Friday, 29 April 2016

Bouncing Around - The Platform Game


It's been a while since I wrote a post on something about computers (okay - Mr Robot, but that's television show) so I thought I might write something about Platform games since I have already written a post on Space Invaders. Okay, you can always go to the Wikipedia Article on the topic but honesty, who actually wants to sit down an read a Wikipedia Article which is basically a (albeit quite detailed) encyclopedia entry. Sure, I've probably lifted a few ideas out of it, but the difference is that in the Wikipedia article you don't get a video, you don't get an embedded game that you can play, and most of all you don't get my voice.

Anyway, having grown up with a Commodore 64 I have to admit that I played an awful lot of platform games. Since many of them had elements of an adventure game in them (with graphics to boot) I found them somewhat more exciting than the standard text based game where you had to give the computer instructions by typing something into the keyboard - all you needed was a controller (or joystick), and they generally weren't all that time consuming.

As for the first platform game, well if one were to ask me I would probably jump up and say Donkey Kong - that game where you had to run along some steel girders, climb some ladders, jump over barrels that were being tossed at you by some humongous ape, and then rescue the princess that was at the top of the building. Well, it turns out that it wasn't - a game called Space Panic was actually the first. Mind you, Space Panic certainly doesn't have the same romance about it that Donkey Kong has, probably because Donkey Kong was marketed a lot better. Anyway, I said I would include a video, so here's one of Donkey Kong:


You probably already know this, but that little character that you see running along the girders and climbing the ladders is none other than the beloved Mario from the Super-Mario fame - yep, Donkey Kong was released by Nintendo and was was the first in a very, very long line of Mario Bros games (in fact if you look really closely you can see the resemblance between our hero in Donkey Kong and Super Mario).

So, I guess the question that arises is what exactly is a platform game. Well, the simple answer is a game that has platform, which are connected by ladders, and you basically run around the screen doing stuff, namely climbing up and down ladders and running along the platform. Mind you, it is a little bit more complicated than that, but generally most platform games follow that similar pattern. While one might think that you also jump around in a platform game that is not necessarily the case - in Space Panic you would actually dig holes to deal with the nasties, as was the case with another favourite of mine from my teenage years - Lode Runner:


The thing with platform games was that they were pretty easy to make, and not surprisingly the shelves of the computer game stores were flooded with them. However while one could simply change the colour (or style) of the platforms, as well as adding coins and such, people eventually would become board with them. The problem with the old computers was that you only had one button on the controller, which meant that you could only do one thing with it. However as the games developed, the button stopped being used to jump, and started to be used to shoot something. To jump you would push the joystick up (or diagonally), and to climb ladders you would simply position yourself in front of the ladder and push up. Some games even added the option to dig by pulling the joystick down.

One game that I really enjoyed (not that I was any good at it) was Manic Miner, and the sequel Jet Set Willy. In this game the levels were painted as being different rooms, so once you completed a level you would then move onto the next room. Some of these games went a little further by allowing you to return to rooms that you had previously visited, as well as having parts of a room inaccessible, meaning that you have to get to it by going around the long way. Mind you, there would always be nasties running around, which meant that you also had to avoid them (usually by jumping because the games with the guns would come a bit later).


This leads me to another one of my favourite games from my youth - Ghosts n Goblins. In this one you are a knight that is out to rescue, not surprisingly, your damsel in distress from the horrid demon that has taken her prisoner. I still remember when it came out is was to a huge amount of fan-fare, and I don't know how many coins I plunged into the arcade machine to play it. Anyway, this was one of those games where you had a weapon - at first a lance, but you could also get axes (which I didn't like because they arced as opposed to going straight ahead) and also the shield, which was the ultimate weapon because it would plough through all of the nasties. As well as having the weapon, you could also jump (which was important because you needed to jump onto the moving platforms to get across the water). One thing I remember was a little cheat (or should I say bug) in the 64 version - you deal with the demon without it attacking you by simply moving until a part of it was visible and then pummel it with your lance - if you moved any further forward, thus revealing it, then you would attack you viciously.


I could probably go on with all of the other games that I used to play (if I could remember them that is). Even when the Commodore 64 has disappeared into the mists of obscurity (despite the fact that when I got my own PC the first thing I did was grab a C64 emulator and start playing C64 games again) there were still a whole heap of platform games that were available. One particular fun game I remember getting into was Commander Keen, and its kid sister Duke Nukem (which morphed into a first person shooter). Despite the power of computers, and the complexity of the games that were available, they were still quite popular.

One thing I wish to mention though was another form of platform game, and that was the type known as the 3D isometric game. This was a game that was played out in a 3D realm, and in a way was the progenitor of a lot of the later Roleplaying games. In fact these games began as fantasy games so ss to pick up all of us D&D geeks who were looking for ways to satisfy our fantasy urges when were weren't sitting in the State Library playing the pencil and paper games. While there were a number of earlier efforts, the game that Wikipedia claims to have set the standard was Knight Lore. Like others, this one used a fantasy background, though some I remember had you jumping onto, and even moving, blocks around the screen. Anyway, here is a video of Knight Lore:


Yes, I know, I also said that I would embed a game into this post, and I haven't forgotten, and while I could have embedded Donkey Kong, I feel that maybe it would be better to embed a clone of one of the classic platform games of all time:


Play more mario games!



