GORDON: Up there! In the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s…! It’s…!
It’s a cheesy rehash of the same joke we closed out on last time!
EVAN: How dare you, sir.
GORDON: Citizens, today our topic of discussion is Superman, and to a lesser extent, superheroes in general- though you could hardly go wrong to kick off a discussion on the subject by starting with the Big Blue Boy Scout.
Let’s start things off with a question. Who here likes Batman? Oh, yes, Commissioner Gordon?
Thank you for that very thorough answer, James. But you know what else is important, and begs asking when we all like something? Where that something comes from. Y’know, who made it, that sort of thing. So, who made Batman?
Go ahead and pick up that Batman graphic novel lying next to you, don’t pretend you can’t see it. Tell me what it says inside there, somewhere between the front cover and the beginning of the actual comic. You can read it aloud, that’s fine.
It’s your creepy neighbor stalking the streets in spandex carrying a metal baton!
EVAN: Yes, ladies and gentlemen, today Gordon and yours truly will be discussing the very-much-grounded real-life vigilantes out there, and without our dear friend Kat who has featured in our last three installments.
As her wedding nears ever closer she will be absent for the next few E>s, but never fear, she will be returning at some point.
Act 2, Scene 2 of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet has the titular character declare that “there is no good or evil, but thinking makes it so.” Years later, this same sentiment would be echoed by Milton’s Lucifer in Paradise Lost, vowing “The mind is its own place, and itself, can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
Moral ambiguity, in case you haven’t caught the drift, is the subject of today’s post. Our culture is becoming increasingly saturated with concepts and figures embodying this general rejection of our traditional measures of what right and wrong is. Jump back twenty years, and the definition of a bad guy would be fairly straightforward. A bad guy breaks the law. A bad guy hurts people. A bad guy lies. A bad guy uses people.
Today, all those things would describe five minutes of screen time with Breaking Bad’s Walter White…
Or Sin City’sJohn Hartigan…
Or The Walking Dead‘s Rick Grimes…
Or even any of these guys…
And lest anyone think that women are excluded from this mentality…
Now this isn’t the first time we’ve had a run of morally questionable heroes/antiheroes dominating popular culture. If I were to describe tough, unflappable, characters struggling against each other for their own ends and agendas, often in contradiction of the law- you’d probably assume I was talking about characters from some film noir piece.
And it makes sense, doesn’t it? Throw a mass of people in an economic depression with no end in sight, mix in distrust of the powers that be, add cynicism in regards to any progress or change, and when else can you expect but a tacit respect for the handful of people who do manage to carve themselves out a living. When you’re living paycheck to paycheck, “right and wrong” doesn’t quite seem so relevant as “effective or not.” When you feel helpless and voiceless, chances are anyone whose managed to be independent and powerful is going to be attractive- be he/she a suave criminal, a cunning businessman, a shrewd politician (à la Game of Thrones), or even just an all-around tough guy (see Sons of Anarchy).
And we’re not just talking about TV shows here.
Who are the good guys and bad guys in Inception?
Think about it- exactly which characters were representing the side of justice, truth, and freedom? Or Killing Them Softly? The Godfather Series? The Big Lebowski?
Our heroes today aren’t crusaders, they’re survivors. They’re those who manage to carve out a slice for themselves in spite of law, society, and conventional morality. “Good and evil” simply aren’t relevant.
And y’know what? I’m not hear to pass judgement on any of that.
There’s strong arguments to be made on all sides for whether or not this is a good or a bad thing or, to put it into morally ambiguous terms, a productive or a destructive thing. There’s even a strong case to be made for the “morally ambiguous” characters on TV and in the movies still never straying too far from anything truly socially unacceptable. Alternatively, you could (and I would) potentially argue that the moral system we had before all this wasn’t actually all that moral to begin with.
And what about the issue of cultural plurality in our ever-shrinking world? When what is right according to my moral code wrong according to yours, how do we proceed? Do we try to find some sort of umbrella system to keep us from fighting each other? Maybe we should declare moral anarchy and simply duke it all out based on the strength of our convictions. Certainly Nietzsche would approve of that.
All that’s to say that the issue’s complicated.
