Thursday, December 13, 2007

Reflecting on the Worst Joke Anyone Ever Told Me.

And I am going to warn everyone reading this that it is, in many ways, a particularly bad joke, and I would not be at all surprised if you were offended, in fact I expect it, so spending time complaining to me how horrible a joke this is would be incredibly redundant.

So I was having a casual bull session with some friends, late at night, beers were being passed around, and we start trading offensive jokes. Stuff you wouldn't say in front of anyone but your friends, because you know that if anyone but your friends heard you tell a joke like this, they would take it badly. Jokes about rape, racism, and dead babies. If anything offends you, we probably told a joke about it.

Now, I say "stuff you wouldn't say in front of anyone but your friends", but that can't be entirely true, because this stuff comes in from outside somehow, someone thinks it up and laughs and decides to pass it on. And it filters into your group of buddies somehow, and someone gets a couple beers in them and passes it on to the rest of you.

And so one guy, when we prompted him to tell a joke, screwed his face into an indecisive grimace, saying "I dunno. This guy told me this one joke, but it's just kinda sick, not really funny..." But, after some cajoling, this is what we got:

Q: What's the worst thing about sex with a seven-year-old?

A: Having to strangle her afterwards.

Now, if you're like me and my friends, you didn't laugh. The lot of us just kinda went "eeyuhh" and there was a brief, uncomfortable silence.

"Huh, you're right, that... wasn't actually very funny."

"Yeah, I know."

The secret of a "good bad joke" is that the wit or cleverness of the joke overwhelms the inherent badness of the sentiment, and that did not happen in this case, at least not for our group.

Failed joke or not, nobody jumped on the guy who told it and accused him of being a killer pedo, or implied that the joke he told was in any way a reflection of his real-life wishes and intents. And, I'm assuming that the majority of the people reading this are reasonable enough that no such charge would be leveled at me, for relaying that awful joke to you. (However, the small percentage of you who are not at all reasonable are why I remain anonymous when writing potentially contentious things like this.)

What assurance, then, what inner certainty of knowing someone else's mind, prompts some people to declare that comics creator X is definitely sexist or misogynist (racist, Republican, add your own) for writing or drawing a scene that offends them? And what jump of logic makes creating such a scene equivalent to having the same desires and intents in real life?

Relating this back to my column a couple months back, "Ban the Soul, Eh", it's much the same as assuming ads for tanning lotion are promoting necrophilia and/or pedophilia.

Which leads me to another line of thought, since the SAFE Act is making the rounds in the blogosphere. Steven Grant has a pretty good analysis of the situation, and I'll cut to the chase and quote from his closing paragraph:

But I do know another standard misconception in our society is that having fantasies – and everyone has fantasies of some sort, whether they admit it or not, though hopefully most of those fantasies don't involve sex with children – means people want to play out those fantasies in real life. I suspect most people don't, and wouldn't if they could, the same way most people who dream of flying don't jump off cliffs. Fantasy is pretty much the ultimate in safe sex. But colonizing fantasy has always been one of the great fantasies of western civilization, especially among those in power, because we have always basically mistrusted fantasy, and imagery/iconography. Legislating behavior is one thing, legislating fantasy is another, and if nothing else Freud demonstrated pretty clearly that sexual repression has consequences. Often unpleasant and violent consequences. Maybe visualizing aberrant fantasies helps stave off aberrant behavior, and maybe it doesn't, but study, not half-assed legislation (which will almost certainly get thrown out by the courts, like almost all porn legislation that tries to extend its grasp via vagueness) and citing "common wisdom," seems appropriate. Of course, this is one of those hot button issues where even suggesting alternatives will have the frothers (of both ilks) thinking you're some kind of sympathizer, so open discussion of the problem seems to be at a minimum. I'm all for rooting out pedophiles but casting an inordinately broad net creates the most harm for the least results (and in this specific instance forces an entire class of people to be unpaid cops, or suffer the consequences) when what we need is a practical solution.
Some may note that he echoes what Mad Thinker Scott's been saying for a while: That there's no real strong correlation between porn and sexual assault, and in fact, there's some evidence that more porn somehow encourages less rape.

"Common Wisdom" would seem to be far less wise than the credit it receives in Congress, in activist groups and so forth. And I wonder how many causes and viewpoints are espoused that, if analyzed fully, would break down to no more than "I just think it's right (or wrong), and that's enough proof for me"...?

Do I really trust someone else to judge me by a bad joke I tell, without consideration of the situation, or context?

Do I trust the values of the guy who has to filter my ISP? Is someone going to fix on some keywords in this post and set up a red flag: "potential child-murdering molester on"?

Do I trust some ad-watching activist group to have clear and rational standards when determining which ads send bad messages?

Do I simply accept that some comics creator is a misogynist, because someone else has convinced themselves they are?

I could... but that's a leap of logic I'm still not willing to make.