Creative Commons License

Bouncing Around - The Platform Game by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Mr Robot - The World of the Hacker


When my friend first lent this series to me (the first season at least) he simply said that it was about a guy who was a hacker, and that was all he needed to say to grab my interest. Sure, hacking is a crime, but in a way there is something about crime that has a romantic appeal to us - not so much street crime committed by drug addicted individuals, but crime committed by intelligent people who are doing it to basically stick it to the man. Mind you, this isn't the only show that I've seen about hacking, they have been around since computers became small enough, and cheap enough, to begin to appear in the family home. I still remember back in the eighties when the image of a hacker was a boy sitting in front of a black and white computer in the garage surrounded by electronic parts. The classic movie of this genre would be none other than Wargames.

Of course things have changed, a lot, and while Hollywood still seems to want to portray the hacker as being the young boy sitting in front of a computer, this time using fancy graphics as opposed to boring old code, the reality these days is much different, which I will discuss below. However first let us look at the trailer.

The Series

Okay, as I suggested, the series is about a hacker named Elliot Anderson, however it is a lot more than that. It is about how this group called F-Society is seeking to launch this huge hack against one of the largest corporations in the world with the intention of completely wiping out everybody's debt. Further, Elliot isn't a normal person - he suffers from a number of significant mental disorders including schizophrenia. If this sounds familiar then you are correct - this first season is almost a carbon copy of the plot of Fight Club. Okay, he isn't going around starting up these secret clubs where people beat each other up, but the story which moves to a point where the entire credit industry is destroyed, thus sparking a revolution, is (though we don't see what happens in Flight Club after the buildings collapse).

However there is another element to the show: Nueromancer. Okay, it has been a while since I read Nueromancer, but the setting where we have this hacker who is a member of an underground organisation that exists in the shadows, and is also caught up in the world of crime and drugs, is very reminiscent of that book. The thing with Fight Club is that it didn't involve computers (or if it did, it was only a small amount). Here Elliot Anderson by day works at a cyber-security firm, but at night he is caught up in the New York underworld where he is involved in drugs, and acting as a vigilante.


My personal opinion of the show was that it was pretty good, and actually really engaging. Okay, the fact that it was a lot like Fight Club actually meant that I did become really annoyed with it at times, but I guess, like many of us, we live this dream where we could somehow join Elliot in his quest to bring down the social order. Whether we really want that or not is something that I will also discuss later. The series is very dark and gritty, and the hacking is quite authentic, which kept me coming back for more. In fact Elliot is the classic anti-hero in the vein of Tyler Durden, who can see things that many of us don't, and seeks to bring about a change that many of us do not realise that we want.

An Authentic Computer Nerd

As we are watching this series the one thing that we must keep in mind is that Elliot is actually a very unreliable narrator. The statement at the beginning of the series, where he raises the idea of this group of people controlling the world, who are coming after him, is a classic example of schizoid paranoia. Throughout the series there will be hints that he is watching some unnamed suit following him, when in reality this is just a random person going about his day. Yet there are scenes when this paranoia is actually realised, when he is taken by some E-Corp goons to meet one of the VPs of technology (Tyrell - who happens to be Swedish by the way).

The thing about Elliot is that he actually captures the isolated nature of the computer nerd. I can relate to Elliot a lot because he is incredibly socially awkward, however with the rise of the internet and social media, this has becoming more so. I remember when I was young in the 80s, I was one of the very few people in the school that had a computer, and I was even more unique in that I knew how to program them. The thing is that many of us have always found it difficult to interact with people, namely because computers are actually very personal machines, and back in the days before computers became ubiquitous, there were very few of us who actually understood the world in which we lived.


However that didn't mean that we didn't socialise. In fact while many of us weren't able to connect with our peers at school, we would find other places where we could meet with like minded people (and in Adelaide that was down at the State Library). While I never went deep into the world of the hackers back then, these groups would end up having their own social gatherings with parties and everything. The thing with Elliot is that he really is socially awkward, to the point that the only way that he can actually connect with people is through hacking their accounts.


The Real Hackers

I have to say that the hacking in this show is really authentic. Mind you a lot has changed since the days of Wargames, and hacking is more than just sitting at a computer with a modem and attempting to enter another computer. Actually, with the rise of the internet, there are lots of computers that you can access, namely because they allow you to access them. However this is only the surface of the computer. Sure, you can get into a bank's computer, and even have access to your account and do all of your banking from home, however the bank will only allow you access to certain parts of the computer.

This is where the idea of social engineering comes into play. Sure, it is suggested that there are only a small number of passwords that people use, and when they do have a password they tend to use the same password for every site. This is whe the problem lies because if the hacker learns of this password they have access to your entire digital life (which is why I suggest that you have a different password for every site you visit, and also make passwords for sites such as Facebook really hard to guess - if a hacker gets into your Facebook account then they may actually have access to a lot more than just Facebook). Sure, some institutions, such as banks, force you to have sophisticated passwords, but in the end people are still pretty lazy.