I don’t know, Michael Cera gif, I don’t know…
Speaking for myself, it is nice to see some kind of conviction, even if I don’t agree with the cause at hand. There’s a case to be made for apathy being the pinnacle of all evil. In a world where the greatest battles the average person (or rather, Westerner) faces are over such petty, empty things as getting a dinner order right or having to wait in line, seeing any kind of drive makes for a nice change. As with so much in this past year, it might not be great, but it’s a start.
GORDON: Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages, welcome you here to Evan’s Dignity Memorial Art Gallery to view these lovely pictures of houses and flowers and stuff. The artist? Adolf Hitler.
Why, you ask, do we have Hitler’s youthful paintings and sketches? Because tonight we’re going to be talking about separating art from the artist, and whether or not such a thing can be done.
EVAN: To throw out an example, let me refer to the science fiction author Orson Scott Card, a man famous for writing Ender’s Game and for being pretty staunchly opposed to homosexuality in any form.
GORDON: We’re not talking about some latent disapproval of homosexuality people, we’re talking about full blown vitriol on OSC’s part. Here’s a quote from him on the subject:
The dark secret of homosexual society—the one that dares not speak its name—is how many homosexuals first entered into that world through a disturbing seduction or rape or molestation or abuse, and how many of them yearn to get out of the homosexual community and live normally…
Regardless of law, marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down, so it can be replaced with a government that will respect and support marriage
EVAN: Which is straight-up reprehensible, which I hope you’ll agree with regardless of your personal stance towards the very loaded topic of gay marriage, etc.
EVAN: On a similar note, we have Frank Miller, a legend in the comics industry.
The guy penned Batman: The Dark Knight, 300, Sin City, and had a marvelous run on Daredevil that really defined the character. The man’s a legend.
The Occupy Movement doesn’t have the same hot button status gay marriage does, and it’s arguable that people are less certain about it, but that doesn’t make the things Miller said any less ignorant or wrong.
GORDON: Again, this is true. But we’re not here to list off the artists and creative minds who have maintained ignorant or bigoted positions over the years.We’re here to talk about separating them from their art, and I’m going to submit that one some fundamental level, it can’t be done.
EVAN:Alright, let’s hear why.
GORDON: I’m going to cite Miller’s iconic work The Dark Knight Returns, which has just recently been adapted as an animated film.
It’s not hard to see Miller’s borderline fascist views bleeding through in the book, as he takes pot shots at “reform not punishment” imprisonment, youth (portrayed as violent, stupid, barely comprehensible thugs that even Alex DeLarge would be creeped out by), and even the latest Robin’s parents being portrayed was whiny, drug-addled liberals.
While I doubt Miller was using much restraint, I’m going to submit that the artist is almost always too close to his or her art for her views not to bleed through.
EVAN: So members of Oprah’s book club who read The Education of Little Tree, by former member of the KKK Forrest Carter, should have been able to pick up on his racial sentiments?
GORDON: I said “almost.” Obviously there are exceptions to the rule.
And this isn’t to say that the work itself is to be shunned; I really and truly enjoy Miller’s work, even though he has a goose-stepping, paranoid Islamophobe.
Because of this, in particular.
EVAN: So we shouldn’t let the beliefs of creators affect our enjoyment of their work?
GORDON: I’d hope not. That would preclude me from liking anything done by Dali, any music written by Wagner, and so on and so forth. My issue isn’t with enjoying something a despicable person has made, my issue is with hiring someone you know is despicable.
Would I listen to “Flight of the Valkyries”? Yes. if Wagner was alive today, would I hire that anti-Semite? No way.
EVAN: That’s a really good point. For example, anyone who buys the new “Adventures of Superman” comic will actually be indirectly funding various anti-homosexual movements that Card himself supports. In this case paying money for his product actually results in an action you probably aren’t okay with.
That doesn’t mean that you couldn’t read his comic and think, “Huh, that is a great take on the Last Son of Krypton,” which is entirely likely since he really is a great writer. His art isn’t necessarily affected by his beliefs, but your buying his art supports them, in a roundabout way.
