Your laws are too ‘precious’

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Why comparison of the Turkish president to Gollum is as ridiculous as fantasy

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Dec. 9, 2015

In Turkey, insulting, mocking, or showing any dissension to the president is against the law. This case was proven when Bilgin Çiftçi, a Turkish doctor, created a meme of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s face side by side, matching expressions with Gollum, the despicable character from The Lord of the Rings.

Çiftçi has since been fired from his job, but now the courts are determining the next order of action. Since the chief judge—apparently too busy—has never seen any of The Lord of the Ring films, he and the court is turning to some experts of Tolkien’s epic tale in order to determine whether or not the comparison is indeed an insult. The argument in defence of Çiftçi is that Gollum is a hero of the story and therefore the meme was not an insult, but rather a compliment.

Now, I’m going to break this whole situation into two parts.

First off, Gollum, although he redeems himself (in a sense) at the end of the saga, is not a hero of the trilogy. He is a vile creature that succumbed to greed. Gollum is a victim, for sure, but at no point was he a hero. He killed his best friend, Déagol. Gollum is the epitome of a self-destructive addict.

I know what you are thinking: he ended up destroying the One Ring, doesn’t that make him a good guy? No! Because he bit off Frodo’s finger in an outburst of voracity and fell off the edge of Mt. Doom. He had no intention of destroying the ring. While it was the ring that corrupted poor Smeagol and morphed him into Gollum, we cannot honestly say that Gollum is a hero.

The second part of the situation that must be addressed is how stupid the law is. This proves that freedom of speech, no matter how benign it is, is still a luxury in many parts of the world. Moreover, the inability of some to show any sense of humour is even more disturbing than the law itself. The fact that Tayyip didn’t just brush it off and accept the little ball busting is kind of funny, too. You’d think a man with power could poke fun at the fact that his looks are comparable to, say, Orlando Bloom.

Let’s be honest, Çiftçi was not trying to plot Erdoğan’s downfall. Even if he disliked the President, the mere comparison to Gollum did very little harm to the President’s persona. All it did was call attention to the fact that Erdoğan shared similar features to a fictional character—which he totally does! Perhaps Peter Jackson didn’t need to utilize CGI or Andy Serkis. He could have just cast Erdoğan.

I’m sure many in Turkey found the comparison uncanny, too. But when a country has a law that makes it incapable of processing a joke, then it is that country that becomes the joke. Imagine a Canada where we weren’t allowed to satirize our leaders. That wouldn’t be the free country we know and love. Turkey is a beautiful place, one I wish to visit one day, but with a law like that it sounds more like Mordor than Rivendell.

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White is the new black, yellow, brown, and all the other hues, really

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It’s 2015, and still whitewash casting in movies exists

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Dec. 9, 2015

Ethnicity in the film industry has always been a problem. In an attempt to reach the broadest American market, the film industry often omits the idea of diversity and simply casts well-known (white) actors. Think of an actor, any actor—odds are, that person is white. The Jake Gyllenhaals, the Johnny Depps, and the Christian Bales dominate the industry. It’s not a bad thing. They are phenomenal artists and they deserve to work. However, when they are taking the role of some Middle Eastern, Asian, or Aboriginal actor, then there is a clear problem.

I would also understand if these actors were stretching their acting chops. But they aren’t. They are just wearing a costume. So a movie that depicts Egyptian gods now has American actors with spray tans. And it’s all because the studios fear people of ethnicity with power, even when it is in the fantastical realm of film.

This problem is rotting the core of entertainment. It eliminates whatever artistic value the film actually has, discredits all the hard work thousands of people do, and makes it a power move that keeps the minority outside the gates of legitimacy.

There are so many struggling ethnic actors working their asses off for minor roles. They are as skilled in the craft as any Academy Award nominated actors. All they need is a break. Change cannot happen from the outside. Criticisms about casting choices have almost zero effect on the overall decision of the film.

In Aziz Ansari’s Master of None, he perfectly illustrates the fight ethnic actors have with the industry, and how powerless they feel. In an episode entitled Indians on TV, Ansari’s character, Dev, combats the decision to take on a role that would further his career, while also furthering the stereotypes that hold other Indian actors back. It’s a conversation about race, but more prominently, it’s a conversation about money and success. If he doesn’t do it, someone else will.

So it goes in the film industry. Someone else will always sink low enough for the scraps, and they’ll call it luck. It doesn’t matter what race the actors are, the studios will follow through with their plans. It’s not the actors that need to change. It’s the overall way of thinking. But the movement needs to happen internally. White actors need to stop accepting roles that are clearly not designed for them. And ethnic actors need to stop being swayed by the power of money. They need to band together and condemn stereotypes with the same discrimination the industry has shown for them.

