Month: September 2014

Is Star Trek’s “The Outcast” Gay Enough?

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The Outcast is one of Star Trek’s most controversial episodes. While it certainly isn’t the only one to address gender and sexuality, it is one that attempted to directly address the issue of homosexuality, something long promised since Star Trek: The Next Generation’s inception.

The episode follows Riker and his collaboration with Soren, member of an androgynous race, to rescue missing scientists. Soren’s curiosity about humanity leads to her discreet revelation that she, unlike most of her kind, has a sense of gender, female, and is attracted to males, to Riker.

The romance is treated tenderly, unlike space player Riker’s other cosmic hook ups. He even consults ex-girlfriend Troi about this and receives her blessing. Ultimately, Soren is discovered by her people, and after a brief trial is sentenced to a high tech lobotomy to remove her “unnatural” sense of gender so she can be “cured”.

Tragically, Riker’s attempt to rescue her is too late and we see what happens to a society that is free to enforce its oppression.

It doesn’t sound very gay, does it?

But hold on… Star Trek has always worked best as allegory. While it has been mentioned that the producers of the show evaded homosexuality with this story, giving it a veiled showcase, the episode’s more allegorical nature has actually allowed it to transcend the “gay issue” into a much more inclusive one.

Before Soren’s “deviance” is revealed, she spends time inquiring the Enterprise crew about gender roles. While the obvious physical differences are mentioned, Soren learns that treatment of gender in other ways is fair and equal. To her, the Enterprise’s happy coexistence of gender and equality is foreign but hopeful.  Many in our world may feel just as shocked as Soren is, considering still lingering inequalities between the genders in even our most progressive societies.

Soren tells Riker her secret in the privacy of a shuttle, where she is met with his understanding. Her description of a life of fear, and secrets, and hiding from persecution is all too familiar to anyone who is gay, or a racial minority, or even transgender as Soren most certainly is. When I watched Soren divulge her attraction to “maleness”, instantly I identified with her and I saw the terror and strength in her admission.

Soren’s true strength comes through when she speaks in her own defense on her home world. She proclaims her sense of gender is natural, and that all she wants is access to the same things as the rest of her kind, freedom to live with a compatible partner to share in life’s joys and support each other during its troubles.

Her rhetoric is common nowadays, with marriage equality being such a hot topic in our world. Think about twenty years ago, though. Gay people were merely struggling to be recognized as something more than the punchline of a joke, the victim of a “gay disease” that is actually a threat to us all, or as some secret to be swept out of sight and out of mind.

Marriage equality in the 90’s was as foreign to us as gender equality (or recognition, even) was for Soren.

With gender and sexuality being so intertwined, and able to be included in the entire spectrum of LGBT rights, the issues covered by this episode are now more relevant than ever.

Certainly, I was not the only child affected by this episode, who shared in Soren’s terror of the rest of her kind because of a secret truth that we couldn’t safely share. Being able to see a story that put a face to our fear gave us hope that there would be other Rikers out there to understand and love us.

The ending is tragic, yes, but it provides a staunch warning to the rest of our world.

Photo from the wonderful online Star Trek resource: memory-alpha.org
From YouTube, Soren’s speech from the channel JasonOnEarth:

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Ninety 90’s Songs: Someday, That Sugar Ray…

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There’s something weirdly “meta” about music that occurs sometimes. Listening to something, you can’t help but feel a premonition of the nostalgia that a song will trigger many years down the line. It’s like you’re listening to a glimpse of the future, which, when listening to that song in that future, becomes a link to the past. It’s like that moment you know will be a memory, or that instance when the most mundane thing becomes memorable, remains forever like a two-way mirror. You always remember that there’s another side, even though you can only look through one direction at a time.

#54 “Someday” by Sugar Ray. Sugar Ray began as an Alternative band with a couple of albums devoted to a harder sound. ’97’s “Floored” was the pinnacle of that sound, but ironically their unique-sounding (on that record), reggae-inspired “Fly” was their biggest hit. It became popular across several formats aside from Alternative and Modern Rock, and many claimed that Sugar Ray could never do such a thing again. Their next album “14:59” (which hints at their “15 minutes of fame”) came along 1999 with more hits, including “Someday” among others like “Every Morning”.

“Someday” is a slower track, featuring some then-common synth organ accompaniment. It’s a sad sounding song, remorseful, and hints at some kind of regret or nostalgia. It was this sense, as well as a line in the lyrics, “I hear a song from another time and fade away”, that stuck with me. Even back in ’99 I knew that I would hear this in the future and that it would become the self-same song from another time. The video features a bar in some kind of Key West-ish retirement community or something. The whole thing is in black and white (oh, 90’s…) as if to evoke that effect of time passing. Overall, it’s a pretty good tune, and the kind of softer ditty that Sugar Ray would continue to put out.

You see, at the time of “14:59″s release, Sugar Ray was accused of selling out. They had already established themselves as a pretty decent Alternative act throughout the early and mid 90’s, but this attempt to garner more top-of-the-charts kind of acclaim led them to begin producing a more pop-oriented sound. Whether or not you agree with their apparent selling out and throwing their alternative sound under the bus, it was a successful move for them. Throughout the next decade they had become a pop staple, and left behind nary a trace of their alternative roots.

