The home page for author Eric J. Juneau

Mommy, Why Is That Man Cancelling Culture?

cancel culture erase person

“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.”

Ever since I heard those words in “The Dark Knight”, I keep seeing it proved again and again, like a horrible Blue Car syndrome. Role models, world leaders, artists, athletes. Time makes fools of us all. Except now those fools have teams of Proud Boys and Twitter trolls to call to their side.

Like most terms, “cancel culture” started as light slang being thrown around. If you were “swiped right” you were canceled. People tweeted at Kanye West “you’re canceled” when he did something stupid.

Now it’s grown to where public outcry on social media can affect someone’s career. Is all this controversy worth it? Are we not being forgiving enough or do celebrities deserve it?

Why is it when James Gunn gets fired from Guardians of the Galaxy 3 for tweets he made in the past, he’s not the bad guy. But James Lasseter and his shoulder rubs are. Why is that?

What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Cancel Culture?

First we need to clarify some definitions — what is cancel culture and what is not. Like a lot of liberal movements, it has no leader and no manifesto. So the rules and end goals get ambiguous.

“Cancel culture” is a movement to not support or cut off income (such as royalties or speaking fees) from an artist’s art because they did something heinous. It refers to the act of fans turning on a celebrity (sometimes too quickly) who did something wrong or something they don’t agree with. One of its goals is to “deplatform” them–to make it so no one wants to hire them for new work.

This applies to the person, not the work itself. So that means you can’t “cancel” Song of the South or Gone with the Wind. That’s a different kettle of fish I’ll talk about it a minute.

Criticizing is not cancelling. So if a celebrity’s big enough to be targeted, leaving a bad review on Amazon doesn’t do anything to their bottom line. Likewise, Twitter replies to their bad takes are not cancellation.

Being offended does not mean that someone is “canceled”. It is not “I don’t like this and nobody else should either.”

“Cancelling” is an act or a protest. Like a peaceful sit-in or a boycott. Voting with your dollar. But often it must happen to those who hired or commissioned that person’s art (resulting in them letting that person go).

Like any tool, it can be used for good or for evil. Some people think doxxing or going after someone’s sponsors or getting them fired is cancel culture. It’s not. That’s just griefing or plain old harassment, like GamerGate.

So we know we’re not talking about harassment or criticism. Are we talking about punishment? Justice? Are they the same thing? Let’s take the example of Count Dankula.

Certainly looks like the kind of guy you want babysitting your kids.

Short version of his story is that he taught his dog the Nazi salute and apparently this is worth getting arrested for in his native land of Scotland. He said in a tweet that he tried getting a normal job in a sandwich shop, and was rejected the next day because of people harassing the shop.

We can argue whether this is an overreaction. We can argue whether a dog trick is a hate crime, either here in America or in a country actually affected by the Nazi regime. We can discuss the fact that Count Dankula is a humorist and not a neo-Nazi and there were no victims.

But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about this question–was he “canceled”? The question is did Count Dankula not get the job because:

A) Harassers harassed the shop in obnoxious ways
B) Harassers harassed the shop to point out he did a video of a pug doing the Nazi salute
C) The shop being made aware of the video itself

People cite this case study as a reason cancel culture is bad — that you’re preventing people from being heard or having a normal life. I say there’s not enough evidence here to make a conclusion.

Reminds me of a Jim Belushi or Artie Lange type

Another case study: Shane Gillis was supposed to be on SNL’s 2020 season. Then he was found to have said a bunch of racist jokes a number of years ago, trying to be funny. People found out and told SNL. SNL dumped him. Was that right or wrong? You don’t want to reward racists, but how long do you hold the mistakes of the past over their head? What if it turns out they weren’t past mistakes, that’s just the way that person is?

Is Justice Punishment? Is Punishment Justice?

What's the Opposite of Punishment? | The Crime Report
There’s a reason why Lady Justice carries a sword and a judge wields a hammer.

The trial of O.J. Simpson taught us a fundamental lesson about America–the justice system doesn’t care if you’re guilty, as long as you’re famous. We have been living in that society ever since 1996 and we feel powerless to stop it. Hence the gates lift on the jury of the masses.

We’re not talking about cases like Richard Jewell or the Boston Marathon Bombing (where Reddit, upon being prodded by the FBI, falsely got a Saudi man arrested). Those cases were the fault of the media, an unregulated Internet forum, and a poorly thought out FBI response. The court of public opinion is eager to pounce and sometimes it pounces without a mouse being there. In those cases, that is not justice. But what else do you have when the justice system fails?

Cancel culture came about because the justice system takes too long to fix. People like R. Kelly and Chris Brown and Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian should all be in jail now, but they get off because of their fame and that their fame lets them afford expensive lawyers. Drug fines and DUIs are nothing to them financially, but they’re acts that can get someone killed. L’il Wayne and Gwyneth Paltrow and Mel Gibson and Tekashi 6ix9ine get new gigs and make millions.

These are the cases where the evidence is either plainly there or corroborated by witnesses. People like Woody Allen and Louis C.K. and Billy Cosby have clearly performed crimes–heinous family-destroying sex crimes–and continue to make money and suffer no consequences.
And then there are the crimes that can’t be tried in court, like racist or sexist or abusive statements.

Society changes fast, and thanks to social media, we’re learning about more celebrities who aren’t catching up to social norms that haven’t been 100% set yet. Maybe you can’t get justice, but you can give visibility to marginalized voices.

What Are We Trying To Do Here?

