Tag: popular culture (page 1 of 4)

PETA’s Shock Tactics: Irresponsible Advocacy or Strategy and Positioning?

[As two fellow NGO researchers, Wendy and Maryam are going to collaborate on some posts to provide contrasting views on hot-button issues related to NGOs. Think of us as the Siskel and Ebert of
NGOs – we definitely agree on certain things, but clearly not on others (and don’t ask who’s who). Our points of view will not always reflect what we personally think of an issue–we need drama and suspense!–but we will always provide food for thought.]


By now everyone is well aware of the recent tragic killing of Cecil the lion by Minnesota dentist Walter Palmer. Josh shared a post about this incident here on the Duck, as have countless others. One opinion from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA), no stranger to controversial statement, has caught plenty of attention:

“If, as has been reported, this dentist and his guides lured Cecil out of the park with food so as to shoot him on private property, because shooting him in the park would have been illegal, he needs to be extradited, charged, and, preferably, hanged.”

Needless to say, calling for Palmer to be hanged has generated a public outcry of its own.  We weigh in here.

It’s All About Strategy and Positioning

PETA calls for Walter Palmer to be hanged.  Offensive?  Yes.  But it is doing what we expect groups like PETA to do.  The PETAs of the world play a very important role in the world of global activism and international nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) – they make some outlandish statements, they embark on ambitious (perhaps even wacky) projects, but these actions mark clear distinctions between types of INGOs: even if INGOs are a class of actor, they often adopt very different means to approach the same concern.  PETA’s role is to stay outside of the mainstream, to do what other INGOs won’t do. Continue reading

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Friday Nerd Blogging: Winter is Coming to #ISA2015

More information about the genesis of this panel here. Paper abstracts here. Continue reading

Thursday Linkage

Editor’s note: this post first appeared on my personal blog.

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Wednesday Linkage

Editor’s note: this post originally appeared on my personal blog. It contains some links to posts that appeared here at the Duck.

1. An interview with Jim Fearon about Ukraine. Lots of good stuff here, both about Ukraine and in general. As you’d expect.

2b. Some thoughts from Branislav Slantchev about Russia’s Cold War Syndrome. c. Anna Pechenkina reacts. d. Slantchev responds.

3. Still want to read more about Ukraine? Okay, check out Taylor Marvin on why it doesn’t make much sense to use force in Syria in order to signal resolve. I agree. Using force in one crisis to influence perceptions about your willingness to do so elsewhere may make sense under certain conditions, but the crises would have to be pretty similar. Unlike some, I’m not convinced that failing to poke out the eyeballs of someone who flipped you off will lead the world to think that you wouldn’t lift a finger to stop someone from beating your children to death with a baseball bat.

4. Also, check out this nice post by Anita Kellog on what the crisis does (or does not) tell us about the impact of economic interdependence. Key quote: “In 2012 total trade with Russia (imports and exports) accounted for 26% of Ukraine’s economic activities, whereas this trade accounted for only 2% of Russia’s GDP.”

5. Assad announces bid for reelection. He’s, um, expected to win.

6. A call for partition of Central African Republic. Key quote: “‘The partition itself has already been done. Now there only remains the declaration of independence,’ said Abdel Nasser Mahamat Youssouf, member of a youth group lobbying for the secession of the north, as he pointed to the flag of what he said would be a secular republic.”

7. This isn’t everything you need to know about Israel and Palestine, the title notwithstanding, but it’s still a nice resource. Fairly comprehensive, but still concise. Worth assigning to students.

8. The Marshall Islands is suing the world’s nuclear powers (h/t Holly Gerrity). Key quote: “While the suit seems unlikely to end in any country being compelled to disarm, it will at the very least highlight the fact that while existing nuclear powers frequently invoke international law to argue for why countries like Iran shouldn’t have nuclear weapons, they tend to gloss over the other part of the deal—that they will work to fully eliminate their own arsenals.”

