Apr 1, 2015

Random Thoughts on Fandom and Controversy

Random Thoughts on Fandom and Controversy
Back Issue Ben
Ben Smith

The time has come, once again, for me to scribble out some thoughts on the nature of comic book fandom. It must be noted that I never have, and never will, claim to be perfect. The goal of Back Issue Ben has always been to provide something for you to read with me having to do as little research or preparation as possible. I strive to do as little work as possible. Strive. 99.99% of the time I am being sarcastic in an attempt to get someone to laugh, even if it’s only myself. I have made many of the same mistakes that I will soon criticize, but the overall goal in anyone’s life should be to learn, grow, and progress from those mistakes. There have been a few recent internet controversies that I feel like I need to comment on, so feel free to take or leave my thoughts for what they’re worth. If you don’t feel like reading any further, I’ll summarize my thoughts into one simple statement up front: be cool to each other. (Really? You had to go with cool? Come on, Ben. It's "Excellent." "Be excellent to each other." Jeez. -Cranky Editor Man)

NOBODY IS PERFECT

More and more, I’ve witnessed an alarming trend in this day of social media, and that is the rush to demonize anyone that might have said something inappropriate. For example, Erik Larsen makes a few comments about superhero costumes, that were either poorly worded or misconstrued, or both, and there are some that have decided he should never work in comic books again. A veteran comic book creator of 30 years should lose his livelihood over a few tweets about superhero costumes? Nothing short of violent crimes against real live human beings should result in eternal condemnation (and maybe not even that, depending on the situation).

 Everyone can learn from their mistakes and seek redemption. Especially in the case of some poorly worded tweets. Nobody is perfect, especially you. If you hide behind a screen name, and are calling for a human being to be fired from their job because they happen to support a story direction you don’t enjoy, you are wrong. Full stop. At least have the courage to use your real name, and if you’re too scared to do so, then maybe it’s not something worth saying in public.

CRITICISM IS OKAY, DEMANDS ARE LESS SO





The Milo Manara Spider-Woman and Rafael Albuquerque Batgirl covers were two situations that I, personally, did not care about. I never would have paid two seconds of attention to them if the offensiveness of the covers hadn’t been thrust into my face by the internet community. That is not to say I thought they were appropriate; the Batgirl cover in particular was in poor taste to say the least. I don’t get offended by much, and both of these were variant covers that you literally would have to seek out and spend a lot of money to even own.

In my mind there was a simple solution to these covers: don’t look at them! But in my many years on planet Earth, I’ve learned that just because I didn’t care, doesn’t mean someone else won’t. My experience is not universal, and art can be and should be open to criticism, especially when intended to be sold commercially. Potential customers should absolutely speak up respectfully about the product that is being delivered to them.

What makes me nervous, in a general sense, is when a vocal group of dissenters is allowed to make decisions on behalf of the whole. Like I said, the Batgirl cover was in bad taste and never should have been commissioned by DC. But at some point there’s going to be a situation that isn’t as clear-cut, and I’m worried that comics companies will start to worry about releasing anything that might be considered challenging to their audience. It has never been easier to express offense towards something than it is on social media. Facebook and twitter are the easiest ways to protest something in history, and to me, that makes them the least effective and meaningful form of protest possible. If you’re against something, put some real effort into it. Go outside and accomplish something beyond posting “#getridofthis.” Nothing of significance has ever been accomplished in the span of 140 characters. It takes real people putting real effort into making serious change.

INTERNET ARGUMENTS ARE NOT FUN

I initially joined a message board because the writer and editor of the comic being discussed were also frequent contributors to the discussion. It was that level of access to the creators behind the comic that appealed to me, and it didn't hurt that I thought they were often hilarious in their treatment in some of the more belligerent malcontents on the internet. What I soon learned is that there are few places on the internet where you can have a meaningful or respectful discussion about anything. From something as arguably important as politics, to which superheros would win in a fight. I've gotten into heated arguments over things as unimportant as the way comic book writers promote their work, and for what? After hours of debate, I’ve accomplished nothing in either real life or online.

There is no real discussion on a message board. Nobody has ever said, “you know what, you've made some good points that I need to consider.” No minds have ever been changed in my experience. In response to a complaint someone was making on a message board, I posted definitive proof that they were wrong in the form of a page from an actual comic book, and they still refused to acknowledge it. (As definitive as anything in fiction can be, that is. Spider-Man can grow wings and start eating criminal’s heads in the next issue of Spider-Man, and we’d have no choice to accept that it is now canon.) If no real discussion can occur, then what am I participating for? All I’ve done is let people I don’t necessarily enjoy into my life on a regular basis. Life is stressful enough without us willfully allowing more sources of stress into it.

 Also, everyone should go outside and experience more real live human interaction, myself included.

NOBODY LOOKS GOOD AFTER AN INTERNET ARGUMENT


I’m sure there have been people that have been complaining about comics since the beginning, but I begin to wonder as people spend more and more time online, when human beings become less real and more like video game characters to some. At what point has it ever been okay to call someone a worthless piece of shit because they don’t like Wolverine as much as you do? That person could spend the majority of their free time volunteering in a children’s hospital, but you’ve made a determination about their overall character based on their preferences in fiction.

As I said earlier, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes in the past. Letting internet arguments devolve into personal attacks and physical threats. Let’s get something clear: nobody is meeting up to have a physical altercation over their opinions about Deadpool. I’d venture to guess most people talking comics online are even capable of having a physical altercation, including me. At one time I might have been able to, but now I get winded if I laugh too hard (which is even more reason I should stop writing this and go get some exercise). Everyone that logs onto the internet is a real human being, and is probably someone’s child, sibling, spouse, or even parent. There isn't any person arguing about comic books that is less important than a fictional character (assuming they aren't logging on from their prison cell). Especially if it’s a writer or artist that has done nothing more heinous than attempt to entertain you. Their only crime is to try and provide you with a fun story, and some get death threats as a result. That is insane, my friends.

That’s it. Those are my thoughts on the matter. Agree or disagree, it’s your prerogative. In summary, I think the world would be a better place if we all treated each other with a little more respect and consideration. Two people can disagree without one of them being a villain, or even of them necessarily being right or wrong. Most of what constitutes good fiction is going to be subjective anyway. Everyone involved in comics, from fans to creators, loves (or at one time loved) the medium. That should create bonds, not rivalries. Even if you don’t like someone, and it’s okay if you don’t, at least be cool to them.

I’ll try harder if you will.

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