Star Fox 64/Lylat Wars - Area 6 Boss Defeat - Mission Accomplished - YouTube

One of the reasons that I said “don’t consider Gone With the Wind and Song of the South as targets” is that I believe we shouldn’t judge people now for the mistakes they made as children. America has matured since the 1950s in terms of the role of Black people in media and where they belong. Now if a movie studio tries making something like that today…

There’s a difference between an author who made a controversial work in the past (maybe during a time when the content wasn’t so controversial) and one using their wealth and power to advocate against marginalized groups. You can’t control how someone uses their money and influence. But you can control how you work with a text.

We changed, but older people like Seinfeld and Adam Carolla and Donald Trump haven’t. What they think is funny is not funny to us. They grew up in a time with The Honeymooners, when beating your wife was considered fine humor.

What do we want? I think we want an apology. A good apology. And a cessation to the behavior that caused them to be canceled in the first place.

People like Jonah Hill, Dan Harmon, and Justin Bieber all had cases where they did something very wrong and apologized for it. And they did their apology the right way. I think, for the most part, the world has forgiven them. (The works they’ve done since then are another matter, but not part of this conversation.) But others have not been so humble.

These people aren’t being punished and never sincerely apologized for their actions or words: Mel Gibson, Roseanne Barr, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, J.K. Rowling, Louis C.K., Orson Scott Card, Bill Maher, Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity. They are rich entitled people surprised that the world has changed to one where there are consequences because social media lets us all talk to each other. There are zero degrees of separation between me sending my hot take on soup to Tom Hanks and him seeing it with his own eyes.

So if no apology is given, what do you do? Not support the author. That means more than not buying the books (because you’ve probably already bought them) or attending the shows. It means not participating in the fandom at all. No fan fiction sites or conventions to see your friends.

Because you can’t consume Harry Potter stuff without supporting Rowling’s wealth and influence. You have to force consumers to change their habits. You must make businesses decide that person is too toxic to associate with. And that’s going to be damn hard for someone who has her own theme park.

Harry Potter Theme Park - Universal Studios Hollywood
And what a happy theme park it is too. So bright and cheerful.

And how do the celebrities respond? Like they’re being attacked. What should happen is that we refuse to buy R. Kelly and Chris Brown’s albums. Then their label drops them. But then they blame us, saying they were “canceled” when they just weren’t making money. People with power don’t get to claim they’re a victim of their fame.

It’s really a denouncement, like the Klingon discommendation ceremony. You did this bad thing, so I shall not support you anymore. I turn my back on you.

klingon star trek discommendation

And that’s pretty much all you can do as a consumer. It’s not much, but maybe if enough people get behind it, something can happen?

Why Do We Cancel?

Why 'Cancel Culture' Is a Distraction - The New York Times

Are we simply living in an intolerant climate? Or do we now have avenues to organize and do something about bad behavior? Are the people who claim they’re being canceled just screwing up and don’t want to be called on their bullshit? Speech has consequences. Actions have consequences.

And it’s so easy to track and record everyone. We’ve become a 1984 surveillance society VOLUNTARILY. We carry our cameras and microchip trackers in our pockets. It’s easy to become Orwellian when your citizens do the work for you. We decided it’s worth being monitored if we can have a button that lets us know where our kids are at all times.

But one of the benefits of that is that you can’t get away with things so easily. There would be no George Floyd protests if someone hadn’t been recording all eight minutes and forty-six seconds of his death. Cops are so bad they have to be fitted with body cameras to audit their actions. Body cameras which they routinely turn off or obscure when they know they’re going to do something bad.

Are we too brittle? Too sensitive? Or are we trying to strike back at people who mean to do harm. Are we blowing the whistle on those who continually “get away with it” because they’re famous?

If you make anti-LGBT or anti-semitic comments, what makes you think that’s okay? It makes me think you’re not aware of what kind of society you live in.

This is called shitposting or being an edgelord. This kind of humor general doesn’t translate well to anyone who isn’t someone in the group being joked about or sensitive to that group.

Edgelord | Edgy | Know Your Meme

It’s tough to be in certain demographics, especially these days. Police are targeting Black people to the point where they’re being straight up killed and the cops who did it face no consequences. Congress is chopping up the land of Native Americans in the Dakotas and Alaska for fossil fuel profiteers like they learned nothing in 250 years. So when celebrities spout off a slur, the fewer platforms they can do it on, the better.

Who Should We Cancel?

The people that Cancel Culture wants to target are people like J.K. Rowling and Dave Chapelle and Michael Richards. People who have tons and tons of money and prestige. They’re the prime targets because they’re in the limelight and they’re seen as role models and they have no problem speaking about controversial topics.

I do believe there is a difference between art and the artist–no one thinks a crime writer wants to commit murder. But also, the artist has an unbreakable tie to their art. One influences the other. Like Doctor Victor Frankenstein, the creator cannot be extracted from the created. You know the work better if you understand the context it was written in, like The Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye.

The Harper’s Letter
More Than 150 Journalists, Academics Speak Out Against 'Harper's' Letter On  'Cancel Culture' 07/13/2020

The famous Harper’s Letter that came out shortly after J.K. Rowling’s remarks states: “The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.”

First, I hate how poorly constructed and unreadable that sentence is in something endorsed by a bunch of writers. Second, I’m not really into that perception when the “information and ideas” are about white supremacism and racism.

Any platform that allows free speech, even hateful speech, is making a small, silent allowance that it’s okay to say these things. Legally, Twitter is not responsible for the statements people make on their application. Morally, they are.

Third, there is no atmosphere stifling you. There are so many ways to get your message out nowadays. The difference is what you say with your art and what you say on Twitter or in an editorial.

