Tuesday, July 18, 2017

in cont'd appreciation of the chester brown/dave sim whore feud

This post is part of an ongoing series in heartfelt appreciation of two of comics' most unhinged deviants as they debate the morality of "whoredom." With any luck it will continue for the rest of my life.

Previously, on Whore Feud: Dave Sim's comic Cerebus may or may not have inspired Chester Brown to take his half-mullet off the market and dedicate his entire life to the most poorly articulated defense of prostitution in human history. Chet explained why "misogynists don't necessarily hate women" in "a series of faxed letters" to Dave Sim that I would "literally give my eye teeth to read." In the tragic absence of said faxes, and with the Comics Journal boys continuing to link to this argument as though it were Lincoln-Douglas level debate, it has fallen to me alone to piece together Whore Feud from the crumbs that some lunatic posts to his Dave Sim fandom blog.

Today, my sad journey continues.

CHICAGO, IL: Your girl had another late night recently. Too tired to catch up on Twin Peaks but too keyed up to go to bed, I drew a nice warm bath and settled in with real anticipation to catch up on the latest episode of the Feud. Only it turns out that I've actually missed several episodes recently, so I had to keep on catching up for several days after that. <insert montage of me reading infinite Chester Brown posts on the Dave Sim fandom blog at Five Guys...on the train to a bbq... and one night in bed before I drifted off to sleep, a smile upon my face...> Well, I'm finally caught up. This has been a very compelling season, let me tell you.

As ever, the players are walking abstinence poster Chester Brown; his glorious Himalayan cat hair weave, which he has spent the last 20 years rubbing vigorously with a balloon, for texture; Brown's opponent Dave Sim, one of the greatest minds in comics world's saddest assholes; and me, a spectator who definitely thinks that sex work should be decriminalized, but enjoys watching these ridiculous men argue about it to a perverse degree.

The most exciting development in the Feud is that Chester Brown's Patreon output now includes regular "essays" in which he spends thousands of words responding to commenters on the Dave Sim fandom blog. Perfect. V good use of a Patreon. I didn't see it coming cause frankly this is next-level even for old Chet, but from my perspective it's absolutely ideal since even I will not stoop to read the comments on these posts. Apparently that's where I draw the line.

S1E3: “Dave Sim Again”
On a previous episode of the Feud, Dave Sim proved once and for all that he’s not prejudiced towards prostitutes by sharing a fun fact from his totally normal adolescence: that, from the age of 11, he and his old man shared issues of Playboy magazine. The first step in a life filled with perfectly normal attitudes towards women, I’m sure. We can only imagine Father’s pride when Davey circulated that petition and demanded that his colleagues certify the fact that he’s 100% respectful towards women all the time. Nothing to see here, folks - just a 60-year-old man who routinely refers to sex as “fornication.” The very picture of sexual health.
  
Well, for some reason, Chester Brown is skeptical. Not that he’s saying that Dave Sim is whorephobic—obviously that’s a bridge too far. No, Chester only wishes to argue that Sim has been affected by society’s whorephobia as it is expressed in books, through music, and on television. “All of that was in the back of [Sim’s] mind and influenced his perception when he looked into the eyes of strippers and imagined that they looked dead.” No idea what he's referring to here?? Nevertheless: Powerful words. Sex workers everywhere must thank the lord above every day for all the brave work that Chester Brown is doing as their ally at davesimwankblog.com.

In Chester’s ongoing probe into the issue of whether or not he and Dave Sim used to be friends, he cites page 163 of The Little Man (2nd ed., 2006). Irrefutable, imo. Man, this storyline is gutting. Gets me every time.

Moving on to the issue of mental health, while Chet isn’t sure how many sex workers have “mental problems,” he “strongly suspects” that most of them are “completely sane.” He finally closes with an unsettling reflection on his willingness to “perform oral” and his gift with massage. Reader, I’m shook.