It’s a metaphor for rejection
GORDON: Despite the counter-arguments in DC’s favor, the simple truth of the matter is people aren’t going to be boycotting these books simply because they’re angry at Card- they were angry at him before- they’re also angry at DC for not having the basic decency to not go into business with a raging homophobe.
EVAN: No matter how good a writer, or any other kind of artist, is, there will always be another who approaches them in talent who doesn’t espouse the negative views that they do. The fact of the matter is that DC has other options.
But going back to the topic at large, we confirmed earlier, in a way, that knowing about an artist’s beliefs after you’ve already appreciated and enjoyed their work shouldn’t rob you of that. If I see a painting and think it’s quite lovely, then find out Hitler painted it, that doesn’t suddenly cause it to become hideous in my eyes. At least, it shouldn’t.
GORDON: And because of the pressure we the audience can put on companies to ensure that bigots and nutcases aren’t given a platform, we should try to keep the artist and their work tied together.
EVAN: Voting with our wallets, which should really be done in every area of our lives [buying ethically produced products, high quality entertainment, etc.].
GORDON: Kinda thrown off by the fact that some wallets are thicker than others. But such is Capitalism. Overthrow the bourgeois. Down with the system.
EVAN: But that is a topic for another day. One that I may or not be hopping on, simply due to a lack of knowledge on the matter.
And it’s also about time we wrapped things up.
GORDON: I submit that next week we discuss poverty, as more and more of the nation (and world) slips into it.
EVAN: To start this off by ignoring our readership and addressing you, this week’s topic is a weird sort of continuation of the various posts on culture you’ve written, such as “manly culture,”“science culture,” etc. And similar to these other groups of people, “nerd culture” is a pretty nebulous sort of thing to define.
GORDON: No argument there. After all, even the “nerds” insist on calling out “fake nerds”- especially in regards to women/girls. But what is a nerd anyways?
EVAN: See, now I’m torn, because we do need to define it, but you’ve also directly referenced an issue I wanted to discuss in depth this week.
GORDON: How about we abandon our previous track record, and just plunge recklessly ahead and hope the issue resolves itself?
EVAN: Well, let me throw this image out there:
And then hope that suffices for now.
GORDON: Works for me. So what was it that you wanted to address specifically?
To break it down further, these are women who dress up as superheroes and what have you without knowing about the actual characters themselves. He is upset because, to quote him:
BECAUSE YOU DONT KNOW SH-T ABOUT COMICS, BEYOND WHATEVER GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH YOU DID TO GET REF ON THE MOST MAINSTREAM CHARACTER WITH THE MOST REVEALING COSTUME EVER.
Also that they attend to essentially just tease the regular con-goers and are actually not even hot, just “con-hot.” So yeah, he said a lot.
GORDON: Ah yes, I recall reading about this. And while I think we can all agree Harris went too far, is a bit hypocritical (seeing how most comic women ain’t exactly average looking), and probably getting too emotional, I can’t help but wonder if he has, somewhere in there, a point.
I mean, imagine if all of a sudden, something that you had been stigmatized for became popular, and people started trying to co-opt your identity knowing nearly nothing about it. I’d be ticked off too.
EVAN: That’s definitely something I’ve read people write about, that this used to be an exclusive club and that it took years to build up this knowledge and become, well, a nerd, and here are these noobs and they want in and it’s not that easy.
And I can see where they’re coming from as well.
But if you really love something, shouldn’t you want others to as well? The Avengers has an enormous following on tumblr these days [because of the movie], and these are people who are actually going out and starting to buy comics. They are helping sales, aiding the industry, etc.
GORDON: That’s true, and something I’ve considered, but there’s probably also an argument to be made for the other side. That something precious to you is being watered down and diluted for profit. I don’t believe that nerds (comic book nerds, anyways) can necessarily make this argument, but the line of logic is there.
Let’s try to come up with an example of this happening somewhere else, especially in regards to persecution.
EVAN: Mmk, go ahead-
GORDON: “Black culture” (or what was passed off as black culture) might be an example. Can you state that you’re not driven nuts by wealthy, comfortable suburban kids fronting like they’re from the streets of Oakland?
