Women in Storytelling – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Rey Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Source: http://www.comicbookresources.com

We always wanted to write Rey as the central character, but it was just one of the things we knew we wanted to do: to make the film look and feel more like the way the world looks and feels. – JJ Abrams, The Guardian

It is well known that Star Wars is based on the hero’s quest which is an archetypal story that transcends culture and time. According to Joseph Campbell, the hero’s quest is hard-wired in our psyche and so when our hero battles villains and the powers of darkness, it resonates and entertains each generation anew. The hero’s quest never gets old which is why the Star Wars franchise, begun back in 1977, has endured.

The pattern of our hero receiving a call to action, going on an adventure, doing great things, and returning home to great reward is very satisfying and appears in many of our stories:Lord of the Rings, The Matrix, to name just two. However, these stories have only ever had women in supporting roles as temptresses or goddesses, and other stereotypes (prostitute with a heart of gold, love interest, the really hot girl disguised in glasses) while men do the self-actualisation.

In Star Wars: A New HopePrincess Leia seems to be the only woman in the whole of that galaxy far, far, away. She is a born leader, but still has to wait around for Luke Skywalker, Han Solo and Chewbacca, because everyone is following the rescue the princess trope. She may be feisty (*groan* = a terrible word. Why are men never described as feisty?) doling out snappy one liners and keeping her cool whilst in the clutches of Darth Vader, but she is still doing her best with a terrible supporting role.

Therefore, to watch Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens: a female character, a woman centre stage at last, is completely satisfying. And, Rey is not alone in this story. The ever fabulous Princess Leia is now a more rounded character as General of the Rebel Alliance, a mum and wife (possibly ex-wife). Leading the stormtroopers is Captain Phasma. And, wise guru, Maz Kanata, is the voice of Force wisdom.  So, we have female stormtroopers, female pilots, and female medical staff in the Rebel Camp. Star Wars has becomes representative of the world we live in today. No one feels the need to explain or justify these women’s place – it is the way of the world – a balanced world of equal opportunity.

The story which contains these women is brilliant. Not least of all because this episode of Star Wars reuses all the best parts of the previous Star Wars episodes, and sets up the promise of a satisfactory ending from the very beginning, whilst continuing to build momentum right to its resolution in the last frame of the film. I didn’t even realise I was holding my breath until the credits started to roll. We follow Rey right to that ending, leaving us to speculate about her full story, and looking forward to meeting her again in the next episode.

We believe in Rey because we first meet her on the planet Jakku where she lives as a scavenger who finds scrap metal and machinery from abandoned space ships to trade for not-enough food. It is a lonely existence in which she has learnt to become self-sufficient, and how to defend herself.

Like all great characters, she has worked long and hard to learn her skills. She is knowledgeable about spacecraft and how they are put together which has kept her alive all these years.

When her lonely existence is interrupted, first by a droid, whom she refuses to trade for food, we know that she is a good person. And, then when she is called upon in a crisis to fly the Millennium Falcon, we are not surprised that, not only can she fly it, but she can fix it too. It is completely plausible and logical that she is a talented pilot. She has learnt through many lonely long days of taking apart spaceships for food. Han Solo recognises her talent and offers her a job.

However, Rey has her own ideas about what she needs and follows the heroine’s quest of answering the call, transcending her circumstances, and creating new ones for herself whilst becoming happy (or at least happier) in the process of self-actualisation, which has only just begun.

At the end of the film, we know that Rey is a brave woman with still as yet untapped skills and powers, who does the right thing. But, she is still a mystery to us. There is still a lot more for her to discover about herself and for us to vicariously experience as she does.

Finally, we have a Star Wars heroine on her quest of her own.

Roll on Episode VIII. I can’t wait.

Yoga Lessons: Bikram one year on

the 26 Bikram yoga poses

Last year, I discovered the heat of Bikram Yoga. However, once my 30 day introductory pass was over, I didn’t sign up again. Then winter came, and with it, my struggle to keep cheerful once Christmas and New Year was over.

This year, instead of dreading January, I made a plan. I signed up for a Bikram 10 session pass and embraced #dryjanuary: no alcohol for a month.

