Hey, everyone! Show notes are so short as to be little more than an intro to the episode, and on top of that I wanted to give you the same warning I gave at the beginning of the episode (albeit a little more coherent)—Graeme and I have made it a point since the election to make this podcast much less about the politics and much more about the comics, because we know a lot of people who would prefer/need a place they can escape to and not have to deal with all of that. However, in this episode, because I’ve had a lot of my plate and on my mind, that unspoken agreement gets breached in a pretty big way. For a good chunk of the episode, we talk about empathy, Nazis, communication, and whether or not fictional narratives mostly help create empathy, or reinforce solipsism. (not that I was smart enough to put it like that at the time, damn it!)
I mean, don’t worry, we also discuss Marvel Legacy #1, Harley Quinn: A Celebration of 25 Years, the movie IT and the novel The Stand, Audobon, On The Wings of the World by Fabien Grolleau and Jérémie Royer, Rocket #5 by Al Ewing and Adam Gorham, Kamandi Challenge #9 by Tom King and Kevin Eastman and Freddie Williams II, and much, much more.
Like I say at the end of the episode, I’m sure when we reconvene (in two weeks!), I will be back to babbling about Hookjaw, but this episode…not nearly as much. Forewarned is four-armed, as the Tharks used to say. And nonetheless, we hope you enjoy the episode.
NEXT WEEK: NYCC for Graeme! Some relaxing maze books for Jeff! Join us in two weeks for another Wait, What?
Prefer to download direct? Here’s the link:
Jeff, one of my go-to sources of perspective on current troubles is my mom. She’s 87. She grew up poor in the Depression, and her life includes watching the McCarthy era go by while my father worked on early computers at various firms and then at NASA, and like that. She’s been saying since the Reagan administration that she thinks this succession of Republican hordes is crueler the ones who made so many lives miserable when she was young. The Depression-era ones were mostly genuinely ignorant of and callous about those below them socially, where the modern ones are often very much aware of others and actively delighting in their misery.
Since Mom’s one of the finest people I know, the sort of mother I wish everyone could have, I think you’re in good company.
On the other hand, when it comes to othering…y’know, I’ll be willing to put in a lot more work on empathy for abusers when women (and people of color, and queer people, and disabled people, and….) can count on being taken seriously, their objections reported and acted upon, and so on, without having to wait ten or fifteen years first. Just in the last few weeks, I’ve seen a friend driven out of what had been a safe gaming space she helped build thanks to guys who didn’t take the problems she pointed at seriously, and the spectacle of a few guys in the tabletop gaming world suffering the kind of coordinated attack one particular serial abuser there has unleashed on many women and other marginalized folks and now he’s getting taken more seriously as a problem….
I want my friends’ injuries and losses taken seriously, and then, maybe, I can think more about mercy of any kind for those who hurt them and took things away from them.
Also, I’d like to note that there’s always the possibility that you can study someone, listen to them, watch their life, see what their hopes and joys are and their fears and sorrows are, and find that racism, misogyny, homophobia, and a bunch of other fearful hatreds are in fact crucial their identities. You can notice that they’ve spent generations willingly sacrificing their own quality of life for the sake of making sure that others have it worse. As blog commenter Davis X. Machina put it at Balloon Juice :
That’s a conclusion some of us reach with deep regret, against a bunch of our own instincts and presuppositions, after substantial experience and research.
This isn’t a thought original to me or anything, but….why’s there so little talk about the black, Hispanic, etc., working class, and how they respond to perpetual immiseration?
The Republicans say the same things about the Democrats. Two different sides saying that it’s THE OTHER ONE who’s gotten so much more extreme, and “if only they would see the wisdom of OUR economic policies; they’re voting against their own interests, etc etc etc.” It’s old-hat stuff. It’s not original.
