Friday, July 31, 2015

Seamstress without A Needle - Review of Elizabeth Bear's Karen Memory

It's book recommendation time! This week we'll be talking about Steampunk which, for those who don't know, is a science fiction subgenre based on fantastic (and usually impossible) reimaginings of Victorian-era steam-driven technologies. At its worst, Steampunk falls into an obsession with Victorian and imaginary-victorian trappings - corsets and tophats, airships and brass monocles, the odd babbage engine. At its best, it uses these trappings to examine a point in history when old social orders were being overturned and, in the divide between rich and poor, look at today's world through a funhouse mirror. In fact, I'd say that the best science fiction is always a funhouse mirror through which we can view our own world.

Regular readers of this blog should know that I adore the writing of Elizabeth Bear; her work is always compelling with a great eye for character and for detail. I greatly envy her talent. Her Karen Memory is a "Wild West Steampunk" novel, taking place in the imaginary Alaska town of Cedar Rapids during a gold-rush in the late nineteenth century. Before we see any fancy steampunk trappings we meet our protagonist and narrator, "seamstress" Karen Memery:

Yes, she does what you think that she does, and it's handled as well as you'd expect; the work colors Memery's perception of men, but hasnt' twisted her into a misogynist. The work plays a significant role in the novel, both in terms of plot and theme, but it's never played for titillation. In fact, while the characters have plenty of sex (as they are working in a brothel) there are no explicit sex scenes. While there is empowerment in Memery and her peers earning a living and while they do have the good fortune of working at the Hotel Mon Cherie (the French is deliberately wrong),  the "good" brothel owned and run by a Madame Damnable - a  woman with an interesting past of her own -  it's not quite sugar-coated or sentimentalized. In fact, one important character refuses the chance at joining Madame Damnable's "sewing circle", even having few other choices. While she keeps a measure of her dignity, it remains clear that Memery's choice to earn a living on her back was no choice at all in reality; institutional sexism leaves few other choices for a young woman on her own.

The action begins with a girl rescued from a rival house of ill repute (this one of truly ill-repute, in which the girls were treated as literal slaves), brought to the Hotel Mon Cherie, triggering a major flare-up in the rivalry between Madame Damnable and her counterpart the odious Peter Bantle. Soon there's a Jack the Ripper style string of murderer persued by  a far-traveling US Marshall, literal rooftop chases, daring escapes and, yes, an airship. Wouldn't be a steampunk novel without one. There's not much sex but there IS a same-sex romance (oh, how I long for the day when such things are common enough that I can just say "romance". Alas, that day is  not today). This is not high-tea and top-hat style steampunk; the characters about whom we come to care are always on the peripheries: an (Asian) Indian woman saved from sex slavery by a Chinese-American freedom fighter of sorts (real-life sex-worker rights activists  would be glad to know that she has a perfectly healthy relationship with the voluntary seamstresses of Madame Damnables and does not equate all prostitution with slaver), an African-American marshall with his Native-American posseman. The latter character - Marhsall Bass Reeves - is based, according to the author's note, on an actual historical figure on whom the Lone Ranger myth was quite possibly based -- a myth which quite literally strips him of his actual skin.

For anyone who loves the wild west, who loves Steampunk, or simply loves a good tale Karen Memor is well-worth the reading. Very highly recommended. 

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Dragonslayers of V'khaim

It's Flash Fiction Tuesday.

This is a short, simple fable with dragons in it as well as a touch of wordplay. 

The Dragonslayers of V'khaim
by Leonard C Suskin

Far from the village of V'kaim, deep in the wood is a simple, rough hut of fallen trees, mud, under a ragged rooftop of still green branches laced with leaves. It's the kind of shelter put up quickly, slowly weatherproofed over the months, easily abandoned. It's been abandon many times, but the hermit has always fled.

I've always fled. And I've gotten away. They keep hunting me. The dragonhunters.  Because I did what they wouldn't.

I killed the dragon.

Why did I let you find me? Perhaps I'm weary. Perhaps I want to tell the story, the story the other dragon hunters won't tell.

I slew the dragon.

You know the history, I'm sure. A peaceful village, its name taken from its mystic healing springs. Pilgrims came far and wide for their healing miracles of the water cure, and miracles were delivered. They bathed in the mystic waters, they drank of them, chirurgeons infused them directly into veins.  The sick and desperate tend to be poor, but the odd desperate noble every now and then would  fill our coffers and walk away with a healthy body or, sometimes, a healthy bride. It was home, with an air of healing magic that kept us all healthy. It was a pleasant enough life, but for the Dragon Salemo. It demanded, as seems Dragonnish tradition, a tribute of twelve virgin girls each year. To you, I suppose, it still is home.

