2017 WTF Moments.. Part Deux

Art work by Michelle Cheung for Novella Magazine

We love to chew the fat here at Novella — bring up the most innocuous subject, like ice cream, for instance, and sooner or later the talk will switch over to our cultures and societies and politics. When we are good, we are the non-complacent civic minded, observant and vigilant (which makes sense since our team is a weird and awesome amalgam of minorities). We can also be the harpies of old, pecking at your ears about the latest disaster and stupefaction available in the great outdoors.

But what can you do when 2017 is so far a complete shit show without intermission? (And I don’t really see one coming our way anytime soon.) New disasters — as of this week, North Korea detonated its sixth nuclear bomb — rise and old ghosts — the Swastika is back in style for some — are turning out to be actually not plasma but living people. I forget where but I read (saw or heard) somewhere that Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.” Fact check that for me.

The below list is one made of shits that have been on our minds for far longer than we’d like: they’ve caked on the walls and are now harder to clean. We’re sharing them with you so that you can commiserate, watch the shit dry.

Drew Brown, Editor-in-Chief

The fact that we are able to put together a second edition of WTF moments is proof that 2017 is not going as well as we hoped. Ann Coulter, right-wing media pundit everyone loves to hate, recently blamed Houston’s devastating storm on the LGBT community. Coulter tweeted “I don’t believe Hurricane Harvey is God’s punishment for Houston electing a lesbian mayor. But that is more credible than ‘climate change.'” It’s no secret that Ann is no supporter of the LGBT community, which is fine with us. I am not surprised that Ann is trying use LGBT community as a scapegoat but what is baffling is the fact that Republicans still think that Climate change is still some crazy thing liberals made up.

Hoon, Managing Editor

Trump recently pardoned Joe Arpaio of criminal contempt, good month and a half before the actual sentencing of the Arizona sheriff behind the notorious tent city, the modern American ‘concentration camp’ designed specifically for ‘illegal aliens’ and those suspected of being ‘illegal’. The baffling thing about the pardon is that it seems legal — despite challenges on the basis of the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause —, at least for now (cases are being made against its legality). The most sinister aspect of the pardon is that this may be Trump’s attempt to disarm Special Council Robert Mueller of his powers to subpoena and charge with criminal contempt — if Trump can pardon, say, an unwilling White House staff, who’s been subpoenaed by Mueller, of criminal contempt, Mueller is stripped of a necessary and important tool in his investigation. Trump is encroaching on the integrity of the Department of Justice and the judicial system at large.

Kimberley Drapack, Contributor 

Despite their horrible history with animal cruelty, SeaWorld has somehow topped itself. An orca whale named Kasatka recently died due to a bacterial infection. Kasatka is the third whale this year to die at SeaWorld. The nightmare began in January 2017 when the beloved Tilikum, from the documentary Blackfish, died without a confirmation from SeaWorld as to what it was that killed him. It is known that Tilikum was prone to bacterial infections, much like Kasatka. Global News reports that since 1961, at least 150 killer whales have been taken into captivity, and 127 of these orcas are now dead. Of those, 45 died at SeaWorld. Tilikum spent 33 years in captivity and died at age 36. In the wild, an orca whale has a much higher survival rate, usually living up to 80 to over 100 years old. It makes me wonder when they are going to shut down SeaWorld once and for all. A girl can dream.

Cara Fox, Contributor

So, the American evangelical-right got together for a tailgate party and decided to publish the stuff of every far-right Facebook status we have seen since 2002. Enter: The Nashville Statement. I don’t know what’s more WTF-worthy, the fact that there really is absolutely nothing newsworthy in the document or that James Dobson was able to climb out of his crypt to be the first to sign it. Congrats, American evangelicals behind this manifesto! You have successfully made your prejudice relevant for the twenty-first century by using words like “transgenderism” and “polyamory.” But oops, plot-twist! Guess who’s non-binary and asks to be called by a male pronoun? GOD!

