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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Perhaps Inevitably, some Fanboys still don’t get it.

Apparently there was some brouhaha in the DC panels at SDCC. Said brouhaha apparently involved questions about why there were so few female creators, and female characters, being featured in DC’s big September relaunch (as well as in general). Though I’ve not heard said comments for myself, apparently the questions were not answered terribly well during the panels, and DC was prompted to make a statement.

Most of the opinions of DC’s response have ranged from cautiously optimistic (with some not-so-cautiously optimistic) to guarded pessimism that this is just a PR stunt, or that the books will simply be short lived. I’m generally inclined to side with the more pessimistic side of things; I don’t generally trust press releases, particularly not when they come about as the result of foot in mouth disease. Most of these comments, while I don’t always agree with them, have still fallen within the bounds of being reasonable. Some of them, however, have fallen squarely into the realm of bullshit.

I’m sure people are about to accuse me of having an agenda. So let’s set the record straight; while I’ve read more than my share of feminist writing, I am not a feminist. I’m a humanist and a philosopher, which means that I am not something that many of you fanboys are once again proving yourselves to be; narrow-minded asshats. My only agenda, fanboys, is not being like you.

Let’s kick off by demolishing claims that a good writer is a good writer regardless of gender or any other factor, shall we? I can write female characters. For that matter, I can write female characters well. I can do this because as a human being I both have the capacity for empathy and the ability to gain knowledge. I can observe what women are like. I can read things, both fiction and non-fiction, that has been written by women. I can talk to women and ask them about their experiences. With my capacity for empathy I can then, to a degree, create a female character that is not simply a flat representation, and might well be able to speak to women about the experience of being a woman.

However, I lack, and will always lack, understanding of what it means to be a woman. I’ve talked about this twice before, though it was in relationship to characters; however, it remains just as true when talking about actual people. For all my knowledge, and all my empathy, there is a limit to my ability to understand what it means to be a woman, because I am not a woman. I have not lived the experience of being a woman, just as I have not lived the experience of being black, or being gay. As such, a woman, or a black man, or a gay man, brings to the process of writing an understanding which I do not have, and this understanding, forged solely through their lived experience of being in the world, will inform and shape the stories and characters that they write in a way that is different from the way in which being a white, heterosexual male, raised in a lower-income family, and who came to formal education late in life will inform and shape the stories that I write.

No amount of talent, skill, genius, or any other name you care to give it will ever overcome this fact. Gail Simone, for example, will always have something that Gaiman (or Moore, Ennis, Morrison, Ellis etc.) do not have. This remains true even if I performed a female gender role, as I would still lack the phenomenological understanding of what it is to be pregnant (though it is certainly true that the experiences which informed my work would be different in other ways; however, that moves us into the larger role of gender roles and gender as performance as contrasted against biological sex [which many argue itself isn’t a simple binary system, and is itself constructed]).

This is true whether it’s male characters being written, female characters being written, or what genre said characters are appearing in. The inclusion of diverse voices means that you’re going to see different ways of handling themes, and different themes that are being spoken about (and spoken to). This is one of the reasons Moore’s early work was so fucking ground breaking; he brought a mind, and a voice, that looked at and spoke about things in a way that (for mainstream comics) was new. Not every writer, regardless of gender, skin color of creed is going to be the next Alan Moore. Yet the only thing that stifling diversity accomplishes is to stifle the ability of comics to change, grow, and improve.

We are both trapped and liberated by the experience of being human. This is something we need to understand and embrace.

So how about the claim that there just aren’t that many good female creators in comics? Feministing was kind enough to provide a short list. That’s 19 entries, and it still leaves off a lot of names; which makes the defense that the other three female creators that DC asked turned them down rather weak, since there were plenty of others they could have made an offer to. Not to mention that both Marvel and DC have made a habit of poaching writers from other sources in recent years. True, it gave us the excrement that was Whedon’s run on X-Men, but there are no talented writers working in Hollywood or writing novels that they could have asked? What about any of the female manga-ka whose works are already rather popular with readers; might one of their number have been interested in being asked? (The answer to that last question is that I have no idea, particularly since manga-ka are often ridiculously overworked. The point still stands that there are plenty of talented women who could bring their A game to comics.) There’s no need to “quota” hire in women who can’t do the job, as there are any number of women are perfectly capable of doing said jobs (and I imagine the same holds true of other under-represented creators).

