Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Travesty and Tragedy of George Zimmerman

The tragedy of George Zimmerman is that he probably really did feel threatened by a seventeen year old black man wearing a hoodie, walking through his neighborhood.

At its most banal retelling, George Zimmerman was a passably inept member of his neighborhood watch, who thought it was suspicious that a dark-skinned teenager would be in the area, walking calmly through the rain. He stalked this man, was confronted by this man, and this resulted in George's gun going off at close range, killing Trayvon Martin.

Media and the public at large are furious that Zimmerman was acquitted of murder charges, but trying Zimmerman for murder now in a federal court with hate-crime statutes attached is not really going to make anyone but Trayvon's family feel better. It does not guarantee that actual racists will think twice before casually murdering anyone and then relying on "good ol' boy" regional politics to claim self-defense.

George Zimmerman is actually proof that our society is evolving to hold its members to an ethical standard higher than the bare minimum of the law.

By all accounts, George handled his situation … badly. Let's just say that. He unnecessarily engaged in pursuit of a "suspect," entered what he believed to be a dangerous situation against police advice, and then failed to identify himself while accusing the victim in a generic and contextually racist [in hindsight] manner. George Zimmerman was something of an idiot. I think that's a fair judgement to apply.

But George Zimmerman did not commit a hate-crime, he did not seek to murder a young black man, at least as far as anyone involved in the case can really discern. He was, for all the condescension the phrase lends, playing cops and robbers like a fucking child.

I mean to be profane, I am sorry, for the case calls for such. It is profane that a grown man who claims to suffer from Adult ADHD and require medication to remember things such as the street he lives on can acquire a firearm, or that he be allowed to join even an amateur, volunteer organization dedicated to safety. It is profane that he has come to perceive through media and social stigma a black man in a hooded sweatshirt as "suspicious" for his neighborhood.

I will now stoop to prove a point:

George Zimmerman is half Peruvian, that half being one-quarter African-Peruvian. His father is German Catholic. He is a registered Democrat. A twenty-eight year old Afro-Hispanic Democrat thought that a sweatshirt makes a black man suspicious enough to warrant investigation for recent burglaries. This is a simplification, but the disgusting fact is not by much.

George Zimmerman might have watched a lot of Law & Order, or The Wire, or Saved By the Bell for all we know. For whatever reason, this man thought another man was behaving suspiciously at the very best because he was out looking to find people behaving suspiciously, at the worst because Trayvon's being black was suspicious enough.

The sad truth is George probably really did feel threatened by a seventeen year old black man wearing a hoodie, walking through his neighborhood. He put himself in a stupid situation, handled it poorly, reducing the number of possible outcomes to the one wear he ended up on trial for murder, because what seems to have happened was staggeringly less likely than the idea that he was simply a violent racist.

George Zimmerman did behave like a racist when he profiled Trayvon Martin as "up to no good." He internalized every image of gangbangers or hoodlums or early '90s gangster rappers and he broadened that imagery to include a young black man when he assigned himself the role of a police officer.

That we as a public want George tried in a federal court after a jury found his actions to fall short of either second-degree murder (intentional) or manslaughter (even involuntary), shows that we are "uncomfortable" with this outcome, to say the least. Many wish him tried because they feel his racial profile led to the encounter which escalated into (in)voluntary manslaughter. Others will demand a retrial on grounds that the prosecution handled its case badly, or that local law enforcement was less than equal in the pursuit of justice.

Yet I'm pretty sure a great deal of this unrest lies in the nagging feeling that we have perpetuated even now a culture of casual racism and its acceptance that could allow an event such as the ending of Trayvon Martin's life.

The idea that "urban" means "Angry Black Man in Flashy Clothes."

The idea that "gangbanger" has any real meaning outside the most destitute, war-torn ghettos of American metropolises.

The idea that–let's just say it–black people are criminals. Violent criminals. That white men are gentlemen thieves stacking banking regulations against themselves, but anyone of relatively-recent African descent is automatically predisposed to acts of base ignorance, cruelty, inconsideration, and physical damage.

Trayvon Martin's death was not a murder, though that would leave us all more settled, having a wrong, racist, vile murdered to condemn as out-of-step with the rest of us. If his death was not a crime, by the letter of the law, then that means we have, as a progressive and just society, have allowed social perceptions to skew so terribly and so covertly that a hate crime can be committed in our eyes by accident.

The tragedy of Trayvon Martin was his horrible death. The tragedy of George Zimmerman is that he really was doing what he thought was right, and it was all legal.

Dave Zucker

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Man of Steel | A Half-Hearted Defence

Alright, it's been long enough. I think we can discuss this without upsetting anybody who planned on seeing the new Superman movie. As an added precaution, *Spoiler-Free* nerd beef with Man of Steel first:

In a flashback, little Clark wore a red towel like a cape and ran around with a dog. Without Superman in this universe since 1938, WHO THE HELL WAS HE PLAYING? Captain Marvel? A fictional superhero? Is this Watchmen, and superheroes were never popular comic tropes replaced by pirates? I know Superman wasn't the first superhero. Batman alone predated his publication by a full year. But if the child-wearing-a-cape-superhero trope every existed, it existed because of Superman. End of story.


Squinting because he's looking into a Lens Flare.

Superman gets his powers from a combination of Earth's yellow sun and gravity, and–more oddly–its atmosphere.

Apparently the yellow light powers him up a bit, but it's the gravity that makes him proportionately stronger and faster: Krypton is far more massive than Earth, so despite being the same approximate size as humans, Kryptonians are more rugged, denser, more resilient creatures. Fine.

Flight is also apparently possible, I imagine along the same mechanics as a mastery of one's bioelectrical field in conjunction with stated weaker gravity. Fine.

But the atmosphere is somehow important?

As a baby, Clark apparently had trouble breathing. But he adapted and is fine now. Bring him back into a Kryptonian environment and he hypoventilates, vomits blood, and then passes out. Not good. Cellular breakdown from toxins in the atmosphere, I guess. Alright, plausible. Same thing happens to Zod/other Kryptonians on Earth. Okay, at least that's internally consistent. Zod even adapts quicker than Kal-El, and even makes a point to note that as a bred soldier, he'd be able to. Thanks for the exposition, I agree.

But then once Supes is adapted enough to be conscious and not blood-spitting on the alien spacecraft, he still has no powers. None. No resiliency.

What? So that yellow sunlight is basically working on his cells, which are the least efficient solar batteries ever. They store now energy. His mitochondria must not exist, replaced by some alien organelle. By this logic, Superman is powerless without direct sunlight. He's a plant. And a lousy one at that. He should go into a coma every night. Or what if Kyrptonians simply have extra mitochondria that work only in the presence of direct solar stimulation? At least then he could move, but he'd still be powerless at night, just like his (Kevin-Conroy voiced!) Venture Brothers parody.

Oh yeah, and Superman has no issue with bystander casualties. Don't harp about that or killing Zod. He had to to save innocents, after so many were killed already. Superman used to kill recklessly back in the day. This horrible invasion, as the producers rightly said, explain easily why from now on Superman would refuse to kill and work tirelessly to save every single life.

Short version:

Man of Steel is a poor rendition of Superman, and the pacing makes it a pretty crumby origin story, actually.

However it's a fun as hell super-brawler, and that's all anyone should ever expect from Zack Snyder for any reason.

Also, Jor-El and Zod pretty much acknowledge that the surpersuit is the Kryptonian equivalent of longjohns. Everybody has them under normal clothes and even armor. So even without the red underpants, Supes is still sporting his jockeys on the outside.