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On Fandom and Ethical Responsibility

I made a mistake today, internet – I read a thread on a forum, all 300+ posts of it. In this particular thread, some entitled manchildren were chittering their outrage over the fact that responses to “GamerGate” have painted gamers with an overly broad brush; moreover, they were offended that so many individuals seemed to be endorsing a “You’re with us or against us mentality,” and the shouting was just alienating them.

I’m not sure these people are worth caring about, and I say that specifically as someone who has previously discussed the existential absolutism of Alan Moore’s V. I’m also the same person who specifically examined the moral dilemmas raised by popular, reactionary activism as well as the underpinnings of existential responsibility on a social scale. I’ve also made it clear that on a personal level I have zero problems with drawing a line in the sand. I’d link to my track record of criticizing fanboys, but then I’d be here all day adding links.

As much as moral absolutism might raise troubling questions, I have problems giving a single fuck about people who feel that the criticisms of a fandom have unfairly victimized them. Because geekery has always been a rather cesspooly place to be; the internet has only made that more immediately visible, and attempts to change that have all-to-often resulted in pushback not only from the frantically masturbating fanboys, but from the creators behind them (the issue of Spider-Woman’s posterior on a cover being a recent one that springs immediately to mind).

I’m sure some of these people taking offense are perfectly good people in some respects – perhaps they do indeed find racism and sexism objectionable. Yet by taking umbrage because they’re accused of “not doing enough,” or because they think they can remain uninvolved, they are engaging in various degrees of moral cowardice, an accusation I have exactly zero problems making.

When it comes to culture, there is no neutral position. None. Zip. Zero. A bagel. Culture is not something we are simply passive consumers of, but something that we all have a hand in creating. So when your policy is to choose to not be involved, you are actively making the choice to allow the existing culture to continue. You can whine all you want, but that makes it no less true. Of course, there’s always that old chestnut, “Should I not engage in things I like just because they’re problematic?”. We can of course choose to ignore the fact that these things are problematic, or we can be somewhat less shitbaggy and admit that even though we enjoy them these things are indeed problematic.

We can also make the choice to not engage with these things whether or not we enjoy them because of their problematic nature. There are games, books, comics, etc. that I pass on either because I find their nature problematic in and of itself; or perhaps like the work of Card, Miller, or Goodkind the work is simply a mouthpiece for the creator’s infantile views; or because I simply find the creator, be it an individual, company, or even someone involved, to be so reprehensible that I won’t support the project, and thus given the impression that I would support future projects (Tom Cruise movies being a case in point – I find Scientology even more reprehensible than the Randian wankfest that is libertarianism, and his status as an actor has enabled him to serve as its face). I find the idea that we should avoid moral decisions that might in some way be detrimental to us to be a baffling one. If your values hinge on the condition that you never be negatively impacted as a result of holding them… saying that I am unimpressed is an understatement of near-infinite proportions.

There are people I like, and who I not only don’t think are bad people, but are people who actively speak up against injustice that I don’t associate with as often as I once did, or at times would like to, because my association with them is largely prefigured around mutual “geeky” interests; thus my interactions with them involve stepping into cultural milieus that I am increasingly uncomfortable with being an active part in. I don’t limit that to simply denying myself the products of fandom. I’ve lost friends because I’ve pointed out that I find someone’s  course of action morally objectionable. I wound up homeless for a while because I wasn’t willing to subject myself to a situation and persons I found morally objectionable.  Thus I’m willing to walk the walk, even when doing so has cost me in not-insignificant ways.

So when there are people out there taking the brunt and being shit on because they’re not male, not white, not straight, or whatever other factor and they dared to have an opinion about fandom or the products of its adulation, I’m going to give zero fucks about your bruised feels and desire to curl up in your fortress of solitude and not hear about it. Does this mean that each and every person must of necessity be out there on the “front lines.” No, there are perfectly good reasons for not doing so, though as I’ve pointed out “neutrality” isn’t one of them.