Everyone who signed onto this letter is old and already established in the industry. There’s no Pewdiepie or David Dobrik on this list. No Tomi Adeyemi. No Lil Nas X. No Megan Thee Stallion or Nicki Minaj. No G. Willow Wilson or Brian K. Vaughan or John Green or Justin McElroy or Taylor Tomlinson.

Plus the people who rescinded their signatures after they figured out what the letter was about. What, did Harper’s mislead them? Did they not give them the letter to read beforehand?

Celebrities and Comedians

So ask yourself this question: are you angry at cancel culture or are you angry at people reacting to you being a shithead?

It’s only the controversial celebrities who complain about it, because their livelihood, their product, is based on social transgressions. If they get canceled, they have no job.

Comedians especially are mistaking being canceled for not producing material that’s liked (Bill Burr, Louis C.K., Kathy Griffin). Which is fine–it’s their job to throw out joke after joke and not all of them are going to stick. I don’t expect it to. The problem comes when they double down on a joke they think is funny, but either A) has problematic content B) didn’t land. They , they think it’s the audience’s fault. Which is a huge no-no.

Case in point: Kathy Griffin. Did she go too far? Maybe. I think so. I didn’t see where the joke was and I hate Trump. What was her goal? To incite violence? No. I think she was trying to make something, if not funny, at least satisfying. Because many of her fans are LGBTQ and with Mike Pence as VP, they had a prison spotlight on their backs.

Kathy Griffin Apologizes for Trump Photo: 'I Went Too Far'

However, the backlash was equally too far. There’s no reason to think a successful American comedienne is part ISIS. Speech and photographs are not evidence of treason. Subjecting her to an FBI investigation is a waste of our resources and my taxes.

The best thing to do when a joke is unfunny or doesn’t land is to just ignore it. Don’t give it attention, because that’s what comedians want.

When they hear they’re getting “canceled”, they think there’s an angry mob after them, instead of a vocal minority. But there’s something about social media that amplifies the most contentious voices. So John Cleese is not the victim because two people complained about a Fawlty Towers episode from 1970. The victims are the people who work on the shows that get taken off the air because producers thought it would be too controversial.

Comedians are sensitive, broken souls, so it’s little wonder they act like this. They think people are searching for what they’ve done in the past, not who they are today, but that’s not true.

They think we’re twisting their words to fit our own narrative. Like we decided we’re going to “get” Rowling and “get” Louis C.K. We don’t need to–they dug their own graves. We don’t need to twist anything, it’s already there. Logan Paul visited a suicide forest and posted it on YouTube. What’s he going to do? Deny it?

How Not to Cancel

Cancel Culture Makes Everything Look Worse Than It Is | by Meghan Daum | GEN

One of the negative elements of cancel culture is the tendency to jump down throats or to shut their ears while they shout at the person. I remember, long ago in the early 90s, I saw a 20/20 special where John Stossel was talking to some college kids demonstrating for the environment. When he tried to tell them there were actually more trees now than a hundred years ago or that recycling caused pollution, they just shouted him down and drowned him out with chanting. They didn’t want to listen to the agenda-having, propaganda-spewing journalist.

I’m no fan of John Stossel–I think he’s a blowhard–but you can’t shut your ears to viewpoints you don’t like. “I’m not going to let anyone sway me of my opinion” or “anything you say is opposition, which means you are the enemy, which means you must be blocked at all costs”. That’s what I’m afraid is happening with social media–we’re demanding change and justice too fast.

Bean Dad | Know Your Meme

We’re seeing it in real-time with Bean Dad. I’m not sure why what he did was so “triggering”. He wasn’t starving his daughter, he was trying to teach her a “hard knocks” life lesson. It wasn’t abuse by the legal definition, but it was a judgment call.

Parenting–no one really wants the job but everyone thinks they can do better.

Bruce Lansky

Problem was this notoriety made people dig up a bunch of unrelated tweets he made in 2012 and 2013. Were they racist and anti-semitic and sexist tweets? Yes, I think so. But maybe there’s a reason they’re all from eight years ago and not 2017, 2018, or so on. Maybe he’s changed since then.

Rather than tell her the answer, he tried to guide her to it, using abstract thinking tools that can be applied to many life scenarios. He’s allowed to parent his nine-year-old the way he wants, even if that evokes the “Ron Swanson School of Toughness and Discipline”. But it wasn’t wrong or right. And it’s not up to me to decide how to parent his nine-year-old. I’m not there with her.

He deleted his Twitter because of this. Does this mean his career over because of bad jokes he made eight years ago? His song has been the theme of one of the most popular podcasts in America for a decade. The day this all went down–the SAME day–they changed it. Because it was “antithetical to the energy they try to bring”. The evidence has been on Twitter for the past ten years, why didn’t you change the theme then?

There is a difference between making a clumsy mistake (James Gunn) and condemning a category of people (J.K. Rowling).

I don’t think actions from the past should be used to cancel you in the future. I’m not talking about people like Woody Allen and Roman Polanski and Harvey Weinstein. I mean old college essays or a Halloween in blackface or “bad take” tweets. Things that happened before they were famous.

Using your current fame and influence to do wrong things is bad. I don’t like it when things that were socially acceptable then are censored now. This means Song of the South and Gone With the Wind and old Looney Tunes and Disney cartoons should not be hidden from the world’s eyes.

Looking at Community's Banned Episode – Pop Cultural Studies

I was watching Community for the first time on Netflix and I had no idea the famous Dungeons & Dragons episode wasn’t there. Why? Because Ken Jeong dresses as a Dark Elf and there’s a joke that he’s in blackface. Except he’s NOT in blackface — that’s the joke. So because of a one-off joke, I had to buy the episode on YouTube separate from my already-existing subscription to Netflix.