Merry Christmas. Happy New Year. See you in '08.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Gosh. I Feel Almost Necessary.

"And those particular fans who pop up on WFA periodically to denounce and decry feminist fans, female fans and the hive vagina? Well...think about it this way, would they be so vocal or so adamant if there wasn't the element of threat involved. If, on some level, they didn't think we might win."

That's the gist of a post by Kalinara explaining that, no, she and others aren't about to give up on superhero comics or the mainstream, and they're not going to stop protesting, either, because it has an effect.

And this because Tamora Pierce wrote about creating a new, establishment-free market, inspired (according to her) by the Elizabeth Bear column I praised last post as well as my own post on the subject. There's a flurry of posts besides Kalinara's that say much the same: nobody's going to give up their favorite characters, in fact everybody loves mainstream comics, despite how much complaining goes on.

Well, okay, and honestly, that's about what I expected.

The thing that strikes me about Kalinara's post, however, is the conviction that creators and fans responding to charges of misogyny and sexism is a sign of progress, and that the naysayers fear the Woman Power. This may all be true.

But that sort of thing goes both ways.

When I discovered the existence of WFA and the various controversies going on at the time, it seemed to me that there was quite a lot of sentiment on the order of Changing Society For The Better By Weeding Out Comics Sexism So That Nobody Could Have It. Since then, there's been a bit of discussion, prompted by critics of fangirl feminism, along the lines of Wait, That's Kind Of Repressive Talk, There And How Are You Defining Sexism Anyway, and sure, while some posts along those lines have been combative, if not downright hostile, it seems to me there's been a subtle reorganization: Okay, Have Your Sexist Crap But Give Me More Stuff That Doesn't Piss Me Off. The "changing society" bit hasn't gone away, but it seems to me to be less prominent than it was.

Someone gripes about a statue or something, someone calls for its elimination, someone else says "you're trying to remove anything sexy", someone else says "no, we don't actually want to remove the sexy", and so on. Stances shift as these details get hammered out.

Even those of us who are labeled as being "against" feminism have our place. Without resistance, any stance or philosophy becomes unthinking dogma. Without dissent, flaws in a philosophy go unrevealed, unchecked. And if, for example, Brian Bendis having to speak up and defend himself against charges of misogyny is a sign of the power of the feminist movement, then it certainly must be a sign of the power of the dissenters when someone like Mad Thinker Scott is routinely labeled as a troll and his arguments dismissed without even discussing the merits of his statements. Doesn't that indicate every bit as much a sense of fear that he might be right after all?...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Ur Doin It Rite

I can really get behind an attitude and statements like this. There is so much that is so right about this.

I don't believe I've read any of Elizabeth Bear's work before, but I may just look some up next time I'm in the store.

ADDITIONAL: Seems Rational Mad Man has also endorsed the same post, and has received, well, what he usually gets lately, scorn and name-calling. Since my reasons for endorsing Ms. Bear's post are somewhat different than his, I'll elaborate on what I like about it, lest anyone automatically equate my statement with his and dismiss it outright, because I know some folks out there would, given the chance.

RMM sees her post as an extension of the "go make your own" argument/bingo-card-spasm-trigger, but I see it differently, because she really doesn't seem to be encouraging other creators to forge ahead with her statement (although I don't see any reason why she wouldn't be in favor of more female creators).

What she is saying, and what I like, is that she's forging her own path regardless (and in spite) of anything 'The Patriarchy' does or says in opposition. She doesn't need them to make her career work.

This is feminism I can get behind - the kind that says, "okay, here's what I think is wrong, but if you don't want to fix it, fine, screw you, I'm gonna have my own party and it's gonna rock."

By contrast, one of the failings I see in feminism as it intersects with mainstream comics fandom is that it is (quite probably inherently) dependent on 'The Patriarchy'. Long-standing feminist icon or not, who owns Wonder Woman? Not Gail Simone, especially not The Fandom, but corporate structures and shareholders, i.e., The Establishment, i.e., The Patriarchy. If this Patriarchy dominates DC and Marvel, then any appeal for change from feminists must be cajoled, begged or wheedled out of the Bad Mans. (Coerced, perhaps, but that assumes there's actually sufficient leverage with which to coerce.)

If you can't divorce yourself from the idea that you must have Wonder Woman, no imitations, no substitutes, no fanfic/fanart, it must be canon and she must perform to your expectations, then you leave yourself at the mercy of The Patriarchy, and their decision to put whatever creative team they choose in charge of her story, whether that's Good (Gail Simone and competent artists) or Bad (I dunno, say, Judd Winick and whoever people hate these days that draws WW with a wedgie and broken spine). And am I the only one that sees that situation as kinda messed up?

Which is why I find a statement like Ms. Bear's so refreshing: it demands nothing from the Patriarchy except that it step the hell aside if it isn't going to cooperate.

I think that's just gotta be healthier in the long run.