EVAN: Yeah, people are upset about it, sure, but there’s not this immense outcry over it. There are comic-con enthusiasts that are genuinely incensed that all of this is happening-
I doubt that an actual thug or gangbanger or whatever these rich White kids are playing at imitating is going to start freaking out that he’s getting ripped off. He’s going to laugh or shrug it off, because it hardly matters.
GORDON: I’d argue that the reason for this has more to do with the change in venue. It’s easy for the major players of the comic book industry to voice their opinions than, say, a Wu-Tang Clan fan in the late 90s. But maybe I’m wrong.
EVAN: For the most part, I see this as a mindset that is the foundation or core of hipsterism, and that we all feel to some extent, however minor. That we found something and we love it and there is a pride in joy in being one of the original fans.
And this outpouring of others somehow cheapens things. And all of a sudden we’re trying to assert how we’re better than them in some way.
“You chose to dress up as Spider-Woman? Do you even know who her alter-ego is, or what her powers are? Etc.”
GORDON: Again, do we not sympathize? Do we not feel frustrated with people who have more or less jumped on the bandwagon now that it’s all safe and socially acceptable to do so? Heck, just imagine if someone tried listing themselves as a fan of fine cooking, having only eaten sushi once- would you be ticked?
EVAN: If I equated sushi with fine cooking I guess I would, yeah. But just because we can understand someone’s anger and frustration doesn’t make it logical.
GORDON: I wouldn’t say that there’s not a logic to it. I mean, a major part of being a nerd is, and always has been, the social pariah element. All of the sudden you have these people trying to claim to be on the fringes of society? It’s condescending and insulting.
EVAN: I think that’s the issue- They’re not trying to “claim to be on the fringes of society.”
GORDON: I disagree- I feel this is a coward’s way of feigning rebelliousness and all that.
EVAN: Sometimes people who haven’t been exposed to comics for much of their lives see a movie, or read a trade, and go to a con. Maybe they wear a costume. That doesn’t mean they’re going into this thinking, in any way, that they’re suddenly a part of this group of outcasts.
Comics are popular now. I mean, more than they’ve ever been. To say “I like comics” is no longer the sort of thing that’s going to get you shunned. People are going to raise their eyebrows and wonder why you think that’s a big deal.
GORDON: Comics yes, no one is gonna argue that. The title of “nerd” however, that’s different. And after all, “nerd” is a much larger term. It applies to gamers, to film, and so on.
EVAN: So how does one become a “fake nerd”?
GORDON: Therein lies the rub- there’s always gonna be more obsessive nerds out there. People higher up and lower down the hierarchy. But for the most part, I think we can agree that a “false” nerd is one who does not meet the criteria in that diagram you posted.
The “social ineptitude”, the “obsessiveness”- if it’s not actually there (no matter how much the person or persons might insist otherwise) then that person is a “fake” nerd.
EVAN: So am I a “fake nerd”?
GORDON: Do you call yourself a nerd?
EVAN: I don’t really call myself anything. But I’d also say that many of the girls who go to cons and find themselves attacked by Harris don’t refer to themselves as anything in particular either.
GORDON: Then no, I wouldn’t define you or them as fitting this category. Like I said- Harris went overboard.
EVAN: I just don’t think social ineptitude needs to be a requirement in this. I think you could be a nerd and still have friends, and achieve some level of popularity. The diagram above really shoehorns the definition. I mean, what if I did call myself a nerd?
I’m fairly smart, about 80% of the time I’m thinking about comics, or comics-related media. At the same time, I’m a fairly social guy. What does that mean?
GORDON: You think about comics 80% of the time?
EVAN: I think about comics a lot.
GORDON: 80% of your waking thoughts is a craaaaaazy lot, though I’d say your self-identification as a nerd is flawed. Serial-killer in the making would be more accurate. But we begin to split hairs at this point.
GORDON: Hugh Laurie can do whatever the **** he wants. As does anyone. With everything he does, can he identify himself first and foremost as a blues musician? Not really. At least, that ain’t how we’re all gonna think of him, or remember him.
EVAN: Does it matter that it’s what you identify as first and foremost? I am positive that at some level, yes, he does identify as a blues musician.
GORDON: It does matter how you identify yourself first and foremost. I’ve eaten bugs on multiple occasions- I don’t declare myself “Gordon Brown: Bug Eater.” The rest of the stuff I do outweighs it by far.