What I hear when we talk about terrorism

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A problem, but not our problem

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. Dec. 2, 2015

We can’t live our lives in fear. Terrorists want to instill fear into us, and as a whole it’s working. In the wake of a tragedy, we can all feel that fear. We all sympathize with the victims, and worry about our own safety. What’s stopping an attack from happening here, close to home? The answer: nothing.

Yet we all believe that there is a solution. We believe that if we can work together and put aside all our differences, we can fix everything.

When people talk about terrorism, what I hear is a situation akin to a natural disaster. But instead of earthquakes, hurricanes, and diseases, we suffer the wrath of people, Mother Nature’s most notorious killer. We understand the shift of tectonic plates, but we have yet to understand these “people.” We want to fight them, but can we fight a way of thinking? Can we fight a hurricane?

When I hear people talk about terrorism, I think about all the bad people in world—or merely those who we consider bad. I wonder what made them this way. I wonder how safe I am from becoming one of those people. How thin is that line from being the person running away from a bomb to being the person wearing the bomb?

The media presents terrorism through the lens of fear and anger. And so we fear it and we are angry at it. Yet, we seldom prepare for it. We expect it to stop somehow, as if that tragic time before will be the last time. We all know that earthquakes are never going to stop. Should one happen and we are caught unaware, we have nobody to blame. However, when a terrorist attack occurs and we are caught unprepared, we blame the act itself. We don’t blame the earthquake for being an earthquake?

Perhaps it’s time we react to terrorism as a continuous problem, one that is as natural as the movement of the earth, the temperature shift of the atmosphere, and our own poor health. We keep addressing terrorism as the terrorists’ problem—they are the ones that need to change. They are the ones that need to die, before they kill us. It is not their problem; it is our problem. If a fire takes place in our house, it is not the fire’s job to put itself out. It’s our problem. We need to know immediately what to do after the flame goes out of control.

What I hear when we talk about terrorism? I hear us trying to solve a problem that has existed forever. People killing other people. It’s a virus that lives within our humanity. In one form or another, it’ll continue to happen. It’s natural. Terrorist attacks, school shootings, mass murders: to stop these problems is, in a way, to stop being humans.

Unwrap some free time this holiday

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Don’t spend the break fulfilling obligations

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. Dec. 9, 2015

The holidays are a perfect time to get all your loved ones together and share in the merriment that is the end of a year. However, getting a group of people together—at an optimal time for everybody—is not always as simple as creating a Facebook event. While it makes sense to break apart your schedule and share it with those you love, you must also remember that the holidays are a time for yourself. You too need a break.

If you are a proactive person, you’ll know that free time fills up pretty quickly. You might even try to slot a couple events into one day just so you can fill your holiday socializing obligations. But this is also the perfect time for you to forget about people and get ahead on all the stuff you didn’t have time for during the hurly burly of the year.

It’s easy to lose track of time. Getting lunch with a couple friends can easily turn into a full-day affair. Not that the time was wasted, but the book you were meaning to read, the project you were planning to work on, and all the activities you finally had time for will be pushed back. We often mistake motion with progress. The act of doing something, anything, feels like accomplishment enough. The fact that we got out of the bed today was a victory. However, our time is valuable, even during the holidays, and should be treated as such.

Now, I understand that the last thing anybody wants to do during the holiday is live by a schedule, but if you want some structure in your life, building a schedule does it—it keeps you accountable. Nobody else has to know about this schedule but you. Still, it must be treated sacredly. It matters. On the schedule, map out all the stuff you want to accomplish by the end of your break. You can be as ambitious or lax as you want, but the key is to have goals. It can be as simple as finishing a book, jogging an extra mile, or even something more ambitious like learning a new language. Then plot these activities into the calendar and treat those days as if they are work.

The fear is that you’ll fall into indolence and lose all the momentum you had during the year. Of course you are allowed to sleep in, and those days are as important as the party nights or the productive days. Keeping the ball rolling is awesome, but remember that not every day needs to be productive. You set days for focusing on certain tasks; you should also set days for rest. It’s like a workout calendar. Rest days are the days you leave completely empty. These are the days when you find stillness in your life. These are the days you can stay in your pajamas, read a book, watch a movie, or have lunch with one or two friends. These are the days where you are forbidden from going around running errands. These are the treats of the holidays, and you can be as selfish as you want.

Love, actually?

