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Tag Archives: self-reflection

Life’s a Stage and All That….

I apologize for my slowness in updating. The past couple weeks have been somewhat on the rough side.  I’ve been feeling ill, and have had a fair bit of work on my plate. In addition to the usual shenanigans of life I was drafted into some extra work this week, and was also cast in a local production of Arms and the Man (that last has thus far been the least of the extra work, as we’ve only had one rehearsal). Though I suspect there’s a more… emotional reason I’ve been retreating into hermitage. As I write this post it is currently not quite 10pm, February 16th 2011. A few hours from now it will officially be one year since I sat in a hospital for five hours watching my mother die.

My life hasn’t exactly been hugs and puppies. Sure, there are any number of people that have had it worse than me, but I’m not those people, and I can say that in a life that has had its share of shittastic moments, the events of February 17th 2010 pretty well tops the list. I’d lost one parent by that point – my old man had died several years previously, but we hadn’t really been on speaking terms since well before his death, and I suppose the same goes for my old man’s old man. I’d had an uncle die, but I hardly knew the man. I’ve known a few other people over the years who’ve died, but again I wasn’t particularly close to any of them. Maybe my lack of being more profoundly touched by these particular deaths is indicative of some deep flaw in my character. Right now I don’t really give a shit. Right now I only know that it was with my mother’s death that death stopped being a source of abstract existential dread and came by for a cup of tea.

But what is death? One could jump in with the easy answer about how it’s a cessation of the biological functions we call life, but what is it really? Think about it for a minute. One of the bits Ayn Rand stole from actual philosophers (yes, I’m using a profound moment of self-reflection to take another cheap shot at Ayn Rand… I never said I don’t have my petty moments) is the idea consciousness is always conscious of something. That’s really just a fancy way of saying that our consciousness, our “mind,” always is. When we’re awake we’re constantly receiving sensory input, thoughts are always bouncing around like pinballs; even when we sleep our tasty, tasty gray matter is chugging away with the firing of the neurons, and the managing of those handy autonomic functions. This is what it means to be. Whereas death, death is not being. Try and think about that for a moment. We are beings. We only understand what it means to be. Can we ever really understand what it means to not be?

For that matter can we ever really even understand the death of someone else? There are people who I was friends with at one point in time that I haven’t seen in years. I never expect to see the majority of them again (and with a few rare exceptions I don’t particularly mind this fact). How is this so different from my mother’s death? On the one hand I know that she is gone. She no longer exists as anything but some ashes in an overpriced box underneath the dirt. That’s not something you get to come back from. I know that… but do I understand it?

There was a German chap by the name of Heidegger who said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Probably fucking not, but we really need to try anyway.” For Heidegger the act of wrestling with the inherent contradiction of not-being was a pretty crucial step in moving toward authenticity. If we don’t engage in this process we can’t really be whole as persons, for lack of a better term. If you’ve ever seen the film The Fountain and didn’t understand it, now you do. All that crazy zen spaceman flying around, and the Conquistador drinking magic tree spunk, it was all about confronting the spectre of mortality, both of the self and of others.

What does this have to do with comics? I suspect that anyone who has been reading the funny books for any length of time has long since realized that death is revolving door. I’ve long since lost count of the number of characters who’ve died and come back, though I think Jason Todd’s “resurrection because Superboy Prime punched the universe really fucking hard” is still at the top of the list of lamest returns ever. If we look at it from a business perspective it’s easy enough to justify, right? If Superman makes you a shitload of cash you’re not really going to want to get rid of him, not even if your silly ass event centered around his death is part of the speculator crash that left comics right fucked in the arse for a while*.

However, if you’re reading this blog, then you know I’m less concerned with anything so shallow. Yes, I said it. Money might be a necessary evil, sometimes the things it can get you might be nice, but it doesn’t really mean shit. What I’m concerned with is what the revolving-door of the afterlife means for comics as a medium. The simple answer is that it robs comics of much of their power to touch, or to tell meaningful stories. Which doesn’t mean death and a return from same can never be used as a powerful storytelling tool. One example I can think of comes from Bufft the Vampire Slayer. Sure, I thought that with the exception of “Once More, With Feeling,” which thanks to Anthony Stewart Head and Amber Benson was the best episode of the entire series, that Buffy’s sixth season was largely crap. I just didn’t like it. On the other hand it did feature Buffy’s return from the beyond as a major plot point that actually had, you know, ramifications and opportunities for growth. Comics, though… as a general rule not so much.

I’ve already cracked 1,000 words with this post, so I fear I’ll have to limit myself to what I consider a couple of the biggest offenders.

First up is Colossus. I generally liked the big, metal, Ruskie bastard, right? His little sister, another character I was found of, had died as a result of the Legacy Virus. For those of you not in the know on that one, the Legacy Virus was a nasty bug that had been floating around the Marvelverse for a while and generally causing problems in the X-Men related books. Beast finally comes up with a way to cure the fucker, but it requires someone to step up to the plate and sacrifice him, or herself in order to make the cure. Pete, he stepped up to the plate. For him, a world in which no one else had to watch their little sisters die from a disease that he could cure was more important than his own life. That’s pretty touching, you know? It was meaningful. Which was pretty much a guarantee it wouldn’t last.