However in Mr Robot we see the reality behind hacking. For instance one of the characters (Ollie) is given a CD on the street, and when he puts it into his computer it downloads a program which gives the hacker access to his computer, and in turn to his entire online financial and social life. With that information he is then able to blackmail him. We even see Elliot borrow a target's phone simply get grab some information that would help him hack his account.

We should also note that Elliot has managed to get himself a job (through a childhood friend) at a computer security firm that happens to have a contract with E-Corp, one of the largest corporations in the world. This connection is no coincidence as it gives Elliot an inside channel to fulfil his goals of causing mass disruption and also bringing about a social revolution. If it wasn't for Elliot's connections with Allsafe, it is highly unlikely he would have been able to undermine the corporation's security and launch the hacks.

The other interesting thing that I noted, literally from the beginning, is how F-Society is clearly based upon the famous hacking collective Anonymous.

Anonymous in their Guy Fawkes Masks



F-Society in their masks

The Corporate Conglomerate

The main antagonist in Mr Robot is this massive corporate behemoth known as E-Corp (which Elliot refers to as evil corp). The thing that I instantly noticed is how similar the E-Corp logo is to another hated corporation: Enron (and I suspect that the similarities are intentional).


What we know about E-corp is that they have their fingers in literally every pie, to the point that if you get sacked from E-corp you literally have nowhere else to go. In the world of Mr Robot we know that E-corp produces technology (as all of the computers at Allsafe bear the E-corp brand), but they are involved in real-estate and banking. There-in lies the problem - the corporation is so powerful that when the hack succeeds it literally brings about the economic collapse of the entire society - there is no built in redundancy in the world of Mr Robot.

This is the strength of the modern corporate model - redundancy. If one bank were to collapse, then there are three other banks that are able to maintain the status quo. Further more most, if not all, corporations tend to be very limited in their operations. For instance you will not find a bank selling agricultural technology, in the same way that you will not find a technology firm issuing credit cards. The reason for this is that it is much easier of a corporation to specialise in one area, and thus profit from that one area, than to attempt to be proficient in many areas. Okay, there is one company that does have a broadbase of operations and that is Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, but even then that is primarily an investment house (simply because Warren Buffett just loves investing, and purchasing, well run and profitable businesses).

Okay, we do see some companies expanding their operations - for instance Woolworths, a supermarket chain in Australia, offers credit cards and insurance, however if you look under the branding you will discover that they actually offer the products of a third party under their own brand. This is an important thing to consider - the brand. Virgin could also be considered a conglomerate, but what it is in reality is that it is a brand, you don't take out a Virgin Credit card, fly a Virgin airplane, or workout at a Virgin gym - you buy into the Virgin brand.



Another interesting thing that I have noticed as well - credit card systems. Once again the banks may offer the credit cards, and may also run a line of credit for you, but if you actually look at your card you will discovered that it is actually by one of three providers - Mastercard, Visa, or American Express. While these companies may not actually provide the line of credit - the bank does - these companies provide the means to transfer the money across bank accounts (while skimming a little off the top for their own pockets).

Debt Slavery

Like Fight Club, Mr Robot seems to take the consumer society squarely in its sights, but not just an economic system that is based entirely upon the endless desire to buy more stuff, but to get people into debt so that they can have that stuff. Okay, while in Australia we are fortunate that our universities are relatively inexpensive (and we don't have to pay back our student loans immediately - the loans are held by the government and we only have to start paying them back once we hit a certain threshold) and we have a system of universal healthcare, this isn't necessarily the case in the United States. From people that I have spoken to their first, and major, debt is always their student debt, and the payments begin as soon as they finish university. From what I have also learnt, this is also a debt that can't be got out of in the way that other debts can (such as selling the house - you simply cannot give back your degree). Further, with a fully privatised medical system, the worse thing that can happen to somebody in the United States is to get sick.


This differs from consumer debt, which is debt that we voluntarily take on to have more stuff sooner. With private universities prevalent, and the low pay that entry level jobs offer, many Americans, if they even manage to finish university, find themselves enslaved to debt pretty much all their lives. Mind you, it isn't as if consumer debt is something to be laughed at, or to lay the blame on the people who blindly take it out - the modern marketing mechanism is designed to lure as many people into its grips as possible. Marketing isn't about selling stuff, marketing is about creating a story that people want to be apart of - they are selling the good life, a sense of identity. Take the Mastercard add for example - there are things in life that are priceless, everything else there is Mastercard. The adds are actually very deceiving as they suggest that to get to those priceless moments you need to purchase things through your Mastercard.

In a society where wages are stagnating, and prices are going up, people are more and more resorting to debt to live that life, and it is not that they are doing it necessarily through their own will, they are doing it because the marketing mechanism keeps on telling them that if they have this, do that, go there, then their life is going to have meaning, and it doesn't matter if you don't have the money now, because that Mastercard in your pocket will cover it. Thus, like a fly to a honey pot, consumers are led further and further into the debt trap through the seductiveness of advertising.


