Monday, November 26, 2007

Everybody Whack Cheung Tonight

The words we use are strong
They make reality
--Wang Chung

What is it about outrage that makes some people just lose their shit and projectile-rant like their head's full of nothing but angry bees? I'm not talking about chronic anger junkies launching into long semi-comprehensible tirades, though that's always something to watch for, I'm talking about sensible-seeming people saying stuff that, if it were turned around and said by someone else about them, or if the rage level were lower, would be picked at and dismissed by the same people who said it... I'd like to hope, at least.

I can only conclude that, in direct opposition to people who claim that their anger and outrage is empowering and vital, outrage actually mostly makes you stupider.

Not that there aren't valid reasons for outrage: even I cringed a bit when I saw Dave Cheung's pseudo-pornographic cartoon featuring video game producer Jade Raymond. (I say "pseudo" since no genitalia were depicted, but sex acts were heavily implied, and that white stuff at the end was not likely supposed to be squeeze mayonnaise.) Understand, I read Cheung's "Chugworth Academy" strip on a semi-regular basis, so I had seen the strip pretty much at its initial release, well before it sparked a brouhaha on some forums here and there.

I took him at his word then, which was that the strip was a satire on the gaming fanboys' wishful thinking regarding Ms. Raymond and whether she'd "put out" for them in some way, posing for photo layouts or whatever. That was his stance before the criticism and after, and I have no reason to believe otherwise.

That said, I think as satire the strip stumbles and fails. Reading the strip by itself does not make it clear that this is a fanboy fantasy, and on its own merits it insults and degrades Jade Raymond. I have to say I don't follow the gaming world, so I don't have any clue about what kind of person Ms. Raymond is, but portraying her as somewhat dim seemed to me to be out of line. And then a satire of fanboys loses its sting when the object of fanboy desire is portrayed willingly fulfilling that same less-than-reasonable desire. How much of a loser can a fanboy be if he's actually receiving some fellatio?

It's hardly a fair satire, and I think the strip is a victim of Dave Cheung wanting to draw a pretty woman in a bikini doing naughty things. I've seen his work in other venues besides his webcomic, and the man does not shy away from porn. In fact, by comparison to other examples of his work I've seen, this strip was pretty damn tame. I also think he has some measure of contempt for Ms. Raymond, though whether that's justified or not I don't think I'm qualified to say.

So, yeah, I see where the outrage comes from. I'm not nearly as put out by it as some folks, but I'm not going to spend a lot of effort defending the strip.

What I am going to do is roll my eyes at some of the responses to the strip. Even justified outrage doesn't excuse losing touch with rational thought. Case in Point:

"Hey, Let's Bring Dave Cheung's Parents Into It!"

Oh, bravo. I'm not sure what this falls under: an appeal to Dave's shame (the supply of which must be limitless, I'm sure [definitely sarcasm]), or some kind of criticism of the job Dave's parents did raising him. On a similar note, here's a blog-reply comment from another person along the same lines.

Unless you are taking them to task for raising him badly, as if it was really any of your business, what percentage is there in dragging Mr. and Mrs. Cheung into it? Do you seriously expect them to do anything to their adult 25-year old son? Do you really think it's necessary to tattle on Dave to them? For what? So they'll scold him personally on behalf of your outrage?

Well, whatever. But I don't want to hear word one from you about any personal anguish Jade Raymond might feel, if you see nothing wrong with riling up someone else's parents and possibly making them very upset so that they can spank their kid for you. You want someone to up and tell your parents about that party you had in your dorm room, with all the drinking and bong hits and inappropriate touching? Think your folks'd be happy to have your dirty laundry aired out at them? Yeah, now go ahead and be that person.

"It's Okay If I Think They Deserve It, Otherwise It's Evil"

Normally I think Dirk Deppey is pretty much on the ball, but every once in a while he muffs one. Twice he's linked to the Cheung controversy, calling him "a dipshit", and "vile little douchebag". Okay fine. But it's hard for me to take Deppey's distaste for Cheung seriously when Journalista's featured the same damn cartoon featuring the Prince of Spain and his wife doin' it doggy style several times over.