S1E4: “Body Cameras and Dave Sim”
Dave Sim has recommended that “hookers” wear body cams to settle disputes over abuse and rape, not that rape exists. Indeed, he thinks that all fornicators should wear cams to make it easier for men to prove that women are crazy. Seems reasonable.

Evidently this idea is so ludicrous that even Chester isn’t going to bother to argue against it, lol.

S1E5: “Sex-Work Pride & Related Matters”
Dave Sim has been having “computer problems” and has, for the time being, dropped out of the Feud. Meanwhile Chester can’t help but notice that even the cretins in the Sim wank blog comments section have failed endorsed the body cam idea. He rests his case. Anyway forget Sim; today Chester has bigger fish to fry. He has has discovered a HYPOCRITE in the ranks of the Sim wank blog commenters. Duplicity, thy name is Erick, and this Patreon "essay" is for you.

In all fairness to Chet, Erick the Hypocrite, who believes that sex workers are “paid receptacles for strangers to hump on and ejaculate over,” “satisfy themselves on,” and treat “like a pair of old shoes,” is almost certainly a literal murderer. But I feel like Brown pointing out that ejaculating on a prostitute costs extra, and therefore doesn’t happen very often, was perhaps not the strongest argument that could have been made...? For Erick’s information, Chester “wouldn’t have any problem with a relative of [his] allowing himself-or-herself to be ejaculated on during sexual play, whether for pay or not.” I don’t know, I think the murderer may have actually won this round. Hard to say. That whole exchange almost made me put my computer in the freezer. Thank god I didn’t, because the next thing I knew Chester Brown was straight-up comparing himself to MLK:

I’m screaming. I’m dying. I’M DEAD.

In my wildest dreams I couldn’t have come up with fan fiction this good. Holy shit.

S1E6: “I’m Not Martin Luther King, Jr!”
Chet Brown makes one little tiny modest comparison between himself and two civil rights icons, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harvey Milk, and for some strange reason people found that objectionable? I can’t imagine why. I'd like to see anyone try to argue that there's a meaningful difference between Chester Brown’s willingness to pay your grandma extra when he ejaculates on her bosom and two heroes who fought and fucking died for their unshakable belief in equality and human rights. *sigh* No one said this fight would be easy, Chester. Hang in there.


Oh my god, this headline. I honestly can’t remember the last time something made me laugh this hard. Then again, by the end of the post I just sort of felt upset? (I guess it wouldn't be the Feud if it didn't leave me feeling a little upset.) I think there are two types of people in this world: those who see Chester Brown as an advocate for sex workers, and those who suspect that his advocacy is rooted in his desire for a world in which he can clip some coupons for the next time he wants to have sex with a minor. 


With Dave Sim still on hiatus, Brown turns his attention to a commenter who foolishly imagined that Brown would object to the idea of a future filled with “store-front brothels” and “lunch-time customers served in 15 minutes or less.” Brown’s like, ‘yeah, no, that’s exactly what I want,’ only he doesn’t think the McDonald’s equivalent of a brothel would really work out, you know, for business reasons. As a cartoonist who draws approximately one sexual comic book every seven years, Chet knows a lot about business. “Who’s going to do the work if it doesn’t pay well?” he asks. And that, I think, is about as close as he will ever come to acknowledging the possibility that some folks who end up doing sex work may not exactly be living their dreams. 

Chester has a question for the commenters for next week! Bit of a cliffhanger, if you will, because I can't wait to hear what the commenters have to say about it. “I would ask the anti-prostitutionists on A-M-O-C to explain why one particular sex-for-pay relationship is morally wrong: the one I have with Denise,” he wrote. (NB: The "anti-prostitutionists on A-M-O-C" is how Brown refers to the Sim wank blog commenters, haha. Denise is the sex worker who Brown has been seeing for 14 years. ) As ever, the only thing that Chester Brown craves more than the opportunity to get 20% off anal is: your approval.