And yeah, the right has gotten more extreme, but can you not see that the Left has also gotten more lefty, for better or worse? The view on gay marriage that Obama expressed in 2011 would have been considered “far right” just a few years later. Trump held up a rainbow flag at a rally and had GOP voters cheering in support for LGBT Americans, and you may say (probably correctly) that this was a cheap stunt, but it was also something that would never have happened just a year previous. Democrats point to distant Republican leaders and say “they weren’t SO bad, relatively, but wow that party’s gotten nuts these days”, just as Republican’s point to JFK and talk about how he would be considered a conservative today, especially on taxes. This is all relativistic stuff. It’s ironic that you mention McCarthy, because the whole “everyone’s a secret Nazi, or a Russian spy” thing that’s been going around smacks so much of McCarthyism, but few people on the left recognize it as such.
The bottom line is that if you’re still arguing about Republicans vs Democrats or Left vs Right in 2017 then you just haven’t been paying attention. There is obviously longstanding collusion between both sides at the top. I’ve heard people on the right and left casually acknowledge this, but then whenever some uproar happens they always fall back into place and support their side, as if the whole game isn’t rigged. Neither of these ideologies make sense. The right is supposedly for the “free market” and yet none of them actually cut government spending in any meaningful way. The left is allegedly for the working class, and yet they despise blue-collar values and treat poor people and minorities as “gimme” votes. “Communist” China resembles the capitalist workhouses of 1700s England, but somehow the “learned” political science professors are silent on this, still believing that their various ideologies are actually real things. The whole supposed political vocabulary system is an absolute sham of double-think, and people who still think terms like “democracy”, “freedom” and “social justice” aren’t incredibly problematic and dubious just haven’t been paying attention.
But I mean if you guys just want to grandstand and feel bad for people in some kind of pointless way, go ahead. Expressing beliefs like these is fine, but I don’t ever see any actual learning going on. Just more and more exercises in dehumanizing anyone who disagrees with you. I first noticed this in college, when a friend of mine quoted a Hunter S. Thompson quip about how Nixon was “a monster”. No, Nixon, like Hitler, like you and me, was a HUMAN, and the challenge is to understand our fellow humans, not dehumanize them with terms like “monster” or indeed “Nazi”. You don’t prevent totalitarianism or cruelty by calling people “monster”; you prevent it by trying to cut their hatred off at the pass by relating to them and talking to them, trying to find an understanding so that extremism doesn’t develop. But we don’t talk to each other honestly in this country, and haven’t for a long time, and your spurious “Nazi” allegations are just the latest example. You’re shutting the door down on dialogue with people whom I bet you’ve never had an honest conversation with in the first place.
I lost a close friend of mine to Neo-Nazism, so I know of what I speak. Actual Nazism is not anything close to people like Steve Bannon; that is absolutely laughable; actual Neo-Nazis hate people like Steve Bannon because they know that those types of people aren’t real Nazis. The friend I lost to extremism was definitely not anywhere close to a Reagan or a Trump voter. But you lump them all together because you don’t understand any of them. They’re all “monsters” to you, just like a Rush Limbaugh-type would consider Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Josef Stalin to all be the same. They’re not. You don’t understand what you’re talking about.
By dehumanizing people like this you are creating even more of a problem. We’ve only arrived at this point because “good” people like our wonderfully close-minded partisan die-hard parents began demonizing their political opposition decades ago. Thanks, guys. Thanks for making things even worse and further dehumanizing even more people. You’re so “caring”.
Ironically, you posted this on the same day that Buzzfeed documented the extensive ties between Bannon, Breitbart, Yiannapoulos, and open white nationalists and neo-Nazis (and how they tried to conceal those connections).
Attempts to play “both sides” with Nazis just end up normalizing their ideology. So does pretending that calling someone a Nazi is somehow worse than actually being a Nazi, or helping them to mainstream their Nazi ideas.
While I’m sympathetic to your concerns, and in some cases there’s so much wokeness it’s exhausting, I’d like to see you make that post on Breitbart or Front Page, Jensen.
Just to see what happens.
Thank you, Bruce!
