A miscarriage of justice

Paul Raven @ 27-06-2011

I have shamelessly cloned the MetaFilter headline for use here, because there’s no better phrase to use in the context of American prosecutors attempting to sentence women who have miscarriages as murderers.

As the first MeFi commenter puts it, “[w]hy does this all feel like William Gibson and Margaret Atwood had a novel together?”… or we could ask why it is that Charlie Finlay’s short story “Your Life Sentence”– repeatedly attacked at time of publication as a straw man argument or hang-wringing panic about “something that could never happen here” – is looking more and more like a work of sociopolitical prolepsis.

Now, I have a well-earned reputation here as an equivocal fencesitter, but there are some things of which I am certain in my convictions, so allow me to draw this line in the sand. The war on women and womanhood – which is by no means exclusively American, right-wing or fundamentalist in its origins, but certainly seems to cluster around those axes – is disgusting Medieval bullshit, and it shames the nations in which it takes place. How can the same staunch Christians who support this intrusion of patriarchal law into the very bodies of women say with straight faces that Islam is a repressive and old-fashioned theocracy that must be fought into submission and reform? Look to the beams in your own eyes, gentlemen.

To be clear: you are perfectly within your rights to believe that personhood begins at conception, and that abortion is murder in the eyes of your chosen deity; indeed, the pro-choice framework incorporates and allows you that inalienable right, should you want it. But the moment you start insisting that everyone be bound by the same archaic and unscientific dogma that – inexplicably – helps you sleep at night, I will deploy Proudhon’s declaration as a universal: whosoever lays their hands on another to govern them is a tyrant and a usurper, and I declare them my enemy.

This is non-negotiable. Your jurisdiction over what should and should not be done to a body extend no further than the outer layer of your own skin. Your opinions on motherhood, abortion, contraception and ob/gyn practice may be enforced upon no womb other than your own.

And yes: that means that if you don’t possess a womb of your own, and never have done, you can shut the fuck up.

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The intersection of gaming and guilt

Paul Raven @ 28-08-2009

Wii Fit water bottlesOver at The Guardian, Keith Stuart finds himself distressed by the rise of computer games that focus on physical fitness; his concern is that the whole appeal of computer games has always been the ability to live vicariously as someone other than yourself, and that this development suggests that body fascism is finally invading the game-space. [image by imjoshdotcom]

I understand the physical fitness potential of this procedure, but there are concerns about what this means for the future integration of virtual and physical identities. In the past we’ve been able to entirely separate the two – it’s the fundamental appeal behind online environments such as Second Life. Gaming has always been sort of transcendental – the player’s ability to perform stunning acrobatic leaps in Prince of Persia, or devastating roundhouse kicks in Tekken, has only ever been about hand-eye coordination, about skill. One notable exception was the very first Street Fighter arcade game, now largely overlooked and dismissed by gamers, which required you to punch large pads as hard as possible to pull off moves. It was inexact and clumsy and it created a higher physical baseline for protagonists.

But then fast-forward 20 years, to the unveiling of Microsoft’s Project Natal motion-capture system for the Xbox 360. The demos were all about people pulling off kicks and punches in their living rooms to create similar movements on screen. Going even further, Mylo, the virtual boy emulator created by the British studio Lionhead, will watch and read the player’s facial expressions, with the onscreen character reacting accordingly.

It feels like a strange ontological breach. Watch a gamer in action: it’s a totally unselfconscious activity. Bodies go limp, faces are twisted in weird contortions or slackened in hangdog wonder. Some read this negatively, equating it with the mindless consumption of junk TV – and now it seems even games publishers are developing guilt. And guilt is the emotion that often arises when bodies are scrutinised, especially among the demographic that buys fitness games. Sure there are health benefits to the increasing physicalisation of entertainment software, but there is also the underlying taint of pop-culture body fascism.

I can see where he’s going with this, but I think the point is overstated; rather than developing guilt, I think games designers are in fact responding to an increased demand for ways of making exercise fun. Where the line between wanting to be more healthy and obsessing over your physical persona is drawn is, I suspect, largely an individual matter; I’m absolutely positive that gaming will never develop a significant fraction of the coercive power of television.