These are works and art with values from a different time. Values that no longer exist or have changed into different values. Harry Potter and Ender’s Game are great works, but they can’t be removed from the culture they were created in, no matter what their authors do.

Just because it’s racist now doesn’t mean it’s offensive now. Shoving art under the rug, like it didn’t happen, isn’t okay. Facing your past is the only way to conquer it. It’s always going to be a part of you, but you don’t have to let it define who you are now.

Cancel culture fails when it loses a sense of forgiveness. Count Dankula is no longer using his platform to promote Nazism (whether he intended to or not, and I don’t think he did). He’s been deplatformed, and shouldn’t be stopped from going to one that’s different. He doesn’t need to be blacklisted for the rest of his life.

But forgiveness should be proportional to the crime. People like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, given their position and age, I don’t believe there’s any punishment they could receive that’s enough.

Conclusion: Does Cancel Culture Work?

At what point do they pass from “mistakes of the past” to “evidence that proves someone is a bad person”?

I don’t know. For the past four years, I’ve watched the majority being ignored. Either in voting or abortion or healthcare or wealth distribution. I’ve been to huge protests and seen nothing change. So I wonder if we can do anything to change.

The Blame Game at Work and Why it Doesn't Work

As with any movement, people get caught in the splash damage. Maybe that’s why James Gunn and George Takei and Aziz Ansari “got away with it” or were “exonerated” (depending on how you look at it). Did we decide they were worthy of saving because they had done more good in the world than evil, like Martin Luther King?

I’ve never seen it work.

Louis C.K. still sells out comedy shows. Donald Trump was never successfully impeached. Everyone who was one of his cronies got pardoned or exonerated. Jeff Bezos buys a yacht and his workers struggle to make rent. Sean Spicer got to be on Dancing with the Stars. Ansel Egort still gets roles. Ellen DeGeneres just turns into Rosie O’Donnell.

The one thing we can take solace in is that the art will outlive the artist.

The people who saw Gone With the Wind in 1939 were interpreting something different than we do today when we see it. Back then, smoking used to be okay. People smoked everywhere. Doctors went on TV to recommend brands. But not anymore. Does that mean we have to remove smoking from every movie? There’s tons of smoking in It’s a Wonderful Life–are you going to stop watching it during the holidays?

So why does it matter what we do now? Because, for us now, knowing who J.K. Rowling is influences the way you read Harry Potter. Knowing Orson Scott Card is an anti-homosexual affects how you read Ender’s Game. And moreover, any dollars you give or fandom you contribute support that author and those views. They’re using their platform to do things that are “iffy” at best, harmful at medium, morally reprehensible at worst.

So I’ve got nothing for you. Just do what you’re going to do. Vote with your dollar or don’t. Seems like more factors must take place to get a Harvey Weinstein put in jail, more than normal citizens are capable of doing. And even if a majority of those factors work together, it still might not happen.

Remember, words are tools. They can hurt and they can harm.

I Am a Dick

The fact is, I was going to write a counter-argument parable to Jim C. Hines. You see, I was angry. I was sincerely trying to understand this concept, but I kept getting shut down and told “you don’t get it, so I’m not going to explain it to you”.

It was going to be fairly well-thought out too. It was about a pig who went into a book store, where she was going to complain to the store owner (a Wolf) how they shouldn’t stock the new book from Tim W. Grimes because it contains references to magic. And her son couldn’t do magic — some kids were making fun of him because he just couldn’t do what the book says and now he feels bad about magic. Here are some choice excerpts.

COMPLAINING PIG: You see, a year ago, my son was trying to do magic. And some kids saw him and were making fun of him.

BOOKSTORE OWNER: I’m sorry, this happened a year ago?

COMPLAINING PIG: Yes. Some kids were making fun of him because he just couldn’t do what the book says, and now he feels bad about doing magic.

BOOKSTORE OWNER: You understand that these are books about fictional worlds with magic, not books about doing sleight of hand or bunnies out of hats.

COMPLAINING PIG: I know that, but any mention of magic sets him off. He won’t do it again, he won’t even try, because he’s afraid of being made fun of again.

BOOKSTORE OWNER: I’m not sure how that’s my problem. Why don’t you talk to those kids? They’re the ones who made him feel bad.

COMPLAINING PIG: Well, they haven’t really done anything since. Kind of ignore him now. And I don’t like confrontation.

And this…

BOOKSTORE OWNER: But almost my entire inventory of YA has to do with magic.

COMPLAINING PIG: Why can’t you simply stop stocking these books? Can’t you see that people are hurting because of them?

BOOKSTORE OWNER: I have plenty of non-magic books your child might enjoy.

COMPLAINING PIG: I’m not talking about those books. I want you to stop stocking these. (she pulls out a short list) But if you insist on books with magic, I was considerate enough to find some that would be more acceptable.

BOOKSTORE OWNER: (looks over the list) Well, these are all well and good, but they aren’t like the books I stock. A lot of them have a much weaker story and characters. They’re not as well-written, blander, longer, some are too literary. They lack punch. Each book is different. Each has different information it communicates. One might be better than another in one aspect but weaker in another. I try and recommend the right book for the right reader — the one that communicates everything needed.

And this little gem:

BOOKSTORE OWNER: Look, you need to tell me why I need to stop selling these books when you’re the first person to ever complain about them. I didn’t even know this was an issue. (He’s trying to be open-minded — even though this is the first complainer, there may be others out there who haven’t spoken up).

The complaining pig talks about how she couldn’t afford a good book on magic. Or that his hands are just a little too slow. And that it’s society’s fault because they treat people who do magic like geeks. Worse for people who can’t do magic well.