I limited classes to once or twice a week because last year I couldn’t physically manage Bikram yoga everyday. I would find myself so tired after class that I would nap in the afternoons and lost whole days to Bikram.

This year I decided to go at my own pace and do what was right for me. Fast forward four weeks and I have already used up the 10 sessions and bought a six months unlimited pass, I now look forward to every minute of Bikram and am disappointed if I can’t get to a class.

What has changed? Everything and nothing. But, I have learnt some lessons this past month in Bikram’s Torture Chamber as Bikram Choudhury himself calls it (oh yes, I bought the book too: Bikram Yoga). Here they are:

Change

We all know that the one constant in life is change. We are changing, others change, and circumstances change too. So, the things I didn’t like about Bikram last year, like the script and the amount of time it took out my day, have changed somewhat and things which are the same don’t seem to matter as much.

At the studio I go to, some of the teachers have changed, and they are less rigid and speak the script more freely. They remain faithful to the order and timing of the poses but don’t always use the silly phrases e.g., like a Japanese ham sandwich. And occasionally when they do, I don’t mind. My attitude has changed. I care less about what other people are doing, and more about what I am doing.

Time has changed for me too. I used to begrudge the time it took to do Bikram, but now I find it gives me more energy so I can quite happily stay up until midnight and sleep well and get up at 7am, and have time to do all the things I need to and things that I want to do. It would be a false economy for me to say I don’t have time to do Bikram. It gives me time.

My body has begun to change. It feels stronger and leaner. Abstaining from alcohol has been very easy, and limiting tea and coffee, and drinking lots of water makes me feel much better. I have changed once more into the clean living yogi I always aspired to be.

Commitment

I am no slouch when it comes to achievement: I ran my own business, I have a PhD (which I did to become a lecturer), I am a lecturer (something I aspired to be), my husband and I did 20 months every night of peritoneal dialysis on our daughter at home, and I dragged myself off to chemotherapy when I was so weepy and scared.

However, what Bikram has made me realise about myself is that I don’t ever really commit to anything. I start everything with an attitude of I’ll see how it goes, I can always leave. I have, throughout my life, done everything this way. I have never committed wholeheartedly to anything. I don’t know why. But, I know Bikram will help me find out. And things I have really wanted to do: like write a book, I haven’t ever managed to do successfully, because I lack commitment. I get part way through and give up, or worse, I never get started.

What I have found is that committing to something saves so much mental energy. Like #dryjanuary, whenever I found myself in a restaurant this month, instead of my usual script: Shall I have a drink? I shouldn’t really. What shall I drink? Shall I have another? I shouldn’t, yes I should. Go on then, you deserve it. Oh, I wish I hadn’t drunk so much. Not drinking was such a relief. I didn’t have to go through any of that mindless chatter.

The same thing happens in the studio. Most poses only last a minute. So, for that minute I commit to do the best I can. Instead of I can’t do this, maybe I can’t, I can take it easy, I can always stop. I take a breath and do it, whole heartedly. Then I commit to doing another pose for another minute, over and over for 90 minutes.

Just this week, I took that whole hearted feeling outside the studio and I am committed to writing that book this year.

Inquiry

Last week, I was getting ready for Camel pose or Ustrasana when I thought yet again: I can’t do this and then my mind started the usual argument script, as I call it: Yes you can, course you can, you have done it a million times… Not in this heat, I can’t, I won’t, I don’t want to.

So, I bent over into Child’s pose and cried into my mat. I cried for all the times when I had to do things I just didn’t want to do, and for the things I still have to which I just don’t want to do, and then I got back up and into Camel pose for the second set.

Only by inquiry can you find sometimes the truth behind whatever it is that is bothering you. I took that thought off the mat and am currently applying Martha Beck’s three Bs in order to bin, bag, or barter the things I really don’t want to do.

And this is another thing I have learnt. I don’t like Camel Pose at all, but the benefits of Camel Pose are far greater than any discomfort I may feel. Camel pose is good for the thyroid and nervous system. This realisation is so useful when deciding whether to do something or not. How does this benefit me? If it improves my thyroid and nervous system even if it challenges me, I will do it and feel good. Taking that off the mat, I can ask if this of benefit to me? If it isn’t and it is making me feel cranky, then it’s time to stop it.