Extremely interesting conversation this episode, I appreciate you’re both willing to have it. I know many want the podcast to be a “refuge from politics” but, like every other non-American citizen, American politics are inflicted on me constantly. I don’t think it’s possible to be apolitical when talking about culture and, most importantly in this case, I think you’re both very good at discussing how politics and comics intersect.
You both even mention that it’s impossible to be apolitical and think you can influence the political environment. Your reticence to talk about this stuff is eminently understandable but still a shame considering the commitment both of you have to excoriating self-criticism and empathy, a far cry from some of the dildos who have no problem bloviating cluelessly about this stuff at a moment’s notice.
Social media has given people a voice but has also obliterated all context. Calls to extend empathy to people being dogpiled on feels right,, it feels like a level-headed response to encourage morality. It also immediately replaces any discussion of how systematic these issues are.
The Twitter website is designed so that it makes more sense to react to something happening to a known person, that is being talked about by more people, even if they’re alleged rapists powerful in their particular circle. The intention is good but how social media has created the need for performative opinion means the targets can be wildly undeserving.
This desperation to do right in public, no matter how undeserving, reflects what Graeme was saying about not giving these people attention. Social media has created a framework when some kind of reaction feels necessary. I’m not sure where to fall on the coverage versus not coverage thing. People get full-time jobs out of being attacked on the internet but silence can create the implication of silent majority.
This comes from the idea the current left created the current right, an increasingly popular idea among middle-aged neoliberals who think the problems are very bad but the causes aren’t just necessary, they’re very good. Relieved whenever you even vaguely drift towards this point, even to try to understand it, both of you react with visceral disgust. I don’t like the internet’s over-reliance on and overrating of Orwell so luckily I can use Zack de la Rocha’s paraphrase to say:”who controls the present controls the future, who controls the present controls the past”
I’m glad both of you mentioned this cultivation of intellectual dishonesty, the insidious petulance of this criticism of criticism. I was shocked recently to hear a teenager write into another podcast and say that no one, on a video game podcast no less, should criticise Taylor Swift in any way because perhaps her fans are listening and it could hurt them. This corporate-propelled positivity is having an effect and doesn’t counter the death threats for any perceived slight creators get, the idea a “fandom” doesn’t belong to a “creator” fuels both.
The “here’s who owns spiderman” chunk is why I’ve listened to Wait, What longer than any other podcast. It’s almost as consuming criticism is a good thing.
While I understand Jeff’s brief analogy, I wouldn’t compare the social media reaction to spanking a child. While I agree that sometimes punishment is necessary, I think the reasons are totally different. These people are adults. This endless licence to claim the need to “learn and grow” is not the same as teaching a child basic social queues. These are people with control, control that was exerted over other people. Extending total empathy when that is not reflected to victims or people not of that status is not going to fix anything. Quite the opposite: it is permission.
One of the reasons the Faraci news re-emerged was the revelation he was immediately rehired and given secret writing position. People who reported sexual assault were afraid to talk about it and told to “just ignore it” when they did. This does not teach empathy, this teaches how to best manage any pushback.
For me it lines up a bit with the film culture these guys pioneered: a never-ending orgy of childhood indulgence and nerds-as-underdog posturing. They can say any amount of horrific shit, encourage any amount of horrific behavior, but immediately turn into a penitent puppy dog that has been scolded enough where there’s any push back.
(I should clarify: I don’t mean pushback in terms of jokes about their appearance or other physical attributes. This is not only stupid, it is hurtful to others and provides fodder for the abusers to dismiss all criticism. Worth noting this is not an attitude the people in question extended to anyone, especially their targets.)
I totally agree about the “well he’s always been a bad writer!!!” reaction to the Knowles/Faraci news. It’s a way of harvesting favs from a situation without meaningfully engaging with it, anything to avoid talking about the realities of sexual assault while still mentioning A Current Thing.