Both cartoons are nasty, insulting and sexually-themed, and the only difference I can see is in competency: you know in the Spanish cartoon exactly who the target is and why. Aside from that is the question of whether one target actually deserves it more than the other. While I'm not particularly in favor of European monarchies, certainly you don't choose to be born the Prince of Spain, and I'm not sure that possessing royal blood is in and of itself sufficient call for that kind of abuse.

Maybe Deppey's attitude will soften if Dave Cheung does get sued over the cartoon. Then we can see it repeatedly.

"Stop Being So Free With That Free Speech!"

I quote:
"The predictable defenses have shown up. People can say whatever they want because of free speech! (Wow, congratulations on being lucky enough to have rights. Now stop using them to be an asshole, why don’t you.)"
Sounds an awful lot like another call for "artistic responsibility". I suppose I could go on about how the concept of free speech isn't needed to protect speech you like, etc. etc., but the way this kind of thinking sprouts up repeatedly just makes me tired and sad right now. I bet this person even believes they are in favor of free speech.

I mean, really, people.

Come on.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Statement of (Self-Absorbed) Purpose

I eat meat.

It'd be nice if we lived in a world where no lifeform has to consume some other living organism in order to survive, and we could all exist off of sunlight and photosynthesis or something, but we can't, so there you are. If it's not immoral for a lion to eat a gazelle, it's not immoral for me to eat a cow.

I also don't object to animal testing, in many cases. If testing drugs and treatments on animals makes it easier to find drugs for humans without risking human lives (as much), then as far as I'm concerned the animals can take that hit.

Now, I'm not in favor of doing these things wantonly or indiscriminately. I don't think animal testing should involve excessive pain or torture, particularly if the testing is for comparatively frivolous things, like cosmetics. And though I support the right to domesticate and/or hunt animals for food and materials, I don't support blasting an animal just for the thrill of killing something.

You might, therefore, think I could be persuaded to become active in support of animal rights, but in general I avoid affiliations with organizations like PETA or... well, any of them. Though I agree with some things they say, there's a lot of what they say that I think goes far beyond good sense into a quasi-religious dogma. More than once I've seen some soundbite of an activist saying something like how they'd prefer that their disease-stricken relations do without lifesaving drugs if it meant having even one rat confined and experimented upon.

Priorities: If you can't place your own family (assuming you do love them) over the life of a lab animal, how can I take your call for compassion for animals seriously?

This is a variation on what I wrote many columns back, about why I do not consider myself a feminist. While there are some feminist viewpoints I do agree with and even sympathize with to some extent, there's a lot that I feel abandons sensible priorities in favor of dogma and, in many cases, extremism. This applies to feminism in general, as well as the subset of feminism known colloquially as the "feminist fangirls".

Why would I bring it up again?

Over here, there was some musing over the purpose of WFA, leading to a restatement of WEA's intended purpose (and what its purpose isn't). And though I specifically wasn't mentioned (oh, I feel so neglected), I suppose some may see me in the same light, as someone out to "bait" the comics feminists. (Now that I think about it, in past comments on my posts, I was accused of "wagging my finger"... Ami Angelwings did say seeing my pseudonym near a potentially inflammatory title would automatically indicate it being a ploy for attention, and I guess that could be a kind of backwards compliment: at least nobody thought I was actually being that much of a jerk, did they...? But I digress.)

If anything I write can be considered an attempt to insult or bait comics feminists, it's not done out of some need to simply make feminists upset. There's far easier and less polite ways to go about doing that. You can consider what I write an honest attempt to communicate, for whatever that's worth to you. Whatever I say may very well upset you for some reason, well, that's life.

My motives for writing have nothing to do with any of you, really. My motives are purely selfish, and at the moment, I believe they can pretty much be sorted into two general categories:

1) I don't want feminism to take anything away from me, comics-wise.

2) I want comics (meaning the industry in general) to improve, and I believe comics-oriented feminism as it seems to exist now is at best ineffective and at worst antithetical to that aim.

(cue collective "huh? but whaaaaa??")