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Is age difference a problem in romance?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. November 25, 2015

It’s not surprising to see an older, wealthier man fall for a younger woman, yet such an occurrence often still reflects a sleaziness that causes our society cringe. The situation is cruder when the man divorces his wife of 26 years to be with this much younger woman. There are many cases to draw examples from, but I’ll point at the most recent one involving my childhood hero and actor, Rowan Atkinson.

Atkinson, famous for Mr. Bean, Blackadder, and his scene-stealer in Christmas classic Love, Actually, was involved in a swift 65-second divorce proceeding, separating on the grounds of “unreasonable behaviour.” I always wonder about the complexity of marriage: the leash wives have on their husbands and the secret lives husbands have away from home. It makes me wonder what “unreasonable behaviour” within a marriage even means. Because how can we truly know how two people behave when they are alone? This type of classification makes me look down on people who can’t keep a marriage together. It makes me judge them poorly. How can I trust someone who breaks promises and behaves unreasonably? How can I trust someone who is so easily tempted by what we can only define as lust?

It’s so easy for people at the perimeter to point their fingers at someone like Atkinson, even in 2015, saying that he is just swapping old for new. Who doesn’t want something new? However, when it comes to being in a committed relationship, that type of behaviour is most certainly unreasonable. Then again, what if we look at it from the view of happiness. Over half of all marriages end in divorces today… how unreasonable is that? Should we really be criticizing anyone for the complicated choices they make regarding love? I say no.

It is both an act of courage and cowardice to pursue a romantic endeavour and to leave a committed relationship. It digs deeper into the person. You are not a student, you are not a doctor, you are not a writer, or whatever occupation you have—deep down, you are those you love. I do agree that people make mistakes in the realm of marriages, but I don’t believe people should be judged poorly for them. They took a chance at love and that should be admired.

My problem is the pedestal people put the status of marriage on, as if it’s some kind of achievement. I think it’s that type of perspective that makes it hard for so many people to “love.” Love shouldn’t be like tightrope walking across a skyscraper. Any slip up will be met with death. It should be a journey with many encounters. It should be a journey made with a partner. And should the partnership change, it’s just the way it is. It’s a part of it.

So should age ever be a problem in romance? I don’t think so. When it comes to consenting adults, they should just enjoy each other while they have time. While age is just a number, our time on this world is running out. So share it with the people who matter and leave the ones that don’t. You, just like Mr. Bean, will have to make that decision yourself, no matter how ridiculous and unreasonable it may seem.

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Image via Thinkstock

Why you might be concerned about the wrong things

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. November 18, 2015

What concerns us in day-to-day life differs from person to person; some worry about immediate problems such as deadlines and commitments, while others worried about situations that have no direct influence on them. I’m all for the former and not so much about the latter. We waste too much time concerned with aspects of the world that we cannot control, and when we do think that we are making a positive impact, we are often neglecting an issue closer to home.

The environment: it is the foundation of life upon Earth. Many of us make every effort to take care of it, but then again, we often forget to take care of ourselves—to protect ourselves. How often do I see commuters on bicycles swerving this way and that on the road without a helmet? I see it almost all the time, especially in urban areas. Riding a bike is better for the environment, but neglecting your safety is far from smart. Your wellbeing is a far bigger concern than the carbon you would emit into the air if you were driving.

The world at large is full of disruption and corruption. I remember this cliché line growing up: there are poor children in Africa that want what you have. Hell, there are poor children in Canada that want what I have. We often look at developing countries or countries in crisis, such as Syria, and offer our deepest sympathy. However, when we look at an unfortunate individual closer to home, what do we do? We call them lazy, we call them bums, and we call them stupid, and so on and so on. If you want to help people, start with those in your backyard.

Worrying is a type of escape, don’t deny it. Sometimes we get emotionally invested in things just so we can avoid the immediate problems with our lives. Look at sports for example. We put so much emotional weight on the performance of a group of people we don’t even know. The outcome has minimal effect on our lives. If we own a sports bar, we might benefit from the Canucks winning, but otherwise, it’s pretty much a way to misdirect attention from our own work ethics. We worry so much about how the Canucks, Whitecaps, and Lions are doing, but how often do we turn to our friends and family and show interest in their pursuits? Rarely. Working at an office or a restaurant is not as interesting as scoring a goal. Finishing an assignment is not as exciting as making the playoffs. But if you are worried about the successes and failures of complete strangers, why aren’t you worried about those who matter so much to you?

It’s okay to be farsighted now and then and be concerned about the world, but more often than not, we should look at what’s around us—there are problems everywhere that need to be solved. Let’s start with those.