Spoilers

Okay, there are probably a few spoilers that I could mention, but the one that seems to be plaguing me the most is: what happened to Tyrell. Hopefully, if you have decided to jump the Spoiler Alert pic then you will have already watched the series, but if you haven't then I do recommend that you stop right here and get your hands on the series.

Anyway, as you are probably aware, in the final episode Elliot awakes up in Tyrell's car after the person looking after the carpark knocks on the window and asks him for cash. At first I thought that Elliot may have had an affair with Tyrell, but then it becomes apparent that Tyrell isn't actually in the car. Anyway before I continue here is a Reddit post that postulates that Tyrell and Elliot are in fact the same person. I at first thought that maybe Elliot killed Tyrell and dumped the body, but a part of me feels that this is too simple a solution that doesn't really do justice to the series. Further, we know that Elliot isn't a murder, however we also know that his alter-ego - Mr Robot - is more than willing to sink to such a level.

Anyway, before I continue, here is an interesting rundown of the final episode of season one.

So, there are a couple of things I wish to float, and the first one is the hack. I'm not entirely sure that the hack is going to be as groundbreaking as we expected it to be. Sure, the world economy is collapsing, and people are out in the streets in F-Society masks. However, remember the after credits scene - White Rose and the E-Corp CEO are cosy, and we also know that the E-Corp CEO doesn't seem to be all that concerned with what is going down. I suspect that it is more than possible that this hack was a ruse to give E-corp even more power (particularly since there is the distinct possibility that the Chinese server wasn't actually taken down).

As for Tyrell, let us consider this couple of things. Is he Elliot? I'm not really sure. As I pointed out there is a convincing argument that he is, however while I have recently watched the show, the problem would be if Gideon saw Tyrell independently of Elliot. If that was the case, and Gideon knows both Tyrell and Elliot, then the two characters are different. However, I also note that the only person who encounters Elliot at Steel Mountain is Tyrell, and he doesn't question him as to why Elliot was spending so much time in the toilets. We also know that one of the main reasons that the hack succeeded is because Tyrell, in a parting shot to E-corp, turned off the honeypot and left orders that it is not turned on again, no matter who says otherwise.

However, the problem is that Tyrell was recently sacked, which means that any orders that he placed before he was dismissed would have been null and void, which means that Gideon could easily has reinstated the honey pot. This, I suspect, further points to the idea that this whole catastrophe was being arranged by the CEO, who no doubt is using the economic chaos that it has created to further entrench E-corp's power. However, in the end, I think we are simply going to have to patiently wait for season II to come around.


Links

Here is a blog post on Mr Robot's connection to the 1983 classic Wargames.
While it may be a bit technical, this post looks at the various hacking tools used in Mr Robot. 
This is another post on the authenticity of hacking in Mr Robot, and is a little less technical.
Here is a review of the final episode of Mr Robot. 


Virgin Atlantic Plane By Aero Icarus from Z├╝rich, Switzerland - Virgin Atlantic Airbus A320-214; EI-EZW@LHR;13.05.2013/708fk, CC BY-SA 2.0


Creative Commons License

Mr Robot - The World of the Hacker by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

Monday, 11 April 2016

More than just bush – Indigenous Culture



Okay, there are probably quite a few things that Tony Abbott will be remembered as saying:


and while his statement about Australia being nothing but bush is probably not the most significant (if indeed you can give them a rating, but then again I've never been able to list things of importance, significance, or any other reason that you would give things a rating) it does give us an idea of the conservative view of Australia. In making the statement that Australia was 'nothing but bush' gives the idea that the indigenous cultures of Australia are insignificant and simply do not add anything to the cultural diversity of the world. Mind you, this was a statement that came out of the mouth of a business friendly politician, which also indicates that there is only one thing of important – profit. If something doesn't turn a profit, then there is no use for it. Okay, one's cultural heritage may be of interest to the anthropologist, or the tourist, however in the big scheme of things, it is basically irrelevant.

Mind you, that doesn't mean that the indigenous culture of Australia has been suppressed. If you travel to many of the tourist spots around Australia you will discover various works of art on display, and even for sale. However what is going on is the commodification of the indigenous Australian culture, and the diversity across the various nations are basically ignored in favour of what people now see as being Aboriginal. For instance, when many of us think of Aboriginals we think of boomerangs and digeridoos, and the occasional painted individual dancing around a campfire. However the actual nature of the culture, or how it differs across the continent, is irrelevant. In a way it is similar to the modern view of Native American society – they are Indians, they wear hats full of feathers, and they live in teepees – any difference between the nations is ignored, replaced by the simple modern viewpoint.


South Australian Museum

While I have already written a post on the South Australian Museum on my TravelBlog, when I walked into the Aboriginal Gallery I felt that it deserved a post all of its own, and not on my Travel Blog but rather on this blog, namely because it is going to be more anthropological than a story about some place that I have visited in the past (though if you read my travel blog you will notice that I do tend to write more than just a description of places that I have visited – if I wanted to do that I would simply have posted something on Trip-Advisor and Yelp). Another thing that I wanted to do is to try and create an understanding of Aboriginal culture beyond what the bulk of society believes – their culture is more than just boomerangs and digeridoos, it is a story of a pre-industrial society that managed to survive and flourish in a harsh and barren environment.


