I remember very clearly, one of the first times I played Wizards Unite. The highly-anticipated (at least highly anticipated for Potter fans) Harry Potter mobile phone game to be released by Niantic, a videogame design firm I knew from Pokemon Go (which I have never played) and Ingress (which I have.) Part of Niantic’s claim-to-fame is their ability to produce games that overlay gameplay onto google maps: to engage with the “game world,” you literally walk to locations in the “real world” and interact with game elements that are geo-tagged to be located there.
A few days into playing the game, I visited the National Gallery of Art for an exhibit on renaissance paintings. As I wandered into a different wing of photorealistic oil paintings, my attention had waned, and so I turned on the game to see if any Harry Potter creatures were geo-tagged to the museum. Several were.
I then began to surreptitiously play the game while in the sparsely populated area. I would look at a painting of the seaside while the game loaded, then battle an Erkling (a spindly, thin goblin creature.) Erkling defeated and map reloading, I turned my attention to a still life with water shimmering through a translucent glass vase, and then looked at my phone to rescue a Mooncalf (a short, stubby, blue-furred, llama-like creature with overly large eyes) from its shackled chain. I glanced up to see to portrait woman lounged on a settee with a book. I could almost smell the light dust of forgotten past and the pine oil pressed into the glowing wood of the table where her book rested. A howler harassed two goblins. I wandered by an oversized landscape painting, which was taller than me and yet so finely detailed. I could hear the ducks as they cause small splashes as they skitted across the distant lake. I could hear to munching and soft grunting of the moose in the foreground as they grazed on the forest greens.
Alternating between the flat yet layered experience of the game with its limited pixels and yet fluid movement, and the static but deeply rich and real oil paintings caused my brain to kick into a higher gear. While one would think that playing a game would distract me from the paintings, playing the game immersed me in them more. By stimulating my brain’s flow and triggering my imagination, the game opened my mind to receive and mentally create more stimuli than were present in reality.
If playing the game increased my brain activity to such an extent that static, artistic depictions felt, sounded, and even smelled more real, then what exactly is being communicated by that game, and what augmented realities are finding their way into my mind without my being aware of it?
In the coming days, I’ll publish “Wizards Dis-United: How the Harry Potter Mobile Game Augments Reality to Strengthen White Supremacy.” A colleague, Michelle Ledder, and I are premiering it as a presentation at the Chestnut Hill College Harry Potter Academic Conference this Friday, October 16, 2020.
US American reporter and translator Angelica Frey posted an article yesterday on “Sailor Moon’s Fashion from Christian Dior to Theirry Mugler” on Jezebel. This is a great read on the intersection of East Asian storytelling and graphic novels, European fashion, and the US American market in the 1990s. If just one of those topics interests you, I highly recommend her article on Jezebel.
Last week, Duden (the Merriam-Webster of Germany) upped their social media game with their ad campaign for the latest edition of the comprehensive dictionary. “Hasskommentar,” which translates to “hate-commentary,” has officially been added to the German language. Their website defines this new word as “commentary containing hatred and threats, characterized by strong rejection and hostility, especially on social networks.”
As German speakers are more empowered by their linguistic tradition to create their own words and compound words, the German language is quick to adopt new words (especially technological terms) into its formal lexicon. For example, Germans used “ich google”/”du googlest” about two years before it became common practice to verb the proper noun in American English. (I noticed this personally while living there in the 2000s.)
Hopefully, the adoption of this new word does not start a trend in other countries, as formalizing such concepts makes them more valid and stable in culture and society. On the other hand, having a formal term for this oppressive behavior may help in creating practices to deconstruct it and policies to restrain and restrict it.
Image from Photograph: Sopa/Rex/Shutterstock via The Guardian
A series of protests and rallies have spread across Thailand, condemning the government. The protesters, many of them high-school and university-aged young people, are using art to circumnavigate the lèse-majesté laws in place, making it a crime to defame, insult, or simply criticize the royal family. By using the images, symbols, and narratives in Harry Potter and the Hunger Games, protesters can critique a government which has acted in eerily parallel to the books’ plots:
- King Maha Vajiralongkorn was crowned King Rama X of Thailand in 2016, and later the Palace led a campaign that changed the constitution to give the king increased emergency powers.
- The Thai Crown is closely linked with the Thai military, as the king now has personal control over several influential army units and the Prime Minister previously led a military coup
- Police have increasingly harassed activists
- Nearly ten dissidents who have fled the country have “disappeared,” and at least two are confirmed dead
- Public school students face stricter behavior and personal appearance guidelines set forth by the government.