Natasha Grodzinski, Contributor

So, it’s happened. We are in a time where facts are called fake and skewed opinion can be called fact simply because it is a belief. An unbelievable side effect from this has been the rebranding of Nazism. It had been, for a decades following the Second World War, a politically unifying statement to say “Nazis are bad.” That’s a safe one. You could probably say that at a party and have everyone agree. But then the “alt-right” came, who claim to be neither Neo-Nazis nor White Supremacists. Then Charlottesville happened, where protestors used Nazi salutes and old Nazi chants but Donald Trump said that there were “two sides” to the events there, and took his sweet time condemning the clear racism and Neo-Nazism. My question is this: are we doomed to repeat the past? Did we learn nothing from historic events in Europe to be able to recognize when something is bad and harmful to other people? Germany emphasizes how bad those historic events were in their schools, with facts. How are we in North America not able to do the same thing?

Adina Heisler, Contributor

Even if you don’t know a whole lot about politics or international affairs, you can probably recognize that, when dealing with a country like North Korea, it’s important for world leaders, particularly the President of the United States, to be calm, keep a level head, listen to advisors, and not act rashly. Thank goodness there’s a man in the White House who only loses his temper over important matters, like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s TV ratings. On August 8th, Trump warned North Korea that any provocations against the U.S. will be met with “fire and fury”. Luckily, he thought that through carefully, took advice from his military advisors…what’s that? He totally improvised it? He’s a spoiled tangerine child with no impulse control and has absolutely no clue what he’s doing? We’re all doomed? Ok, cool. He’s playing Russian Roulette (wink) with North Korea, but hey, at least he doesn’t have a private email server!

Christopher Zaghi, Fashion Editor

Having to watch Houston natives suffer through Hurricane Harvey’s full onslaught and its devastating aftermath was horrifying enough, but, of course, the U.S. has a bad habit of demanding sympathy for its affected people while attacking those whose intentions are to help out. Such was the case for queer actor and all around bad ass Ruby Rose, who posted on her twitter that she was planning on generously donating $10,000 to an LGBTQ community centre to help with the cost of providing care for Houston locals. However, some U.S. citizens felt that Ruby’s choice of donating to an LGBTQ community centre was highly insensitive and wrong. Ruby was hit with tweets that read like a witch hunt news letter, some people felt her choice didn’t take into account that “All Lives Matter” (Lol) while other’s felt the need to tell her that “it must be nice to be able to flaunt your money like that.” It seems that the many citizens in the United States think it’s more important to be humble about your wealth then donating a portion of it to flood victims. And it’s far sadder that even more US citizens think that LGBTQ community centres have body guards at the door making sure that ONLY queer people are lining up for help.

Snigdha Koirala, Contributor

Last week, Munroe Bergdorf — a black, queer, trans model, and DJ — was announced as the face of L’Oreal’s True Match campaign — the corporation’s attempt at centering diversity and social justice in its advertisements and operations. Three days later, after Bergdorf wrote a Facebook post in response to the events in Charlottesville (where a white-supremacist killed an anti-racist protestor), she was dropped by the company. In her post, Bergdorf writes the following: “Most of ya’ll [white people] don’t even realise or refuse to acknowledge that your existence, privilege and success as a race is built on the backs, blood and death of people of colour…Your entire existence is drenched in racism.” Because of Bergdorf’s comment that all white people are racist — meaning that they benefit  from the systematic racism found in all corners of society, and, as such, unless they actively work towards fighting this form of oppression, they end up perpetuating it — L’Oreal claimed that Berdorf’s post went against its values of “tolerance” and “diversity”. L’Oreal, a worldwide corporation with a history of alleged racist and discriminatory work environments, a corporation that, through its products and advertisements, has continuously prized white women over women of colour, is now crying lack of tolerance when faced with the angry, unfiltered, true words of a black woman. WTF indeed.

