Saturday, January 20, 2018

When Worlds Collide …

When we think in terms of speculative media, worlds colliding into war, chaos or natural disaster is the stuff we create our stories with, the conflicting cornerstones which serve as the foundation for what the writer is building. But in our own world, they weigh heavily on our minds and bodies, wrenching our guts into ever twisting helices of pain.

Yes, I am talking about our presidential election although I will not get into partisanship. I will, however, look at it from afar and try to wrestle some meaning from the swirling spot of Jupiter that this process has created.

How people feel after checking their Twitter feed
How people feel after checking their Twitter feed

Because there is nothing that an American cherishes more than voting for president. Our collective psyche responds to making the big, sweeping gesture of choosing the “leader of the free world.” Turnouts are always higher during these years and our history books use them as markers on the highway of time.

However, no vote in our system counts for less. The Electoral College controls the process and, once states have identified their general allegiance, voting patterns become set, leaving only a few areas of the country to swing one way or the other. A voter in California or Texas could cast for Cthulhu and still not spin the color wheel toward red or blue.

Sportswriter Bomani Jones spoke to this on his podcast “The Evening Jones” where he outlined why our political system remains binary. Jones, who has a master’s in economics, stated that American representational democracy needs the adversarial interplay, the us vs. them set-up, because of structural needs of our government as envisioned by the founders. We prefer a system that allows our president and our representatives to be in opposition.

Every time a third party rises up, one of the major parties must fail (see the Whigs).

We could gain more parties by going to the parliamentary system, but then we would sacrifice our empty but mentally powerful presidential vote. So, complain about the illusion of choice, but try to find a system better suited to the American mindset and then return to this conversation.

What is great about our system is the old saw “all politics are local.” The true way of influencing our system is to care about who represents you at the city, state and national level. We in California have radical access to our electoral democracy as anyone can write a law and get it on the ballot, provided enough signatures are gathered. This leads to great paradoxes among the amendments (we currently have two propositions about capital punishment on the line, one to eliminate it and one to speed it up), but the empowerment behind a real vote that affects real life can be intoxicating.

But the actual place where politics becomes most local is our social media feed. While some have chosen to curate the scrolling text, especially as they find out just how intractable some are in their opinions, other choose to fight it out. This give and take excites the pugnacious, but those sorts are fewer than those who want to shut it all out, especially when it becomes oversaturating.

A common activity this political season
A common activity this season

And even when it’s Facebook where you at least know who this friend is, the lack of facial clues keeps the conversation on an anonymous level. You can drop in, toss the troll bomb, then leave knowing the only repercussion to be faced is unfriending. This leads to a verbal trench warfare where each side digs in and bombs the other while giving little to no ground. Side are clearly drawn, the clash is on and subtlety is mortally wounded.

Worlds collide in a roiling hurricane of rhetoric.

While this is what most of us have to deal with, some find their worlds disrupted on a more tangible level. Here in Los Angeles in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, which has been Jewish and Japanese but is now solidly Latino, protestors have marched in the streets because of art galleries.

While this may cause a knee jerk from those of us who live an aesthetic life, the galleries are the front lines in the war of gentrification. The residents, as reported by Julia Wick on the website LAist, have battled hard to carve out a place of their own, having fought off drugs, gangs and violence to finally establish a cultural beachhead.

But where poor people live, rents are cheap and the curators/owners, having been priced out of Downtown and the Arts District, have swelled to the next hot ‘hood. But when their neighbors see that the cost of one painting could pay their rent for six months, pitchforks and torches follow.

Aggressive vandalism in Boyle Heights’ anti-gentrification war

This neighborhood was on the forefront of the Chicano Rights Movement, so they know the politics of protesting. However, recent reports show the war of words has escalated, with curse-filled graffiti now covering the spaces. This is a clash made real, and where the powerless see no other path, they will strike.

But even in the face of racial tension and overall strife, Los Angeles and specifically the University of Southern California hosted an event that brought together people of many cultures, visions and accomplishments. “Science Fiction L.A.: Words and World Building in the City of Angels” discussed many luminaries of the writing world (Octavia Butler, Ray Bradbury and Phillip K. Dick), but also looked at the form and function of this city as setting and inspiration for speculative tales.

I’ll have a report on the specifics later on Vex, but the lively panel discussions and the conversations sparked in the break periods were very inspirational, showing that sometimes white tower academia can unite and elevate our level of discourse.

Which certainly serves as a credo for Vex Mosaic. So, in that spirit, this month we discuss many ideas of worlds building and crashing, coming together and clashing, but ultimately becoming the best of who we can be. Like any good fiction must.

First we have Aaron Emmel’s “Possible Futures,” a look at how fiction sparks the mind of technicians, and the cycle of creativity engendered by speculative ideas.

Then we present Lisa Samuels’ “Global Views Don’t Just Come From Home,” a personal and academic look at how the phenomena of Third Culture Kids relates to science fiction and how it affects our society in general.

Finally, Tim Niederitter digs deep into James Cameron’s Avatar with his essay “Alien Minds” to see how the creator of this new world worked to create a race far different and yet so close to our own.

So as this essay shall be published the day before U.S. elections, we at Vex Mosaic say Go Vote! Embrace the freedoms of democracy and work to build the world in which you want to live.

But remember the warning of the knight in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade:

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