Archive for March, 2009

Resident Evil 5 Isn’t Racist, But You Probably Are

Posted in Games with tags , , , , on March 18, 2009 by zolthanite

Intentionally inflammatory title for what I perceive as a completely ludicrous subject.  It’s like they have no idea what Resident Evil is about, nor keep it in context.

This was cross-posted at Twenty Sided in response to Shamus’ original article.

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I’m going to paraphrase a story that one of my old bosses, Robert, told me. Regardless of veracity, it holds particular weight with this whole debate.

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There was a time, long long ago, when Colin Powell was being interviewed as an up and coming African American in the Army (I believe this was before he became a general). One of the questions asked of him was, roughly: “What is your feeling about racism in the Armed Forces?”

His response: “I have not had a problem with racism in the Army.”

After the press conference, Robert was in Powell’s office, as he was Robert’s commanding officer, on unrelated business. But it was fairly obvious the interview didn’t sit well with him, and as he was leaving Powell stopped him and said, “Did you have a problem with what I said?” in reference to Powell’s response.

“Sir, I think that to say that racism has not been a problem in your career is quite honestly a lie. I don’t think any black person in the Army, myself included, would agree with you on that point.”

“Robert, racism is not something I have a problem with because I am not racist. The people who have a problem with racism are racist themselves. Racism is their problem, not mine.”
—–

Bottom line is: Personal bias for the person playing the game is irrelevant, especially if they are hyper-sensitive to such issues. The baseline for racism is purely about intent, not about perspective.

As far as the intent goes, I would almost claim that because the game is devoid of artistic merit it doesn’t have to deal with the problem of racism or not. Birth of a Nation is not purely derivative entertainment, and actually is blatantly racist as it goes out of its way to elevate white people at the cost of black people. Using blackface, in most capacities (beyond a production of Othello or historical reenactment.  It’s a matter of context), actually is racist because someone actively is making race an issue.

Resident Evil 5 takes the zombie menace, and puts it in Africa. Unless it’s taking place in South Africa with tons of Dutch around, arguing about black zombies is ridiculous. Every Resident Evil has taken place, in some capacity, in the middle of nowhere. Raccoon City was a middle of nowhere town. The first RE (I believe) was in a middle-of-nowhere mansion. RE4 was in the unnamed, generic isolated Spanish countryside. RE5 is in Africa somewhere. What other ethnic group would you expect to find? This is dictated by setting, not because someone said “Oh we need to mow down some black people. We can’t do Harlem, so let’s go to Africa. I hear they have loads of  <insert racial slur in plural form>.”

As far as racist imagery, I don’t see pearly white smiles. I don’t see large lips and shuffle dancing. I don’t see anything that would indicate historically offensive paradigms, especially for the US, that’s no worse than your average box of Uncle Ben’s rice or Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix. To be frank, I don’t see anything different from Resident Evil 4 beyond a meaningful change in scenery appropriate for the setting. More importantly, for such a White Is Right game, why is the female lead not also white? Shouldn’t she also be lily fresh, blonde, and sexy to make the battle for white supremacy complete? She isn’t Asian, that’s for sure.

If anything, one could look at Japanese games as a whole and wonder, if they have any fault at all, why they elevate Western European features as a form of beauty as they do. Ken from SFIV is actually Japanese-origin, but wants to be American to the point where he bleaches his hair. I don’t remember playing a single RE where an Asian features prominently anywhere, except for Ada Wong, who isn’t exactly a positive role model for heroism. Is she a symbol of Japanese self-loathing? It would be a much more fruitful discussion. Cherry-picking RE5 for being racist out of the entire series is irresponsible for any real discussion.

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Media by Comedians – Part I: Jon Stewart

Posted in Business with tags , , , , on March 16, 2009 by zolthanite

So the recent CNBC vs. Comedy Central fallout has created a wide variety of perspectives on the role Jon Stewart plays in the whole “responsibility of media” that allows him to publicly skewer CNBC while absolving himself of responsibility and critical attack.  There has also been a lot of discussion over what Jon did over the past week in order to bring events about as they did, and some fairly bold assumptions about what all of this means in the post-Cramer fallout.

By and large, though, it highlights one of the main reasons why the under 35 demographic gets its news from sources like The Daily Show and Colbert Report: Satire is not satire unless it has truth to it.  What happened Thursday night was something that only happens when people fail to realize just what they are getting in to or have too much pride to back down, and highlights why Tim Russert, when he was alive, was such a valuable journalist and interviewer.  Critical discussion with high-profile people about their actions is a rare commodity these days.  