Focus

I find that focusing on myself is a great gift. How am I doing? How am I feeling? It is not a selfish approach – which is what I used to believe. It is better for me and for everyone around me. In the studio, I am there to get the most out of the practice. This means looking in the mirror and correcting my poses to feel the most benefit. It is not about anybody else. It is about me.

It also means looking in the mirror and accepting myself right where I am, whatever I look like, and whatever I am capable of doing. It is a hard thing to see myself exactly as I am. But, it is also a fabulous thing. I am developing much more compassion for myself: You look a bit tired today Ruth, how about an early night, my love. Once you see and love yourself for exactly who you are without wishing to change yourself, it is much easier to do the same to others, to meet them exactly where they are with compassion and without wishing them to be any different to how they are.

The same goes for my feelings. When I focus on how I am feeling – say I am feeling a bit irritable and behaving in a snippy manner. I accept that and recognise how I feel. I do not take it out on my children. I don’t need to shout at my kids in order to get them to change their behaviour in order to soothe something inside myself which has nothing to do with them in the first place. Only I can make myself better. And, flipped the other way, only I make myself feel bad. No one else should have that power.

Patience

I have committed to Bikram for the next six months, but have practiced Yin Yoga consistently for the last three years, and before that Sivananda and Iyengar for much, much longer.

What I know for sure is that: Yoga will get you there, as yoga teacher Barbara Currie used to say when she was on TV. It is true. I have seen myself achieve poses I never dreamt I could because I had the patience to practice everyday.

And, that is another thing I am learning once more in Bikram. I have the patience to practice only the first part of Standing Head to Knee Pose (Dandayamana-Janushirasana) with just my knee up, until I have a firm foundation and a locked knee. I am receiving the benefits of that part of the pose – mainly leg strengthening, which was another reason for me signing up for Bikram. I wanted a stronger core, and stronger legs. Once my legs are strong enough I know I will progress to the full pose. I know that I need patience until my body is ready.

Patience is a great thing to be able to take off the mat. I am calmer when I drive and I am calmer when I interact with others. I don’t have to get frustrated. There is nowhere else to be. I am here until I am not. As much as we think we are stuck, we never are, we can change, at the very least, the way we view any situation, in order to gain some relief. If we can learn that discipline, we can make any situation better.

I am beginning to feel that with discipline, there comes freedom and a clarity of mind. Who knew that I would learn that whilst grunting in hot pants in a sweaty mirrored room?

I am so grateful I did.

Social Psychology: The Social Animal on Social Media (1)

Source http://www.techweez.com/2014/03/31/social-sites-web-browsers-as-human-characters/
Source: http://www.techweez.com

[Part 1 of 9: The Social Animal Series, Part 2Part 3Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8Part 9]

Last year I wrote a blog called Alone Together: Is social media changing us? in which I discussed Sociologist Sherry Turkle‘s assertion that social media is changing us and taking us to places we don’t want to go. At the time I said that social media was just reflecting us, but now I see that Turkle and I were both right.

Turkle was mainly concerned with how, when we are on social media (or communication technologies, as she referred to them), we are absent from the world around us – our children, our friends, our family, and our work colleagues. I haven’t seen too much of this behaviour, but there has been a definite shift online as to what people feel they can say freely. Things that people would never say face-to-face. However, secure in their own houses watching telly or whatever it is they are doing whilst tweeting or leaving people mean messages, it is very easy to cross a line and not really think about the effect your words can have on the rest of the world over the Internet.

Are these people a crazy minority? These people who have taken to the Internet to troll and verbally abuse others. It would be nice to label them as such. It keeps our lives tidy. Social psychologist Eliot Aronson, in his classic social psychology handbook: The Social Animal, says we tend to label people when we want to separate them from ourselves.

But why is it that certain people feel the need to be so awful? And don’t we all engage in some sort of awfulness one way or another? For example, 60 per cent of conversations between adults are about someone who isn’t present. But, when did we cross that line to openly gossip and criticise on the Internet?