Meg Summers, Contributor

The fashion world has been increasingly inclusive and it’s about time. Magazine covers and runways finally celebrate models of different body types, races, sexual identities, and more. However, there still seems to be some flaws when a brand shows their ignorance towards wanting to appear inclusive while not actually doing so. This past July, Vogue featured Gigi Hadid and her boyfriend Zayn Malik in a cover story that deemed the couple to be ‘gender neutral’ in their fashion choices. This is simply because Gigi enjoys wearing her boyfriend’s shirts and jackets (so basically, if you are a girl who has ever needed an extra layer or run out of laundry, you are also gender neutral — who knew?!). With the number of models who belong to the LGBTQ community and ACTUALLY identify as gender neutral, this could have been a great opportunity to gain some insight into a truly different aspect of fashion. Instead, this has been a sad attempt by Vogue to look edgy while still clutching onto their celebrity status.

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Film Review: The Lovers and the Despot

Kim Jong-il (centre) with Shin Sang-ok (right) and Choi Eun-hee (left). Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.
Kim Jong-il (centre) with Shin Sang-ok (right) and Choi Eun-hee (left). Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

This week, The Lovers and the Despot comes to Toronto, a documentary of the stranger-than-fiction category about tyranny, art, and the magic of cinema at its darkest and most bizarre.

In 1978, a South Korean leading lady named Choi Eun-hee went to a meeting in Hong Kong to discuss a film project. But there was no project — at least, not the sort she had in mind. Promptly, Choi was snatched by goons, chloroformed and taken by boat to North Korea. There, she would be held prisoner for the better part of a decade by Kim Jong-il, the squat dictator of the North. Weeks later, Choi’s ex-husband, the director Shin Sang-ok, disappeared under similar circumstances, and he too became Kim’s prisoner. “Bring them to me,” the tubby tyrant had demanded.

Why? Because Kim was something of an artiste himself. An inveterate film buff and aspiring producer, the Dear Leader wanted to collaborate with the forcibly reunited Seoullywood power couple. The plan was to combine their expertise with his immaculate genius for all things, making films that would celebrate the glory of the most oppressive state in modern history.

For three years, Shin and Choi were hugely prolific under Kim’s supervision, releasing film after film before their escape in 1986. It is an incredible story. one so strange the world might have trouble believing it had Shin not surreptitiously taped his conversations with Kim.

With such an extraordinary and surreal tale to tell, the filmmakers can do no real ill. Interviews with experts, former spies, family members and Choi herself, now 89, are intercut with archival footage, Shin’s films and his secret audio tapes, making for a fast paced, perfectly conventional telling of a naturally thrilling story.

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

While Choi is the one interviewed for the film, Shin having died in 2006, her involvement in the narrative seems secondary. More or less, the story of The Lovers and the Despot is about two men: Shin and Kim, slave and master, artist and patron, director and executive producer. This is where the real perversity of the thing lies, in their bond of mutual manipulation and mutual dependency.

Before his capture, Shin was washed up, despairing for his career after the South Korean government officially blocked him from working in film. Now, Kim Jong-il heaped huge budgets onto every project, giving him and Choi anything they asked for to help them spread the good news of Kim-style totalitarianism. In return, the couple brought to the work a level of sophistication and humanity that had never been seen before in the films of the communist prison-state. In a strange way, Kim was a dream executive producer. So when the possibility of escape first presented itself, Shin was ambivalent: “There’s no way I can betray him,” muttered the director into his recorder.

Probably the most captivating part of the film is its portrait of Kim Jong-il, the revolutionary’s chubby son, awkwardly trying to establish himself as a despot in his own right. This is a man who runs an Orwellian dystopia with an iron grip, and then complains that North Koreans are too narrow-minded to make decent movies.

The Lovers and the Despot is an illuminating and exciting movie about movies: their wonder, their insanity, their ability to drive the real world into the strangest places imaginable. It opens September 30th at the Ted Rogers Hot Docs Cinema. For details and showtimes, go to the movie’s website here.