We paid, and we were safe. No armies dared attack us, pilgrims would come for healing, the earth was fertile.

The best and bravest of us would sometimes venture forth, to hunt the dragon. Full of bluster they'd leave, silently they'd return, never speaking on what they saw. They formed a brotherhood of sorts, shaking their silent heads sadly when a new youth would seek the Dragon, then welcoming him on his return to join them in silence. We didn't shun them exactly, but they shamed us with their failure. I sometimes gave them alms.

You know the history, so you know that I chose to take arms, to hunt the dragon, this scourge of our elsewise idyllic home. The story of how I got there is common enough; struggles with highwaymen, wild beasts, cunning traps left behind by the ancient mountainfolk. It matters not. What matters is that I arrived. Face to scaly face with Salemo, the Dragon of the North.

It hung its head sadly as I approached, armed with my dragonkilling spear and boiled leather shield. "Many have come. Follow, and understand. What I do, I do for love."

Deep into its mountain cave the dragon took me, deep in the mountain cave I saw her. The last year's sacrifice. She was bound, submerged to the waist in a deep underground stream, the water around her clouded with blood.

"The others wait their turn. It is a rare, Dragonnish magic I found, that their blood might infuse this spring - the same waters which give your town its fame - with purity and healing magic. It is a great secret. If you speak of it, I will withdraw my gift and my protections. Be silent, and all will continue as it has been. It is an offer I have made many a time, and no man has refused."

My spear penetrated his scaly skin with surprising ease. I wish I could say that I taunted him before he died, but I didn't speak until after his body stopped twitching.

"I am no man."

When I returned the last victim to the village, they knew. The silent, would-be dragonslayers. It was they who drove me out of town, to live hear in the trackless wilderness. Sometimes a woman or an old man who lost a daughter to the beast will leave me some dried meat or an old but serviceable tool. Sometimes an angry young man will hunt me, as I once hunted the dragon. This hut has been moved and rebuilt many a time.

Why did I let you find me? Because I saw something. A baby dragon. I know how it got here, and I know there are more.

If you listened to the story,  you'll know too. It's quite obvious. 
I'm sure that all of the hunters know, and I'm sure that they didn't care.

Now you know. You'll know to not trust the dragons, you'll know to hunt them.

You'll know that whatever it is they offer, it will not be worth it.

Monday, July 20, 2015

About that Slave Leia figure; When All Women are Pin-Ups.

Earlier  this month, a concerned parent complained to Hasbro that the easiest to find Princess Leia action figure was the "Slave Leia" costume from her brief imprisonment by Jabba the Hutt at the beginning of Episode VI. The complainant has been praise for caring about female depiction and empowerment, ridiculed for not understanding the source material, and ignored from various corners of the internet. Coincidentally, this kerfuffle comes on the occasion of my daughter's first watching of the films at the age of eight. Last night we watched the first film, A New Hope. (For the purpose of this discussion, there are a total of three Star Wars films, which were released in 1977, 1980, and 1983. This isn't prequel-bashing, but an acknowledgement that the "classic trilogy" has a place of cultural important and influence which the later ones do not share). It's worth looking at what Star Wars says about women, why "Slave Leia" is so problematic (as I believe that, to an extent, it is), and how things could be better.

First, re-watching Episode IV with my daughter was overall a wonderful experience. The acting is, of course, abysmal as is much of the dialog, the plot is fairly predictable and the villains range from cartoonishly pure-evil (Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin) to cartoonishly stupid (the Stormtroopers). That said, the film has a distinctive look,  some great (for its time) action sequences, and is great fun overall. Getting to the topic of the depiction of women, one can't help but smile at Princess Leia, especially in the moment where she takes control of her rescue after Han and Luke have gotten themselves cornered. Throughout the movie she's depicted as strong, dignified, and honorable. Given this portrayal of overall strength, why is it a problem for her to be very briefly stripped of her clothes and dignity only to turn around and literally use her chains to strangle her captor? Two reasons.

