Apparently I need a wordpress account to comment now, but there’s no more question box word limit! Yay!
[NB: This is a continuation of this]
[Also, I’ve had a couple of people point this out, so I’ve now found the option in the blog settings that let people comment without being signed into WordPress and changed it]
Wow, I must have missed those scare quotes or forgot about ’em. But yeah, the facetiousness gets lost in text on forumland. The career choice should be a big clue that it was off-kilter to your real disposition, but it could be explained by entering the field with delusional expectations, only to grow jaded to the atrocities mankind has wrought through the centuries.
The misunderstandings are twofold; I think it’s obvious I don’t take myself serious most of the time, but I don’t think the people who pointed out Odysseus and Penelope’s double-standard were actual SJWs. I was using it like a meme, and it might as well be since they won’t stop beating that dead horse.
These things happen. Bear in mind (and I think this is good advice for readers in general for life on the internet) that when you follow someone/read a blog/watch their videos, you are a lot more opaque to them than they are to you, because they don’t see very much of you. Like… you, Billy, are obviously trolling a lot of the time (to the extent that I have occasionally wondered whether you were actually Jim the Editor playing an elaborate prank), but sometimes your sincerity seems borderline, and I don’t actually know you, so it’s hard to make good judgement calls. It doesn’t help that there is an actual phenomenon of extremists using memes and bad jokes to cloak sincerely awful views… and non-extremists being introduced and acclimatised to those views via “edgy” humour.
But wow, if you thought I was like sargon or thunderf00t for real, that is a bad impression, but I’m guilty of thinking the same of you just slightly with your specialization in the classical mediterranean. I thought it meant you liked them better than everyone else… but I guess it’s not in the racist sense.
They use buzzwords like SJW and Western Civilization. It’s almost like facts based on logic and research takes effort… or thinking… or it reveals something contradictory to what they’re biased to. Why do that when you can shout WHITE GENOCIDE and BLAST PROCESSING! TOTALLY RADICUL AWSUM SAWSE.
The “Western Civilisation” problem is actually a whole thing in my field right now, particularly in North America (because of… reasons). The problem is that, even though many individual classicists, speaking candidly without their jobs or status on the line, would like me regard “Western Civilisation” as basically a useful fiction, classics as a discipline has always been symbiotic with it. Whenever there’s some possibility of our departments losing funding or getting fewer tenured positions or otherwise experiencing reduced support… well, we know that we can protect ourselves by saying “but Western Civilisation!” and people will listen, and remember that yes, we need to be preserved. Because we’re the guardians of the values and spiritual heritage of The WestTM, and just imagine what would happen if we lost our jobs and stopped teaching white kids Latin (because – and no one decided this or deliberately keeps it this way, but it is true – Latin and classics classes are disproportionately white). And we’re trying to reorient ourselves towards “Western Civilisation is not all good, actually, and classics is important because it allows us to interrogate the concept, break it down in interesting ways, and ultimately achieve a greater understanding of why our own society is wonderful but also deeply flawed”… but frankly it’s pretty tricky to cram all this nuance into the heads of a class of undergrads who just want to pass a goddamn exam so they can count this as their one required humanities course (which is pretty much the situation for at least half of the undergrads who come through my university’s classics department). If we just tell them to memorise a list of themes in the Iliad, at least we can claim they’ve learned something. There’s some possibility that just being a classicist and teaching standard classics courses means, on some level, being complicit in perpetuating an outdated and jingoistic vision of ancient Greece and Rome as the direct spiritual ancestors of modern Euro-American society. And there are certainly people, both in the field and outside of it, who are completely fine with that. Like, just the other day Jim the Editor showed me this piece, which can give you a sense of the more innocent end of a possible spectrum of these views. I’ll let you read it on your own, but what’s striking about it to me is that it doesn’t actually present an argument against the position it decries – the author seems to just believe that “Western Civilisation” is the way to preserve classics as a discipline, as a matter of naked self interest.
There might be an argument that we’re all in over our heads on this one.
It’s unexpected that the biggest thing you take from the Odessey is food. Food isn’t something I think of much now, but it must have been a big deal in pre-industrial time. I remember it being one of the things the teacher said we could choose to essay about it, and the double-standard. 15-year old me was like “what the heck? ADVENTURE! ACTION! BAM! BAM! KSPLOSH! That’s what it’s all about!” Reading it at that age had the fanboy-blinders turned on max.
I mean, it’s not the only thing. I was a kid when I first read a version of the story, and I was drawn to the exploration of a strange fantasy world populated by mysterious people and creatures – the same things, of course, that have always drawn me to Pokémon. And that’s a theme of the Odyssey, but it’s not (in my opinion) the main theme; after all Odysseus’ travels only take up part of the first half of the story. The epic begins and ends with Telemachus and Penelope on Ithaca, and the point of the story is the disruption of social order that happens because Odysseus is away from home for so long. Part of that order is the Greek aristocratic code of hospitality that “good” characters like Penelope and the Phaeacians observe, and “evil” characters like the Cyclops and the suitors don’t (xenia is the keyword to look for, if you want to read more). When your home is visited by a traveller in need, you take them in, you give them a place to sleep and an opportunity to bathe, you swap stories about the world, and you feed them. All this establishes a relationship that you’ll be able to count on if you’re ever travelling in their part of the world, which is important because travel is risky and not everyone makes it home. And… well, I like food; I like to cook, I like to eat good food, and I like to share food, so for me, that’s what resonates in the Odyssey.