9. A trade spat between the US and Mexico over sugar (h/t Rebecca Johnson). Key quote: “John W. Bode, the president of the Corn Refiners Association, ‘The political influence of the US sugar industry is legendary…. They may be only 4 percent of US agriculture but when you look at political contributions, they account for a third.'”

10. Writing a great abstract (h/t Brent Sasley). A lot of good advice. Key quote: “The ideal abstract…has three parts. 1. statement of the area of concern or disputation 2. statement of the thesis or argument 3. implications for further research.”

11. Interview with GRRM. The whole thing is worth reading, but I found this quote to be of particular interest: “The war that Tolkien wrote about was a war for the fate of civilization and the future of humanity, and that’s become the template. I’m not sure that it’s a good template, though. The Tolkien model led generations of fantasy writers to produce these endless series of dark lords and their evil minions who are all very ugly and wear black clothes. But the vast majority of wars throughout history are not like that. World War I is much more typical of the wars of history than World War II – the kind of war you look back afterward and say, ‘What the hell were we fighting for? Why did all these millions of people have to die? Was it really worth it to get rid of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, that we wiped out an entire generation, and tore up half the continent? Was the War of 1812 worth fighting? The Spanish-American War? What the hell were these people fighting for?'”

11. John Oliver on India’s election.

Tuesday Linkage

Editor’s note: this post previously appeared on my personal blog. I’ve been doing links posts on Tuesdays over there for a while now, so I guess I might as well start cross-listing them.

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Friday Nerd Blogging: Galactica (Not) Actual and the Sci-Fi / Sci-Fact / Globalization Intertext

bsg

The Chinese state media could perhaps be forgiven for mistaking  fictional Battlestar Galactica blueprints for future US fleet schematics this week, given this. Continue reading

Popular Culture Can Crowd Out International Relations

Daniel Drezner writes that Meghan McCain’s proposition that attention paid to Miley Cyrus can crowd out attention paid to Syria is bunk.

With all due regard to Drezner, let me debunk the bunk claim—or, at least, show that the “Twerking Kills” hypothesis is plausible:

This paper studies the influence of mass media on U. S. government response to approximately 5,000 natural disasters occurring between 1968 and 2002. These disasters took nearly 63,000 lives and affected 125 million people per year. We show that U. S. relief depends on whether the disaster occurs at the same time as other newsworthy events, such as the Olympic Games, which are obviously unrelated to need. We argue that the only plausible explanation of this is that relief decisions are driven by news coverage of disasters and that the other newsworthy material crowds out this news coverage.

That’s the abstract to an important paper by Eisensee and Stromberg.
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More Papers, Please: Video Games and International Studies

In our conclusion to Kiersey and Neumann’s Battlestar Galatica and International Relations, Peter Henne and I lament the relative lack of interest among cultural-turn international-relations scholars in video games. Our case rests on a comparison of the number of people who have played franchises such as Halo and Mass Effect to those who have watched the re-imagined BSG.

But the downside to neglect isn’t simply about the size of audience and consequent real-world significance. Non-gamers may not know it, but recent years have seen a wave of experimentation in video games driven by the rise of independent developers. Sure, much of the work has been, at best, incremental and, at worst, hackneyed, but the overall trend has pushed gaming into something more recognizable to non-gamers as artistic expression. Continue reading

Beyond Robopocalypticism

Media1In all the media frenzy over “killer robots,” Terminator imagery comes up a lot. So do references to Battlestar Galactica. So does a specific scene from Robocop, soon to be remade to resonate with public fears of domestic drones.

These iconic narratives invoke a recurrent theme in American science fiction about lethal robot malfunctions or uprisings against their human creators. So prevalent is this theme in anti-killer-robot media coverage that some have argued concern over autonomous weapons is a product of science fiction itself: Hollywood is apparently to blame for priming the public with an unfounded fear of killer machines. For example Joshua Foust writes:

“Why is there such concern? Part of the reason, arguably, is cultural. American science fiction, in particular, has made clear that autonomous robot are deadly. From the Terminator franchise, the original and the remake of Battlestar Galactica, to the Matrix trilogy, the clear thrust of popular science fiction is that making machines functional without human input will be the downfall of humanity. It is under this sci-fi ‘understanding’ of technology that some object to autonomous weaponry.”