First, and most importantly, is that anything which happens to Leia happens to all women. Why? Because Leia is very nearly the only named female character in the trilogy (yes, there's Luke's Aunt Beru who gets perhaps four minutes of screen time and about six lines of dialog. We barely get to know her and barely remember her when the final credits roll). This gives her depiction a gravity which isn't there for male characters. Han Solo appears selfish and arrogant? He's counterbalanced by the naive, good-hearted simple farmboy. Lando Calrissian acts cowardly and dishonest? Not, as they say on Twitter, all men; there are plenty who are honest and honorable. Han Solo is taken prisoner, frozen in carbonite? Another man is there to lead the rescue effort. Princess Leia is captured by Stormtroopers, captured by Jabba the Hutt, forced to wear a metal bikini? That's every single woman we know in the Star Wars universe. Watching Episode IV, I noticed that the background characters don't even  include women - and that's a shame. Why not have some female soldiers fighting alongside the men in the Rebellion? Why are there no female officers on the Death Star? The more women present, the less representation becomes a statement on women in general and the more it becomes about the single character.

How female fans depict to Leia
More Leia cosplay
The second issue is that the Slave Leia costume is blatant sexualization which teaches girls that participation includes showing off female bodies. Take these Google Image Search results for "Princess Leia Cosplay"; I took the very first images which came up and see that, of the first dozen, ten are the "slave" outfit. Yes, women are within their rights to show off their bodies if they want and no, I don't consider such displays shameful.  What it DOES remind us is that messages - even unintended ones -  echo and that sex, as they say, sells. Throughout the films, we see Leia as a warrior, a leader, and a hero in her own right. We see her defiantly stand up to her captors, including the imposing and intimidating Darth Vader. We see her in battle, blaster in hand. We see her dressed in long white robes, in cold-weather gear, in jungle camoflauge. And, for a few minutes of one film, we see her in a metal bikini. Sexual displays of female bodies get so much attention in our society that the one glimpse of her body takes a disproportionate share of our consciousness, and is elevated to an iconic status which, to be fair, the source material does not deserve. As I said, Leia is a hero and a strong character whose focus is NOT her sexuality.

How female fans depict Hermione Granger.
Note that she is wearing clothes. 
When we sexualize the only female character in a franchise, we encourage sexual engagement from fans and send a message that fandom is about sex. When we only have one female character, that character represents ALL women. Compare, for the sake of discussion, the Harry Potter books and films. While the main character is a boy, we have multiple important women and girls (Professor McGonagall, Hermione Granger, Luna Lovegood and, arguably the most important villain of the series, Dolores Umbridge). This means that Luna's flightiness tells us that Luna is flighty, not that girls are flighty. 

It's also noteworthy that, even as characters mature and fall into relationships, neither Rowling nor the various filmakers involved "sexed up" any of the female characters. If you look at cosplay of Hermione Granger, for example, you'll see the same kind of dress-up as Harry Potter cosplay; representations of the character as they are. The Potter characters aren't sexless by any means; one could argue that the Harry Potter books are a more adult-oriented work than Star Wars, certainly with a more interesting a varied take on romance. That they could do this without turning all females into pinups is a good thing.

So yes, while I understand that it's part of canon and that many fans have affection for it, the Slave-Leia depiction is a big negative in portrayal of women and in giving them a broad welcome into fandom. We need to do better. 

Agree? Disagree? Let me know. Watch this space for more flash fiction later this week, and check out my AV-related posts over on rAVepubs.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

At the Station

Big change on the blog: there will no longer be audiovisual content here! Don't worry, I'll still be writing it, but the bulk of my AV-related writing will appear exclusively on rAVepubs

We'll still have flash fiction here, the occasional book review, and more. 

Today's flash fiction comes courtesy of a prompt from Andrea Trask. You can read Andrea's fiction here, or find her various places on social media.

At the Station
by Leonard C Suskin

We are all creatures of habit. Every morning the same drive to the station, the same parking spot, the same car on the same train. Every morning the same faces. Every morning another sand falling in the hourglass, another tick of the divine clock. Every morning the same, but a day older.

I always park, as I said, in the same spot,  next to the same car. A big white SUV type with a set of those stick-figure family decals on the rear window. Father, mother, boy, girl, two cats. The complete set, minus a dog. I have a wife, a boy, a girl, two cats. Never got the dog either; they're tough for commuters. Get home late one day, come home to a rugfull of dog poop. No thanks. So, parking next to the big white SUV feels like parking next to a secret twin brother. Or something. Until it doesn't.
Another Monday the same routine, another day pulling in next to the big white car, but this time there's a difference, and a sad one. One of the little cat decals has a set of angel-wings on it, the kind they put for the departed. I wonder what that's like, how you decide to do it. Do you get the little wing decals the day the pet dies? A week after? Does affixing those seem like a little funeral rite? I can't imagine seeing the little angel-cat on your window every day, but I also can't imagine the heartbrake of scraping the sticker off, as if scraping the creature out of your life.