“Deal with my relationship with Denise,” he demands. “What is the morally bad thing that this beautiful, generous, thoughtful woman is doing in having sex with me and accepting my money? … Don’t refer to the experiences of other people—stick to my relationship with Denise.”

I mean...Jesus.

S1E7: “Daniel Read”
Eh, boring episode. Brown persists in his analogy between sex work stuff and people who are gay or black. It’s called logic, and who are we to argue with it?

Chester’s real mad at a commenter called A Fake Name for calling him scummy: 

Something about all that “he or she” business cracks me up. He’s a he, Chet. Trust me. Or is the real greatness of the graf the way he notes the timestamp on those comments like he's writing a police report? I just don't know. Anyway Brown writes that “if someone wrote that black people are pathetic, scummy, and damaged, almost everyone would recognize that person as a racist.” Huh, well, I reckon he might be surprised. This is comics, son. No one is racist! 

(Everyone is racist.)

S1E8: “Reasons for Thinking that Sex-Work Is Wrong”
Brown gives a taxonomy of men who hire sex workers, breaking them down into four broad types. Type I is married or taken men. Type II are guys who are in between relationships. Type III are guys like Chet who could get free sex, but prefer to pay for it. Type IV are guys who have tried to get free sex, but cannot. Perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that most of Chester’s friends are IVs. Indeed he knows two IVs who were “led on” by sex workers who “exploit the vulnerability of some clients.” Mmm. Interesting. He also writes that the desire to have a monogamous relationship is “emotionally insecure” and comes down to “society’s immature sexual values.” He bemoans the fact that so many sex workers must "choose to focus on their careers at the expense of their love-lives" as if this were one of those terrible articles about fraught womanhood that the Atlantic runs every 18 months.

Here’s a quote from a sex worker that Chester uses to support his claim that “sex-work can benefit the mental health of prostitutes”:

Sex work was messy, dirty, weird, confusing, and scary. It took me to places I wasn’t sure I wanted to visit again. But it also scooped me out of abject poverty and enabled me to start living life with joy.

I’m just not sure how you read that quote, as a client or whatever, and think “this is something I feel good about participating in,” much less "here's a powerful testament to how sex work can benefit your mental health." I guess that’s my whole problem with Chester Brown, in that I find him to be a total nightmare creep who also happens to be comically dumb. Like...I’m not at all convinced that assessment has anything to do with the stigma surrounding sex work. I believe in decriminalization and I’m definitely willing to buy that some sex workers are totally satisfied and cool with their work. But, like... the idea of Denise, this Canadian lady who works full time and still has to have relations with Chester Brown in her off hours to make ends meet…and him constantly trotting that out as some unassailably beautiful and egalitarian relationship just strikes me as a bit much. It’s a bit fucking much! In this same post he compares prostitution to scrubbing toilets. Does anything about that strike you?

Ever since his Paying for It days, Brown has conflated condemning sex workers’ choices with condemning his choices and those just aren't the same thing. I'm not here to condemn sex workers' choices for any number of good reasons that literally anyone could except Dave Sim and his cesspool of a fan site could articulate better than Chester Brown, but I feel perfectly comfortable deciding whether or not to condemn a john's choices on a case-by-case basis, thanks a lot.

Anyway, the post after that Chester says he's probably about done arguing about this for the time being. Good, I think we all could use a break. Meanwhile, Dave Sim finally got his computer up and running for one last post, and it's a doozy...

S1 Finale: "On Prostitution and Chester Brown"
I'm speechless. Where to start. Um....man. Okay, well, the word "fornication" appears in this short post ten times. Ten. Times.