There are several reasons why this sort of argument doesn’t make sense, but one of the most important is that it overstates the case about robopocalypticism in American “killer robot” science fiction. In fact, co-existing with the imagery of killer robots run amok is a broad range of far more benign killer robot imagery that no one seems to mind or even think about when worrying over autonomous weapons. Here are five great examples of killer robots filmmakers and TV producers definitely want you to want on your side in a pinch. [BSG SPOILER ALERT] Continue reading

Common Errors in Essay Writing, as Demonstrated by Film Critics, Part 1

Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post settled on a theme for her extremely negative review of the new “The Lone Ranger” flick. Indeed, one might argue that developing a unifying thread is an important part of short-form writing. It holds everything together and provides the reader with a single, if stylized, takeaway. He basic theme? That The Lone Ranger tries to combine too many different themes, tones, and film elements. It suffers from such a severe case of summer blockbuster-itis that it pushes through mashup, beyond potpourri, and into full-blown incoherence. As she writes:

What’s more, despite its impressively staged set pieces, “The Lone Ranger” can’t survive the epic train wreck resulting from its own tonal clashes, wherein mournful scenes of genocide and stolen immigrant labor are tastelessly juxtaposed with silly slapstick humor, and solemn historic revisionism abuts awkwardly with overblown computer-generated spectacle.

Now, you might ask, “what’s so dumb about that?” Why, nothing at all. Except….

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New Podcast: Interview with Patrick James

Patrick JamesWell, sort of. I’ve been getting a surprising number of emails asking for new podcasts. This semester was a killer, and no one else on the team wants to spearhead the effort. I hope to do some more before all hades breaks loose next academic year.

But for now, I should note that my series over at New Books in Science Fiction & Fantasy has reemerged from its own hiatus — and with a cross-over podcast! In it, I interview USC’s Patrick James about his and Abigail E. Ruane‘s book, The International Relations of Middle-Earth: Learning from the Lord of the Rings.

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Game of Thrones Over-Thinking: Applications from Ethnic Conflict and Civil War

What do Arend Lijphart, John McGarry and Tywin Lannister have in common?  Power-sharing!

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Torture as War Victory: My Hugely Unpopular Thesis about the ‘Real’ Agenda of Zero Dark Thirty

torture

“This is what winning looks like”

I have to confess, I was late to watch “Zero Dark Thirty” (ODT). I read a handful of reviews and blogs about the movie, had arguments with friends about its message, and even wrote it off completely–all weeks before I bothered to watch it. I wasn’t interested in watching another American war movie, nor was I keen to see the lengthy torture scenes I had read about in the reviews. I figured I already knew exactly what the content was (are there every any real surprises in American war movies? and, didn’t we all know how this story ended anyway?) and that there was really nothing left to say. BUT, I think there is something left to say about the film.

First, let’s all be honest: most of us walked away from this movie saying to ourselves “did I miss something?” What about the film deserved all the Oscar hype, debate, and acclaim? By most standards, this was a classic, boring American war movie. In this case, the lack of plot and acting skills are made up with using violent torture scenes rather than expensive battle scenes. There is no emotional journey, no big moral dilemma that the characters are going through (I’ll get to torture soon), little plot twist (again, we all know how it ends after all), and no unique or interesting characters (don’t get me started on Jessica Chastain–what exactly about her stone-faced performance warrants an Oscar? perhaps she deserves an award for for ‘most consistent blank expression’). So what gives? Is this just another “King’s Speech”? Meaning, is this just another big movie that people talk about and get behind, but no one actually can put their finger on what was remotely interesting about it (never mind what was destructive about it)?

