What Condition Our Condition Is In
“Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
Wise words from The Dude, as always. In this age of constant inter-connectivity and within the confines of our small, yet passionate, niche fan base it seems as though there is a new controversy of varying degrees each and every week, if not daily. Often, it seems as though we’re just rehashing the same argument with little to no regard of changing the conservation, but rather for the sheer enjoyment of seeing who can yell the loudest or, better yet, claim to be the one holding the most rational view. There’s been some very reasoned statements and some confounding ones expressed through the twitters, the tumblrs, and the whole damn blog-o-verse, but while, sure, my blood gets boiling and my feathers get ruffled reading some of it, at the end of the day: these controversies are awesome.
“This will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man.”
Alright, vile, ignorant statements designed solely to hurt someone else or being unable to see the forest from the trees is not inherently awesome, no. But the fact that there are “controversies” happening at all? That’s what’s awesome. It means that things are changing. It means that there are people (of all shapes and sizes and creeds and colors) who are willing to call something out for being narrow-minded or insensitive or just down-right insulting. It means that what used to fly without some much as a batted eye from the fandom that ate it up or didn’t care or, worse, didn’t even notice, isn’t going to be getting a free pass anymore just because “that’s the way it’s always been.” Are the dissenting voices always right? Maybe. Yes. No. It doesn’t really matter, the point is that they’re expressing themselves and challenging creators, publishers and most importantly, other fans to think about what is being put out there and what it means to support it. You are absolutely free to respectfully disagree or challenge or call bullshit right back at them, because that’s what conversations are about and the fact that we’re having them? That’s what’s awesome.
“You’re not wrong Walter. You’re just an asshole.”
Change comes slowly and not all change is necessarily good or bad, but I’d remind you that no amount of change is going to ruin anything you love. If that’s the case, if a group of fellow fans asking for consideration somehow feels like an assault on you as a person? Oooof, that’s on you. A critique of something is not the same thing as saying “this thing is bad and if you like it then you too are bad.” More often than not it’s, “hey, this thing you like could be better if it took something else into consideration” and sometimes that’s true and sometimes it’s not. I realize I’m being vague as hell here about what I’m talking about, but if you’ve paid any attention to some of comics’ recent headlines, something tells me you might have a good idea. Is our fandom (our chosen hobby, mind you; the thing we choose to spend money and time on because it provides a reprieve from this dark, ugly world) being invaded or converted into a legion of shrinking violets? Not to my eye, no. More often than not, I think we’re seeing fans vocalize an objection to content not in a Tipper Gore-sense, where we’re trying to suppress expression because it’s offensive to some, but in more of an asking for consideration for a not-insubstantial portion of the audience. Trying to reduce every individual issue into a neat and tidy two sided argument is not conducive to a constructive resolution, but I think this particular sea of objections share a root in asking for representation and being met unnecessary defensiveness.
“Mr. Treehorn treats objects like women, man.”
Okay, wow, another cover cover controversy? I’m still exhausted from the last one. What’s all the hub-bub about this time? Artist Frank Cho sketched an of Spider-Gwen in a parody-like nod to the last cover controversy (no, not that one, the last last one). Instead of just sketching it for an individual and letting that be that, he posted it to his personal blog. Then current Spider-Gwen artist and co-creator (ugh, we’ll get to that in a minute too, hold on) responded via twitter saying “Here’s my take on the Frank Cho sketch cover. Your drawing dirty pics of one of my kids. Be lucky your never around me.” Well…that escalated quickly. Alright, so Cho’s cover was a sketch on a blank variant cover and he claims it was for parody and I can see that. It is clearly trying to call back and perhaps even poke fun at the huge outrage (I’m sure Cho wold deem it “excessive outrage”) over the Manara cover and this isn’t like an actual published variant cover or anything of that nature. What it also is, though, is deliberately provacative and in the parlance of our times, “troll-some.” There’s an element of “punching-down” there as well considering he’s a creator in a much greater position of power than others, who is choosing to use his position to stoke flames and rabble rouse and take a blatant shot across the bow of those who are looking to lessen the traditional “male-gaze” of comics. So, I don’t know how much of a controversy this is in and of itself. It’s a well drawn image and it wasn’t commissioned by any company for mass publication, but rather just on one individual blank variant cover. Personally, I feel this is a little closer “mountains out of mole hills” than it is to impassioned debate, but as always my golden rule here is: regardless of my own initial perception, listen to those who it does affect more strongly, take note of the objection and then re-evaluate before immediately declaring the black and the white of it all. Cho’ 100% free to draw whatever he likes and share it to his heart’s content, just as those who take umbrage with it are 100% in the right to not support someone they feel is, well, being a bit of a dick about the whole thing.
“Look, just stay away from my fucking lady friend.”
Of course, then Robbi Rodriguez went and made what some are perceiving as a physical threat and now we’ve got a whole other bag of shit to wade through. Ugh, I dunno, I don’t think anyone has more of a right to feel disrespected than Robbi, save for Jason Latour or Rico Renzi. Look, I know that Robbi and Jason didn’t create Gwen Stacy, but come on, these dudes definitely created Spider-Gwen and it is that character that Cho was sketching. Rodriguez’ words don’t read as a literal threat to me, but they certainly read as pissed-off. I get where he’s coming from and at the end of the day, only Marvel actually owns the character that Robbi actually created and actually draws on the regular and Cho chooses to parody. Rodriguez did go on to post a much longer Facebook explanation of his feelings and its a sort of mixed bag in terms of tone, but I think he hits on a lot of important points that highlight the need for understanding context. Perhaps he should have started off with something closer to this than “be lucky your never around me” but hey, we’ve all struggled with 140 character limits, amirite?
“Certain things have come to light. And, you know, has it ever occurred to you, that, instead of, uh, you know, running around, uh, uh, blaming me, you know, given the nature of all this new shit, you know, I-I-I-I… this could be a-a-a-a lot more, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, uh, complex, I mean, it’s not just, it might not be just such a simple… uh, you know?”
I think there are bigger battles to fight than this most recent flare-up over a lone sketch, but I’m willing to hear everyone out about this most recent “controversy.” Does it get tiring week in and week out having to hear about people’s anger over this or that when all you want to do is read comics like you used to? If you feel that way, I’m willing to bet you’re a white dude and, here’s an important part, that’s okay! You can like what you like! That’s fine and I get how something you used to engage in without any uproar now seems flooded with objections, must be a little jarring to the comfortable plateau you sat upon. I am not villanizing you for simply existing or liking things. Sometimes, the din and furor of constant debate makes me exhausted as well. But, these conversations are happening regardless and a lot of them have merit to a lot of other people who, despite what it might feel like to you, also love what you love. Not everything, hell almost nothing, is as easy as Black or White Russian, but if you want these controversies to stop, you’re probably in for a long wait so it’s probably best to listen to what’s being said before doing anything else. Then, voice your opinion, that’s your right and it’s essential to meaningful debate. The conversations have already started and it can move in a myriad of ways from here, and “I don’t know about you, but I take comfort in that.”