Here's what we've got:

  • "the only valid viewpoint on fornication is God's"
  • "If you want to have a female counterpart in your life and have sex with her, and you don't want to experience severe consequences, then it has to be on what [Sim] infer[s] are God's terms"
  • Sim is "intrinsically, soul-deep NOT a husband"
  • which he attributes "at least partly to being the child of a child of fornication" 
  • [some sort of numerological consideration of his birthday, his grandparents, his fornication, and Cerebus] (???)
  • Dave Sim: "I haven't fornicated since 1998"
  • In May 2019 he will finally "have atoned for [his] previous 21 years of fornication and adultery"
  • Dave Sim wishes "everyone, including Chester, the best of luck with their fornication rationales...on Judgment Day"
Well....these people are very sick and today I'm particularly thankful that I don't believe in god, as I would surely end up in hell for making fun of them. Thank you for joining me for another incredible recap of the Chester Brown/Dave Sim Whore Feud.

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Sunday, July 9, 2017

another fake conversation

After giving deep thought to what the world needs now, I’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that I should weigh in with another cold take on a stale comics controversy.

I've been thinking about this idea a lot lately: in politics, we have fake news. In comics, we have fake conversations.


This time the “conversation” is about Howard Chaykin. As always, there are two sides, and you gotta hear ’em both.

On one side--my side--we have the Shrill Young Censors. (NB: I am ancient and covered in dust.)

On the other side, we have the Brave Defenders of Free Speech. (This conversation has literally nothing to do with free speech.) (It never does.)

Howard Chaykin has drawn a cover to inform us all of “the horrific wish dream of some 45% of [our] fellow Americans.” Oh wow, okay.

So what does this cover art make me feel?

Is it shock? No. This cover makes me feel tired, not surprised.
Am I offended? No. But this insults my intelligence.
Are my feelings hurt? No. Not that I imagine they have been considered.
Have I learned something? lol
Do I think Chaykin himself wants to castrate(?) and lynch people? No, but I think drawing it makes him feel powerful.
Am I confused? Yes. Isn’t that racial slur British slang? Isn’t this comic set in Future America? Oh shit, Howard, are the Redcoats coming??
Am I upset? Hmm. Yes. This cover is upsetting.

I’ve heard many opinions about this cover circulate amongst the Shrill Youngs, ranging from ‘jesus why’ to a call for Eric Stephenson’s job. I don’t want to speak for anyone, but I think the consensus would be best described as ‘this is bad.’

Like, sooooo bad: technically bad, conceptually shit, aesthetically worthless, etc. No redeeming qualities whatsoever.

What I have not heard anyone say is that white men like Chaykin aren’t allowed to draw…uh…Islamophobic sex lynchings? Probably someone has said that--someone always says something--but it’s hardly the consensus. Yet somehow that seems to be how all objections to the cover have been interpreted, at least by the Brave Defenders. Right? Because somehow the objections of the Shrill Youngs always get reduced to "Art is not allowed to hurt my feelings."

Reader, do you ever spare a thought for who gets labeled as oversensitive? Ridiculous? Shrill?



I've been thinking about this lately: a little comic called Wes Craven’s Crumb. It's from from "Portrait," a comics criticism zine from Simon Hanselmann’s Truth Zone series. 


I think that Hanselmann is mocking a tumblr post that a young female cartoonist wrote in March 2016. 


Simon wants us all to know know what a crock of stupid baby bullshit that all is: 



Full disclosure: he might also be mocking me in this comic? Hard to say. But it's mostly that tumblr.


Admittedly, those last two panels made me laugh.

Like Hanselmann, I found that young cartoonist's post to be misguided. Where he and I differ is that I don't perceive it to come from a place of weakness. Because first of all, she was obviously on to something.


It’s common for reactions to “provocative” comics to be characterized as squeamish, prudish, and shrill. 


I'm generally not a fan of art that gets labeled as provocative, mostly because I think it's bad (as in worthless, not problematic). But also: as a woman who’s spent the better part of my life being “entertained” and “edified” by depictions of sexual violence against my demographic--in comics, on television, and in movies--I have to say it’s a hell of a thing to accept that the worst thing that ever happened to you (or could happen to you) is, for many consumers, the very pinnacle of prestige entertainment.