The art of ghosting

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How to disappear from a long night of partying

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. November 11, 2015

Sometimes known as the Irish goodbye or the French exit, ghosting is the act of leaving a party without announcing it or saying farewell to the host or the rest of the guests. It can be humourous for some and insulting to others. Some will be happy that you’ve been able to make it there at all, while others would demand some sort of appreciation for their efforts. As we approach the festive season, where our free time begins to fill up with parties and get-togethers, I figure it’s a good idea to touch on the idea of ghosting.

Before we go any further, I want to say that I am a proud supporter of ghosting. After a long night of drinking or whatever the party entails, you are tired. Just get yourself home and rest. Friends don’t need friends to go through all the bullshit formalities required to leave. Simply leave and forget about it.

We are so connected these days through our phones and social media that if a goodbye was not exchanged, a simple text can fix everything. There is no shame to ghosting and there shouldn’t be any guilt either.

Making it out to a party is hard enough without having to feel rather shitty for leaving early. You might have been having fun; you might not have. Either way, it is not work. You are not being paid to be there. Therefore, you don’t need to punch in and out—in addition to punishing yourself.

You don’t need to ghost completely. Say goodbye to those in your vicinity when you leave. Let them relay any parting messages you may have for other people in the venue that you have missed. Note: they probably won’t relay any messages for you, but they will act as witnesses to your departure. On your way out, you’ll likely say goodbye to a handful of people smoking.

There are many social gatherings that hold attendees to a higher standard than other engagements. Weddings, for example, are a big pain in the ass if you want to leave early. Sometimes people even expect you to help clean up—say what? A dinner party, one where there is a place reserved for you specifically, is different from a night of binge drinking with friends. However, you don’t need to make your exit a big scene. Say goodbye to the host, if nobody else. Thank them quickly. Excuses aren’t really necessary, unless they force it out of you. Pay for your portion (if that is expected), and just leave. It’s ghosting, but that doesn’t make you a monster.

When networking isn’t working

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Why your networking opportunities are a waste of time

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. November 11, 2015

Remember the last school day in high school when you, your classmates, and everybody else gathered in the foyer to sign yearbooks? Remember how you tried to accumulate as many signatures and H.A.G.S. (have a great summer) as possible? Remember how empty that feeling was after? That is how I often feel when I go to networking events.

Ask any working professional and they will tell you that networking, at some point, contributed to their success. But where and how they network? That they seldom share. I’m far from a successful professional, but I think I know when my time is being wasted. My time is being wasted when I’m not making any genuine connections. Like those speed-dating events that people do to find romance, I feel that same way with attending networking events in search for employment. If there is no connection in five minutes, I slowly start sneaking away.

If you approach a networking event for your sole benefit, i.e. employment opportunities, you’ll ultimately fail. Rarely are employers hiring at these events, and if they are, you entering their lives spontaneously and then disappearing a few minutes later will not go far in influencing them to hire you. Instead, approach a networking event with an additional purpose. Ask yourself: What would I like to learn at this event? Product development? Marketing strategies? Sales tactics? Whatever. Rather than showing off your smarts and woefully impressing people who don’t care, gain knowledge by communicating with those who have more experience than you.

One thing I found really useful at a networking event was to have a project going in. If I had to report on the event, what where the topic be? What can I wrap my story around? Let’s say I was at a tech-startup event (I’ve been to a lot of those), I could write about the hardest aspect of building or working at a startup company. Then I probe, I interview, I meet people who work at those companies, and I asked them the question: “What’s the hardest thing about working at a startup company?” I’m gaining knowledge. I’m getting results. At the end of it all, I have a collection of interviews and maybe even an article with knowledgeable insights. What I decide to do with that post is up to me. I can share it via my own network and up my Klout score, I can keep it for myself, or heck, I can send it to those who I have interviewed and see if they would be interested in the content. I have done more than network; I have made a connection. I’ve gone the extra distance and shown my spunk.

Networking events are a waste of time if you are collecting business cards. Business cards are worth less than Pokémon cards if you don’t reengage with the person. They’ll forget about you as quickly as you’ll forget about them.

Policing the police

Photo by Patrick Sison

Can we stand up against brutality without looking in the rearview mirror?

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. November 18, 2015

On October 24, acclaimed director and writer Quentin Tarantino stood up at an anti-cop brutality rally, supported the #BlackLivesMatter campaign, and expressed his views on the damaging results of trigger-happy authorities.