BOOKSTORE PIG: With that argument, all these books have the potential to hurt someone. Look, I’m sorry your kid has such challenges, and I didn’t intend to hurt him. But I had no idea your kid even existed when I put up this store. I can’t fight his battles for him.

COMPLAINING PIG: Can’t you simply stock different books?

BOOKSTORE OWNER: Is this your bookstore? I know it’s awkward of you to ask, but it’s awkward of me to give in to a foolish request. Why is it my job to protect your kid when I’m not the one with the problem? I won’t be the first and I won’t be the last. What gives you the ability to dictate policies for me? Are you the thought police?

COMPLAINING PIG: You do have the freedom to stock the books you want. But I have the freedom to ask you to stop because you are hurting people.

BOOKSTORE OWNER: True, and before you asked that, I had no opinion of you. But now you’re acting like a jerk and making unreasonable demands of me, asking me to change my ways for one person who I don’t know. You can’t avoid pain in life, it’s impossible to try. And by making a special exception for him, aren’t I setting him apart from the crowd? The same thing that’s ostracizing him in the first place? There are a hundred other people in this bookstore, magicians and non-magicians alike, who have no problem.

You see, because ‘books’ really mean words in this story.

Ahem.

And then it was going to end with the complaining woman bringing a “One Million Moms”-like group and other “concerned” sheep protesting and shouting slogans like “You’re a bastard for stocking this filth” and “why are you hurting this little boy!” and closing the store. All very transparent to how mindless groupthink leads to bad things. I was even going to call it “This Parable is Retarded”.

While I was pre-writing my story, the little voice inside my head kept telling me “don’t do this”, “you’re wasting your energy on something hateful”, “Wil Wheaton says ‘don’t be a dick’!”, “you’ll regret this”, “you’re just trying to extract some petty measure of vengeance” and so forth. I attempted to shut that voice up with Conviction. People take advantage when blind devotions are freely given, like in Kony 2012. They don’t stop to consider there’s another side to the coin, and I convinced myself it’s my job to present that side. I understand that “freedom of speech” is not equal to “freedom from consequences of that speech”. But I cannot reconcile the “stop using a word that’s hateful” vs. “telling people how they should speak” which is a jerk move in my book.

Then I started reading the comments on the post to gain material. Here are some choice ones.

“‘Retarded’ refers to a state of being. People with learning disabilities* are playing the hand they’ve been dealt, usually with an immense amount of effort to make the best of it. On the other hand, ‘stupid’ refers to a behavior. ‘Stupid’ is kind of a choice, or at least a mistake. It’s pretty close to ‘ignorant’, and personally I think ignorant people need to be called on it.”
-Joe Murphy

“You get to decide what’s offensive to you. They get to decide what’s offensive to them. Of course, you also get to decide whether you’re going to respect their feelings or not, but don’t expect anyone to admire or defend you if you decide not to respect their wishes.”
-KarenJG

“Using the word ‘retarded’ to indicate a bad situation, or a poor choice, or a willfully ignorant person, changes the context of the word. It’s like calling something you don’t like ‘gay’. It’s not that being retarded is a bad thing in and of itself. The person using it in a poor context adds a layer of disrespect and insult, by equating a word that doesn’t signify in the situation, and implying that the word (and those associated with it) are bad in some way.”
-Evan Middleton

This is exactly what I was looking for. Usually, when I post a comment, I don’t read the other comments because there are always so many of them. I compensate for this by not posting comments often. In this case, I just got sick of the blind adoration, maybe because it was on the coattails of Kony 2012. I believe there were comments that were thoughtless praise. But clearly, others were from people who had reasonable justifications and well-thought out explanations. The issue is more complex and has deeper roots than I originally assigned it.

Like I said in my “philosophy on writing women” post, I no longer understand insults like “throws like a girl” or “gay”, because it doesn’t make sense to me. Girls like Jennie Finch are a good example and Sports Science has proven that it’s harder to hit a girl’s fast pitch softball than a male-thrown baseball (due to reaction time). Gay people get a bad rap, but of all the stereotypes associated with them, “mean”, “hateful”, and “stupid” are not among them (maybe a little catty and nescient, but comically so).

In fact, if I could stereotype anything of gay people, they seem to be all about the love. Calling something “gay” is like thinking tar baby is a racist term. Maybe it was once, but enough time has passed now that all I know is that it’s a statue made out of tar. The word ‘retarded’ is like that, in that it assigns a negative modifier to a condition that can’t be helped, like being a girl or gay. I have learned that because you have a condition you are not in control of, it does not mean you are inferior, and words to that effect should not be assigned to inferior ideas, people, or things.

But I’m still going to use the word ‘retarded’.

Not often, and not when it’s unneeded. But I think it’s a proper word to describe something so stupid and ignorant that it could only have come from someone who had a mental difficulty. For one thing, all of my favorite stuff uses the most vulgar, offensive language in heaps and buckets. For another, words only have the power that they’re given. Words change and their meanings change. And usually in a way that diminishes the subject they’re referring to. Let’s go to George Carlin for more.

Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent the kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it, and it gets worse with every generation. … There’s a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It’s when a fighting person’s nervous system has been stressed to its absolute peak and maximum. Can’t take anymore input. The nervous system has either snapped or is about to snap.

In the first World War, that condition was called “shell shock”. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables — “shell shock”. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was seventy years ago.