I scan the crowd on the train platform; they all seem the same. There's the neatly buttoned-up guy in his suit, as always, the couple of rumpled-looking construction-types, the ladies in their smart business dresses. Nobody looks extra-sad, as if they lost a pet. Maybe he's on the train before this one.

Tuesday, the same routine, another day pulling in next to the big white car, but there's a difference. Again. A second set of angel-wings, on the second cat. I wonder. Did the pet die of loneliness, or heartbreak? Did they die together, and it took until the next day for the owner to find another pair of wings? I trail my fingers along the boy and girl decals as I walk past the car and toward the train platform. White-car-guy (and I've always assumed it's the guy's car) is like a person to me, but his family has always felt abstract. I wonder how the kids are dealing with losing both pets? Today I ignore my newspaper and scan the platform as I wait for the train.

Tuesday evening I persuade my wife that we should sleep with the bedroom door open, so the cats can come and go.

Wednesday, I awake to find one cat curled up at my feet and the other snuggled into the crook of my arm. Then, the same routine, another day pulling in next to the big white car, but there's a difference. A big one. The girl has angel wings.

I sit in the car for a long time, staring straight ahead. Losing two pets felt heartbreaking, but this is something else. It's tragedy. I'm a bit surprised that the car is still here in the parking lot. Shouldn't he be arranging the funeral? Shouldn't he be with the surviving family? I feel a surge of anger at white-car-guy, a surge of pity. I'm still in the car when the train whistle jars me out of my reverie. I have to sprint across the parking lot, and arrive out of breath as the train doors open.

In the evening I give the cats extra treats and try to get the kids to play with them, but they're too interested in wasting their time with some stupid TV show.

Another day, the same routine. I feel physically sick as I pull into the parking lot, sure of what I'm going to find. After all, what's a routine but a repeating pattern, and this one is clear.

The boy now has angel wings.

I run up the stairs without my briefcase, walk the platform from one end to the other, giving a close look to all of my fellow commuters. They're all newspapers and iPhones and casual chit-chat, as always. Nobody appears grief-stricken, nobody appears shell-shocked.

Nobody but me.

I ride the train in silence, without touching my newspaper or my phone. Nobody notices anything amiss, nobody says anything to me.

For dinner I order a pizza, let the kids choose the topping. They bicker over who got the slice with more pepperoni, get grease all over the chairs. It tastes like cardboard in my mouth. We again leave the bedroom door open, let the cats have the run of the house.

Another damn day, the same damn routine. Parking next to the same damn white car is like picking at a scab, like probing an aching tooth with your tongue. This time it's not what I expected.

Yes, there are still angel-wings on the two cats, on the girl, on the boy. And yes, there's another pair of wings on the wife. Just as you knew there'd be. But that isn't it.

There are also wings on the man.

The car  is parked just as neatly as ever, in the same spot. Again I run my hand along the back window, reading each decal with fingertips. Man, woman, boy, girl, cat, cat. All winged.

Tears well up in my eyes, blurring my vision as I stumble up the stairs to the train platform. Minutes after the traindoors close I'm deeply asleep, my head leaning against the cool window.

I don't know how long I sleep, but it takes me past the last station. I awake to an empty and dark train car, someplace underground, the doors locked. Here I wait alone for someone to bring up the lights, for someone to start the train running and bring back the routine, back to the habit. 

Back on track. 

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Flash Fiction Tuesday - Play Ball!

It's your twice-weekly dose of flash fiction! Please, no biographical fallacies here: the only similarity between myself and the character in the story is my complete and utter inability to throw a baseball. Well, that and sometimes achy knees. 

"Play Ball"
by Leonard C Suskin

"My father never taught me how to throw a baseball."

"And do you want to be your father? Do you want him to be you?"

We were looking out the big bay window towards the lawn across the street, watching Eddy, our oldest son, with the neighborhood kids. At five he was't the youngest, but not quite the oldest either. When he caught the ball - or, more accurately, picked a dropped ball up from the ground, his throw was weak and awkward, stiff-wristed, all arm and no body.