Is technology taking us where we don’t want to go? Or are we having honest conversation? According to Aronson we are constantly adapting and reforming due to social influence and asks:

  • How are people influenced?
  • Why do people accept influence?
  • What are the variables that increase or decrease the effectiveness of social influence?
  • Is influence a permanent effect or a transitory one?

We are social animals and we are conditioned from birth to give people what they want from us. Will we continue like this or not? Or do we need some sort of law on the Internet to rein in our behaviour.

To answer these questions I will be looking at each of the chapters of The Social Animal and social media in order to see if we are being changed. How that happens? And why?

No one really knows how social media works, but we do have some idea of how people work, thanks to social psychology. As Aronson says, we are all social psychologists. We spend a lot of time talking about the effect other people have on us, wittingly and unwittingly changing our behaviour to adapt.

[Part 2: Conformity]

Katie Hopkins’s #fatstory one year on

Katie Hopkins mocked up to look 20 stones. Source TLC.
Source TLC.

I don’t trust people who don’t love themselves and tell me “I love you.” … There is an African saying which is: “Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.” – Maya Angelou

Last year I wrote a blog, Katie Hopkins’s #myfatstory is a story of vulnerability, about Katie Hopkins’s TV documentary on TLC.

I wanted to understand what makes Katie Hopkins tick, particularly when she is busy criticising people who are overweight. Satisfied with my pop psychology, I buried the blog post amongst the others on here, thinking that no one would ever read it. How wrong I was. That blog was number 5 in my top 10 most popular blogs of 2015.

TLC aired another Hopkins show Fat Story One Year On, early January 2016, which drove even more traffic here. Curious, I watched her new program with some dread, as spending time in her company, albeit virtually, is not an uplifting way to spend 45 minutes.

In this new documentary, Hopkins is back to her normal weight and out to investigate whether she has had any impact on Fat Britain as she calls it:  I put my body on the line and [we are] still piling more crap into our faces… are we happy just getting fatter together?

To do this she:

  • Invited a plus size model to a photo shoot and turned to the camera to say: It isn’t pretty. She then got her face photoshopped onto the model’s body to produce the above picture.
  • Chatted with Tam Fry, spokesperson for the National Obesity Forum, who said that half the country will be obese by 2050, even though he has admitted elsewhere that there is no proof for those statistics.
  • Asked the parents of Samantha Packer, who tragically died last year at 20 years old, and who was known to the public as an obese teenager, why they didn’t stop her overeating, all the while expressing her righteous indignation.
  • Interviewed an anorexic woman, supposedly to get an idea of life at the other end of the spectrum, whilst saying that going to the North of England was, for her, like going to Mars.
  • Interviewed an obese pregnant woman and said that it wasn’t ok to be a fat mum but that the woman Angela, herself was fine because Angela chastised herself a lot and felt bad about herself.
  • Lay in a coffin designed for an overweight person and made sneery comments.

At each moment in the program, it felt that – like last year’s documentary – there was another story going on and that this program was very much about Katie Hopkins.

Hopkins began by saying:  There’s merit in saying things a little kindly but had to add … as it’s hard to be fat. And then included flashbacks to the previous documentary with Hopkins slagging herself off: Oh God I look awful…That arse is going to eat that bike…that woman became someone completely foreign… I am so fat I can’t go out.

When did Hopkins decide that being overweight was such a bad thing? And when did she begin talking to herself like that?

The vicious tone she used to speak about herself was frightening. If she thinks it’s ok to say that to herself, no wonder she is more than capable of the trolling she does on Twitter and elsewhere in the media. She has barely warmed up! And, then that comment as she travelled to Durham: I don’t come this far North ever. It’s like going to Mars, was very telling. First of all it was not true as she had gone to Newcastle the year before. Secondly, it was an unsuccessful attempt at humour, and a truth: She sees the North as somewhere alien to her. She has difficulty understanding places and people seemingly different to herself. And the reason for this, in Sociologist Brene Brown’s words is, she armours up and goes out to defend herself, instead of viewing others as just like her. But to do so would make her feel vulnerable.

This was demonstrated perfectly when Hopkins went to see the same psychologist she had seen the year before. Before going in, she said:  The weight I put on was dreadful. But, with the weight gone, she was no longer vulnerable: I feel tough, nothing or no one can touch me. Last year, she had cried in the psychologist’s office. This year: I am determined it won’t be the case today. I am not crying!