It’s a hell of a thing to know that artistic portrayals of these experiences mostly just make white men get rich or feel relevant.

Hell of a thing. Hell of a thing to reconcile those depictions with the lack of seriousness with which those crimes are prosecuted in the world. It’ll make you crazy if you let it.

Not that I never find fictional depictions of violence against women entertaining or edifying? You know: sometimes. Entertaining sometimes. Edifying on rare occasions. I’ll never forget watching Dr. Melfi (on The Sopranos) get brutally raped years ago. I watched it with my boyfriend at the time, who argued with me afterward about the artistic merit of the scene. He thought that the brutality felt real, that it helped him understand. He had a point, but that doesn’t mean he was right.

Violence against Muslims, violence against POCs, violence against queer people—I’m not saying it’s the same, but I don’t have to work too hard to empathize, just for instance, with a black person who says they find some depiction of violence in art exploitative, whether it's with regard to Benjamin Marra’s comics or Dana Schutz’s tasteful, disingenuous abstraction of the body of Emmett Till.  

It should go without saying that these depictions aren’t objectionable in the same ways to the same people. How something touches you comes down to any number of variables: circumstances, class, mental health, and how you’re feeling in the moment, among others.

Drawing some horrific act of violence that depicts something you’ve never yourself experienced, something you do not yourself fear, something that will never touch your life—well, that can be many things, among them good or bad, but it can never be brave. Nor is it brave to tell someone else how you find those drawings to be educational. 

It is the opposite of brave to sit around and argue with a straw man.

To try and fail to reconcile these seemingly ubiquitous representations of your pain and fear with your own experience and speak out when you find fault--that’s pretty brave, actually. It’s also brave to portray your experience when you feel there’s a lack of representation of it in the world. I’m sort of amazed that men who championed comics about men whacking off for decades are so appalled by comics about lesbian furries kissing each other respectfully (or whatever the kids are drawing these days). It’s not for me, and maybe it’s not for you, but who cares. Those comics aren’t necessarily about making art that’s safe or easy; they just go back to a rule that’s as old as time: Draw what you know. In that regard, I see a direct line between old school "edgy" autobio and a lot of the images that end up on my twitter these days.

There’s something very basic missing from these conversations. I used to think it was comprehension, but lately I think it’s empathy. The comics I write about, the comics I’m always making fun of—whether it’s R. Crumb or Chris Ware, what I perceive in those cartoonists is an inability to empathize. 

The conversation about any given controversy, Chaykin cover included, is frequently boiled down to a generational divide. That's a mistake.


There's nothing immature about saying that something makes you feel upset. Nor is it anti-art to interrogate whether that feels earned.  

I'm tired of these fake conversations.

Monday, May 22, 2017

twin peaks is the only thing that matters

I watched exactly one episode last night, and all I know is Coop looks like Glenn Danzig died and got reanimated by a malevolent tanning bed. What the heck is going on?!???! My twitter seems divided between people who love the new episodes and people who are unimpressed with the people who love them. The latter are dead to me.

David. Motherfucking. LYNCH. Fundamentally, that's a guy who just gets it. I'm a huge rube when it comes to movies but I have so much affection for this man. I know TV revivals are a dime a dozen these days, but I honestly can't believe I get to watch 18 new episodes of this show. How am I supposed to keep living my life for the next four months while it's on? All I want to do is watch Twin Peaks and think about it and watch it again and maybe stare at some pictures of David Lynch's perfect haircut. Have you ever seen an old-ass man with a haircut that good? That being said...four episodes? Are you fucking kidding me? I don't have the time management skills to watch this show. I can't figure out why Showtime would do this--it's almost certainly against Lynch's wishes--except that maybe the show is so elliptical they thought just two episodes wouldn't make enough of a splash? I'm probably the one fan on earth who resents this.

