Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fangirl Fridays: Heroes and Villains

Four important things:

1. I'll respect the public crusades some people have against the "freaks and losers" when they crusade equally as publicly against those in power who fuck up in the same way.

2. Anybody who says that black-and-white thinking is superior to shades-of-gray thinking should never criticize George W. Bush and his cronies again. Similar mentality. You don't get a free pass to apply black-or-white thinking to feminism. You don't get a free pass to criticize Bush for classifying everybody as either patriots or terrorists, and then go and apply the same thinking to males. And you don't get a free pass to classify yourself as a liberal and then have a fucking meltdown because somebody interpreted "Onionhead Man" in a way different than you did.

3. When I used to hear a story about sexual harassment, I would automatically assume that the man was at fault, and that it was a black-and-white story. Knee-jerk reaction. And I would get mad -- furiously, furiously mad. I acted this way out of emotion, out of identification. And you know what? Sometimes, I was right. And sometimes? I was dead wrong. And sometimes it was just far more complicated than I had envisioned. But all that didn't matter. Because I just made a public statement to "hang this motherfucker and cut off his nuts." And if I was wrong -- or just didn't have the full picture -- I looked like a goddamn moron.

4. My insistence in shades-of-gray thinking in everything from feminism to the latest fandom obsession seems to really piss some people off. Good. I enjoy watching people with infantile ways of classifying reality roar and stew in their own self-righteous outrage. It's like candy for me, it's the fuel for my car. Keep pissing, keep moaning, keep crying, stay bitter, write screeds, invite friends, and keep viewing your truncated world as a realm of heroes and villains.

You know what? Even the comic book writers aren't seeing superhero stories as simply tales of heroes and villains anymore. Maybe some people should learn to grow the fuck up, throw open the door, and crack open their minds. Or, if they insist on being dogmatic and close-minded, at least stop making fun of the religious fundamentalists. In fact, you might just want to try one of their fine systems of theological thought. It might be even easier if you had a book to follow. Heaven, hell, good, bad, right, wrong. Black, white. Heroes and villains.


  1. Anonymous10:27 AM

    Hear, hear!


  2. Anonymous10:30 AM

    Those are some excellent things of import,indeed.

  3. great post. i had to read it twice to get it though, as i was at first reading it far too literally (wait, where are the heroes and villains...).

    it reminds me of the secular fundamentalists that have been fermenting at alarming rates in recent years.

    anytime one is devoid of listening to possibility s/he stops progressing and growing. black and white thinking, while far easier, only poisons the ground water for all, as it assigns route spaces for being rather than embracing the potential that exists in all happenings.

  4. Speaking as someone who's read the Bible cover-to-cover (well, my bible, the Tanakh,) there's so very much smokey gray between the black fire on white fire. Anyone who tries to simplify religion to polarizing terms betrays a lack of the most basic understanding of any of it.

  5. Frank, you're right - but a lot of people don't wanna believe that. They'd rather be told what to do and who to hate.

  6. I do appreciate your post, but I have to bring up the point of black and white thinking in regards to the long, drawn-out comment section in regards to the Joker post you made a few days ago.
    I'm not going to personally insult you. That's not my way. But I do think you held onto some weird, dogmatic ideas when you would speak on the comments. To me, shades of gray thinking requires you to be open to all opinions. Not agree, mind you, but to be open to listening to them. You seemed to be adhering to rigid ideas, and were never open to any other interpretations. It seems like you may be inconsistent when it comes to thinking about all sides of the issue, even when it is something as simple as an interpretation of a movie character.
    I do like your blog, but you seem very stubborn and hardnosed about some things.

  7. It takes some getting used to, the shades-of-grey way of thinking--or at least it has for me. I think there are some dangers to answering "it's complex" when dealing with people who are potentially dangerous (or already dangerous), like men who are stalkers. (And to go meta for a moment, this is one of the complexities of thinking about things with complexity in mind.)

    I'm with you for advocating, for instance, that we don't demonize--and yet, so many men are given a free pass when they commit violence against women that it's understandable that we might want to abandon, for a time, a more nuanced view that includes the societal causes as well as the harm that is caused by society against men (in the form of, say, enforcement of traditional masculinity). I'm not saying it should be abandoned completely, just suggesting that it may be understandable that we sometimes abandon it. (I'm somewhat playing Devil's advocate here to see what people might think about it. And I am so very off the topic of comics. Sorry!)

    That said, nuanced views are refreshing to me. You said some things at the all-women panel at comic-con which I thought were provocatively nuanced when the discussion turned to misogyny in the industry, and I appreciated those views.

