The colonialism behind fantasy's vaguely Irish Elves

Motherfoclóir is a delightful podcast about language and linguistics as they relate to Ireland ("foclóir" being the Irish word for "dictionary," and thus completely unrelated to that homophonic English-language word you're surely thinking of, c'mon). While that might seem like a niche topic outside of the Emerald Isle herself, a recent episode tackled something that's surely on everyone's mind: those fantastical pointy-eared aristocrats known only as elves.

Specifically, it's a conversation with Irish writer Orla Ní Dhúill, whose blog about elves, Irishness, and colonialism gained a lot of traction among fantasy fans across the globe.

Growing up as a nerdy Irish-American kid, I always understood there to be something vaguely Gael-ish about elves. Even though I didn't know why. Even though I knew it didn't make sense. Even though I knew that Tolkien himself was not particularly fond of the Irish (the language, at least, if not the people). Was it because they used an cló gaelach, the insular font so often associated with Irish Gaelic? Even in my later adolescence, as I wasted my measly weekend job wages on Warhammer 40K, I couldn't help but notice the inherent Irishness in the names and terms of the mystical Eldar alien race who are basically space elves anyway (spoiler: it turns out the Eldar language is, in fact, mostly just bastardized lines from Irish Gaelic proverbs).

The podcast episode is full of insightful exchanges on language and colonialism between Ní Dhúill and host Peader Kavanagh. You can listen below, or on your preferred podcasting platform. Read the rest

Pepsi is suing four Indian farmers for growing a proprietary "Lays" potato, seeking $150,000 each in damages

Pepsi has confirmed that it has files lawsuits against four farmers in India who grew a variety of potato that was registered as being for the exclusive production of the company's Lay's potato chips. Read the rest

India's e-waste recycling "markets" are toxic nightmares filled with child laborers

Millions of tons of e-waste -- much of it from rich countries like Australia -- are recycled in India, in "markets" with terrible, dangerous working conditions and equally awful environmental controls. Read the rest

Petition for Disney to give up "hakuna matata" trademark

In 1994, Disney trademarked the use of the phrase "hakuna matata" on clothing, footwear, and headgear. The common Swahili phrase, meaning "no trouble," was the name of a song in Disney's movie The Lion King. Now, a petition for Disney to give up the copyright, has more than 50,000 signatures.

(Zimbabwean activist Shelton) Mpala told CNN he started the petition "to draw attention to the appropriation of African culture and the importance of protecting our heritage, identity and culture from being exploited for financial gain by third parties. This plundered artwork serves to enrich or benefit these museums and corporations and not the creators or people it's derived from."

(image: a selection of goods from Alibaba.com) Read the rest

Humorous ad about South African explorer discovering Europe in 1650

This funny South African ad depicts an African explorer discovering Europe in the 1650s, a counterfactual to the 1652 arrival in South Africa of the Dutch. But it's upsetting people there and fast food chain Chicken Licken has withdrawn it due to the complaints.

South African Sandile Cele lodged a complaint with the Advertising Regulatory Board, arguing that the commercial made a "mockery of the struggles of the African people against the colonisation by the Europeans in general, and the persecutions suffered at the hands of the Dutch in particular".

Upholding the complaint, the board said: "While the commercial seeks to turn the colonisation story on its head with Big John travelling to Europe, it is well-known that many Africans were in fact forced to travel to Europe in the course of the colonisation of Africa.

"They did not leave their countries and villages wilfully. They starved to death during those trips to Europe and arrived there under harsh and inhumane conditions."

Chicken Licken said it wanted to show that South Africa had "all the potential to conquer the world and rewrite history from an African perspective". Read the rest

Puerto Rico didn't suffer a "natural disaster": it was looted and starved long before the hurricanes

Hurricanes Irma and Maria left Puerto Rico in tatters, but it would be a mistake to blame the weather for Puerto Rico's suffering; Puerto Rico was put in harm's way by corrupt governments doing the work of a corrupt finance sector, then abandoned by FEMA, and is now being left to rot without any real effort to rebuild its public services so that they can be privatized and used to extract rent from the island's residents. Read the rest

Puerto Rico is a tax-haven for rich mainlanders and is also too broke to survive hurricanes: are these facts possibly related, somehow?