I'm old enough to have watched the original Twin Peaks when it was broadcast, though I was awfully young at the time. Maybe too young. I've rewatched it a few times since (though not recently), and it was quite surprising to me, as an adult, that it's still just as scary. I'm a big fan of scary stuff in theory but the problem is I can rarely find things that legitimately frighten me - and I think that's partly because Twin Peaks scared the bejesus out of me at a tender age. I guess it could've been worse. I was having dinner with an English friend a few months ago who told me that he could never get into David Lynch because back in his day, BBC2 syndicated Twin Peaks at like 6:00 in the afternoon on weekdays, so this whole generation of English children inadvertently watched Laura Palmer get got with their families right after tea because that's just what was on. This anecdote is especially amusing if you know anything about the tone of British television, which is exceptionally silly. Or at least it used to be - I guess they have all those top-shelf murder shows these days. Luther and whatnot. When I lived in London all English programming was basically like if Japanese game shows were more boring and uptight. Lots of man children. Almost every UK reality show is hosted by at least one unhinged manchild. Based on my last few visits to the UK I'd say roughly half its programming still involves either a manchild host and/or some random 1970s foodstuff. Anyway you always hear about how Twin Peaks was really shocking for network television in the U.S. at the time, and it was--but its psychological impact over in the UK must've been truly bananas.

What impressed me about the first episode of the new Twin Peaks was how frightening it was. Tonally, the opener felt very consistent with the original series, and I think that's because it sort of translated the old tone instead of replicating it. You know, it keeps you guessing in a way that wouldn't work if it was too close to the original. Lynch has this incredible ability to pick up where he left off, and I think the last four years of television history, with all its warmed-over revivals, speak to how truly impressive that is. This is technically the second time he's revived Twin Peaks...if there's any one moment in his career that I'd point to as masterful, it would be the way he came back and fixed the end of the original series. The show had gone to absolute shit, it was Japanese gameshow-level inanity, but trying to be super sinister and serious...and Lynch came in out of nowhere with (what was then) a series finale that was dead on. Just picked it right back up and it was perfect. Anyway, watching that first scene in the Red Room last night I had full-body chills. I really believe all the stuff Lynch talks about with the subconscious because his stories tap into something that's shared and visceral and wordless and authentic in a way that the adrenaline rush you get when you watch too much 24 or whatever just doesn't. Very, very frightening. Anyway I think that opener is maybe the most creeped out I've been watching something since Robert Blake called Robert Blake in Lost Highway.



So far I quite like the approach the show is taking to blending old and new. I really wondered how that would go. I was freaking out a little before the show started, seeing all the promos and how much the cast had aged. It's not often you see the ravages of time on an entire group of people like that, most of whom have been out of the public eye for 25 years, you know? Years ago I saw Audrey on Gilmore Girls and seeing those promos was the feeling I had watching that, but a lot more intense. Like it's bad enough we're all going to die without the part where you suddenly look like you ate your younger self, without managing to absorb any of your younger self's powers. Had a bit of a moment during the Log Lady's scene...I hadn't heard that she'd filmed anything for this, so for me it was a surprise. Last night I came across a statement that David Lynch made back when she died in 2015:
I don't know, I just find this statement perfect. "Solid gold." What did the world ever do to deserve David Lynch? So yeah...um...obviously I have nothing intelligent to say about any of this. I'm just very grateful for that rare perfect feeling I get when it feels as though the world has conspired to give me a special treat. I can't wait for episode 2.
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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

spencergate

Remember the halcyon days of last month when I said it was pointless to write about Marvel and I wasn't going to do it anymore? Haha, surprise, welcome to my Marvel blog. I think I preferred the days when this was a COPRA blog, but it is what it is. Some people are blessed with beauty and fortune, some with happiness, and me, I just have all these good-ass opinions about the people who make a bunch of comics I don't read. This is normal. This is fine.