So I’m calling it. Not only was this movie soul-less, boring and poorly made, everyone seemed to miss the message (and it is easy enough to do). The real question about ODT is not whether or not it is condoning torture. Continue reading

The Lost Jedi Art of Reading Closely

I thought, mistakenly, that the Hoth symposium had run its course: Ackerman point, a bunch of us counterpoint both at Danger Room and elsewhere (here at Duck, and, if it’s not up yet it will be soon, over at Grand Blog Tarkin), and my tossing a little more fuel on the fire by arguing what I generally take to be a pretty obvious and I thought uncontroversial point: that Star Wars is a story about the struggle between Jedi and Sith about the nature of the Force, with other people and organizations (like the Rebel Alliance, and the Empire itself) getting caught up in the middle of what is, basically, a theological dispute. I thought that was pretty obvious because, well, the Star Wars universe is presented to us as one in which the Force exists and is efficacious, in which some people have Force-sensitivity and others do not, and in which the greatest of galactic events derive their importance from their connection to the Jedi-Sith struggle, whether we are talking about Palpatine’s election as Chancellor or Luke’s decision to leave Tatooine with Ben Kenobi.

Then I chanced (or maybe it was the will of the Force?) to glance at twitter as I was waiting to board a plane, and found this gem from Robert Farley: “The real story in the Star Wars universe is about whatever we find theoretically interesting and relevant.” What then ensued was a flurry of thrust-and-parry twitter jabs, a kind of miniature lightsaber duel carried out mainly through 140-character quips (although as Rob pointed out I did break that rule by producing several linked tweets that continued a thought past that limit; whether this is deserving of a penalty or not I leave for the general audience to decide). It was temporarily halted, not as in Episode I by a series of functionally-opaque force fields that impose a break in the action, but by the announcement that we had to turn off electronic devices in preparation for takeoff. Taking the time in fight to gather my thoughts and prepare a reply for posting, here is my contribution to a possible next round. Continue reading

What We’re All Missing in the “Zero Dark Thirty” Debate

This is a guest post by Peter S. Henne. Peter is a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University. He formerly worked as a national security consultant. His research focuses on terrorism and religious conflict; he has also written on the role of faith in US foreign policy. During 2012-2013 he is a fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia

I appreciated Jeffrey Stacey’s recent post on the debate over “Zero Dark Thirty.” It’s useful to point out what is being obscured by the criticism of the movie’s depiction of torture. But I think his piece missed a broader aspect of the movie, as well as director Katherine Bigelow’s other war, “The Hurt Locker” (which focuses on an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team in Iraq): what it reveals about the civilian-military divide in the United States.

Many critics have praised Bigelow’s work for its artistic value, and its significance for understanding the post-9/11 era. Much of this has to do with her filmmaking skills. But a good amount of praise focused on her ability to faithfully tell the story of contemporary military activities. In The Washington Post, Ann Hornaday exclaims that Bigelow demonstrates early in the film that “she will not turn away from the most unsavory aspects of the history she’s chronicling.” The New York TimesManohla Dargis discusses the movie as “a seamless weave of truth and drama.” Similarly, many praised “The Hurt Locker” for its “authenticity.”

At the same time, many critiques of these movies focus on their lack of authenticity. By now, we are all familiar with the attacks on “Zero Dark Thirty” for misrepresenting the role torture played in the hunt for bin Ladin. But similar attacks arose after “The Hurt Locker” came out. The film was full of inaccuracies in its depiction of EOD teams, resulting in the head of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America calling it “disrespectful.”

Now, I realize the obvious response is: “it’s a movie.” That’s correct, but if the biggest selling point of a movie—or two—is their faithfulness to reality, and they get that wrong, then we’re all missing something, right? No one worries about inaccuracies in “Apocalypse Now” because of, well, Marlon Brando. But we should worry about inaccuracies in Bigelow’s war movies.

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“Zero Dark Thirty” Debate Needs an Interrogation

special ops

Anyone who did not see “Zero Dark Thirty” on its opening night was smart, as it was mayhem in theaters everywhere.  The film shot to #1 at the box office overnight and is there still, for the plain and simple reason that it’s a must see (no spoiler alert here because we all know at least a little about eliminating Osama bin Laden).  Zero Dark features a razor sharp screenplay by Mark Boal, top form directing by Kathryn Bigelow, and higher than high stakes drama from start to finish.