Since the US conquered Puerto Rico in the Spanish-American war, it has treated the island as a playground for the rich, with all kinds of sweetheart tax-deals and regulatory exemptions that lured some industry and some rich people to the island, but which kept it from ever developing its economy and infrastructure to American mainland standards. Read the rest

His Dream of Skyland, a mysterious and touching journey through opium-drenched colonial Hong Kong

Top Shelf has reprinted the first volume of Anne Opotowsky and Aya Morton's groundbreaking 2011 book His Dream of Sky Island, an indescribably gorgeous graphic novel set in British-ruled Hong Kong: it's a tale that ranges over cruelty and dignity, love and venality, unspeakable crimes and unstoppable bravery.

The used cars that Europe sends to Nigeria are filled with illegal, toxic e-waste

EU and Nigerian law both ban the export of e-waste to Nigeria, but a new study jointly authored by scholars from UN University and the Basel Convention Coordinating Centre for Africa found that exported used cars represent a smuggler's bonanza for the illegal dumping of toxic waste. Read the rest

"The Alt-Right is Slandering My Father’s Beautiful Creation, Babar"

The son of Babar The Elephant creator Jean de Brunhoff writes that internet toilet men are soiling the purity of his noble, sweet creation, the elephant-king Babar.

The enormous Babar always wears a green suit of the finest clothing. It is nice and decent. He is not nude with visible genitals like in the false images spread by alt-right toilet men on the internet. I am told the purpose of these filths is to show that Babar has “an intact Christian foreskin.” Sadly, my great father never wrote of Babar’s circumcision, so I am powerless to contradict this particular foul claim even as it drives me to vomit.

This is an excellent parody. There are so many layers. Read the rest

Brexit, by a Serbian "fake Briton"

I am a fake Briton: in elementary and high school, for twelve years of my education, I attended offshored British schools.

1907 telegram: "Send arsenic...exterminate aborigines"

In 1907, Charles Morgan of Broome Station sent this telegram to Henry Prinsep, the Chief Protector of Aborigines for Western Australia, in Perth: "Send cask arsenic exterminate aborigines letter will follow." Read the rest

We are not colonists

Minority voices in games and tech present a necessary challenge to our imagined community.

Redskins owner sues Native Americans who testified on racism to Trademark Office

Having lost his trademark over its overt racism, Daniel Snyder has taken the unusual step of suing the five Native American people who testified before the US Patent and Trademark Office hearing, which led to the finding that Snyder's team's name was "disparaging to Native Americans." Read the rest

Uncle Sam will defend your stake in any unclaimed bird-poop

If you discover an island covered in guano -- old poop -- an 1856 Federal law that's still on the books obliges the US of A to defend your claim to it. Read the rest

Stone busts carved from stacked books

Sculptor Long-Bin Chen creates art out of recycled books and magazines; his current show, at Charleston's Halsey, features a series of pieces that appear to be solid sculptures, but which are actually carved stacks of books, painted and surfaced on one side. He has recently completed a set of enormous Buddha heads carved from stacks of phone books. As the Halsey explains, "The Buddha sculptures represent the missing heads of many ancient Buddha figures that have been looted from Asia and sold to Western museums and collectors. Since colonial times, Westerners have taken heads from the Buddha statues in Asia and brought them back to the West. While one finds so many Buddha heads in Western museums and galleries, an equal number of Buddha bodies in Asia are headless. When carved into phone books, Chen's Buddha heads contain the names and numbers of millions of residents." Read the rest

Critical history of the war on sympathetic magic

"Very Superstitious," Colin Dickey's essay for Lapham's Quarterly, presents a critical take on The Golden Bough, James G. Frazer's 1890 classic text on superstition. Dickey frames contempt for sympathetic magic and its practitioners in the context of the decline of the British empire, and connects it with earlier critiques stretching all the way back to Plato. The essay ends with a section on witchhunting and the persecution of both midwives and promoters of the germ theory of disease, who were accused of practicing their own form of sympathetic magic.

The conviction that witches were behind dangerous storms and other unexpected perils highlights a curious reversal that had taken place with regard to sympathetic magic. If it had once been used as a ward against uncertainties, against the caprices of nature and sudden death, now many saw it primarily as a cause of these dangers. (The Malleus Maleficarum warns that witches “can also, before the eyes of their parents, and when no one is in sight, throw into the water children walking by the waterside; they make horses go mad under their riders.”) These primal anxieties, of course, hadn’t gone away, and James, afraid of drowning at sea, certainly hadn’t yet learned the Christian art of dying well.

Such subtleties were no doubt lost as the crush and waste of humanity that was the European witch panic took on a logic and inertia of its own. After all, it was good business. Agnes Sampson’s torture and execution, like most witch trials, wasn’t cheap, employing judges, scribes, bailiffs, jailers, and executioners—each of whom had a financial stake in further trials.

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