It feels like Spencergate--this blog's second, the first one having been Richard--has more or less run its course? I think I'm glad. There's something unsettling about quacking around in near total obscurity and then suddenly attracting a lot of eyes. I suppose the Spencer apologists who described my post as character assassination and a witch hunt failed to recognize that my audience is a bit...niche. I mean, look around. My last post was 'how fuckable is Chris Hayes.' I shouldn't be surprised by how little those people--mostly comics people!--seem to grasp about the power dynamics behind a post like that. It's not like I wrote with some big expectation that post would take off; in fact it seemed far more likely that I'd catch a lot of grief from Spencer himself, whose entire public persona is yelling at people on Twitter.

I've been watching him yell at people for the last year, seems like. I've watched how just saying his name Candymans him into your mentions...watched my peers try to get around it using constructions like N*ck Sp*ncer so they didn't have to deal with him...watched him (quite inadvertently, I think) stir up unhinged fans with his commentary on other Marvel stuff, like the thing with Chelsea Cain. Just for context, I watched a lot of that without really trying--without even following him on Twitter. That's how much of it there was. It just felt like part of the culture of talking about comics online, trying to avoid that guy.

I'd known about Spencer's shitty political career for a little while, but it was only last Monday that I came across a guy in Cincinnati blogging about how Spencer blocked black business owners from leasing property in Over-the-Rhine, blamed black radio station owners for a local shooting, etc. On some level, finding this whole blogging community from the early aughts who disliked the same guy in a totally different context than the one in which he's widely disliked now gave me a warm feeling about the world. But mostly it made me think about how this one time I watched Spencer try to explain Martin Luther King Jr. to a black comics critic. I thought about how rude and dismissive he's been to Jewish comics critics and fans around the whole Captain America thing, and how paternalistic and shitty he is to people in general, and how he yells at people about politics all the time, and that post almost wrote itself. The incredible thing is that Spencer seems to have stopped yelling at people, at least for the moment. In the time since the post, I've seen all sorts of people write his full name on Twitter--tag him, even!--without provoking him at all. Is this like when handlers try to hide Trump's phone?? Can people really discuss Marvel titles now without conjuring Spencer like Voldemort? His Twitter has been uncharacteristically calm and positive. I find it weirdly disconcerting.

Instead of taking to Twitter to yell about having been maligned, Spencer gave a point-by-point defense to Rich Johnston, who regurgitated it (badly) for Bleeding Cool under the guise of an editorial. Oh man, it cracks me up to picture Spencer sending Rich a novella-length email with all those links and Rich spending like 7 minutes transforming it into that article. Actually, just the way it was written, my guess is most of that was Rich's notes from a call. In any case, all the people who howled about how much Spencer has grown and changed over the last 12 years should take a long hard look at that post. It really tells the story, just not in the way they intended. It's honestly fascinating to me, these people who seem to think I was enacting some sort of leftist purity purge by digging up Spencer's views from 2005. I'm particularly floored by how they talk about 12 years ago like that was the 19th century or something. The Before Times. But if there's anything this experience has taught me it's that a lot of people remember 2005 differently than I do.


I mean, my post wasn't about who's "allowed" to...what? Be liberal online, I guess? I'm on the bully beat, and have little to no interest in political purity. But if I were interested in that sort of thing...pretty sure he's fairly conservative, haha. I guarantee you Spencer would be out there defending that old city council platform vociferously if someone hadn't advised him to sit this one out.

On some level, though, honestly I get it. The past is a queasy place for everyone in one way or another, and public shaming is real (though not in the Jon Ronson sense of the phrase). I mean, if you dig deep enough on me, you'll find that I legitimately like the Dave Matthews Band. My last post was about the fuckability of an MSNBC anchor. Everyone's got their own shameful shit. But there's a difference--a really big one, I think--between analyzing a politician's campaign and dredging the livejournal of a private citizen to assess how woke they were in 2005. Pretty sure I would never have even thought to do the latter.