Then a whole generation went by and the second World War came along and the very same combat condition was called “battle fatigue”. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn’t seem to hurt as much. “Fatigue” is a nicer word than “shock”…

Then we had the war in Korea, 1950. Madison avenue was riding high by that time, and the very same combat condition was called “operational exhaustion”. Hey, we’re up to eight syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase. It’s totally sterile now. “Operational exhaustion”. Sounds like something that might happen to your car.

Then, of course, came the war in Vietnam, which has only been over for about sixteen or seventeen years. And thanks to the lies and deceits surrounding that war, I guess it’s no surprise that the very same condition was called “post-traumatic stress disorder”. Still eight syllables, but we’ve added a hyphen! And the pain is completely buried under jargon. “Post-traumatic stress disorder”. I’ll bet you if we’d have still been calling it “shell shock”, some of those Vietnam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time.

We used to say “dwarf”. Then that wasn’t okay, so we said “midget”. Then that wasn’t okay, so now we say “little person”. Why? “Midget” is a made-up word! And this screws up the language so now I can’t tell what is a person with dwarfism (or similar disease) and an actual person who is little, like my daughter or Danny DeVito. Sometimes we use the term “special” — a great example of using soft, inoffensive language that obfuscates truth. “Special” used to be a positive word. Now it’s been coerced into something derogatory, almost the same meaning as “retarded”. That’s why I say it’s impossible to avoid these situations. There will always be speech with a little hatred in it. I think humans need it. If you take it away, it’ll be like Prohibition. Or “Demolition Man”.

Fact is, there’s always going to be someone who disapproves of what you say, no matter who you are. Someone who doesn’t like your lifestyle or the choices you make, for whatever reason. Words are like guns. It’s how they’re used that makes them bad or good. For example, ‘retarded’ is the only way you can describe a movie like “Bio-Dome”.

So to sum up, one would be wise to remember these words: “Everyone messes up. We all say things without thinking. We say things that are hurtful, offensive, or just plain stupid. What’s important is what happens next.” I wonder who said that. Some smart guy, I’d wager.

Stay tuned. More apologies forthcoming.

* A helpful commenter mentioned that there is a difference between mental retardation — a generalized disorder related to a low IQ level and characterized by deficits in memory, problem-solving and other symptoms — and a learning disability (such as dyslexia, dysphasia) which affects the way the brain receives and processes information.

Little Red Riding Hines and the Big Bad Wolf

fat wolf

I don’t know why I keep getting in kerfuffles with Jim C. Hines. I think that if we ever met in person, we’d get along great. It’s just we have some convictions we disagree on, or I’m woefully ignorant of. It’s not like I’m coming away obstinate and unchanged. I now understand that inability to give consent for sex = consent not given. You’d think that’d be a no-brainer, but yes, it did need to stew in my brain a little while before I understood it completely. White male privilege is an insidious thing.

I resolved it by using the metaphor of stage-diving. You want to jump off the stage and crowd-surf, like it in the movies. It looks fun. You do not want to have a hundred hands squeeze your ass or grope your breasts or put their hand down your pants. That’s inappropriate, no matter what you’re doing (unless you’re having sex… with consent). It’s not what you asked for, and there’s no circumstances where that’s okay, and we should all know that. But we don’t. Yes, it’s a bad idea to get so drunk you pass out, and it indicates a serious problem. It does not mean you want to have sex. Anyway, that’s not what I came to talk about.

I came to talk about the parable he wrote which is a thinly-disguised story about colloquial use of the word ‘retarded’, and how you shouldn’t say it. At least, I think that’s what he meant to illustrate. Go ahead and read it, it’s short. As you can tell by the comments, there are kneejerk claps and praises abound, but not a lot of thinking about possible consequences or different interpretations. That lack of analytical thinking is what gets things like Kony 2012 started.

I get uncomfortable when people start telling me what words I can and can’t use. It angries up the blood. The first thing I thought of was Neil Gaiman’s Defense of Icky Speech. But then it was pointed out to me that this story is not about the legality, but the responsibility that speech. I see some gray area in that, because the way I see it, if the Pig had his way, if he were a supreme court judge, he would try to get that word banned. I don’t see an alternative goal — what else could the Pig be seeking? Maybe I’m assigning something that’s not there, but the simple parable nature of the story makes it hard to see.

Yes, I know words can hurt. We are all part of a generation that knows that. But it’s not the words themselves, it’s the context, as nicely illustrated in George Carlin’s philosophy. What this parable basically is, in one of its facets, is advocating censorship. And I hate censorship. IMO, the only real appropriate action the Pig made was calling the Wolf a “jackass”/”douchebag”. That’s all one really has the power to do in that situation, and it’s all one should be able to do, whether that’s a fortunate or unfortunate result.

And I have a problem with people being punished because of one person. At no time did any of the Wolves call the Bunny retarded — they were all referring to something else. They didn’t even know the Bunny was there, or what his condition was. What made the Bunny feel bad was that the word evoked a memory of kids teasing him. Those are the bad guys. Those are the ones that the Pig should be talking to.

We all have bad days. We all end up with scars. If you live life without being hurt, then you’re doing something wrong. I have a problem with other people telling others how to act when the consequences of that action are, in reality, quite small. Why is it my job to change my way of speaking when I’m not the one who has the problem? The fact is, we ALL get teased, we ALL get bullied. Everyone got bullied by someone in their life — the popular kids, the jocks, the nerds, even the bullies.

I was bullied frequently. And I bullied others. I’m not proud of it, I regret it, I’d change it if I could. But I did it, and I know why I did it — so I could feel better about myself than I was feeling at the time. When you’ve got nothing, you can always pick on someone weaker than you. And at some primal level, that will make you feel good — that in some way you are better than at least one person. Sometimes on a bad day, you need that. I’m not advocating bullying here, I’m saying that’s why it happens.