As I have hinted above, there is much more diversity to the original inhabitants of Australia than what many of us acknowledge. Sure, we may know that the American Indians were made up of different nations such as the Sioux, the Comanche, and the Apache, however this was also the case with the Aboriginals. One of the misconceptions that we have of Aboriginal society is that they were nomadic, which suggest that they wandered all over the place. Sure, they may not have built towns or cities, however they were not as nomadic as some people believe. In fact they had their own territories, and treaties with neighbouring tribes. The tribes had their own culture, beliefs, and laws. While there may have been similarities between the tribes, we must remember that the Australian continent is huge, and a tribe on the Eastern coast would not necessarily be anything like a tribe on the Western Coast. In fact it is highly unlikely that any such tribes would have even met each other.

http://www.abc.net.au/indigenous/map/images/indigi_map.png

Also, the location of the tribe, and the type of land in which they inhabited, would determine what they had developed. For instance a tribe living in the middle of the Simpson Desert would have no idea how to make a canoe, while a tribe living in the north, where there are lots of waterways, wouldn't have developed the same skills to find water in a barren landscape. Also, the tribes living in the north would have had much more European contact (with both the Dutch and the Portuguese) than did the ones that lived in the South (who didn't encounter Europeans until sometime after settlement). In fact, there was even limited trade occurring between the tribes to the North and the European merchants.

A Brief History

I can hardly call myself an expert on Aboriginal history, however one cannot necessarily rely upon the natives to have a detailed account of their history. In a way, before the arrival of the Europeans, the Aboriginals lived in what was known as the Dreaming. Originally I understood this as being sometime in the distant past, however it seems to represent the time prior to colonisation. I remember seeing some graffiti that was around Salisbury when I was a kid that said “10000 years of Dreaming, 200 years of nightmare”. What the arrival of the European settlers did was to bring a sense of history. Sure, the Aboriginals had art, and painted pictures, but they saw no need to actually record history since change did not exist. They lived in a culture that passed stories down by word of mouth, and similarly treaties between tribes would also be remembered as such. It should be noted though that the tribes in the north, who had been meeting with the Dutch, had painted pictures of their ships.

Most of what we know of pre-colonial culture has come about through anthropological study. Sure, we still have the Aboriginals around to teach us about their culture, but the only way we can learn about their history is through archaeology and studying their stories. The belief is that they first arrived in Australia after crossing from Papua New Guinea. From there, over thousands of years, they spread out over the country. Mind you, it wasn't the case that one lot came over and nothing happened until the arrival of the Europeans. No, other groups and tribes kept on coming. In fact one such migration resulted in the dingo coming over and becoming a part of the Australian fauna, which I must admit is interesting – we criticise the Europeans for introducing the rat, and the cat, to Australia, but have no concern as to the Aboriginals introducing the dingos. Then again the Aboriginals were much to respectful of the land than were us Europeans - we released rabbits for sport, and the foxes to go and catch them.

Anyway, while the anthropologists have probably written quite a lot about the Aboriginals colonisation and settlement of Australia, as I mentioned much of that is speculation. To the Aboriginals they lived during the Dreaming. This was a time when they were masters of the land, a time that seemed to have no beginning and no end. Sure, they had their mythology, which was passed down through the generations, as well as the stories of their interactions with neighbouring tribes, but there was no history, life went on as it had been going on for centuries – there was no progress because there was no need for progress. Everything that they needed they had access to, and there was no need to create technology to make their lives easier. Mind you, there were probably other reasons why they didn't develop sophisticated farming techniques, but then again when you are able to hunt and gather enough food to feed the tribe such techniques are not needed.

The Tribal Farm

However, to say that they didn't have a system of agriculture probably doesn't do any justice to the craftiness of the Aboriginal people. What they didn't have was fences. The thing with those of us in the west is that people would put up a fence and exclude all others, and make the statement that that land belonged to them. There also developed a system of hierarchy, where one would lay claim to a section of land, and then bring in servants to work the land for them. In turn they would generate surpluses to trade with others, and the more of a surplus one had, the more trading power that they wielded. However the aboriginal people didn't work like that, they didn't have a sense of property because they saw themselves not as owners of a piece of land, but as custodians of the Earth. In fact they had a better understanding of the way the Earth worked than us Europeans who would clear the land to grow as many crops as possible, or raise as much livestock as possible.


However the Aboriginals did farm the land, both with livestock and with plants. It is just that they didn't do it the way we did it, by creating farms. Instead they farmed the land by planting their crops in the bush, and making these crops a part of the bush. Also, because they were used to a nomadic lifestyle, they would regularly move to a different part of their territory, an area where the crops they had planted in earlier seasons had reached maturity which allowing the crops that have been planted later to continue to grow, As for livestock, they also understood that as well, it is just that they didn't create paddocks and fenced them in, but rather they allowed them to roam free across the land, going out and catching them when needed.