Every now and then, this song still plays on Adult Contemporary stations and I take a moment to reminisce. I remember musing that this song would stick around on the radio while sitting in the bathtub, my broken wrist hanging dryly off the side in a cast, and that I would always think about that someday in the past when I took the chance to deeply listen to the song, and that someday in the unknown future when I’d hear it again.

The Sims 4: Evolution

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In the deep past of the Earth, there were millions of years of all kinds of life. A common point of reference is the age of the dinosaurs, a time when large, kingly beasts roamed the world and competed for food and shelter and sexual dominance. Unfortunately, the dinosaurs’ days were numbered, through no fault of their own. Smaller, more versatile animals became the order of the day in order to survive harsh climate changes, catastrophes, and so on. While it’s easy to think of evolution as things getting bigger, better, grander, more expansive, there comes a time when things can get too large to continue to sustain, and a new method of survival must be adapted.

The Sims 4 has been released recently by EA (Electronic Arts) and Maxis. It’s received numerous acclaims to its new mechanics, and at least as many complaints about features missing from the gameplay. If you’ve played a Sims sequel before, then you know the drill. You get a brand new base game stripped of all expansion content, some new features are added that are specific to the sequel as a sign of progress. Then you have to wait over the next few years for all of your favorite content to come back one way or another in the form of re-imagined expansion packs.

The problem many are having with The Sims 4 is that, compared to The Sims 3, there are many lapses in content and choices of gameplay mechanics that seem to be a step backward. Some content, like life stages such as toddlers, and Sim amenities like swimming pools, dishwashers, mail men, firemen, just to name a few, are absent with no promises that they’ll return. Another major issue is the return of loading screens, a feature met with revulsion by most Simmers who have a long standing history of associating loading screens with interminable waiting time, in favor of the open world of The Sims 3.

What is going on here with The Sims series’ newest entry, and why does it seem so… low on its needs?

 

The Sims 3

Let’s look back briefly at the previous entry. It was a polarizing experience upon its release as new things always are, but it boasted a brand new open world feature. While people complained of rabbit holes (buildings with no interiors), the world was mostly open to you at a given time, and at first this was the biggest selling point for me. While I greatly enjoyed The Sims 2, it was exhausting sitting through lengthy loading screen after loading screen just to change lots. It was a huge damper of the flow of the game, and made me want to avoid all travel sadly. So for me, the open world meant smoother, less interrupted gameplay more than anything else.

There was, however, that initial loading screen that continued to slow down as more and more expansions were added. I was looking at upward of five minutes of loading sometimes. Craziness. The expansions began slowly with their attempt to interest me (World Travel and Ambitions were neat but meh), finally hooking me me like a fish with a few strong entries (Late Night, Seasons, and Generations), and then leaving me a litter underwhelmed the rest of the time.
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At the end of the day, the problem I ran into with the Sims 3 is that I had access to a lot of content, but none of the “neighborhoods” or “towns” could ever support my attempt to access all the content at once. My favorite town was Late Night’s Bridgeport, a gorgeous Manhattan-esque theme city with urban apartments and suburban dream homes. Good luck, however, trying to play Bridgeport with your Werewolf guitarist, who also moonlights as a solo singer, provides interior design tips, dabbles in horseback riding, time travel with his dog, and Egyptology, all while taking care of his multi-generational family, who run a succesful resort hotel while attending college. There simply was no room on the map for all those things at once, and even if there were, the initial loading time would have been tremendous and the gameplay full of stutters and freezes. No fun.

The open world was an impressive feature, but also a liability.

The Sims 4
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There’s little to say about The Sims 4 that hasn’t been said by others already, but it’s fair to say I was skeptical once I discovered just how many features were missing. Sure, the inevitable expansion packs will replenish the Sim world with opportunity and variety again, but it’s hard not to feel that you’re doing without. And yes, The Sims 4 does have new core mechanics that stream line gameplay. Sims can multitask, loading screens are back but they are thankfully a percentage of a fraction of the loading time of previous entries. The world, despite not being open, is still beautifully detailed, even if it’s nothing more than a backdrop. What The Sims 4 really provides us, unless the developers “eff it up” is a chance to a better future for this game.

The Sims 4 doesn’t start out with itself painted into a corner, but at the start of a long road. The game world can now be added onto easily and modularly, which indicates that as new features are added you won’t have to stop your gameplay in Sunset Valley to play your superstar Sim in Starlite Shores, or switch to a different map for your ghost hunting witch. You can just click and go. Hopefully.

The Sims 4 may not be the behemoth that The Sims 3 was, but at least it won’t collapse under its own weight. It’s a more stripped down, versatile entry. It’s more evolved in that it doesn’t have unnecessary features tying it down. Humans no longer have tails, and we don’t lament that fact because we currently have no use for them. Evolution is about what makes things better for the future, though it can sometimes be very difficult to let go of the past.