The imagery and language of Harry Potter are being used by the protestors to call out their government. Many protesters use “Wands Up” gestures using prop wands or glowing cellphone flashlights to evoke imagery of the final battle for Hogwarts against the Deatheaters in the penultimate book. Some dress in Gryffindor colors or witch/wizard robes. A few dress as Deatheaters and hoist gilded gold framed images of Lord Voldemort– gold being the color of The Crown in Thailand.
The youngest protesters also use other art forms to tell their stories. The New York Times published a photograph of high-school-aged children performing the Mockingjay Salute. Their article also explains a piece of performance art by one such child protester: she was tied to a chair, a pair of scissors on her lap. Audience members (fellow protesters) are instructed by a nearby sign to cut her hair to the government-mandated crop length– even with the bottom of her earlobe.
Hundreds of young protesters use pop culture iconography, imagery, and narratives to indirectly criticize their government that limits free speech. It is indisputable, at least in Thailand, that art continues to be a powerful tool against oppression.
Sources + Read More:
Last week, Kpop band BTS (formerly known as Bangtan Boys and Beyond The Scene) and its fans made global headlines as they raised over $2 million in donations to the #BlackLivesMatter campaign. The band itself donated $1 million and has been vocal about denouncing racial oppression. On June 4, they tweeted, “We stand against racial discrimination. We condemn violence. You, I, and we all have the right to be respected. We will stand together. #BlackLivesMatter” (Source) James Corden even covered how BTS fans are diluting white supremacy hashtags by drowning out hate with their love of the band.
Reporter Yim Hyun-su points out in a Washington Post article that Kpop fans have a well-established history of social justice initiatives and wield social media hashtags with lighting strike power. Their social media campaigns have not only a global reach but also activate global collaboration in a matter of minutes. The online activism of Kpop fans is not to be underestimated.
Hyun-su continues to analyze why the many stories of Kpop fans mobilizing don’t get the coverage that similar stories of streaming/vlogging fans or videogame fans do. While acknowledging the often problematic landscape of fandom communities, he posits that the barrier to Kpop fans being recognized is classical sexism: the popular image of a “fangirl” is not in alignment with that of a social justice warrior.
Maybe one day, perspectives will mature to a more holistic comprehension of these fandom identities.
To read Hyun-su’s article, visit here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/06/11/surprised-seeing-k-pop-fans-stand-up-black-lives-matter-you-shouldnt-be/
I’m presenting 2 panels at Awesome Con this weekend in Washington DC.
#1 Friday, 4:00 PM – “Good Omen’s Good Theology” room 140
#2 Saturday, 5:00 PM – “Supernatural: Bible Canon vs Bible Fanon” room 140 again.
Both are with Rev. Will Green from Foundry UMC. (email@example.com )
Hope to see you there!
PS Once the formal copyright comes through, we’ll have the material from these presentations published on this site.
Many New Zealander women are wearing headscarves today out of respect for those killed in the Christchurch shootings. After consulting the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand and the Muslim Association of New Zealand, Dr. Thaya Ashman organized the Headscarves for Harmony campaign which invited all women to wear headscarves in a allowing a show of solidarity in the aftermath of the shootings. Is in inappropriate for non-Muslim women to wear headscarves? “I can promise you it will not be disrespectful” writes Mavash Ali in in an opinion piece in The Spinoff, an online NZ politics and culture magazine.
“This is us” proclaims Toby Morris, a white New Zealander graphic artist. His most recent comic dissects precipitating microaggressions, political actions, and popular inaction and purposeful ignoring of the growing Islamophobia, xenophobia, and white supremacy in their country. “This is us” is a rallying cry for a truly inclusive unity that requires a mindshift of every level of society.
A cropped sample of the This is Us webcomic.
Read “This is Us” here: https://thespinoff.co.nz/society/18-03-2019/this-is-us/
I have a new job at the global Commission on Religion and Race on Capitol Hill. My writing will be intermittent as I adjust to this new position.
Earlier this week, the hastag #AintNoCinderella went viral in India following an incident of a young woman being harassed and then victim shamed. Varnika Kundu went out on the town on Friday night, August 4. At the end of the night, she was harassed by two young men who then followed her when she fled in her car, attempting to make her stop and trying to enter her car several times. She wrote about the harrowing experience in a public Facebook post, thanking the police who helped save her from being kidnapped and urged women to be vigilant against attacks. One local politician victim-blamed her by stating that she should not have been out late at night.
Public outcry against misogyny and classism was immediate, and only increased in fervor once it became clear that one of the two young men allegedly involved was the son of another local politician.
The viral hashtag #AintNoCinderella, often accompanied by selfies of young women in clubbing outfits, has become a rallying cry by young Indian women to exercise their basic human right to safety no matter what time of day. Every tweet is a micro-effort to battle violence against women, and the overall effect is bringing to light the persistent issues of classism and sexism in a country that had elected and reelected a female head of state in 1966 and 1980.