populations.

“Come tell us how you slew
Them old Arabs two by two
Like Zulus they had spears and bows and arrows
How bravely you faced each one
With your sixteen pounder gun
And you frightened them damn natives to their marrow”

For the Irish, they’ve had enough of these highfalutin anglo-saxons slaughtering countless populations across the globe and then bragging about it. The Irish argued that annihilating indigenous peoples with guns, germs and steel was not something to be proud of. The dismissive diction of the verse, ‘them old Arabs’ and ‘them damn natives’ mirrors the dismissive nature of english policy (and english historians) towards their numerous conquests.

Conversely, the description of bravery in the face of underwhelming odds is echoed in how ‘bravely’ english soldiers massacred countless natives in an instant, like what the english did when subjugating Ireland. This verse offers solidarity for the many victims of European imperialism while simultaneously calling the english losers. The rational is that england would not have it so easy against a modernly armed people, like the IRA. This reasoning is reinforced by the continued taunting in relation to the disaster of WW1.

“Show your wife how you won medals down in Flanders”

The ‘blacks and tans’ (royal Irish constabulary) which were know for their retaliatory massacres of innocent civilians and brutal killings of dissidents were mostly made up of english WW1 vets. The taunting depicted can echo the sheer inhumanity of WW1, and how winning medals in Flanders is a result of slaying numerous men for little to no reason, much like what they did in Ireland. The line can also be a reference to how superior english leadership and technology cannot get them very far when it comes to fighting actual modern armies like the Germans or the IRA, as the song posits. And while I cannot determine whether or not the song caused the outcome, the Irish war for independence happened just as the song posits.

Exit west: is anyone really a native?

Exit west, by Moshin Hamid, is a book that depicts the world turning almost upside down, with national borders almost dissolving. Another thing that exit west turns upside down is the subconscious colonial assumptions that we have. One of the ways that Hamid subverts the colonial system is by referring to the white people of England as the “natives”. This simple word choice almost messes with one’s head as we are so accustomed to hearing about natives in reference to the less developed continents that European empires exploited. For white people it is almost a new experience to consider the ‘natives’ as being white. Hamid comments upon this: “And yet it was not quite true to say that there were almost no natives, nativeness being a relative matter” (197). Hamid then goes on to argue that the paler skinned Americans owe their nativeness to their several generations of living in “a thin strip of land between the pacific ocean and the Atlantic ocean” (198).

Yet realistically that makes them far less native than the ones who were there before European contact, but even among those peoples there are groups that arrived long before others.

Is anyone truly native?

Throughout chapters seven through nine Hamid depicts the tensions between the migrants and the natives of London. The natives of London today would be characterized by Norse and Norman genetics, Normans being Norse people who mixed with French. However these groups also displaced the Anglo-Saxons that were there before them. But these Anglo-Saxons arrived from Denmark and Germany to displace Roman groups which in turn supplanted Celtic and Pict societies. Even that natives aren’t native.

Does native as a term even mean anything? Humans are always on the move and always have been. If you look farther than all humans are “natives” to Africa or the Middle East, but we rarely think of things that way. The distinctions that humans create serve to organize their own interests. People could be natives when they want to protect their land yet toss aside the term when they want to take others’.

What do you consider yourself a native to, and why?

the Stanger and SCP:5000, is empathy overrated?

Here is the original article if you want to read it, although it lacks greater context.

If you aren’t aware of what the SCP foundation is, it is a collaborative science fiction website which describes the secretive and fictional SCP foundation, a shadowy group dedicated to Securing, Containing, and Protecting so-called “anomalies” from the general public (Think men in black).

A short synopsis of SCP 5000 follows that somehow the SCP foundation, the ends-justifies-the-means protectors of humanity, have decided to exterminate all of humankind. The article goes into detail about one rogue agent named Pietro Wilson travel across the country and summarize in what horrible ways the foundation destroyed all resistance and what terrible monsters they have unleashed to finish the job. Eventually Wilson uses some time travel shenanigans to ‘save the day’ and prevent it all from happening in the first place.

The real story only begins after one looks at the source code for the website and cracks the secret code at the bottom of the webpage. Long story short it turned out that empathy, fear and pain core tenants of the human experience all exist unnaturally within humans, planted there by something else in an attempt to control people (although love and happiness are still natural). The foundation couldn’t “cure” everybody therefore the only logical option would be to erase every human off the planet that could feel pain, thereby preventing any human ever from experiencing pain of fear ever again. Because the foundation leaders were free from feeling bad about themselves, the decision was easy. To them, it was perfectly logical.

This logical analysis connects with The Stanger, wherein Meursault feels very little empathy and expresses almost no pain throughout the course of the novel. Even his mother’s funeral did nothing to him except make him complain about the heat. But this time he was the one to get killed.

Is it preferable to not feel pain, fear or empathy? For Meursault, he was free to enjoy swimming and sleeping and napping all without worrying about another person or even his own fate. Meursault was almost more free even in prison because he was not constrained by societal expectations for behavior or chained by remorse. This is similar to the future envisioned by the Foundation leaders when they decided to remove empathetic humans from the world. Their goal has always been the mitigation of human suffering, and with just one large burst of it they could have been rid of it forever, guaranteeing that every human being ever would be able to live without worrying about literally anything, just like Meursault.

Would you give up your empathy to never suffer again?

In defense of common annoyances.

Meursault details why he likes washing his hands at lunchtime, and not in the evening because: “the roller towel you use is soaked through: one towel has to last all day.” (25) Upon mentioning this to his boss he gets shrugged off. For many of us discussing our pet peeves with a superior would feel awkward or rude. For some reason it is easy to feel mean when presenting a problem to someone, especially if it is particularly minor. There was a discussion in class on Tuesday about the matter, and Mr. Heidkamp claimed he found it comical to emphasize such a minor annoyance, even referencing it’s similarities to Seinfeld (Which certainly exist).

Contrary to that assertion, I believe that recognition and ultimately finding a solution to such peeves is not only entirely justified, but is perfectly logical and principled. After all, if these problems take up even a fraction of your time, why not just solve it and get over with it?

I, too share some of Meursault’s reactions to small details. One day I found that I was confusing my two green notebooks in my folder, wasting but a couple seconds yet occupying my mind. Therefore I simply colored the edges of one of them so that I could tell in advance. Why shouldn’t I spare myself these seconds? I’m sure that many people would rather use the bathroom at home or at a specific time so as to avoid as much contact with others as possible. This pattern is another example of an incredibly minor peeve (although Meursault probably wouldn’t care about other people) that people always think about, yet are reluctant to share. The passage also demonstrates Meursault’s rather remarkable ability to immediately share the reasoning behind any of his actions at a given time, which I find admirable in a person.

Any second that you spend doing something that you’d rather not is really one second too many, and especially if it is a minuscule problem, why not solve it to the best of your ability?