There are no isolated ethical actors, and there are no isolated ethical actions. Choosing not to be involved is an action, and it is the action of a coward. So if you want to get offended because you didn’t like someone’s tone, or thought they were shouting too loud, or are made uncomfortable because they’ve forced you to confront your morally bankrupt cowardice you are worth giving exactly zero fucks about, because you are not simply tacitly endorsing, but are actively creating the culture that you (might) claim to find objectionable.

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Posted by on September 7, 2014 in Activism, Geekery, Philosophy, Pop Culture

 

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The Children Still do not Resemble the Parent

I’ve written about poor fan behavior more than once on this blog. This time I’m not here so much to talk about the specifics of their bad behavior, but about the behavior itself.

Years ago, Harlan Ellison wrote a troubling essay titled “Xenogenesis.” In that essay he recounted some of the horrible things that had been done to various writers… things that had been done by fans. I’ve never like reading this essay, precisely because it makes me wonder about my own behavior, yet at the same time that is exactly why I re-read it every time I go to a convention, because the truth is things have only gotten worse in the days since Ellison’s essay. Someone dressed in a Tribble costume shot Claudia Christian. Fortunately the gun was filled with blanks, but that doesn’t make what happened any “better.” A jackass in a yellow hat tried to “punk” Rob Liefeld at a convention, and then crowed about it on the internet. While it is true that a good number of individuals, fans and pros, came down on him for his idiocy, a great many people applauded his boorish behavior. Ethan Van Sciver had art stolen off his table at a convention. At Dragon*Con this past weekend a bunch of “bros” felt the need to shout “Wesly Crusher!” upon seeing Wil Wheaton.

The fact that Mr. Wheaton had an otherwise enjoyable experience beyond this incident is not the point. The point is that the incidents never should have happened at all, and the behavior gets even worse when we look at the internet.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen ignorant, hateful comments directed at comics professionals on places like Bleeding Cool or Newsarama. The calls for harassment and violence, be that toward the yellow hat-wearing jackass, or even someone as despicable as Rob Granito, are also a frequent, troubling part of our discourse. And a non-existant Heaven help you if you fire back. When Mark Waid went off on Granito there were people taking umbrage at what Waid did. Because obviously someone getting up set because Granito was trying to bolster his own rep by namedropping a recently dead man’s name is just so unbelievable.

Even more troublesome than the behaviors themselves are the fact that these people are more and more our face. When I do check a story on a comic’s site, it is this kind of behavior that I expect to see. We could certainly try going the No True Scotsman route and denying ownership of these individuals as part of our community, but what does that do to address the problem? The same is true of simply saying, “these assholes are the exception, most fans are great.” Because even if it is true that these assholes are the exception, they are still what people see when they see our community. These members of our community alienate us from professionals, from each other, and from people who might want to participate in our community.

As a community we need to make it understood that we will not be tolerant of certain behaviors. People are still free to say what we want, but we need to make it clear that we simply won’t tolerate their behavior. I know the geek creedo is supposed to be all about inclusiveness, despite the fact that geek culture is and always has been cliquish, but lines have to be drawn. If fanboys want to piss in the pool I see no problem with making sure it’s their own, isolated pool they do it in.

The rest of us also need to remember that no matter how much money we spend, no matter how invested we become in these stories and characters, we’re not actually owed a damn thing. Nothing. This doesn’t mean that creators, companies, and celebrities are above critique, or even of being the butt of a joke. I  happen to think Joss Whedon’s run on X-Men was one of the worst things I have ever read, and what I’ve seen of Firefly left me feeling that it was one of the worst shows to ever be on Television. I have no problem with saying so. That does not, however, entitle me to abuse Mr. Whedon either on line or in the flesh.

I am well aware that this is not a perfect world, and I am far and away from being a perfect person. There will always be assholes everywhere, and because there will always be assholes everywhere a portion of those assholes will be geeks. What we can do is our best to ensure that the worst elements of our community, both in person and online, are the outliers.