See, it turns out that this annoying alien bastard, in cahoots with a government agency, had snatched Pete’s body, brought him back from the dead, and was using him as a guinea pig. Said alien’s planet apparently had some dipshit prophecy that mutants would be their doom. Because, you know, if mutants are going to be your doom the thing to do is kidnap a well-loved guy and then perform torturous experiments on him. That’s not going to bite you in the ass. That aside, when they brought Pete back it felt cheap. Sure the Legacy Virus was still cured, at least unless/until they decide to bring that back, but not only did they take away the meaningfulness of what Colossus had done, but they did it in a cheap way. The real kick in the teeth about this one? It was written by Joss Whedon, the guy who’d created Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sure, it was likely an editorial mandate, but he couldn’t have found a way to execute said mandate in a way that’s not crappy and meaningless? Way to go, jackass.

On to example two. Hal Jordan. Hal was the Silver Age Green Lantern. Supermagitech ring with a weakness to yellow, silly mask etc. Hal was around for a while. During the whole Death/Return of Superman event Hal’s town of Coast City was wiped off the map. This kind of threw Hal for a loop. I don’t really blame the guy for that, yeah? I mean it was a pretty fucked up thing what happened. Hal eventually goes over the edge, smacks the shit out of the rest of the Green Lantern Corps, and eventually tries to wipe out and reboot the whole universe. His intentions might have been good, but I don’t generally approve of wiping out and rebooting universes unless I’m the one doing it. Of course comicbooks generally being all about the status quo, Hal eventually gets taken out by his old buddy Green Arrow. At some point he becomes the new Spectre, but that’s not important right now.

What’s important is that they eventually brought Hal back. Now they could have done it well. They could have done it in a way that Hal having to really confront what he had done, and deal with some pretty serious consequences. You might have guessed that since I’m using Hal as example number two they didn’t do that. No, what they did was decide that Parallax wasn’t crazy Hal, Parallax was a “fear entity” that has possessed Hal after the destruction of Coast City. So we get back a Hal who is not only a raging jackass, but other than a few people who are miffed at him over the whole trying to kill them thing, a Hal who went from having depth, from having interesting possibilities to being… shit, I already used raging jackass to describe him… a raging jackass who was largely robbed of the very traits that could have given him some real depth.

I wish I could say that I thought this trend would change. Sadly, with the focus on the status quo, and on the making of money, I really don’t see that happening. So while I could say more about this I’ve already cracked 1700 words at this point, it’s getting late, and I’ve got beer to drink… I should also at least attempt to get some work done, and there’s the whole trying to sleep while gripped with existential dread that needs to be attempted.

* I almost forgot to sneak in this last bit. For all I bag on Superman’s death, and it does deserve to be bagged on, I also reread the whole shebang shortly after my mother’s death. The Funeral for a Friend portion of the storyline, at least, was rather good in its way. As someone who was going through that experience it did resonate with a lot of what I was going through. So I’ll at least give it some props on that.

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Posted by on February 16, 2011 in Comics, Philosophy

 

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Of Dickwolves and Arcades That Cost but a Penny

I really should be getting work done right now, but as with various other topics that have popped up on here today’s Twitter feed has me distracted. That distracted has reached a point where it must be vomited forth from my brain or I’m not going to get anything done. In this case that distraction has to do with the “dickwolves” strip that Penny Arcade did back in August. For those of you that don’t know, the comic in question can be found here: The Sixth Slave. The comic mentions rape. For those of you that don’t want to read it the comic basically deals with a videogame hero who is on a quest to rescue five slaves. A sixth slave begs the hero to take him with him, and among the horrors he describes enduring is being  raped to sleep by dickwolves on a nightly basis. This strip made a lot of people, people who felt like Penny Arcade was trivializing rape and rape culture, rather angry. In their next strip Mike and Jerry (the people behind the characters of Gabe and Tycho) released an “apology” done in their usual caustic style; they also, at a later date, released a “Penny Arcade Dickwolves” T-Shirt. Both the follow-up strip, and the T-Shirt were also upsetting to various individuals.

I’ve read a fair bit of what’s been posted about and around this issue. If you’re interested for yourselves there’s a Debacle Timeline and over here a blogger and rape survivor who works in the industry talks about her response.

I’ll be honest: when I first read the joke I did not read it as a rape joke. That’s not to say I didn’t read it as a joke involving rape, but that I did not regard it as a joke about rape.I read it as a joke about the way videogame quests, particularly MMO quests, are structured, and the way in which once you’ve accomplished the immediate goals the problem is “solved,” even when the problem obviously still exists.

Had I read it as a rape joke I suspect my reaction would not have been as blase as it was. I’ve known at least four women who admitted to being raped, and I’m aware that it is entirely possible, even likely that other women I have known have been raped or sexually assaulted in some way and I just don’t know about it. Two of my philosophical mentors are women, and while I don’t always agree with them (and sometimes go out of my way to bust their chops because that’s just how I do) I respect them both a great deal.