It was Sunday afternoon.

I didn't answer her last comment. There wasn't much to say. She looked from the game to me. "You watch enough baseball. Don't you see how they throw?"

"I know it isn't like that. I don't know enough to teach."

With a quiet "hrmph" noise she turned back to the window.

The modern world is a miraculous place; we carry the answers to nearly any question literally in our pockets. How to patch drywall. How often to water the lawn. What to expect in couples' therapy. How to get rid of gypsy moth caterpillars. How to tell fortunes. The many names of god, and of the devil. And, of course, how to throw a baseball.

Those sidearm, jumping, half-spinning throws you see from a major league shortstop fielding a hard grounder in the hole? That's not how you learn. Everyone on the internet seems to agree: grip, comfortably across the seams, hold the ball chest high. You don't throw with your arm and your shoulder. You throw with your wrist, your hands, your elbow, your shoulder, your hips, your legs. It's two steps of a dance; grip position on the upbeat,  pivotstepreachrelease on the downbeat.

It isn't an easy step. And I'm not a good dancer.

The previous owner had installed outdoor floodlights in the backyard. The kind with the bluewhite glare that make sit look unnatural, not artificial daylight but an oversaturated, paintedover night. I had a hard rubber ball, the side of the house. A YouTube "How To" on my phone.

Grip,lift, turnpivotthrow, thunk.
Grip,lift, turnpivotthrow, thunk.
grip, lift, turnpivotthrow, thunk.

The smack of rubber on brick played counterpoint to the voices on the AM radio, painting a word-picture of a young local kid pitching a gem for the home team.

Grip,lift, turnpivotthrow, thunk.

The blue rubber ball blackish in the nighttime light. Perhaps someday I'll watch Eddy pitching on the radio? 
I come to bed after she's fallen asleep, silently slipping under the sheets beside her.

It was Tuesday.

I awake to a dull ache in my shoulder, a persistent throbbing in my hip. Callouses on the inside of my fingers. I'm not accustomed to this. Not one bit.

In the floodlight, I chalk a square on the back of the house. Chest-high, three feet across.  Sometimes I hit it, but not many.  Again, the word picture on the radio accompanies me. The home-team's pitcher is a veteran, nearly my age. Too old to be pitching in the big leagues, really. Way too old to be starting out.

He leads the team to a win, 2-0. I catch the edge of the target, sending puffs of chalkdust into the air.

She's up watching a late movie when I come to bed, but I'm too tired to talk. I drift to sleep to the flashing lights and whispered dialog of the TV.

It was Wednesday.

Thursday is a travel day for the big league club, a late day at work for me.

Friday I get home early. It's one of those nice early summer days before it's too hot to be outside. I take Eddy out into the backyard, show him the target on the wall. It looks different in the daylight. Sharper, more real. As if the place I practiced at night was from a movie, or a dream.

I demonstrate once, and it's my best throw yet. Arms, hips, legs together, and a perfect strike in the middle of the target.

His eyes are wide and eager.

"How'd you learn to do that? Did your daddy teach you?"

I ignore the stabbing in my knees as I kneel beside him, bend my lips into a smile. "Yeah. And now it's your turn. Let me show you what he showed me."

I take his hand in mine and wrap his fingers around the ball, fingers across the seams.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Flash Fiction Friday - No Country for Lepraucans

No Country for Lepraucans
by Leonard C Suskin

"America is no country for leprauchans. Oh, it's fine for the newfangled heavy-drinking American ones with their green jackets  and puts of shiny, clean gold. Addle-brained, the lot of them." The tiny, wrinkled and wizened man draws deeply from his rough-carved briar pipe. He was dressed in a gold-trimmed red jacket the color of dried blood.

"You don't seem fond of my land. Why did you even come here?" His drinking companion, a far taller man of dusty-red skin looks down. There's a hint of laughter - those who spend time with him will learn that there's ALWAYS a hint of laughter - in his eyes, touching the corner of his mouth.

The scene is a bar, but not one you'll ever been to. A place between this world and the next, where the mirror behind the bottles reflects dreams and the jukebox plays songs never recorded. It's that kind of place.

"Oh, ya know how it is. Things get lean in the old country, folk cram themselves into boats, we stowaway in their heads. Next thing we're in your country."

The taller man's facade of mirth fades, for just a moment. A lightning-flash of seriousness. "Not my country. My land."