I would not lump all criticism of their writing in with this however. Clueless sub-Kevin-Smith nerd screeds are immaterial but reviewing Heroes by orgastically grunting 1000 word odes to the idea of a 17 year old teenager who can “regrow her virginity” and “never get STDs” for the delectation of a large readership is different.
Laughing off a reviewer writing about women as slabs of meat as regulation embarrassing nerd shit only to discover it was an indication of their behavior irl should spur wider community self-reflection. Graeme is right that absolution from personal culpability, the “othering” process, informs a lot of reaction about this.
This self-reflection should not just stop at gratuitously sexist writing, it should examine the culture in general. I know no-name beginner writers now routinely get their heads stepped on for being vile. But people like Faraci, they’re in the ascendance now. The reaction to Knowles was “I’m loling, no one reads Aint It Cool!!” but he was partnered with Alamo Drafthouse, he was further up the food chain.
These people tell you who they are. Nazis do not, as Jeff says, stride out of a “nazi cloning tank”. Rapists don’t either. Cartoon monsters don’t rape women, men rape women. Men need to talk about this and not just in terms of “please don’t spoil this man’s career just because he ruined someone’s life because he felt like it”
Great episode, sorry this comment was horrifically long. Jeff: very into the pun, despite myself.
And now, the only way to tie up a comment about such weighty issues, I actually did a whole episode of my podcast about many of the issues above. Hypocritically I will now cravenly link to it: http://thewonderofitall.xyz/all-units-episodes/2017/9/28/calling-all-units-haunting-maleness-pervasive-misogyny-some-nudity-required
This was a tremendous reply, NC, and a hugely great set of comments. Thanks for the link!
Mr Toad’s Wild Ride.
I sometimes watch Diversity and Comics youtube channel. I’m not surprised to hear that he is harassing creators online. The way he went after a transgender creator in his videos was deplorable.
Ack, really. That’s terrible to hear—but not too surprising, considering.
I hate that the Diversity and Comics guy insulted that trans creator, but the creator herself put out hateful tweets encouraging violence against various groups of people. Do you guys know about that too, or not? There was also a scandal where various creators were caught on a private Facebook group planning to assault the D&C guy and manufacture evidence of non-existent hate crimes against him. So, there’s that. Threats of physical violence and actual conspiratorial plotting against someone, vs. insults. It’s all bad but it’s not so clear-cut.
I’m kind of surprised there haven’t been more posts screaming about how Diversity and Comics is really a very nice guy who just cares about comics.
Magdelene Visaggio sounds genuinely troubled. B. Clay Moore and Mark Waid’s threats of violence against D and C were deplorable and utterly childish, especially since Waid turned fifty-five years old this year. As was Heather Antos’ alleged encouragement of his doxing.
THAT DOES NOT ABSOLVE D&C.
he’s toned down his misogyny and transphobia considerably, and his videos aren’t nearly as toxic and nasty as his tweets- he actually has positive things to say about comics even by people whose politics annoy him (i.e. Black Bolt). But he often goes off on weird tangents and reading too much into things that to me just aren’t there.
And let’s face it: Heather Antos, in the beginning, did NOTHING to him. From what I can tell, Antos posted that picture, got some mean tweets and DMs. Then there was people complaining about toxic fandoms.
Then D and C, like a lot of GamerGaters before him, took the sweeping criticisms of fandom personally, and started attacking her specifically (though not as bad as some of hisfollowers, it should be said). A lot of people were saying there weren’t a lot of mean tweets, which, I dunno, I guess that invalidates her pain and redeems fans who weren’t even blamed who fee like they are? who cares? Who was Antos hurting by posting that picture? What was she hurting?
HOW WAS SHE STANDING ON YOUR NECK, RICHARD?
Of course, Marvel should look long and hard at itself at how such an obviously hard hearted person like Diversity and Comics has such a huge following- that the fanbase feels so alienated they are seeing themselves as victims, Marvel creators and editorial as villains, and D and C their hero.
It’s fucked up. But Marvel, I think, bears a lot of the blame. Not for their bad comics. Not for their creators politics. but because they have such a shitty attitude publicly.
