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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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Of Sluts and Stormtoopers: The “Controversy” of Hot Geek Chicks.

Jessica Mills, aka geekyjessica, wrote a short essay called When Geeks Become Bullies. Presumably she wrote this in response to the sometimes vitrolic rhetoric that pops up about various people, in particular the nebulous idea of  “hot chicks” who are geek poseurs. It’s an impassioned post, and there’s several points I agree with.

I’ve been a geek for a long time now, and “geek culture” has often been known for its divisiveness. Star Trek vs. Star Wars. Tabletop Gamers vs. LARPers. Everyone vs. Furries. Sure there’s always been crossover, but much as in academia, the infinitesimally small stakes of geekdom have resulted in battles of laughably epic proportion. To my chagrin, I’ve been a participant in the kind of exclusive, bullying behaviors that she highlights.I have, in my day, fiercely defended my little kingdom of fandom, like many before me I was geek red in tooth and pocket protector.

Of course the stakes aren’t so small anymore, at least in one respect, and unfortunately I think Ms. Mills, for all I laud her call for inclusiveness, overlooked an important aspect.

One of the reasons, and I suspect it might well be the main reason, that geek culture has increasingly bled into mainstream pop culture is a simple one: the almighty dollar. Companies have increasingly realized that when taken as an aggregate geeks have a lot of buying power, and that many geeks will cheerfully lay out large amounts of money in pursuit of their particular bliss.

On the one hand that’s a good thing. It has made more geeky bits and bobs available, which means more geeky stuff for us to indulge in. It has, as Ms. Mills rightly points out, also lead to people who otherwise might not have been exposed to geekdom, or might have shied away from professing their geekdom, an outlet for expressing themselves and finding their bliss.

However, it also brings a couple of problems. The first is the issue of pandering; of taking on the accouterments of geekdom, of presenting one’s self as a geek in order to secure the “geek vote,” or more accurately to tap into the revenue stream that is the geek dollar. If you’re female and a geek, “hot” or otherwise, that’s awesome. If on the other hand, you’re simply adopting the trappings of geekiness to try and open my wallet through both my dick and my fandom… I’m not so big on that. Sure, I like sex. I like sexy women. And while I’m perfectly happy to be jerked off, I don’t appreciate being jerked around. By anyone. When you do it with my fandom, over the fact that I am a geek, and that I grew up in a time and place where that was a source of both ostracism and comfort to me… yeah, I’m going to be a bit annoyed with you. I may not approve of some of the vitriolic rhetoric that gets thrown around, but I can understand the sentiment. I’m perfectly willing to give a corporation, or an individual for that matter, a hearty fuck you when they’re trying to manipulate me in this fashion.

The second element, and the one that touches more directly on what this particular blog is about, is the question of authentic selfhood. This isn’t separate from the issue I point out above. “Wear Brand X, or your friends won’t think you’re cool.” “If you don’t have the latest jPhone, jPad and jColonStimulator than you’re so last season.” Companies want us to buy their products. Fair enough, they’re out to make money after all, and if we’re going to allow any degree of an open market to exist we need to accept that. However, too often one of the ways these folks try to make money is by telling us that what we own, what we buy, is who we are. It’s not just in the form of status symbols either, though status symbol possessions are certainly part of the problem. Much as those cyberpunk sages warned us about, corporate branding has leaked into personal identity.

Geekdom also won’t be the first place where this has happened. Just think about tattoos and piercings for a moment. When I was growing up, tattoos and piercings were often regard as “edgy.” They were the domain of bikers and rockers. Now… now they’re not only largely part of accepted culture, they’re a corporate force, with TV shows, magazines, all the way through to the steaming pile of excrement that is the Ed Hardy franchise. It’s the mainstreaming of those places that were once out on the edge, with marketing designed to make these things seem like they’re edgy. Yet the truth is these things become increasingly homogenized so as to appeal to middle America, and in the process lose much of, if not all, their power to lead one toward an authentic expression of the self.

On a philosophical level, this isn’t opening the doors so that people can find their own bliss; it’s locking the doors and telling people that this is who they should be if they want to be valuable people. As a geek, as someone for whom these things have made up who I’ve been and who I’ve am, it does in certain respects feel like an aspect of myself has been lessened. People who’ve visited this blog before will realize that doesn’t sit well with me on either level.

Still, we should neither reflexively reject the mainstreaming of geek culture, nor should we lash out and create a culture of divisiveness. To do so does mean we lose those positive aspects. At the same time, uncritical acceptance is no healthier that reflexive rejection, and in many ways could be even unhealthier for geek “culture” such as it is.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2011 in Philosophy, Pop Culture

 

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