This film, however, is sufficiently controversial that there may soon be Congressional hearings about it–Sen. John McCain and Sen. Diane Feinstein had it in their sites by day one.  The charge is that Bigelow and Boal depict torture in a manner that glorifies it, by way of a plot that allegedly portrays the U.S. government/military eliminating OBL only via intelligence gleaned from full on, no holds barred torture.  In my view they are innocent of this charge.  The raging debate over the film is misdirected and could do better to be debating this country’s torture legacy rather than a film that deserves serious consideration for a best picture Oscar.

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NBinSFF Cross-Promotion: Interview with Felix Gilman

Rise of Ransom City

I completely forgot to flog this at the Duck. I’m sure that disappointed, oh, about zero people. Nonetheless, I persevere. From the write up:

I first learned about Felix Gilman‘s work from the influential academic blog Crooked Timber. I proceeded to read ThundererGears of the City, and Half-Made World and found myself impressed by Gilman’s distinctive settings, themes, and voice. It should surprise no one, in my view, that Thunderer received a nomination for the 2009 Locus Award for Best First Novel and that it also garnered Gilman a nomination for the John W. Campbell Best New Writer Award in both 2009 and 2010.

If you haven’t read his novels, they are designed to appeal to social scientists of the sort that form the core of the Duck’s readership.  Continue reading

A Christmas present: a Forum on Iain M. Banks’ new novel

The-Hydrogen-Sonata-Iain-M-Banks

Iain M. Banks, an especial favorite author of mine and someone on whom I‘ve written before, published a new novel earlier this Fall: The Hydrogen Sonata, the latest installment in his ongoing series of novels about The Culture, a post-scarcity pan-human civilization largely controlled by hyper-advanced artificial intelligences called Minds. I invited four other scholars — Dan Nexon, Iver Neuman, Chris Brown, and Gerard van der Ree — to write short critical essays on the novel, and sent the package to Iain for his comments. I now have all of the pieces in hand, and over the next few days I’ll post them here. Happy holidays. You’re welcome.

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Of Sultans and Soap Operas


This is a guest post by Peter S. Henne. Peter is a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University. He formerly worked as a national security consultant. His research focuses on terrorism and religious conflict; he has also written on the role of faith in US foreign policy. During 2012-2013 he will be a fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia.

Last December, I was in Doha to attend the UN’s Alliance of Civilizations conference. While fighting off jet lag in my apartment–the 13 hour flight is a killer–I saw a commercial for ‘Hareem al Sultan’ (the Arabic version of the original Turkish name, ‘The Magnificent Century’), a racy-looking soap opera on a UAE TV station. The show depicts the life of Suleiman the Magnificent–one of the greatest Ottoman Sultans–focusing specifically on the women in his life. I was a little surprised to see something that would shock my rural PA hometown’s sensibilities on Middle Eastern TV, but that was the last I thought of the show.

Until this week, when I saw a report that Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has publicly attacked the show. Erdogan was upset by its depiction of the Sultan–whom he claimed spent more time on horseback than in the palace–and conservative sentiment in Turkey was angered by the show’s risque nature. Continue reading

Skyfall and Cyberwar: James Bond Enters the Digital Era

This is a guest post by Brandon Valeriano of the University of Glasgow. The post contains mild spoilers, so considered yourself forewarned.

Cyberwar is everywhere. I am sure there is some selection bias in my perspective, but I canít read the news without finding another ‘cyberwar will be the new 9/11‘article. The narrative? Our digital futures are in a precarious balance and threatened by the great cyber powers itching to destroy our lives, finances, and prevent access to the Playstation network through cyber attacks.

Now James Bond is getting in on the fun with Skyfall. In the disastrous first act (at least for me, although the overall movie might be a top five Bond film ever), the villain turns out to be a skilled cyber warrior. He is capable of blowing up buildings with a simple virus and his entire criminal enterprise seems build on his cyber abilities.
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