The Aboriginals weren't just hunter-gatherers, they were also very skilled fisherman, though no doubt only those that lived near water courses where fish thrived would have developed such skills. However catching fish can be a difficult skill at best, even with a modern fishing rod. Still, the Aboriginals were able to develop tools, such as fishing nets, as well as spears, that enabled them to be able take advantage of the bounty that the waters offered them. Mind you, one simply cannot make a net without knowing how to create rope, which is something that the Aboriginals clearly knew how to do.


Medicine

The thing about the Australian Aboriginals is that they were very familiar with the lands in which the lived, which meant that they not only know what plants were edible, or where to find water, but also what plants had medicinal purposes. Unlike modern medicine, they didn't have huge text books from which they could use as reference materials, rather they had to rely upon memory, and upon word of mouth.


This is the thing about these indigenous cultures, and one strength that they have over us - their ability to recall facts. Okay, we have books, and the internet, but that has the effect of making us lazy. We don't need to remember anything anymore because all of that knowledge is available to us at the touch of the keyboard. Okay, while the Aboriginals did write on cave walls, they didn't have a written language - namely because they didn't have access to the materials required for a written language - and that includes chisels to permanently record things in the rock (though there are some aboriginal paintings that are incredibly old).

However, it is not just the memories that are used to pass down their myths and legends, but also knowledge as to the healing properties of the herbs and other plants in their locality. Food and water were commodities that were needed quite regularly, however medicine is only used when somebody is sick or injured, therefore such knowledge only comes to play at specific times. Still, the fact that the Aboriginals were able to remember such facts is amazing in and of itself.



Water

Water is essential to life, and this is much more so when one lives in an arid environment like Australia. However one thing that we seem to take fore granted is not just that we are able to turn on a tap and have clean, drinkable, water gush out of it (and even though Adelaide water has a bit of a taste, you can still drink it without getting sick), but the fact that we can store it. The problems that the Aboriginals faced when dealing with water was that they had no way of storing it. It goes without saying that until the Europeans arrived they didn't have any form of glassware, nor did they have any metal objects either - everything that the Aboriginals had was made of either stone or wood.


This creates a problem because if you don't have anything to store the water in, there isn't actually any way of being able to boil it. Sure, the Aboriginals could simply store the water in the ponds, creeks, and lagoons where they found it, but they couldn't put it in a bowl, take it to the camp-fire, and boil it. Okay, they may not have had the same problems that people who only have access to dirty water these days have, but they still weren't able to purify it, and they certainly weren't able to cook with it.

Yet despite all of this they were still not only able to survive, but also thrive - even in places where water is incredibly scarce.

The Art of War

Unfortunately the modern white Australians view the Aboriginals as a very violent lot - and this has a lot to do with the initial reactions to the arrival of the settlers. Mind you, their reaction to the settlers was not surprising, considering the original colonists were also a pretty violent bunch, being composed of convicts and soldiers. Actually, the convicts that landed up in Australia generally weren't the worst of the worst - they tended to remain in England and usually faced the death penalty - the convicts that landed up in Australia tended to be the poor, and the political.

However, despite the fact that the Aboriginals didn't have access to guns (because you needed to be able to work with metal to be able to build guns, as well as know the chemical compounds that produced gunpower - though that would have not been beyond their capabilities - if they knew where to look), but they did have their own forms of weapons. Okay, spears and boomerangs were generally used in hunting, but the fact that they also have shields indicate that there would have been times when they would have gone to war with neighbouring tribes - this is an unfortunate fact of the world in which we live.

Yet these spears that the Aboriginals used where somewhat more than just pointy sticks. Unfortunately the picture of the spear of an indiginous warrior sort of denigrates him somewhat. In fact they had more than just spears because they also had a device known as a spear-thrower - an object that was designed to increase the range of a said spear. Also, if you look closely at the heads of the spears you will also notice that they would create all sorts of barbs.



Anyway, I think I will leave it at that, but one thing that I can't leave out is the good old boomerang.


While this post may reference the Native American Indians, the structures at the Mesa Verde National Park is further evidence of the sophistication of indigenous cultures.

I also found this really interesting post on the Aboriginal use of the stars to travel across the country.

Creative Commons License

More than just bush – Indigenous Culture by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

As You Like It - Life in the Forest




I've probably mentioned this before but a friend of mine has suggested that the problem with Australian theatre is that it is basically rubbish. Okay, if that is the case then that is a really big problem, but a part of me feels as if I am becoming somewhat influenced by him. My problem is that Australian theatre tries to be so different that it ends up failing as good theatre. Sure, there are probably some good theatre companies, as there are probably some good playwrights, but the more that I am exposed to international theatre through National Theatre Live, the more that I begin to understand what he means by good theatre. In fact it is probably a good thing that they ended up showing a version of As You Like It because I had recently seen another performance of it (which I have already written a blog post on) and it has given me the opportunity to be able to compare both of them. I have to admit that the version that I saw performed live in Melbourne was actually a little dry, where as this version seemed to be much more dynamic.