Number One is straightforward enough. Despite claims that "we aren't out to take the sexy away", I believe some feminists intend to do just that. Now, if you're about to tell me "but no, I like the sexy!", consider that what you think is sexy is different than what someone else thinks is sexy, and remember that "there is no vagina hivemind", so that even if you specifically have no intent to remove anything yourself, your fellow comics feminist may have a somewhat more restrictive goal in mind. Strawfeminist? Perhaps. It'd be nice if nobody wanted to take anything away from anybody, but when someone complains that something isn't morally right to print in a comic book, often the implication is that "somebody should DO something about that".

And it's more than just "the sexy", it's anything objected to in that way. I have yet to be convinced that something (perceived as) bad or objectionable in comics (or any media) has any serious impact on society at large; to me the theoretical risks do not justify imposing one's own standards on comics. Every arbiter of "good taste", however you define that, walks a thin line between personal opinion and agenda for the rest of us.

Note that I'm not against personal opinion or critique, either. If you hate something you hate it. This isn't a call to be quiet and shut up, this is a suggestion that if someone else enjoys reading about (for recent example) Tigra getting the crap kicked out of her, maybe that person has as much right to read it as you do to not read it, regardless of how upset or icky it makes you feel.

Number Two is a bit more involved to explain.

I believe that if what the feminist fangirls really want is superhero comics they can reliably enjoy without being made to feel upset or icky, that goal is possible and reachable.

I also believe that if what feminist fangirls really want is for "the boys" to clean up their act so that "the girls" won't ever be offended by some misogynist thing in some comic that passes in front of their eyes, well, tough luck. That's long term stuff, maybe not in your lifetime.

To reach the former goal, what I think needs to happen is that there needs to be more comics, made by more people, and a more diverse group of people at that. Mainstream comics are indeed a "boy's club", of sorts, despite notable exceptions. So long as that persists, and without a "comics code" with any teeth to enforce particular moral limitations, you're going to get comics generally slanted a particular way. There's only so many Gail Simones working right now.

More female creators, more creators of color, more comics overall, and I think the goal will work itself out. If there were enough creators and enough comics, the enlightened feminists could have their comics, the sicko fanboys could have their comics, and we could at the very least leave each other alone most of the time. (True, there's other factors like effective promotion and wider distribution in a currently small and sometimes shaky market...) And I want to see that happen, because a more diverse range of comics (even a more diverse range of superhero comics) suggests more buyers, suggests a healthier industry, suggests even more and better comics. I know, easier said than done. But I submit to you: that is the problem that needs the most attention, not whether a statue of Mary-Jane demeans the entire female gender worldwide because of her contact with laundry in a basket.

I am aware that to many feminists, these media depictions are seen as causes of stereotyping and a source of much real-life unhappiness. I do not believe they are nearly as toxic as much of the rhetoric would have us believe. And I think the more time and energy spent on trying to "fix" the boy's club, and make it perform to the liking of feminists, the less time and energy gets spent on what I feel could really make a difference in comics, not just for feminists, but everyone, and more importantly, ME.

I mean, don't mistake this for "sympathy trolling". If I imply that my advice can somehow make your existence more pleasant, it's only serving my own self-interest in the end.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

When Being Nice Doesn't Work.

"Oh, say, Mr. Comics Publisher, I hear you're gonna put out an issue of Wonder Woman where she gets captured by the Spankinator and has her bottom paddled for 18 pages. I think that's offensive and degrading to one of my favorite heroines. Could you stop it, please?"

"Hmmmm. No."

"You misogynistic bastard! How dare you drag a feminist icon through your lurid fetishes! I demand that you turn the character over to respectful creators THIS INSTANT, you pig! Boycott! I'LL BOYCOTT!"

"Hmmmm. No."

Both attempts fail.

"But Anon," you may be about to say, "I thought you were all about the being nice and here you are saying nice doesn't work oh I have you now, hahahaha!"

Well, it occurs to me that some people may not actually know how to be nice effectively.

The goal is persuasion, the changing of minds. In the first example, the language is polite, but all that is said is "this offends me, please stop".