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2011 in Comics, Pop Culture

 

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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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One Muslim Batman, One Lesbian Batwoman, and a Shot of Insomnia Driven Self-Reflection

R. K. Milholland, the man behind the webcomic Something*Positive, recently did a guest strip for the comic Shortpacked!. I can’t claim that I’m particularly familiar with the series in question, but Mr. Milholland’s strip deals with the recent brouhaha surrounding the fact that one of the members of Batman, Inc. is going to be a Muslim. Personally, I don’t see anything wrong with this. Despite the fact that Muslim terrorists have become the flavor of the zeitgeist in that since the events of September 11th, 2001 they’ve become the pop culture go-to villains that everyone in the West can hate, I’m pretty sure Muslims are still people.  That means that just like everyone else they may fall broad, socially constructed and determined categories, but just because one Muslim, or a given group of Muslims does something doesn’t automatically mean that all Muslims hate the West, and think it is best brought down with high explosives. You’d think that would be self-apparent, eh?

As frustrating as the kind of bullshit that has cropped up around DC’s ann0uncement, that’s not what I’m here to talk about right now. This is my blog, so I’m going to talk about me, my reaction to Mr. Milholland’s comic, and a DC announcement from a few years ago. Back in the days of the dinosaurs I wrote for a now-defunct website called Comic Avalanche… all right, it was only a few years ago, but there have been several miles of bad road since then, so it feels like longer. Regardless, at the time DC was announcing the imminent arrival of their new “lipstick lesbian” Batwoman.

I admit that within the space of one of my columns I raised something of a fuss about this. My problem wasn’t that they were introducing a lesbian Batwoman, my problem was with DC’s use of the word “lipstick” in their promo announcements. Among the gay community the phrase lipstick lesbian seems like it generally has negative connotations, and outside of that community it seems to be used most frequently as a way to advertise female-on-female porn to an audience of straight men. So this struck me as less of a move toward diversity, and more as a marketing ploy to draw in the undersexed fanboys.

Since then I’ve had a chance to read some of the Batwoman stories. In particular I’ve read the “Elegy” arc by Greg Rucka and J. H. Williams III that ran in Detective Comics. I enjoyed reading it. While I won’t say it was the best comic I ever read, I had no particular objections to the way Kate Kane was portrayed. That said, I still like to think that I had a valid objection to the way in which DC was hyping the character’s introduction. After all, I didn’t have that kind of negative reaction upon hearing about Grant Morrison’s hermaphroditic Negative Man or Danny the Transvestite Street. I wasn’t particularly bothered by Northstar finally coming out of the closet. And yet…

… and ask why it is everytime a hero shows up who isn’t white, male, hetero, or possibly Christian, it’s a P.C. stunt?

On the other hand, when I read quotes like this (taken from the comic by Mr. Milholland that inspired this post), I have to wonder. Was my objection a valid one, or was I simply engaging in the kind of xenophobia and bigotry for which I condemn the people whining about a black actor in the upcoming Thor film, or the nonsense that has cropped up in relation to a Muslim Batman?

I would like to think that the answer is no. However, because I am a staunch believer that living philosophically means to engage in a constant critical and reflective engagement in the world, I can’t let it go at that. Is there a part of me that objected to the new Batwoman simply because the character is a lesbian? Did I really have a valid objection, even if that objection would have perhaps been better focused on DC’s marketing department rather than on editors and creators? Or maybe, just maybe, is there still some baggage I’m carrying around, some social conditioning that is implanted so deep that I’ve never even thought to question it?

I had many of the same questions when I was working through the challenges raised by George Yancy’s* Black Bodies, White Gazes. In both his own words, and the words of others, he articulates the idea of the race traitor as someone who doesn’t behave as a “good” white person “should.” I would like to think I am one of those people, and that it extends beyond race. I would like to think that I do not behave as a good hetero should, or as a good person of my economic class should. Yet at the end of the day, the only honest answer I can give to any of these questions, including the question raised by Mr. Milholland, is “I don’t think I’m that person, but I just don’t know.”

Yes, I would like to think I’m a better person than the unwashed hordes and whores who live uncaring, unreflective lives. I would like to be able to say “Yes, I live every moment of every day in philosophical engagement, and at no point is my thinking influenced by an unconsidered opinion.” I’d like to be able to settle for that, but sometimes saying “I don’t know,” isn’t a bad thing, just so long as we follow it up with, “but I’m not going to stop asking the question.”

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2010 in Comics, Philosophy

 

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