Perhaps I’ve overlooked the fact that, “chicks don’t like superheroes.” My Twitter feed suggests otherwise. I follow any number of women who read superhero comics. For that matter I suspect they talk about them more than I do. Erika Peterman and Vanessa Gabriel of Girls Gone Geek are just two examples, and I damn well know my Twitter feed doesn’t cover even a fraction of the women who are interested in superheroes or other elements of geek culture. If it weren’t for the fact that superhero comics are often given the gendered identity of being for boys, I suspect that are even more little girls who would enjoy superheroes, and would then grow up to be women who dig superheroes. Yet despite what strides toward equality have been made, it’s still traditional to teach the girls that they should want to be princesses etc. while being a superhero or soldier is for boys. It’s a bullshit practice, particularly when for all the fanboyish whining there is no meaningful difference between an action figure and a Barbie doll, while there is a very meaningful similarity between the two; the fact that the majority of them are designed to play into and reinforce (frequently unhealthy) stereotypical depictions of masculine and feminine and what it means to be a man or woman.

This is the third time that Professor Bastard has had to take you to school over pretty much the same theme, fanboys, and I’m getting well fucking sick of it. You’re not right, and to say that your arguments are still made of the weakest of bullshit is an understatement of epic proportions.

 
 

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Is Internet Anonymity Really a Feature?

I think I shall talk about a little something different today, dear heathens. I’ve made abundantly clear in the past that I’m a geek. Of course even if I’d tried to keep that under wraps the subject matter of this blog likely would have spoiled the secret. I don’t constantly scour the net for the latest geeky news, but when something is brought to my attention I keep an eye on it. So I’ve been watching Google+ over the last month; I’ve been keeping my eye on it even though I’ve not had the chance to use it yet, and quite honestly am expecting it to be the disappointment that Google Wave was (I was fired up by the possibilities displayed in the early video presentations, nosed around for months until I finally managed to get an invite… and absolutely no one I knew was using it). So what has been popping up the last few days is the brouhaha over Google instituting a “real name policy” a la Facebook.

I have to be honest; I’m not impressed by the “outrage” this has inspired. Do I believe that people have a right to privacy? I sure do. However, I’m also aware that just by choosing to use the internet you’ve probably given up far more privacy than you realize. If you’re reading this, then various services have already recorded the internet provider/network that you are reading it from. It will tell me what city you’re reading it from. If I was inclined to do so I could use that information to get a little more information about you. I won’t, because I’m not trying to sell you anything, but I could. For that matter, even if I was trying to sell you something (like a book, for example), the only thing I might use that information for is to say, “Hmm… I tend to average X readers from location Y, presuming these people like the blog maybe I should do a convention appearance or book signing in said location, so that they have a chance to talk to me in person should they so choose.”

Given that using a pseudonym doesn’t really provide all that much protection in the digital age, I don’t find most of the arguments for their use all that compelling. I could still stalk you even if you’re not using your real name. Do you really think that not using your real name is going to protect a boss, or an oppressive government regime from finding out who you really are if they put their minds to it? We all leave traces of our “actual” identities even when we’re hiding behind invented personas.

I’ve also heard people claim that Google only wants your real name so they can better target advertising at us… not really. As I’ve already mentioned, your being online, using Google, and browsing the web in general all generates a fuckton of metrics data they can shift through in order to target you with advertising. Using the Google+ circles, pressing the +1 button, and otherwise engaging with their service just generates more data for them to mine. Yet again, it’s not something they need your “government name” for.

I’m also not convinced that hiding behind a digital mask allows people to “express who they really are.” I’ve increasingly become a big believer in owning what one has to say. If I say something that is controversial or offends people, then I say something that is controversial or offends people; by that same tautological token if I lose friends or job prospects because of something I have to say, then I lose friends or job prospects because of something I have to say. This blog has my name attached to it. My twitter has my name attached to it. My e-mail has my name attached to it. My facebook not only has my name attached to it, but features a picture of me wearing Green Lantern underpants on my head, while holding a rubber severed head; and I have more than once posted shit that most people would likely consider to be bizarre and/or offensive. If people don’t like it they are free to, in the words of the Rubberbandits, “fuck right off to Cork.”

There is no meaningful separation between what you see on Facebook, or on this blog, and who I am in person. Given that any number of posts on this blog, indeed I suspect the majority of them, ultimately come down to, and back around to, issues of authentic identity and personhood, and I’ve just pointed out that I’m a big believer in owning what comes out of one’s gob (digital or otherwise), it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I don’t believe in using a pseudonym to express one’s self (even if the pseudonymous persona is not being used to spout ignorant shit without fear of repercussion). Yet even if I didn’t believe any of that, I would find using a pseudonym in the context of social networking to be eyeroll worthy, as it pretty much defeats the bloody point of social networking. If you don’t want your boss, or your mother, to know that you really, really like it when your significant other takes a strap-on to your arsehole… don’t post the shit, or don’t social network with your boss or your mother; your ability to express yourself is only limited in the ways you choose to limit it.