And realistically, that's no reason to do anything. People get "offended" at the drop of a hat. You can't do anything in the public eye without someone being offended. What makes your sense of offense any more important than someone else's?

What you need to do is wrap a valid reason to change up in your nice presentation. What is that reason? Beats me. What you think may be valid is not necessarily what the person you're trying to change thinks of as valid. You may have to do some fishing around, to find out at what root point your opinions diverge, and then begin working on that spot. Then you may have to move on and work on another spot. This is not a game for those without patience.

As for the second example: if you think that is a viable shortcut, I believe you are deluding yourself.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Screw You, Feminist Comics Bitch.

I apologize for that title.

However: I'm betting it made a number of you look, assuming you're following a link from WFA.


And I bet a number of you arrived pretty angry, already forming before you'd even read this far some sort of reply or retort that would tell me off in some way. Some of you may have interpreted the title as an attack on a specific person, and may have been curious to see what the confrontation was about and who it involved; some may have even had a knee-jerk reaction, an instinct to defend the supposed "victim" of my outburst.

Before actually reading past the title, did anyone, anyone at all, even for the slightest instant, think that this post would be in any way benign or even helpful?

If so, I admire your keen insight and ability to keep an open mind, but you are probably in the vast minority.

In the comments section of my last post, an anonymous commenter expressed a dislike for the term "being nice", describing it in essence as a call to sit down and shut up. They (assuming it was the same anonymous) then defended the use of angry stances and rhetoric as a tactic to shock (or "shove", as they put it) those who might be ignorant or apathetic into realizing the scope of the conflict.

I'm skeptical about the chances of success for such a tactic, frankly. Most people don't like it when you yell at them, and I'm pretty sure the commonest response is to get defensive and grumble something like "what the hell are you yelling at me for?" or "I didn't do anything to deserve being yelled at!" Maybe some folks would step back eventually and think, "hm, maybe I should think about this a bit". Perhaps a few.

But anyone who arrived at this post ready to tear me a new one should keep in mind that if it doesn't work that way on you, you can't expect it to work that way on others. Even if you say "but see, we're thinking seriously about your words now that you got us here with your nasty title", it's ameliorated by the fact that in this post itself, I change my tone. Once past the title, I'm done with the seemingly angry name-calling. One hopes nobody finds my subsequent words as insulting or infuriating. At least, not yet.

And there's the matter of reward vs. penalty: would the few who would indeed tolerate a figurative "shove" and open their minds be worth the ill-will generated in others who maybe don't take kindly to "shoves", regardless of the underlying causes?

While you're considering that (or not), consider this:

The thing that disturbs me about this kind of justification for uncivil behavior is that it kind of echoes other, more despised patterns of behavior.

Like wife beaters.

I mean, isn't that the stereotypical excuse you hear? "Baby, I'm sorry I clocked you in the head with this pipe, but you know, it was your own fault for making me so angry. If you'd just done what I said like I asked, it wouldn't have gotten so bad." Every bit as stereotypical is the woman who's been battered into believing this kind of crap. "No, Mom, this black eye was my own fault for not having dinner on time, I should know how mad it makes him."

"I have to call this fanboy an asshole, it's the only way he'll ever learn. He needs to know exactly how angry I feel."

Yes, there's a difference in scale and effect, but the rationale is remarkably similar: less-than-polite behavior is justified because it's for their own good, it's the only way they can learn...

Because some people apparently, when they see words they dislike, lose all ability to parse English, some clarification seems to be in order.

Wife-beating is not equal to making angry internet posts, and that's not what I'm saying.

What I am saying is that justifying your angry/abusive intarwub rants with the reasoning that some people somehow need to be yelled at by you for your message to be understood is the same kind of faulty logic that leads, for example, spouse-beaters to rationalize smacking people around because otherwise they just won't get it through their heads what they should be doing. It's all okay, because someone else has to be made to understand what you want them to understand.

Yes, of course there's a difference between physical abuse and verbal abuse. No shit, Sherlock. But as I've said before, this "ends justifying the means" business is exactly that, the ends justifying the means. If you don't tolerate the angry language from the other side of the debate, what makes you think they're any more receptive to you when you act the same?