A Scientific American article I read years ago (“Novel Finding: Reading Literary Fiction Improves Empathy” – which can be found online) concluded that “literary fiction” expands the capacity to empathize, but “popular fiction” does not. That’s because literary fiction concerns the psychological states of the characters and their relationships, and those “characters disrupt readers expectations, undermining prejudices and stereotypes.” According to the study, literary fiction supports and teaches us “values about social behavior, such as the importance of understanding those who are different from ourselves.” Popular or genre fiction, on the other hand, tends to “portray situations that are otherworldly” and “the characters are internally consistent and predictable, which tends to affirm the reader’s expectations of others.”
It seems the problem is the choice of fiction people are reading and being exposed to. If they’re not reading the classics, but are reading Stephen King or Danielle Steele or comic books instead, there’s not much to be gained beyond emotional entertainment and exciting experiences. No doubt, television and movies compound this problem. People want escapism from this world and desire to be mindlessly entertained. That’s why they don’t want football players taking knees.
I am not at all surprised by a general societal empathy deficit.
Thanks for this, Rob! That really sums up a lot of what I was worrying about, and I wish I’d had it on-hand during the discussion. Sigh.
I really, strongly disagree with that study. I’ve taught a few sections of a lit course on Harry Potter at my university. While I went into the course not thinking very much about the series as literature (and still don’t, to some extent) I can’t deny just how many of the students say that they’ve learned about empathy and caring from the series–and I’ve seen studies saying that it’s not just anecdotal evidence from them, that a sizeable portion of the fandom goes on towards social activism.
Which is all a long way of saying, I think it depends a lot on the mass media product in question.
This is obvious, but…
The first storyline in your Demon/Bourne mashup would have to be: “A DEMON BOURNE”
*can’t pay myself on the back; I expect everyone thought, but I was the one willing to attach my name to it.
Thanks again for the podcast, gentlemen. It’s always something I look forward to.
Here’s a great Mark Gruenwald quote which expresses Moore’s sentiment in a more refined manner: “The writer’s job is to give the readers what they want, not what they say they want, and to give it to them in a way they don’t expect.”
I’m also very fond of this mantra of Gruenwald’s as it pertains to super hero fiction: “I’m not a natural storyteller. A natural storyteller can take the trivial and tell it in such a way as to make it seem momentous. I have to work with the momentous and keep it from seeming trivial.”
I hadn’t heard that second quote, Michael. That’s pretty great. Thank you!
And I’m in no way trying to tie off the conversations and comments here, but I really did want to thank everyone for their comments. They’ve meant a lot to me (and I’m sure to Graeme as well, but I can only put aside my proclivity for ventriloquism, and speak for myself here.
I grew up a presbyterian in Co Antrim Northern Ireland. One of the aspects of the protestant culture, which dominates in these islands and the US, I’ve been thinking about is the way division is baked in. It’s important to leave or drive out those who don’t agree or conform within narrow limits. We’re not the most relaxed listeners to diverging opinions. I think this is one of the ways protestant culture has served capitalism so well, it constantly creates wedges that can be useful for those interested in divide and rule.
In terms of my own self-righteousness, I find the question, ‘How have I benefited from genocide?’ useful. When I first asked myself this what came to mind was my mother’s garden in the lovely valley I grew up in. I’ve worked in that garden for more than 50 years and feel a deep content when I’m doing so. However without Elizabeth the First’s war of extermination it doesn’t look like the way it does and the circumstances where my family I and exist at all don’t occur.
Evil must be opposed, but those of us who are privileged might think about doing it modestly. Belittling or humiliating others only feels good because we’ve been humiliated ourselves and white men (to pick a group) need to face those humiliations, rather than look for the correct target to feel better than.
I very much enjoyed your discussion.
Absolutely agree with you about the continuities between Northern Irish Presbyterian culture and certain pathologies in American political culture. Much of this derives from the so-called “Scotch-Irish” and their settlement of the Highland South.