But, y’know, also cool action scenes. Ancient Greeks love them some badass warrior heroes.
And it’s interesting that you point to the renaissance era as the start of “western civilization,” or when the bad stuff got kicked off. I associate renaissance with the good stuff like science and art. The bad stuff like expansionist imperialism was running through the blood of the romans long before that. Do you mean to say it’s the “progress” of technology (scare-quotes because technology isn’t as linear and clear-cut as the history channel alien-conspiracy crackpots want you to think) that led to all the global-apocalyptic-mass-extinction baggage we’re going to be dealing with? Yeah… that is pretty damning, but that primordial “More… MORE!” thought process was always there, pulling the strings.
Where exactly to put the start of the meme that is “Western Civilisation” is in itself kinda open to question. Like, you could with some justification put it in the 8th or 9th century, when western Europeans started defining themselves collectively as “Christendom” in opposition to the newly ascendant Islamic Caliphates of the Near East. But then that’s still… kinda complicated, because in that period you still have the Byzantine Empire knocking around, and the Byzantines are Christian, and Roman, and Greek, but… they’re not exactly “Western,” or at least they tend to stand apart from the developing states of Mediaeval western Europe. Ultimately that’s what does them in – they essentially get caught in the crossfire of the conflict between “West” and “East” during the Crusades (a series of conflicts which were, ostensibly, started on their behalf, but… it’s a long story, and I’m not a mediaevalist). The reason I tend to point more to the Renaissance is because that’s more or less where you have the genesis of the idea that the pre-Christian Greeks and Romans were not just common ancestors of a pan-European identity, but the high point of all human cultural achievement – personified in the way that Renaissance art consciously breaks from the traditions and forms of High Mediaeval art and starts looking to the ancient past for inspiration. That’s also the period when huge amounts of ancient Greek literature, formerly “lost” to western Europe (but preserved and studied by not just the Byzantines, but also the Persians and Arabs), started filtering back into the European cultural consciousness as Latin translations became available – particularly the works of Plato and the major Greek historians like Thucydides, which had been largely inaccessible to western Europeans for most of the middle ages. And at the same time, the growing city-states of Italy were starting to become more curious about the Roman ruins buried just beneath their feet.
The Renaissance being associated with good things like science and art… well, it’s those things too. Like, don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to make some hot take that “the Renaissance was bad, actually” (any more than I want to say the same about classical antiquity). The Renaissance was wonderful. It laid the foundations for everything good to come out of early modern Europe, like enlightenment philosophy (though we should… probably be a little more cautious than we usually are about attributing exclusive authorship of those ideas to northern and western Europe, or suggesting that northern or western Europeans were somehow the only people capable of coming up with them). It coincided with the decline of serfdom, and the gradual development of greater rights and freedoms for working-class people in Europe. But it is also the beginning of modern Euro-American obsession with Greece and Rome as a high point of civilisation that bestowed upon their inheritors a unique love of spiritual virtue and a special freedom from the corruptions of the physical world. It was the crucible of colonialism, which some thinkers justified on the grounds that the Romans, too, had been brutal conquerors who dominated “lesser” peoples in order to uplift them technologically and socially. And a lot of our modern ideas about the Renaissance are coloured by the contrast with our beliefs about the preceding Mediaeval period, which we tend to see as a bleak and terrible time, devoid of great cultural achievements and defined by a constant struggle to keep civilisation from collapsing entirely. That’s… not totally unfounded, but certainly an exaggeration. The Mediaeval period was an adjustment, sure; no region can survive the collapse of a state as old and powerful as the Roman Empire without being a bit scuffed around the edges, but it’s not as if art and science stopped altogether until Leonardo got his first sketchbook.
It’s cathartic to find someone who doesn’t think everyone from Europe is “white,” or everyone in Asia is “asian,” etc. and… oh, gods of all holy, I want to pass out from reading that other long post.
Okay. I’m done. TL;DR: That was a satisfying answer. What is it about pokémon that makes it as appealing as mythology or history? It can’t be their attempts to shove in a genesis mythos and other such lore into it, it felt like establishing pokégods did more harm than good. Is it all the diversity and discovering the science under all the mechanics? Maybe it’s that.
I think it’s something like that, to a lot of people. Or, the fantastical portrayal of real biological diversity is a big part of the appeal to me, anyway. I don’t know that the mythologising stuff was a mistake, necessarily, but I would agree that it sometimes comes off a bit ham-fisted. The tension between a high-tech future and a spiritual past really is a defining feature of modern Japanese culture, and I think very relatable to a lot of the rest of the world as well, so I’m glad that those themes are there. The trouble is that Pokémon isn’t really what you’d call character-driven (not even the anime) and it always has to have one eye on being accessible to fairly young children, so there’s some hard cap on how sophisticated its take can be. But… I think we’ve already gotten heavy enough for one day.