On the other side of the spectrum, I felt a little weird about people using my post to say that Spencer's a nazi (he's not) or because they think he should be fired for having been a conservative politician in 2005 (he shouldn't). I mean, I do think there's a connection between his political past and the way he aggressively polices conversations about politics and art and Marvel Comics, and probably also some connection with the comics themselves, but I don't think it's simple or direct. If Spencer were to get fired--and that's not really the right word, is it? he's not staff--it should be because the comic failed (to sell copies, to serve the brand, whatever) or because he's a dick to people all the time--something more along those lines. (And from what I've heard about the numbers, Captain America really is failing.) I certainly didn't conceive of my post as leading some charge for him to be fired, a topic on which I don't even have a real opinion. Believe it or not, I don't fully get the outrage over the current Captain America storyline. I don't read that comic, probably never will, and even if I did that's not the kind of thing I see myself caring about. I guess I just support people's right to be mad about it in ways I don't understand. I don't really see any scenario in which being mad online about Capt. America being a nazi would be some grave encroachment on artistic freedom...? But I have seen very clearly how Spencer's behavior stifles the ability of fans and critics to talk about not just his comics, but also his entire milieu.

Yet one of the things Spencer constantly asserts is that fan entitlement threatens his autonomy as an artiste. It's an interesting stance given that Marvel surely has had some input into his work. On the other hand we have the insufferable men of indie comics who dismiss Captain America as a corporate property that has no real artistic value anyway. (Those guys are almost worse.) What both sides of that spectrum miss is that these iconic characters are so embedded in pop culture that they don't just belong to Marvel or whoever happens to be writing his story that day; they belong to everybody. You find yourself the steward of something like that, you'd do well to handle it with some degree of care. But messing around with things is sort of Marvel's business model, from what I've heard...it's that thing that walking comics encyclopedia Colin Spacetwinks talks about all the time, where they chase short-term sales at the expense of longevity. Anyway I just think Marvel's fighting a losing battle in denying fans' co-ownership. It's fandom that makes Captain America who he is, and that's why I'm on the side of outraged fans even when I'm not really sure about the specific points they're arguing.

I mean, isn't having customers who feel emotionally invested in your products the holy grail of trying to sell people stuff? Instead of leveraging that emotional investment, Marvel frames it as a real thorn in their side. They're so exasperated! Is it me, or is that utterly fucking stupid? How many businesses out there do you see mocking and belittling their customers for being passionate about their products? How many executives are out there constantly arguing with customers about what's best for them? How many contractors name-search themselves on Twitter so they can argue with people about the company they freelance for, or just politics in general? Not very many! Generally, people don't do that...first of all, because it's weird and unprofessional, but more broadly because it's bad for business. I'd go so far as to say that most high-level business types probably try to listen to and even value their customers' feedback. Is fanboy culture so entrenched in comics that Marvel's entire marketing plan is to yell at people until their senior staff members all rage quit and/or start having massive cardiac events?

When the Spencer post started blowing up I was having lunch with a friend who told me a really good story. I think it was about a lot of things but maybe the thing it was most about is what it means to be a good person--what you put out into the world, and what it gives you back. This story felt very heavy to me, not because I find myself to be a terrible person or anything, but because I've always wished I were more positive, more generous, more charitable. I don't know exactly how to put it, but I guess I wish I had a little more light. That isn't who I am, constitutionally. Inevitably, when I write one of these bully-beat pieces someone will tell me to get off my high horse, and it's just fucking weird, sort of uncanny really, because very often that's exactly what I imagine myself to be saying to whoever it is that I'm writing about. Takedowns (or whatever you want to call them) are important, and they absolutely have their place. I think comics needs more of them. But I wouldn't recommend them to anyone who's hoping to reinforce some idea of themselves as a good person. If anything they cost you something. I find myself thinking about that lately--what I'm putting out into the world, and what I'm getting back.
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