EVAN: You’re missing my point. You’ve eaten bugs, so on some level you can identify as a bug-eater.
If he identifies as a blues artist less than he does as an actor, that doesn’t negate the fact that he identifies as a blues artist, and what we’re talking about is people being able to say that they can and do relate to a culture, and that doesn’t make them fake adherents of that.
GORDON: Let me offer another example: I’ve been camping, and I occasionally read survivalist pamphlets. For me to call myself a “survivalist” would nevertheless be inaccurate and misleading. That’s the crux of the matter, I believe.
A nerd is someone who is in this for the long haul- a person who enjoys The Avengers or Nolan’s Batman trilogy isn’t. At least, not necessarily.
EVAN: I’m not saying that a person who enjoyed The Avengers equates being a nerd. That’s like, half the Earth’s population, if the box office is any indicator.
I’m saying that a person who saw The Avengers, and then heads over to their local comics store to check some out, and gets really into it, has the potential to become a “comics nerd” of sorts. And people who see them and scorn them for not being there from the beginning should be ashamed of themselves.
If we’re sticking with the example of film and comics and so-on.
GORDON: And I agree- those people should not be viewed with derision. But that’s not who we’re talking about here.
We’re talking about ****ing hipsters, about people who have just enough knowledge of a culture to give themselves the veneer or adopting it. People who wear glasses as a ****ing fashion statement. You know the kind.
It’s about motives. The noob who is just now getting into the culture isn’t a “false” nerd- just a young one. The person who call himself or herself a nerd to co-opt the social stigma (now that it’s all but gone) deserves contempt.
EVAN: I honestly don’t think that what these people are trying to co-opt is the social stigma.
GORDON: My poor choice of words. I mean the false sense of rebellion. Like people who post pro-gay Facebook statements simply to draw attention and applause to themselves. Fake-rebels. Fair-weather activists.
EVAN: That’s fine, and I agree that these people are not to be applauded.
I just think that for the most part, people are realizing that there is a lot in the “nerd culture” that they find interesting and accessible, and are gravitating towards it. Not out of some misguided attempt to be on the edge of society, but because they legitimately enjoy whatever it is they’re trying to engage with.
GORDON: I agree- I simply don’t think it’s these people most old-guard nerds are angry at.
EVAN: But how can they differentiate? That’s a huge issue. It’s this reaction of the community against anyone that’s not legit, but without any way of truly being able to tell how people feel-
GORDON:That in and of itself is another issue. If I showed up to the social justice convention dressed as Che Guevara you’d best believe I’d better know a thing or two about the guy who I’m completely dressed up as- but we’re moving off track.
EVAN: But the point of social justice conventions isn’t to dress up as your favourite revolutionary- that’s entirely besides the point. I bring it up because it’s completely cogent to our topic, because it’s exactly what Tony Harris was railing against.
GORDON: Tony Harris ran his mouth and made a fool of himself, I ain’t trying to defend a word of what he said or wrote, only the general perspective he seems to be coming from.
EVAN: What I’m saying, without negating your points is this, and I’m going to try to wrap up since we’re 15 minutes past our cut-off, is this:
I’m someone says “LOL im such a nerd” and they wear glasses with big frames and have a Green Lantern patch on their backpack, yeah, I’d say that’s not okay. But a large issue is being able to, as a community, acknowledge when “outsiders” try to access what it is that we love so dearly.
We like comic books and Star Trek and Dungeons and Dragons, and if other people might as well, that’s fine. Just because others weren’t always welcoming of us in the past doesn’t mean we should do the same to others. Especially when there’s some likelihood, even a little, that they could one day be as big a fan as you [as hard as that may be to believe].
GORDON: Well put. Be sure to stop by next time for our discussion of . . .
EVAN: Of . . . uh . . . I threw out this topic last week, what’ve you got?
GORDON: Let’s address the portrayal of drugs- weed in particular- in media and popular culture.
EVAN: That’s a pretty contemporary topic too, because of the legalization in Washington and all that. Sounds good to me.
GORDON: Let it be so then. Merry Wednesday to all, and to all a good night!