I don’t think rape is funny. Quite honestly I find it, like slavery, to be significantly more abhorrent than murder in that I regard it as a type of crime that is intended to infringe upon, and strip away the basic humanity of a person. These are crimes that are as existential as they are physical, and leave victims feeling violated on a fundamental level long after the physical scars have healed. Yet at the same time I have made rape jokes. Generally toward other men, and specifically men who happen to be friends of mine (one caveat being that I did once make a sex trafficking joke in mixed company; it was likely done in poor taste regardless, but was done in a room of people I presumed knew me well enough to know I was just trying to get their goats, as it were). I have said that I was going to make things, or people, my bitch.

Some of these things were said when I was less… self-reflective than I am now, but in truth some of them were said well after. I didn’t mean any harm by them, and it certainly wasn’t my intention to perpetrate rape culture or opression in general. It’s just the way we talk, right? Except that’s part of the problem, innit? It’s one of those things we don’t really reflect on; for that matter, it’s one of those things we don’t even think require reflection. For someone who is more Nietzschean than not that’s a pretty big oversight. Philosophy is a mirror. Right now looking in that mirror I have to confront some things I’d rather not see; the same sort of things I had to confront when reading through George Yancy’s book on race. In particular Yancy poses a hypothetical question about the race of the person you are likely to marry, and the way that most white students answered “white” without even thinking about it. Setting aside the fact that while I’m perfectly okay with committed relationships I will never, ever actually marry, my response to that was basically “Well… fuck.” I asked myself a lot of questions about whether I tended to be more attracted to white women for self-determined aesthetic reason, or because there was some deep seated conditioning in there that had been going unquestioned (or maybe a mix of both). I still can’t provide myself with an answer I find entirely satisfactory.

That said, I still don’t find the original strip particularly offensive. I can certainly see where some folks would have a problem with it, but I think where the issue really becomes problematic is when people started responding to it. If my foul fucking mouth hasn’t clued people in yet, I am not a big believer in maintaining a “G-rated environment.” I also believe that there’s really no way to avoid offending someone, somewhere, and that too often trying to do so simply results in speech that, much like the invisible gardener, is rendered unintelligible. This doesn’t mean you get to be a fuckwad, and when you go out and start telling people who were offended by the strip that kicked this all off that they need to be “raped,” “raped again,” or “raped to death,” you’ve crossed the line from voicing your dissent and trying to articulate a position straight into fuckwadville. When folks like @HoodedMiracle start launching ad hominem attacks about someone’s status as a rape survivor… not only have we come to fuckwadville, but I think we well and fucking truly found ourselves a prime candidate for mayor.

That said, I have criticism for some of the folks on the other side of the debate as well. Some of your responses have been well reasoned, and even when I do not agree with you I understand and empathize your point of view. However, there are also people who have referred to Mike and Jerry as “rape apologists” and claimed they’re not engaging in ad hominem attacks because it’s true. Still an ad hominem attack, folks. More to the point, this type of issue runs straight into one of the same problems that Yancy runs into. Sometimes you need to call people out, right? However, sometimes when you straight up call people out you’re not going to get a positive response. Even if you’re right, people just don’t want to see that kind of shit about themselves. Privilege does play a role in it, but even placing privilege aside we’re not really that reflective by nature, and most of us don’t really want to consider that we might be bad people, or even if not bad people as such, that we are doing bad things. That’s one of the reasons I right this blog, eh? I would like people to be more self-reflective, and to live their lives in a philosophically engaged fashion.

Ultimately, I do think Mike has not really handled this situation in the best way possible. I would like to assume good faith, based on things both Mike and Jerry have said over the years on various topic. I would like to think that some of how this situation has been responded to is a guy who has admitted to suffering from a pretty severe anxiety disorder trying to handle the situation, and that some of the comments he has made recently are a result of frustration. Which doesn’t get him entirely off the hook entirely, but it makes things more understandable. It also doesn’t let him off the hook for not speaking up more, and putting his foot on the neck of some of the assholes decided to move into fuckwadville. Yes, I know that in at least one case he did do exactly that, but one visible case isn’t really enough. The one thing I think absolutely must not be done in these kind of situations (other than not going to fuckwadville, obviously) is trying to shut down dialogue. I know how absofuckinglutely frustrating it can be to try and have a productive dialogue when it seems like the other side wants to do the exact opposite. The problem is, when we don’t have that dialogue no one on either side of any issue has an opportunity to learn anything; sometimes it’s less about right or wrong, and more about trying to have an ounce of fucking understanding. Understanding and empathy are pretty important things. We’re not autonomous actors, but are all bound together in a web of intersubjectivity.

I feel like I’ve already said too much, and yet feel like I haven’t said enough. I feel like there’s the opportunity for some important shit to be said here, while feeling that we’re doing more talking at each other than talking to each other.

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2011 in Comics, Philosophy

 

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