Hopkins prefers her righteous indignation – anger is easier than fear – and stated being fat is weak, and said that she doesn’t sympathise with overweight people but she empathises with them. The Oxford Dictionary says:

People often confuse the words empathy and sympathy. Empathy means ‘the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’ (as in both authors have the skill to make you feel empathy with their heroines), whereas sympathy means ‘feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune’ (as in they had great sympathy for the flood victims).

You can’t judge someone as weak and feel empathy at the same time. You can’t look at someone, saying things like: It’s not pretty, whilst seeing them as whole with feelings and recognise that they are human just like you.

Hopkins put on three stones and then lost it again very rapidly. In no way does this give her any insight into people who are overweight and struggling. She has a purely functional relationship with food, which is really rare. Who has that? No one I know. In no way does this give her any insight into people who are very successful in other areas of life but feel completely out of control near food. Just because she knows how she felt to be overweight, to assume everyone feels the same way as her is naive, at best.

Hopkins wants to help people who are overweight. Come with me. She knows what to do: Eat less, move more. Really? The dieting industry would not exist if it was that simple. Nowhere in this program was the issue of compulsive eating addressed, for that would mean being recognising people as complex human beings who are vulnerable – something Hopkins hates and refuses to feel. You cannot give someone something you do not have. And you cannot put conditions on empathy.

Hopkins did a fitness challenge with Charlotte, an overweight fitness instructor. When the results came in and Charlotte was deemed to be just as healthy. Hopkins criticised herself at length: I have teeny tiny legs, in comparison to Charlotte…Charlotte looks younger and healthier… Hopkins stood very closely to Charlotte whilst gurning away in her new empathetic manner, as they discussed the results. Afterwards when talking to the camera, Hopkins comments were childish: If one person is strong, the other person is weak, Charlotte looks younger and healthier, I am haggard. It was a zero sum approach – a child’s attitude, demonstrating again that this program was all about needy Hopkins and not about overweight people at all. Her conclusions was that Charlotte was fine:  It’s fat lazy people who get on my tits. Is this an improvement on her fat people are lazy mantra? No, just lazy.

During filming, Hopkins blacked out during an epilepsy episode and a group of people came to her aid. She said that people were being super kind, and she felt super safe which was sweet but strange. This is telling. Why is it strange that people are kind and look after others?

Counsellor and teacher Byron Katie says that whatever goes on in the world is 100% a reflection of how we feel inside ourselves. She has four questions called The work which asks us to question our story and ask who would we be without it. Never have I seen a more powerful demonstration than in Katie Hopkins’s #fatstory of how fat people will drain the NHS. If you do the work on #fatstory, you end up with a second story: Katie Hopkins feels that she is a drain on the NHS. She doesn’t feel worthy of its care and attention. Who would Katie Hopkins be without that story? And would we all benefit?

Storytelling in technology: The myth of progress

"Imaginary flying machines" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Imaginary_flying_machines.jpg#/media/File:Imaginary_flying_machines.jpg
Source: Imaginary flying machines

A system is an imaginary machine, invented to connect together in the fancy those different movements and effects which are already in reality performed. – Adam Smith

In his book, Technology’s Storytellers: Reweaving the Human Fabric,  John M. Staudenmaier describes how the Lakota people in North and South Dakota, USA, did not use clocks to measure time. Instead, they used events and experience as a reference point, as they had done since before people measured time in a systematic fashion, that is, before clocks were invented.

However, this different timekeeping system conflicted with the modern world and so society decided that the Lakota people were unreliable and incapable of managing their time. The cognitive dissonance of this belief sadly led to raised levels of depression and dysfunction amongst the Lakota people. Staudenmaier questioned the belief that keeping time according to a clock is a superior way of living, and began to ask why do we always perceive technological invention to be progress.

To answer this question, Staudenmaier analysed all of the articles published in Technology and Culture journal from 1957 to 1980 and decided that storytelling and mythmaking is as prevalent in technology as it is everywhere else.

The myth of progress

Historian, Reinhard Rürup has said that technology is an independent force holding sway over humans, which may contrast with what actually happened. Historiographically speaking (that is the study of the history of history), technology is always a success. Historians interpret history with the presumption that any advance is progress.