When unarmed citizens are being shot down, it’s worth speaking up. It’s not a matter to be brushed away as collateral damage. The fear that many experience when being approached by a police officer is genuine. They have guns! Tarantino goes on in his speech, labeling officers who have killed unarmed civilians “murderers.” And perhaps that was what made the Fraternal Order of Police union put Tarantino in their crosshairs.

Jim Pasco, the executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, in mafia fashion, issued this statement in response to Tarantino’s rallying speech: “Something is in the works, but the element of surprise is the most important element. Something could happen anytime between now and [theHateful Eight premiere]. And a lot of it is going to be driven by Tarantino, who is nothing if not predictable. The right time and place will come up and we’ll try to hurt him in the only way that seems to matter to him, and that’s economically.” It’s a little freaky. It’s almost as if Pasco is an evil character in a Tarantino movie.

When a police official makes a threat to a public figure, it cannot be ignored. When I think of those people protecting and defending me, I don’t appreciate the fact that they use intimidation as one of their tactics. In addition, to say the police are going to “hurt” him economically is a petty attack. Apparently we are living in a world where we have the freedom to talk about whatever we want, except we aren’t allowed to criticize police. Apparently we live in a world where the police can act above the law and face little to no repercussion, and when civilians take arms and speak out—especially those in the public eye—they get accused for being slanderous. Then they get outright bullied.

The facts are there. There is no denying that unarmed citizens were killed. Instead of opening up and saying that the policing efforts will work to prevent these incidents from ever reoccurring, the police union—or rather the police mafia—in all boldness goes and threatens the work of an artist. In another example of this, Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, announced that “it’s time for a boycott of Quentin Tarantino’s films.” Guess what? Boycotting a film is not going to stop cops from overreacting. It’s such a childish knee-jerk reaction to target the person who speaks up against the corrupted powers working to “protect” us. That is always the response police give when anyone questions policing methods. Civilians don’t understand how dangerous the job is for cops. But guess what? When you start turning against us for asking questions and demanding a response, we might start believing that you did all those awful things on purpose. So you tell me: whom am I supposed to believe?

A whiny Christmas to all!

Image via Thinkstock

The spirit of complaining about nothing

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in the Other Press. November 18, 2015

It’s that special time of year between Halloween and New Year’s where people start making a fuss about decorations and salutations. This year it’s no different. We are still over a month away from Christmas and already we have two notable controversies to discuss. And the funny thing is, science and religions are not even involved.

The one that received the most attention is the Starbucks “red cup” controversy. When it was first brought to my attention that Starbucks had released their annual festively decorated trash—I mean, disposable cups—I, like most people, didn’t care. Each year, the coffee retailer goes out of their way to design holiday themed cups, but this year all that was present was a simple coat of red. It was minimalistic, and highly offensive to some, apparently.

Starbucks, with an effort to stay politically correct and secular, decided that a simple red would be a modest choice for the brand. I agree. It is nice to drink from a cup that isn’t cluttered with clichéd designs. Honestly, I barely ever look at the cup anyways. Why would I? It would just remind me that once again they thought my name was “Alex.”

I hope that next year Starbucks uses the same stupid red cup. Or better yet, they should just stick with the white cups that they use the rest of the year. After all, white is a Christmas hue.

The second controversy is even more absurd. It involves one of the largest payment processors in the world, PayPal. PayPal is known to frustrate a lot of people, but not usually in such a ridiculous fashion as their new commercial did. In the UK PayPal ad, a couple of children are left saddened, anxious, and concerned when their parents aren’t bringing any gifts home as the holiday approaches. Snotty little kids worried about their gifts, how touching right? The twist in the commercial is that the parents weren’t carrying any gifts home, because they made online purchases and they were delivered without the children knowing—much like some Father Christmas guy.

Well, apparently PayPal broke the illusion for some British children. There is no Santa Claus! What I find interesting is that children are watching a PayPal commercial at all. Moreover, if your children are able to conceptualize the idea of digital payments, they are probably too old to believe in Santa. Although, the idea of invisible money does sound as fictional as a man who lives in the North Pole with a bunch of elves and reindeers.

What corporations need to understand is that they can’t please everyone this time of year. If you put up too many decorations and play too much Michael Bublé, people are going to be angry. Then again, if you don’t make an effort, you get chewed out all the same. I didn’t grow up with Christmas being a big deal, it just happened around me. I’m not religious, and as an only child I never really had a problem with presents. Christmas to me is a chance to get some rest and enjoy myself. The only thing I have to complain about during Christmas is that most stores and restaurants are closed. That’s the real bullshit!