And I’ve been called retarded many times (and not peripherally, like in the parable. I’m talking about to my face.). I probably got called ‘retarded’ more than an average person, because, while I’m not retarded, I look retarded because I have some nerve damage in my face that makes it look like I’m talking out of the side of my mouth.

I think back to all those times on the bus with kids teasing me, girls and boys, getting kicked while I was sitting on the ground reading a book (and this was by freshmen when I was a senior), being laughed at and made fun of. People thought I was in a car accident because I didn’t talk. So I know words can hurt, just as much as anyone, especially being called ‘retarded’. But I grew beyond that.

Now I have two daughters of my own. They are not retarded — they won’t go through the same thing I did. But I am dreading the day they start public school, because I know they will be made fun of or come home crying because they were teased. Why? There’s nothing wrong with them, they’re quite beautiful, they’re normal, they have normal behavioral characteristics. Why would anyone make fun of them? Because EVERYONE DOES IT. It is an inevitable truth of life — there are no boundaries to the cruelness of children. Girls especially have a reputation for it. I can’t stop it. No one will ever be able to stop it. I guarantee you one of them will call one of them retarded. That’s not okay, but it must happen if one is to become stronger, and to recognize what’s right and what’s wrong.

But, thinking back to those kids on the bus, now that I’m grown up, I’d still defend to the death their right to say ‘retarded’ in that context. Because as Patrick Henry said “I may not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” and as Neil Gaiman said, “Freedom of speech is not a scalpel, it’s a club.”

So here’s my question to the Pig: You get one magic wish. You can either make it so no one uses the word ‘retarded’ any more, or you can make it so your Bunny is no longer learning disabled. Which one would you choose?

I know what I would choose.

Where’s the Sex in The Hunger Games?

screenshot of hunger games offensive content

This’ll probably get some false positives on the google searches (sorry), but I had to mention this.  I saw this on Top Ten Most Challenged Books of 2010.

What?  Where the hell was The Hunger Games sexually explicit?  There wasn’t a single sex scene, no nudity.  Someone needs to tell me where that part was, because I sure as hell want to read that part again.

This is why censorship sucks.  Because these mother-hen “concerned parents” always have their heads up their asses.  They never read the book in question, and if they do, they always misinterpret it, take it out of context, or never understand the context that it’s in.  They’re different worlds away, and it is not their job to determine what my kid can and can’t be exposed to.  That’s my job.

The Penny Arcade Dickwolves Go To State

penny arcade dickwolves strip

I’ve been interested in reading this Penny Arcade Dickwolves debacle ever since this timeline was posted because it deals with many intriguing issues. In mass media outlets, often you end up with political correctness, vocal minorities, and advertising sponsors winning the upper hand, and that’s even if the producers let it go that far. Never do the creators get a say. That’s why people like me turn to the web to find entertainment that’s not limited by corporate executives. But Penny Arcade is a entrepreneur webcomic, made by guys who aren’t afraid to call a spade a spade.

For those who don’t want to click the link, here’s the highlights. Penny Arcade, probably one of the biggest web-exclusive strips, published the comic above on 8/11/10. This drew objections from a “feminist” blog. Penny Arcade posted a response (in the form of a comic) the next day. Various other blogs weigh in, mostly objecting.

Later, Penny Arcade announces they’ll be selling a dickwolf t-shirt in their merchandise store (it’s not offensive, it’s a sport t-shirt, and resembles a mash-up of the Minnesota Wild and Minnesota Timberwolves logo — are PA from my corner of the world?), but Courtney Stanton (works as project manager for a video game company) objects. On January 24th, she announces that she was asked to speak at the Penny Arcade convention, but declined. Two days later, all dickwolf merch is removed from the Penny Arcade store. More blogs weigh in, and interpretations abound.

Separated at birth?

This is where it gets interesting. On January 29, someone asks Mike (one of the Penny Arcade people) whether dickwolf t-shirts will be allowed at the Penny Arcade convention. Mike responds “I’ll be wearing mine”.

More blogs weigh in. Some are conflicted. Some object to Penny Arcade’s handling of the situation. Some object to their removal of the merchandise. Some object to the objections. (You just can’t win, can you?) Courtney Stanton displays a pictorial breakdown of some of the responses she’s gotten, many of which involve the words “fat”, “whale”, “ugly”, “die in a fire”, and other unpleasant things.

On February 3rd, Mike and Jerry, the creators of Penny Arcade, finally weigh in on the issue, probably prompted by a tweeted death threat saying “A funny joke: Go to Mike Krahulik’s house, literally murder his wife and child” (paraphrased for readability). Basically, they summarize what’s happened so far, and ask people to stop behaving like sociopaths.

Rape as Comedy” is nothing new, just as “Rape is Love” and “Rape as Redemption” are common in media. Yes, girls, even your favorite “Gone with the Wind” is no doe-eyed innocent. Don’t you remember the scene where Rhett Butler forcibly carries Scarlet unwillingly up the stairs, kicking and screaming? In the next shot, she’s laying there in bed with a smile on her face, with Rhett next to her. Exactly, what do you think happened?

But that’s not what intrigues me about the argument.

The interesting thing is this also comes on the heels of a recent controversy where BitchFest made a list of 100 YA novels for the feminist reader. Some people objected to some of the entries on the list (mostly “Tender Morsels” which involves graphic, continuous rape and incest content). BitchMedia removed those entries which prompted people like Scott Westerfeld (among others), who also had entries on the list, to object to that removal, and ask for his own entries to be removed when it was clear that BitchMedia made a kneejerk censorship reaction and hadn’t even read the book. See here for a summary of that debate. Personally, why anyone would put stock in what an outlet called “BitchMedia” says is beyond me.