But, as someone who grew up in the *other* part of the island of Ireland, I think it’s fair to say that there is a sizable patch of “these islands” where Catholic culture has been pretty damn dominant :)
Also, since I used the word “pathologies” let me emphasize that there are also good things about America that reflect Northern Irish Protestant influences.
Don’t worry about ‘pathologies’ on my account, there are ways I’ve been shaped by my culture I find embarrassing and others I am happy about. The point I was trying to make about cultural dominance and protestantism was broader than my particular group. So the history of long term and determined resistance to British rule in Ireland is one to be proud of. However I’m suggesting that the character of the culture has been changed by clearly deliberate divide and rule policies and exposure to a culture which turns division on the basis of ideology into a virtue.
Northern Irish protestants as a group are pretty visible about our oppressive and odd ideas. We can get defensive when we’re challenged and teased about these, as is currently happening in wider British culture. Defensiveness leads to often poorly constructed justifications, but a justification is some kind of acknowledgement that we’re doing something. I ‘ve lived in England for the last 30 years and I like it and the English. One amazing thing about living here is, when I call English friends on the strand of anti-catholic contempt in English culture, the bland confidence with which they deny it’s existence. There’s usually a little condescension about my misunderstanding.
Having grown up in the state that was the product of all that resistance, it’s perhaps natural that I’m inclined more to emphasize the importance of not being too proud of it, and to note that the British legacy in Ireland is not entirely negative – and in fact to note that Irish and British culture are intertwined in such complex ways that to speak of “positive” and “negative” is to oversimplify. For better and for worse, the various nations of the islands all created one another.
And the lack of openness to diverging opinions that you ascribe to Protestants – no, that’s definitely not an exclusively Protestant thing.
But on contemporary secularized English culture’s failure to recognize its Protestantism (contemporary – 150 years ago it was very different), I think that’s related to the different relations that Protestantism and Catholicism have to secularism. To generalize, Protestant cultures can secularize without experiencing as much sense of discontinuity as Catholic cultures – you can still sort of identify with a tradition of freethinkers rebelling against Church authority. (I’d like to claim that this is an original observation, but it’s something that Bertrand Russell observed.) This makes it easier, I think, to project one’s secularism onto the past – to have this sense that your culture has always “really” been secular, or, at any rate, that it was only in the distant past that it took its religion very seriously.
I agree completely about Duggan’s Uncanny Avengers. It’s a wonderful book. I didn’t give it a chance at first because my introduction was through Standoff and I thought it was the weakest of the Avengers books there. But it’s overall great. I have to wait for it to appear on Unlimited because I do want to read all the Secret Empire prelude books in some semblance of a reading order, so I have to wait for Sam Wilson, Steve Rogers, USAvengers, etc. to all come up there because I’m definitely not paying for all of that.
Funny that we talk about bringing the Warren Ellis Forum back. It’s been 15 years but I think that forum still haunts a lot of comics fandom, in both good an dbad ways.
And Ellis made being openly contemptuous of your own readers not only cool, and something you can suffer without consequences, but practically moral. You think Brevoort wouldn’t be able to get away with half the stuff he does if Ellis hadn’t been run out of comics on a rail the moment the Ultimate FF #7 solicits leaked?
Er HAD been run out of the industry on a rail.
Whenever I think of comics and a lack of Empathy, I think about Darksied’s Happyland. In Happyland, we have this animatronic world where the guests believe that the people being tortured are really just life-like animatronics. But really, the people in this world are being tortured. Only children really know, and the adults tell them to brush it off. That’s the part that I believe we are at with the internet and internet culture: we have stopped caring that there are possibly other people around us because the computer fools us into believing that the world is just full of animatronics.
Another thing that reminds me of empathy: “We made gods and jailers because we felt small and ashamed and alone. We let them try us and judge us and, like sheep to slaughter, we allowed ourselves to be sentenced. See! Now! Our sentence is up.”