The little man leaned back, raised his hands palm forward in apology. "Whoa, sorry. I know that's a sore spot. Didn't mean it. But really, these people now... You see the shoes they wear? All glued. Two hundred years in the old country I'm a cobbler. Here? They all expect rainbows and pots o' gold, and their soles are glued on. Glued."

"So? You can re-glue them. Or stitch them. Or... pull some of the glue loose. Weaken them. Make people long for real honest footwear."

"It's not the same."

"Of course it's not. The wheel turns. You still have your hammer. Find a problem that looks like a nail. Have you ever seen a Maker Faire?"

"Can't say I have."

"A bunch of tinkerers, gadgeteers, builders. Very complex little toys. Sometimes it takes just a little tweak to make one work better than the maker dreamed. Then you watch them scurry to figure out what they did right."

"You never change, do you?"

"Of course I change. We all change. But..." he smiled, reached below his barstool to pull open a canvas bag, filled with brightly colored cardboard tubes. "They always credit me with stealing fire. I almost have to. It's expected. "

Muffled explosions echoed from outside. the little man looked up. "So... want to go outside and find something to celebrate?"

"Why not? After all, we're in the 'land of freedom', right? Let's celebrate the future."
Today is a holiday, but you still get your twice-weekly dose of flash-fiction. Remember, you can support my flash fiction here. 

Happy Fourth of July. Be safe, have fun. 
Happy Independence Day, everyone.

Does Sex Sell? On Appropriate Demo Material

I'm not doing much in terms of post-Infcomm wrap-up this year; like some of you, I watched from afar. There might be something to say about that process and how it developed over the years, especially with new tools like Periscope available for live-streaming of booth-tours and even parties. Today I'd like to revisit the depressingly common theme of casual sexism in the tech industry and why we all need to grow up a little bit.

If one is displaying a video product, one needs to think carefully about what test media to use. It need to be the right format. It needs to have a wide enough range of colors to highlight the display technology. Video streaming products need to have enough motion to prove that they can handle it without too many distracting artifacts. And, in something which should go without saying but sadly doesn't, the material needs to be appropriate for the situation and the audience. When we are at a business event - and trade shows, demo facilities, and showrooms ARE business settings - we need to conduct ourselves in a businesslike manner. If you want to be taken seriously, this is not the time to try to attract the (straight) male gaze with "sexy" content.
I discussed this very issue with a video transport manufacturer two years ago; in that case I expressed discomfort to the national sales manager manning the booth and was answered with a shrug, a smirk, and an "like it." That is what I remembered. This year the only impression I got of the ClearOne booth was this photograph, semi-anonymously shared with me. Yes, ClearOne chose to demo their network streaming solution with a loop of a lingerie show.

Why do I have an issue with this kind of media? First, and most obviously, is the point that it is demeaning to women. It sends a message to the female clients, contractors, consultants, and other professionals that they are in a "boys club" with a culture that sees women as decoration. It doesn't tell women "keep out", but it reminds them that they are in a place where they are seen to not belong. Enough of that kind of message and they'll feel that they don't belong; Clear One (and others who use this strategy) certainly aren't trying to talk to them.

Secondly, and equally important, it sends a message about their judgement. If I can't trust you to not display a six-foot tall image of a woman's derriere at a tradeshow, then why should I specify your product and risk having to expose contractors, clients, or other subcontractors to you and your team? What confidence can I have that the careless attitude about subtexts is not part of a corporate culture? One factor at which I look when specifying equipment is support; does a manufacturer have track record of standing behind their product, would they bring a team to site if needed, and would that team act like professional adults? The choice to screen a lingerie show on ones demo wall gives me zero confidence, especially non the last point.

AV systems once relied more on physical media than they do today; when I worked for AV integration firms I'd sometimes have ot provide media for testing. I remember grabbing a VHS tape from my personal collection when the office's stock of "official" media was elsewhere, and apologizing for the choice: Barney the Dinosaur. The tech on site laughed and said that he always used Thomas the Train Engine. Why? Because it was as aggressively harmless and inoffensive as media can be. No risk of salty language, no risk of anything suggestive or otherwise inappropriate, just video content mild enough for a toddler. I'm not saying that demo media need to be all purple dinosaurs and anthropomorphic trains. I AM saying that we need to be mindful of our potential audience, of the messages we might be sending.

Let your product speak for itself. Next time you arrange a demo, do so in such a way that it is brought ot my attention for the quality of your product and your work, not for your poor judgement.