Archive for December 18th, 2008

Outraged Deed of the Day

2008 Dec 18

Since some folks were already writing letters…

As a researcher focused on cultural interactions between Asia and the West, I am writing in regards to the casting of the upcoming film, The Last Airbender. Aside from my day job, I am also a fan of the Nickelodeon show Avatar: The Last Airbender, on which this film is based, though it is certainly not targeted at people in my age bracket.

I have been following the casting of the film version of Avatar with a mixture of trepidation, dread, disgust, and outright horror. The overall approach to casting this film and the preliminary decisions made by the responsible parties indicate their intention to “whitewash” the ethnicity of the core cast of characters or, worse, encourage the young actors portraying these characters to don the Asian equivalent of blackface, whether through makeup or simply through their portrayal.

Avatar featured Asian and Inuit characters in a fantasy setting inspired and informed by a variety of Asian and Inuit cultures, though the series creators and some of the main voice actors are themselves white. Generally speaking, the cast and setting were a refreshing departure from both whitebread American media and the stereotypes that often surround non-white characters. Additionally, I was personally struck by the maturity and deftness with which the series handled issues of culture and heritage, making the strong departure the movie seems to be taking especially distressing.

I am immensely disappointed to read that the four actors selected to play the lead roles are all white. While the casting is not final, the statement has already been made: this film will take a culturally Asian and Inuit world and populate it with white actors. I would urge M. Night Shyamalan and Paramount Pictures to reconsider their casting choices.

Surely there is not such a dearth of suitable Asian or Inuit actors in the world that white actors, who have a much wider selection of roles open to them (including, it seems, many roles outside their own ethnicity), need be substituted. The studio may somehow think it is justifiable to “take roles away” from minority actors in order to present audiences with faces that look just like their own, but audiences know when they are being pandered to, especially an audience as sophisticated as the one that has been watching Avatar.

If Paramount Pictures continues to go forward with this cast, I will not be supporting this film with my money, and I will encourage my friends and family to do the same. I have no regrets in this regard because, if those involved with this film continue to demonstrate a similar lack of disregard for and ignorance about the elements that led to the TV series’ success, I am sure that the movie will not be worth watching.

The Four Treasures

2008 Dec 18

Sorry for the flurry of brainstorm posts, but this game is bursting out of my head.

Reciting the chronicle requires a set of implements, the minimum for which includes the so-called “four treasures,” one key implement for each master representing a given nation. The four treasures are:

The argent pittance is a handful of small silver coins insufficient to buy passage to the Silver City on the moon. These are placed before the master that sits to the North, representing the Nation of Doors. Among the common people, specie of any kind is often substituted, including worthless slivers of tin crafted just for the purpose of reciting the chronicle.

A revel chalice is a wine vessel raised in celebration during the summer carnival at the great capital, Njaluwe-in-Dreams. This implement is placed before the master that sits to the South, representing the Nation of Dreams. Among the common people, a cup or bowel is often substituted, though even the most vulgar storytellers ensure that the implement can be distinguished from other drinking vessels on the table.

A gilt trowel is the ritual marker of a monk or nun from Most Beautiful Cage, the monastery of ghosts. This implement is placed before the master that sits to the West, representing the Nation of the Dead. Among the common people, a hand trowel or spoon is often substituted, though the most esteemed storytellers refuse to use any implement that has not buried at least one stubborn ghost.

A witching stave is the primary tool of fate workers, used to follow and untangle the lines of possibility that lead to the future. This implement is placed before the master that sits to the West, representing the Nation of Fate, the keepers of the sun. Among the common people, a cleaned wooden stick, writing brush, or pen is often substituted.

Following Suit

2008 Dec 18

The dead adhere to Spades (Swords), the suit of death, air, freedom, sudden change, military, strength, power, and suffering. The monks and nuns of Most Glorious Cage, the monastery of the ascetic dead entrusted to dwell in proximity to the living, carry gilded shovels which they use to bury ghosts that will not depart for the Dying Lands.

The dreamers adhere to Hearts (Cups), the suit of love, water, emotions, clergy, and religion. Um, maybe Shreyas can add appropriate imagery here.

The fated adhere to Clubs (Wands), the suit of war, peasants, farmers, fire, nature, simplicity, the will. The rod is the most basic tool of fateworkers, who frequently use it to dowse future events the way a water witch dowses for water. Thomas can add some more.

The keymakers adhered to Diamonds (Coins), the suit of wealth, earth, the body, possessions, merchants, traders. The lost nation, that may yet dwell in the glittering city on the moon, linked doorways through the use of small silver coins, ritual payment for physical passage. Though they rarely work for those not raised to understand the keys, such coins remain in rare quantities, the sign of a tradition long gone. Indeed, the keymakers’ remnants, those unable to obtain passage to the Silver City, are often called the “argent host,” for the coins they keep and use in reciting the chronicle.

Apprenticing to the Dead

2008 Dec 18

If a new player wishes to apprentice to the dead, the dead storyteller takes that player aside. “Who are you, apprentice,” the storyteller says, “and where do you come from?” The apprentice is most probably a local from the place where the chronicle is being told, but could also be a traveler from somewhere else. “That will not do,” replies the storyteller, “because you are to play one of the dead and so you must ‘be’ dead. Take me, I am [the storyteller explains their own background as one of the dead, indicating that their identity may, in fact, be fictional].” Together, the apprentice and the storyteller construct an identity for the apprentice. If the apprentice already claims to be one of the dead, the storyteller may tell them that their origin “is not sufficiently convincing [again, implying that it may be a lie]” and help them “improve” it.

At the stage in play where apprentices are introduced, the dead storyteller says something like, “Masters, I would like to draw your attention to this youth to my left. While his appearance is very similar to the page who serves food in the local inn [or whatever the character did before], I would have you know that he is not actually of the living. Indeed, he is in fact [summarizes dead backstory of the apprentice].”

Afterwards, throughout play, it is customary for the other storytellers to remark, during lulls in the game, how the apprentice does not appear at all like one of the dead and, in fact, reminds them very much of [whoever the apprentice was before]. The apprentice, of course, must deny this strongly, insisting on being one of the dead and is defended in this by their master, though only after the apprentice has spoken for themselves.

Interestingly, this facade allows the dead to actually participate in reciting the chronicle, even though the dead and the living normally have nothing to do with each other. However, most storytellers of the dead tradition are not actually dead, but impostors from among the living who claim to be members of the dead, having either apprenticed to one of the dead or another impostor (and, most likely, they may not be quite sure which one their master was).

I also think that apprentices should have some role in actually reciting the chronicle, like cooperative play in a board or video game, to help them more quickly learn how to recite the chronicle and allow some interactivity.