I’m sure people might well be along to tell me that I’ve never been stalked or harassed. One of those is true. I’ve never been stalked. However, as I’ve pointed out above in the digital age a pseudonym is nothing near sure protection against stalking. I have been harassed. Admittedly, it was far less than the harassment that many have been subjected to, but it has happened… more to the point it happened despite using a pseudonym. I also don’t believe in hiding my opinions behind one, even if those opinions wind up biting me in the ass (that would remain true even if I thought one of the potential ass bites was storm troopers kicking down my door).

Does all of this mean I agree with the way that Google shut down accounts without warning? Not so much, and had I been affected by that decision I would likely have been highly annoyed. Am I irritated by their apparently inconsistent application of their “real name” policy. Sure am. Yet I don’t find in myself the slightest feeling of betrayal or outrage that I couldn’t, for example, have my G+ account and Google Profile in my “truly expressive identity,” of Bob the Sodomite Gnome.

Now if you’ll excuse me I just saw some twat compare Google’s wanting your real name to the policies of Stalin, Pol Pot, and Hitler; I need to go vomit in despair now.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2011 in Activism, Pop Culture

 

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The Alien and the Existentialist

As is usually the case, the lack of regular updates has mostly been due to stress. I’ve been dealing with a rather rough patch, and sitting down to talk about philosophy hasn’t been at the top of my list of things that need done. It’s also been miserably hot, and my brain doesn’t like to work when it’s busy trying to melt into a puddle. That aside, lately I’ve been watching the third season of The Boondocks and finally started watching Torchwood. I’m not going to be talking about The Boondocks this time out; not because it’s not worth talking about so much as because I still need to decide what I’m going to say, and how I’m going to say (though I will go ahead and say if you’ve never watched Boondocks go do so – it’s well worth it). So it looks like I’ll be talking about Torchwood.

I never got in to Torchwood when it premiered, or during the course of the three seasons that have run, or the forth that premiered this year.  First and foremost I don’t actually watch telly anymore. Most of it is insufferably vapid, and even when I find something worth watching, finding the time to sit down and watch it on a regular basis rarely happens, or will be interrupted. Less importantly, though still a factor, was my disappointment that Christopher Eccleston had only signed up for one season of the revived Doctor Who. Other than Tom Baker I just haven’t been interested in most of the other portrayals of the Doctor, so when he left so did my interest in the show and its spin-offs.

Still, I finally decided to give it a chance. So far I’ve watched the first nine episodes and to be honest it just isn’t a very good show. These early days are often inconsistently done, and full of plot holes bigger than the Cardiff Rift. That said, it’s a not very good show that has had some good episodes, so I’m hoping that the later episodes live up to this potential. It’s also a show that has had some very philosophical episodes… so much so, that at times it feels like it’s beating me over the head with said philosophy. Some of that may be simply because I’m already familiar with the ideas the show has been trying to express; though for all that I’m not ruling out the possibility of simple ham-fistedness on the part of the people involved with the show.

Of course I wouldn’t really be doing my job if I just said, “Yup, a philosophical show,” and left it at that. Particularly since I can’t rule out that I’m catching things that someone who isn’t familiar with philosophy would miss.

Torchwood, at least in its early days, deals rather heavily with existentialist concepts, particularly taking an existential view of death. This is particularly apparent in the episodes “They Keep Killing Suzie,” and “Random Shoes,” but pops up as early as the very first episode. This is something I’ve talked about before, and something I suspect I will talk about again. The message Torchwood keeps giving us is that death really is the end. Oh sure, fancy alien technology might bend the rules as we understand them a bit, but ultimately when we die we’re gone. There is no bearded fucker up in the sky ready to sweep our souls up into blissful light, or if we’ve broken one of his arbitrary rules, kick us into a lake of boiling sulfur.

This isn’t some abstract, navel-gazing point that’s only of interest to philosophers, but something important to living our everyday lives, particularly of living in a philosophically engaged fashion. What does it mean for us if indeed this life, this world is all we have? Does it mean that anything goes, and that we are not only free to, but indeed should indulge our every whim no matter how petty, selfish, or cruel? There are certainly those who would argue that that’s exactly what it means, either because it satisfies their own desires, or they simply can’t imagine the ability for man to be moral without the fear of heavenly punishment hanging over our heads.

We could take a state of affairs as is posited in Torchwood as an excuse to be thoughtless hedonists. Alternately, we could also take the time to consider that if this is all we get, we should try to make it worthwhile; because we don’t get any do overs, and Auntie Millie won’t be waiting up in heaven to tell you she forgives you for all the times you were a raging douchebag to her. That’s a large part of what the existentialist project was (and for those still engaged in it, or in one of its offspring, still is); to bring meaning and value to an inherently meaningless universe. Though for all that Torchwood encodes this basic message into some of its episodes the characters do spend a rather large amount of time engaging in the hedonistic bits of life.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2011 in Philosophy, Pop Culture

 

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