Oh, before I continue here is the trailer:


The problem with writing a post on a play that I have already written a post on is that I am inevitably going to go over the same subjects that I did in a previous post. Granted, this is Shakespeare and people have written libraries worth of books (and blog posts) on the subject, and each of his plays could at the minimum take up an entire bookshelf. However we are still talking about a single play and in the end a post on a single play is going to overlap. Mind you, I have already written a post on Hamlet, and there are a multitude of other versions out there, both on stage and screen, that I could watch and write a subsequent post, however we always come back to the fact that this is Hamlet, and no doubt I am always going to come back to the same position that I have on the play, and that is that Hamlet does not have a fatal flaw.

Synopsis 

Okay, I probably should write a synopsis on the play, but as I have indicated I have written a previous post on this play where I already have a synopsis. However, if you don't want to jump over to that post (and I encourage you to do so because there are probably things that I have written there that I haven't mentioned here) I probably should give you a brief rundown. Actually, there is probably a graphic that could do that for me without having to go into details:




If that didn't make sense (which I would be surprised if it doesn't) then I will go a little further. Basically the good duke Roland d'Boyes has died which resulted in a succession crisis. Well, it wasn't so much a crisis because it was pretty obvious as to who was supposed to succeed Roland, however as it turned out Duke Frederick didn't particularly want to be subordinate to Duke Senior, so he staged a coup which resulted in Duke Senior fleeing to the forest of Arden. The play opened with Orlando as a cleaner in a major corporation, and his elder brother appears as one of the senior managers. Orlando complains that his brother has not honoured his father's will and has pretty much dumped him into a position that is nowhere near his status, nor provided him with an education reflective of his position. Surely he should at least be a middle manager, but instead he is a cleaner.

Orlando is a major character in the play, but then we are introduced to Rosalind and Celia, cousins, one whose father has been exiled to the forest, and the other whose father is the current duke. While they should be enemies in reality they are the best of friends. In fact when Duke Frederick exiles Rosalind on pain of death, Celia flees with her, which is something that you would not expect from the daughter of an usurper. However the fact that Celia sticks with Rosalind as opposed to her father is an indication of the tenuuous hold that Frederick has on hold of the dukedom.

The play then jumps to the Forest of Ardennes, which is the scene for the rest of the play, and we are introduced to Duke Senior and his court in exile, as well as the various characters that inhabit the forest. The play then becomes a romantic comedy where Orlando, who has been exiled despite winning the wrestling match (but then again the fact that he is a winner poses a threat to Duke Frederick – it is a case of dammed if you do and dammed if you don't) is trying to win Rosalind's affections. Actually, Shakespeare is very clever in this play as he has four different romantic comedies all woven into one, which also includes a rather convoluted love triangle. As can be expected with most (actually all) romantic comedies, all of the pieces fall together and everybody gets married – at the same time.

Forest of Arden

We could probably write an entire post on the nature of the forest, though I believe I have touched upon it in my previous post. What I wish to talk about here is the way that this particular play portrayed the forest. As You Like It begins in the city and then moves to the forest. This production had the city painted as your typical corporate office, however when they moved to the forest all of the desks where suddenly lifted off the ground and the rest of the play had them hanging from the ceiling. The interesting thing about the forest was at the beginning it was dark and spooky, with the howls of wolves in the background. However after the intermission the scene suddenly changes and it went from the spooky forest to the idyllic forest. The dark shadows and the wolf howls suddenly disappeared to be replaced with a subdued light and the sounds of birds and butterflies.


However we need to take note of the fact that the forest is made up of the desks from the office. The office is the ordered and controlled society. However anybody who has worked in a major corporation can also find it incredibly oppressive. Your entire time in the office is strictly controlled by the corporation. We see this in the play with a set time for lunch and once lunch is over we suddenly have to go back to work. However we have the wrestling match thrown in – this is the office party, the time that is set aside to make the employees believe that they are working for a good company. We slave away at our desks, but we are given time off for this period of fun – the wrestling match.



We then move into the forest - we move from order to chaos and this is scary. The first period is a period of darkness, of shadows, of the unknown. We are no longer living in an ordered world where we are slaves, but also protected. While we may be free, this freedom is scary because with the freedom we suddenly find ourselves thrust into a world where there is a lack of security. This is the idea that has been painted by the modern corporate world – if we leave our day jobs to strike out on our own we are unprotected and the world is a dark and vicious place. However the forest suddenly becomes tamed and the dark and vicious aspect of the world suddenly becomes a beautiful place. In fact the forest protects us from the harsh brightness of the sun.

Rosalind and Celia

When Rosalind flees to the forest she disguises herself as a man, namely because two women wandering outside the city are going to be a target for thieves and bandits. However they also take Touchstone the jester with them because even though they may appear to be men, in reality Rosalind is just a woman wearing the mask of a man and while the mask may provide her with some safety, it doesn't provide her with complete safety. Yet Touchstone is a fool, not a warrior, however it adds more authenticity to the mask. Sure, he is a fool, but he is also a man, and with having a male with them adds further protection against the harshness of the world.

Rosalind takes the name Ganymede, which recalls Roman mythology. The thing with Ganymede is that he is androgynous. While a part of Rosalind is taking the role of a male, she is still at heart a female, which is why she takes the name of an androgynous personality. We see this issue come to a head when Phoebe falls in love with her – this creates the limit to her disguise. While she can pretend to be a male, when her masculinity attracts the love of another female she has to draw a line. She is not playing the part of a male because she wants to be a male – she is a woman and she embraces her femininity – she plays the role of a male because she wants to protect herself against the world at large. This no doubt creates a problem when she attracts the love of another female.

