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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2 comments:

  1. That didn't happen. Almost wish it had, would have saved me a lot of time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey Rich, I know it's your practice to obfuscate sources, but seriously: go fuck yourself.

    ReplyDelete