But back to Penny Arcade. This is what those guys were thinking: a dickwolf — a wolf with erect phalluses for limbs — who rapes people to sleep is ridiculous. So ridiculous, it’s hilarious. Twelve-year-old boy hilarious, but still, it’s so silly it’s funny. That’s what comedy is — pushing the envelope to the point of absurdity. They weren’t condoning or marginalizing rape, because why would they? It’s not on their mind 24/7. They were marginalizing video games’s dubious moral stance in real world scenarios.

I sympathize with PA in this debate because A) I’m anti-censorship & I wouldn’t want either the government or “the masses” determining what my product should or shouldn’t say B) I’ve been here recently when I tried to make some comments on Jim C. Hines’s forum. Everyone there attacked me and my opinions immediately. It doesn’t matter which side was right, we could not have a rational discussion about it, because people were too emotionally charged. It’s the same as racism. Same with abortion. Same with homosexual rights. We cannot solve these problems until we argue with objectivity, logic, and rationality. Not emotions, personal feelings, or gut instincts.

So until you can stop calling people a fat whale or threaten to kill someone’s family, shit like this will keep happening. At this point the debate is causing more pain than the original act.

But here’s the two things I want to say. One: I cannot reconcile the fact that they decided to pull the t-shirt from their stores, then Mike says that he’ll be wearing his at PAX. That seems pretty hypocritical. I know there’s got to be more to the story than that. It could have been left hand not knowing what the right was doing. That often happens in business. But it wasn’t enough to say that there won’t be any restrictions on dickwolf t-shirts, he had to say he’ll be actively wearing one. Isn’t that like Murabak wearing a “Free Egypt” t-shirt? I don’t think PA needs to apologize over this, but I do think they need to clear it up. I don’t think there’s anything they need to apologize for. Apology implicates regret, sadness, and remorse, and you should never have that for something you created unless it hurt people. No one is hurt by a comic strip. PA should stand by their work.

Second: I’m not going to talk about this in terms of censorship vs. sensititve issues like rape, but I will use this analogy:

Say you’re at a playground, you brought lunch, there’s a bunch of kids around playing. Now a mom, a total stranger, comes up to you and asks “excuse me, my son has a severe peanut allergy. Could you wash your kids hands so they don’t get peanut butter all over the equipment?”

First, you might not think this is a big request. But think about it a little further. Wouldn’t you be surprised? Taken aback? I know I would be. In fact, I might feel forced to leave, unwelcome. I might not want to come back to that playground if that woman’s going to be there again. I know it’s awkward for her to ask, but it’s awkward for me to give in to a foolish request.

Who knows if someone’s peanut-laden kid was there five minutes ago? Do you think wiping a kids hands is going to do anything but a passable job to get the peanut butter off? I don’t have a sink in my diaper bag. Why is it your job to safeguard this kid’s life when you’re not the one who has the problem?

No, I’ve never been there. I have no allergies. I don’t know what it’s like to have allergies or asthma. I imagine it’s bad. Not being able to breathe is scary. But if I don’t have this condition, why should I be forced to act like I do? I’m not the one with the allergy. Why is one person dictating the policies that change it for all of us? Why are we listening to a few screwballs instead of listening to the people who had no problem? The majority of the people liked the comic, but they had nothing to complain about, so they stayed silent.

(Here’s the post where I gleaned the scenario from. Be sure to read all the comments.)

Remember what Neil Gaiman said. Freedom of speech is not a scalpel. It’s a club. It must defend all speech or none, even icky speech. This is the web. Offensive material is everywhere. But anyone who says it should be taken down because of their personal feelings is being selfish and inconsiderate to a lot of people.

–Some comments on the comments below–
  • I don’t believe in the “slippery slope” argument.  If a tree falls in the forest, do all the other trees around it fall?  When radio debuted they thought it was the end of live music.  Then they said the same thing about movies and television and videos.  They are all still around.  Slippery slope is a logical fallacy.
  • Wheelchair ramps don’t inconvenience me.  I can still take the stairs.  Blind accessibility won’t inconvenience me. All websites will be first engineered for the “sighted”.  You can add things for the minority, and that’s fine, but when you start taking away something away, that’s when I get pissed.
  • Rape culture is a bit of a misnomer.  As I understand it, it’s the word for when rape is treated lightly or as a joke and thus is implicitly condoned.  I don’t believe this causes rape (just the same way that violence in video games does not cause violent human behavior), but it does provoke misconceptions about its nature (Jim C. Hines just posted a nice example of this).  Did PA do this?  I don’t think so.  At least not NEARLY as bad as mass media news outlets do.  It’s farcical comedy, people.
  • PA are not rich white guys (not sure what their being white has to do with this).  They are hard workers, they frequently give back to the community, and I see no evidence that they have mansions or are “privileged”.  (You ever see their reality show?  Their office space is tiny.)
  • Dickwolves, in themselves, do not offend people.  It’s their “raping to sleep” act that does it.  When I hear the world dickwolf I imagine a wolf with phalluses all over.  Not a wolf in the act of raping someone.  So the shirt itself does not promote rape.  Humans rape, but a picture of a human on a t-shirt is okay.
  • I don’t know what spectral integrity is, but I want it.  Sounds boss.
  • I don’t know what the offended people are expecting from PA, but I suspect no matter what they do, it would not be enough.
  • One last thing by Jim C. Hines he wrote today: “Everyone messes up. We all say things without thinking. We say things that are hurtful, offensive, or just plain stupid. What’s important is what happens next.”