One thing that I noticed at the beginning of the play, that is in act 1, is that Celia plays the role of the discerning one, while Rosalind is the romantic one. Rosalind doesn't seem to be all that wise, which is why Celia ends up sticking with her. However this seems to change when we enter the forest because suddenly Celia seems to meld into the background (in fact when we are in the forest many people seem to be in the background) and Rosalind has suddenly become the wise one. This is particularly so when she confronts Orlando. Orlando has always been the romantic, which is probably why he was thrust into the position of a janitor. Unfortunately, the modern world of business has no room for the romantic (unless you are in marketing – there is always room for a romantic in marketing, as long as you aren't a hopeless romantic – which is what Orlando turns out to be). This is clear in that he spends all of his time carving images of his love for Rosalind into the trees.

The Hopeless Romantic

I remember being like that as a teenager, though this seems to be the case with all teenagers. I remember scribbling things like David 4 'Rebecca' 4 Ever where ever I could (though the name would change depending on my crush at the time). Mind you, I now wonder whether the people who would scribble things like that all over the place would be hopeless romantics like me, or whether there was an actual relationship going on. I'm more inclined to lean towards the former because it feels as if the only reason that we would do such as thing is so that we could add some certainty, some reality, to what is in effect unrequited love.

However this isn't unrequited love, not in the sense of Troilous and Cresida (though they did start off as lovers, it is just that Cresida got a better offer). Nor is it forbidden love (as in the case of Romeo and Juliet), or impossible love (as in Hero and Leander). Yet when Rosalind confronts Orlando she doesn't immediately reveal herself to him. The thing is that Rosalind had fallen in love with Orlando when she first laid eyes on him, however her exile, and her time in the forest has had an effect upon her – she has become hardened, and while she does love Orlando, she has some serious concerns with the fact that he is a hopeless romantic. If she is going to marry him she is going to have to cure him of this disease.


As Rosalind (pretending to be Ganymede while pretending to be Rosalind) points out, romance is the spring while marriage is the winter. What Orlando experiences during the period of romance is not necessarily what he is going to experience in marriage – things change, and marriage (at least in this time) is permanent. Maybe this is why so many marriages end in divorce these days – people are so caught up in the spring that they are not prepared for the winter, and when the winter hits they are not prepared to work their way through it to the next autumn, and instead break it off believing that there is no spring, or summer, at the other end. It seems as if people have forgotten that the best thing about a fight is making up.

The Pagan Forest

The spiritual beliefs of celebrities are one of the major talking points among Christians. It seems as if Christians really want their heroes to have the same beliefs as them. I remember when I was in high school (attending a Christian School) that some people came into class to show us, from the lyrics of U2, that Bono was a Christian. Mind you, when I attended my only U2 concert (namely because I had the fortune of working with somebody who ended up having a spare ticket that she wanted to sell) they put up a display that suggested that all religions were the same. One of my friends walked out of the concert then and there, while another of my friends simply tried to interpret it in a way that didn't undermine his faith in Bono.

I suspect the same thing occurs in Shakespeare. He is such an influential writer in the English world that there are no doubt Christians who will refuse to believe that he is anything but. However England was undergoing a significant change at the time (though it was behind the eightball in this regard as Italy had already undergone the Renaissance about a century earlier). Shakespeare was writing at a time that I refer to as the English Renaissance. What was happening was that the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans were being studied and becoming part of the culture. This no doubt arose out of the turmoil of the war of the Roses and the establishment of the Tudor dynasty. When England broke away from the Catholic Church she was able to begin to chart a course of her own, and this course involved the rediscovery of the classical past.


What we see in As You Like It is a contrast between the city and the country. The city is actually the conservative space, the space where Christianity still rules and controls the lives of the subjects. The country, however, is free of this control. Outside of the city walls the duke, and the church, have little to no power. In fact when the Duke marshals his army and attempts to invade the forest he is confronted by a monk and gives up his violent tendencies. In a way the city has little to no power with what goes on behind its walls.

It is the wedding scene at the end that provides the biggest key to this idea. They do not have a traditional Christian wedding, but a pagan wedding. The wedding is not presided over by a priest, but by a philosopher. It is not a wedding that is conducted under the god of the Bible, but rather conducted under Hyman, the god of marriage – a Roman god. In a way by leaving the city we are returning to a time of the past, a time that people see as being free from the tyrannical reality of the modern world, a world that is controlled by a priesthood representing one god, and a priesthood that stands against art and culture. What we have in As You Like It is a world where we can break away from the dark and dull reality of modern city life and escape into the beauty of the past.


Here is an interesting review of the actual performance.


Creative Commons License

As You Like It - Life in the Forest by David Alfred Sarkies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. This license only applies to the text and any image that is within the public domain. Any images or videos that are the subject of copyright are not covered by this license. Use of these images are for illustrative purposes only are are not intended to assert ownership. If you wish to use this work commercially please feel free to contact me.