There is no documentation or eye-witness accounts from the Iron Age and Stone Age, so historians have created a story to interpret the past and describe the advancement of humans which is taught in schools today. The Iron Age was better than the Stone Age for it was a more advanced age and society because of the tools archaeologists have found.

We don’t really know that for sure though. In fact, we have no idea. Perhaps there were other tools which were far more sophisticated but didn’t endure through time.  As it stands, the tools which have been found are what the story of history is based on. It is possible that history didn’t happen like that at all.

For we assume that when we look back the best tools were adapted and others were discarded. However, this is may not be the case. If we think about recent history and two Sony inventions: Betamax and the mini disc, we can see how these were good products. Betamax was superior in quality to VHS, but VHS was cheaper, as were recordable CDs, and this is what ultimately influenced consumers to choose VHS and CDs – cost not superior technology.

Once society has embraced a specific technology, momentum gains, and society adapts its working systems. Think about it: How many times have we updated and changed our music systems in the last 30 years? Vinyl to Cassette to CD and now mp3. Each time we have lost sound quality, which makes me imagine Stone Age old-timers sitting amongst the Iron Age entrepreneurs reminiscing about bronze tools: None of this Iron tools rubbish, we had great bronze hammers…

Rarely do we question if we are making the right sort of progress.

Humans against techology

In 1811, textile workers known as Luddites began systematic attacks on the expanding factories and mills, and smashed up the wide frames or machines which had began to replaced the skilled workers with unapprenticed factory hands who worked long dangerous hours and produced cheaper cloth.

The attacks continued for two years and were punishable by hanging and troops were sent in to protect the factories. Ultimately, the Luddites failed and the Industrial Revolution caused no end of misery and replaced one way of working with another for financial gain. Human satisfaction was not factored into the equation. Factory owners did not care if their workers were happy or safe, or if the new system suited them, rather like the Lakota people, the mill workers had to put up and shut up in order to survive.

The term Luddite was not really used again until the 1950s when publicists adopted it as a term of insult for people who did not want to adopt new technology, it was ultimately a way of shaming people to conform.

Invention, Innovation, Development

In his quest to identify how progress takes places, Staudenmaier classified technological advances in three ways: invention, innovation and development.

  • Invention is a personal mysterious act challenging what we do and how to do it differently. The success of an invention depends on how persuasive the inventor can be. If the inventor doesn’t have a compelling argument, then the invention goes the way of Betamax.
  • Innovation is always linked with entrepreneurs and is driven by economic factors. And, like in the case of the Lakota people or the Luddites, there is always a tension between tradition and innovation. Businesses will squeeze costs to measure success. From call centres to farmers feeling the squeeze, money talks.
  • Development is a group endeavour, step-by-step and what is feasible rather than what is hoped for. Eventually what was hoped for is forgotten the feasible becomes the success.

In each one of these approaches, failure is rarely dwelt upon. Businesses rewrite their stories constantly to tell everyone about their triumphs, and to persuade everyone that technology makes things better, even when it causes deep unhappiness.

Science Fiction

Science fiction (SF) has been a way for writers to criticise governments, institutions and businesses without getting into trouble for centuries and as such there are recurring themes which reflect our worries about technology such as: humans destroying the world, living in a post-apocalyptic world or dystopia, robots taking over, mind control (or dumbing down).

However, for every story there is about the horrors of technology and it being something humans have invented but can’t control, there equally as many stories about how technology will save us and create a cosmic bliss where we will all live happily ever after. And, there are many areas – medicine, sanitation, electricity, communication – where life is infinitely better than it was, even 20 years ago, albeit not for everyone. In some countries, the above remain scarce and as far out of reach as the moon.

However, as the great SF writer Jules Verne himself said:

While there is life there is hope. I beg to assert…that as long as a man’s heart beats, as long as a man’s flesh quivers, I do not allow that a being gifted with thought and will can allow himself to despair. – Journey to the Centre of the Earth

We just have to make sure when we are recording new stories of technology and advancement, we include everyone, so that we can all attain cosmic bliss, not just the persuasive ones.