But let's take this from theory to experience. I challenge anyone to give me a personal example of when, as an adult, being yelled at or insulted by another adult (genuinely, not banter between friends) convinced YOU that the other person was right, and perhaps you were in the wrong. Who yelled at you? A friend? Someone you knew or respected? Or some random person online?

When have you ever yelled at or insulted someone else and had it work out to where the other person genuinely said, "oh, well, my bad, sorry, I see your point" out of a sincere desire to correct a mistake and not just chagrin/embarrassment at being yelled at? Are you sure they really saw your point of view, or did they just want you to stop yelling at them?

And compare both examples with how often the opposite result happens: when you feel only anger when someone else gives you a hard time, or when you gripe at someone and they gripe right back at you, perhaps louder and more aggressively.

I mean, if this actually works for you in practice, fine, guess I was mistaken... but unless I get a flood of people saying how minds were actually persuaded by yelling in their direct experience, I'll remain skeptical that the less polite path has any benefit besides stirring up the converted and giving someone a bit of catharsis.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Choose Your Own Adventure

Reading a few more WFA links on the whole "being nice/vagina-no vagina/bad, bad Wizard" thing makes me think that a few different topics are kind of melting together at the edges.

Anyway, a lack of foresight prevented me from marking down where I saw this comment, but really, it's pretty generic, and was echoed elsewhere by a few different people:

"I'm tired of being nice." Followed by a brief statement about the ways in which "being nice" hasn't got her(?) anywhere.

And now, probably at the risk of offending any black people who read this, I compare two people: Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Both influential civil rights figures, both assassinated. Malcolm X's style was angry and confrontational, while King, though he was certainly passionate, specifically denounced violence, and attempted to find an accord with influential white figures, something Malcolm X criticized.

(I am aware that this is a gross simplification.)

Whether or not you think one person or the other's tactics were right, proper, or just, look at how each is regarded years later in history. Both are admired by many (most/all?) black people, but among whites, it seems to be King who is revered more. Even in commentary that criticizes current actions of black figures, King is treated as unassailable, flawless, even used as an example of how current figures are failing to live up to certain ideals. Malcolm X, however, depending on the bias of whoever's commenting, can be portrayed either as a brilliant, influential leader or a raving terrorist madman, with various stops inbetween.

The title of this bit comes from the thought that was running through my head as I wrote it, of those "Choose Your Adventure" books I used to see around way back when. "You have been insulted. Do you slap the insulter's face? Turn to page 65. Do you say you don't like what they said? Turn to page 27. Do you do nothing, turn the other cheek? Go to page 56"...

"Being nice", if you choose to accept that path, isn't something done for short-term gain. Perhaps not even for any personal gain. It's a slow-moving, tedious process that often may appear to not be working. But "being nice" would go far in countering charges of "crazy feminazism" by all but the most rabid, inflexible opposition.

But hey, do what you like, you know, it's a free will world, baby! You turn to that page you've picked. It's your adventure.

Unlike the books, you don't always get a chance to turn the pages back, though...

Thursday, November 1, 2007

...You Actually CARE What Wizard Does?

I think Mad Thinker Scott has analyzed the issue pretty well already, so I don't think I have much to add on the whole "Wizard is for Men" deal.

I'm just surprised anyone cared that much.

Frankly, I'd be willing to bet that a large percentage of the people commenting never read so much as a single issue of the thing before they added the "for Men" label; that'd explain the shock and outrage now over stuff that's been going on since well before they made it "official". Putting it on the cover just made it more visible and blatant, and now everyone's all "whaaaa but how dare they", and like I said in the comments for last post, it's cycling through responses to responses to responses (yes, much like this post).

I'm also a bit mystified by the tone of some comments on the situation, as if Wizard was somehow obliged to be sex-neutral and this is a huge betrayal of... something, I dunno what.

Personally, I found the argument over "if you don't have a vagina you should step back" to be a lot more interesting and relevant. (But everyone else seemed to be discussing that one just fine, again, nothing much for me to add.)