A few assumptions of fact before I talk about my take on the past week on The Daily Show 

  1. Jon’s whole point, even during the Cramer interview, was that CNBC has a history of not only being grossly wrong when they have staff that should know better (citing Cramer’s hedge fund and Santelli’s derivative trading experiences), but that they play tee-ball with the CEOs and do not actually have a shred of journalistic acumen.
  2. Jon Stewart (And the other people I plan on bringing up later) is a comedian. He does not have the access and resources beyond what the news organizations put out and maybe a little bit extra from some staffing interns and the like.  He doesn’t do investigative reporting.
  3. Jon, when being serious, isn’t being a journalist so much as an angry citizen who is smart enough to call bullshit when he sees it.  He also makes no claim of being anything other than a comedian, ever.

So, on to the fun:

Relevant Video
Jon’s March 4th Callout of Sentelli
Jon’s Response to Cramer’s Article
Jon’s Response to the Cramer media rounds
Unedited Cramer v Stewart Interview

 

Nitpicking

A large part of the article rebuttal (Link #2) was about the “Buy Bear Stearns” comment Cramer made on his show and when exactly that took place.  So to associate stock prices with each clip in the reverse order I spent a stupid amount of time trying to find free NYSE historical data.  It’s amazing how hard it is to find data associated with a delisted company when the symbol has been recycled into use:

January 24, 2008: Bear opens at $68, closes at $79, via closest data point from two-days earlier.  Not the exact date, but still it was there.

March 6, 2008: Bear at roughly $69 via the clip

March 11, 2008: Bear at $62.97 via the clip

The other thing is that Cramer, in the more candid and reasonable January clip, explicitly stated his recommendation was based on intuition, not on strong financials or anything that would quantitatively support his claim.  But actually, if you listen to the clip, he was being completely honest that the stock would pay off under the assumption that Bear Stearns would be for sale.  I’m assuming this would be no different than buying Take-Two stock prior to the EA acquisition announcement (That ultimately failed, but TT’s stock spiked fairly high for a long time as a result).

But Bear was holding semi-steady in those two months before it died.  No one actually expects a company to suddenly disappear overnight, despite the fact we have strong history to the contrary (Enron, if you really needed one).  So despite writing on the wall to the contrary, most market people sit in the delusion that size created financial invulnerability, when in fact the opposite is true.

 

The Meaningful Takeaway

First off a note on Cramer:  Cramer is an extremely intelligent guy.  The clips from him on The Street are indicative of how adept the man is at the financial markets and how the game is played.  He also has a lot of pull in the financial community.  In a sense, he serves as a symbol for much more of the financial industry than just CNBC.  For that night, however, he was as close to CNBC as Stewart is going to get.  Honestly, though, CNBC kinda threw him under the bus by doing that to him coupled with the lack of follow-up, and I have to give him credit for showing up when they knew Stewart’s position beforehand.  Chris Matthews probably wasn’t so lucky here.

Stewart also has gone after the media before.  Stewart’s 2004-ish appearance on Crossfire is pretty iconic of that.  He hasn’t said anything new, he just has a new example to work with.  That’s pretty key.  This isn’t an “anti-Obama” attack on Cramer specifically by Stewart because of the article, despite what people are saying.  Stewart and Colbert have an entire living based on mocking the media as well as what it reports.  More importantly, Stewart himself as a history of railing against mainstream media on a more personal level, which is a belief he holds and was indirectly mentioned in a 2003 interview with Chris Matthews on The Daily Show.

So what happened?  Really, what you have is an example of someone doing investigative reporting without actually requiring political or social access in order to do so.  That, in and of itself, is impressive.  More importantly, Stewart’s main point of CNBC’s trusting CEOs statements about their own companies and taking everything at face value is doing their entire organization a disservice.  They get no real information out of it and, based on bold face lies, attempt to make meaningful decisions.  It’s a punchline that the new breed of political comedian has used as a platform to very great success: Government is stupid, and the only thing dumber is the people who report on it.

The reason so many people, myself included, use The Daily Show as a primary news source (I also read the Economist, BBC, and a few other things as well) is because very few of the big-names in broadcasting take the time to report on the administration/politics/whatever based on anything other than face-value nonsense.  The juxtaposition of contradiction in statements is both comedic AND informative.  The Governor Bush vs. President Bush “debate” is still one of the best sketches I’ve seen on The Daily Show.  

But rarely does The Daily Show have the opportunity to do with other political figures what it did with Cramer, and in all honesty it shouldn’t have to.  That’s the job of the media.  That’s why freedom of the press is in the Bill of Rights.  Meet the Press did the same thing with guests on a regular basis (In the Tim Russert days, I believe the Cheney interview is the relevant one there, although Rumsfeld was decent enough as well), and Face the Nation did a similar thing with Rumsfeld and whether or not he had used the words “Imminent Threat” on Iraq.  Our media should protect us from everyone else.  Like Jon said, “I want this Jim Cramer to protect me from that Jim Cramer.”