  8. Nice post, Val. The GWB patriot/terrorist comparison is particularly apt. Labels leach all the nuance out of humanity -- and without nuance, what are we?

  9. Well, Val, some of us believe in black-and-whites while allowing for greys in between, you know. ^_~

  10. You know, today is only Thursday, right?

  11. Here's an example of absolute right/absolute wrong thinking that's been getting on my nerves of late: If Barack Obama loses the presidential election it's because America is racist.

    Some folks just can't figure out that there are potentially valid points of view other than their own and that the people with those points of view might actually like the Republican party and John McCain (I certainly liked McCain before he spent the last 8 years pandering to the far right).

    Nope. Anyone who doesn't vote for Obama is a racist. ::gag::

  12. You know, today is only Thursday, right?

    It's been that kind of week, huh?

    And sadly, it seems that the vast majority of people really do like having their answers handed to them. It definitely makes life easier :P

  13. "But I do think you held onto some weird, dogmatic ideas when you would speak on the comments. To me, shades of gray thinking requires you to be open to all opinions."

    If you recall, I opened up that post specifically saying that the scene in question with the Joker may or may not have been about real abuse. I think that was like the first or second sentence of my post. And when I speculated about the theme further -- always making it clear it was about speculation -- I got slammed by people who specifically said that their view was the *only* right view.

    Now, if you are interpreting a piece of art -- in which only two people, the creator and perhaps the actor, might know the "real meaning" of -- should you be dictated to by others on how to think?

    Answer me that question.

    Who is being rigid here?

    If my dinner is interrupted by somebody emailing me that I should "listen to my friends" and change my opinion because they are obviously right -- who is being rigid here?

    This is a fan mentality that I've seen play out over and over and over, and I have zero respect for it. I think it's obsessive, I think it's close-minded, and I think it flies in the face of how people should relate to art.

    Art is meant to be interpreted and appreciated -- NOT dictated about.

    Don't you agree? If I say that my opinion is just my opinion -- a "maybe" -- can't you say the same thing about your opinion, and be civil and not an asshole about it?

    But the problem is, for the most obsessed fans, this is not a matter of art -- it is a matter of meaning in their lives. I walk away from that Joker post, I go on with my life. It's an interesting bit of trivia to maybe revisit, but that's it.

    The fact that I see so many people still tenaciously holding on to this point, though -- and in such cases being such an insufferable jerk about it -- is to me more interesting than anything else.

    You think I'm referring to the Joker in this post -- but I'm not.

    I'm referring to a social phenomenon peculiar to our culture.

  14. I think the connection between the two cases is the confusion some people have between gray and equivalence. It's possible to see a stalker's story as a sad one without losing sight of how frightening and icky his behavior is. And it's possible to believe in the subjectivity and ambiguity involved in interpreting fiction while acknowledging that in "Dark Knight", in-film evidence strongly suggests that the Joker was lying about his father's abuse (but nonetheless very likely suffered some severe trauma at some point). While gray is gray, one can usually tell which shade is darker.

  15. The grayscale includes black and white.

    I'm tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white bourgeois liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is there aren't enough bicycle paths, people trying to make the world safe for their Volvos. -George Carlin.

  16. The bible polarizes, but it runs a great big pole down the middle of ones own self.

  17. It's so nice to hear anyone stand up in favour of these sentiments.

    Thank you.

  18. I had to think about this before I posted, because I know what it's like to be on both sides. I think the other blogger is really angry right now because they were hoodwinked or "gotten to." It reminds me of Tony Star's righteous indignation in Iron Man. He's not so much mad because his partners are bad men and killers, but because he got tricked. I know that feeling. As recently as 4-5 years ago I had a very manipulative friend I let get under my skin, tell me how we were like family, when all the while she was revealing secrets told to her in confidence to everyone who would listen. It had apparently been happening for YEARS under my nose.

    I think people resort to black and white thinking because that feeling of betrayal, that feeling of "how could I have been so stupid to let this snake into my life" is harder to deal with than just making the person an evil monster. I did the same thing to her when the friendship fell I just feel sorry for her, because her life is really very sad and ridiculously convoluted. She's a person who will never have friends because no one can trust her.

    So I can understand both sides of it...her anger, your keeping distance but feeling some degree of sadness. It's all sad, and hopefully, with time, that other blogger will see that.

  19. Anonymous11:37 AM

    You think I'm referring to the Joker in this post -- but I'm not.

    I'm referring to a social phenomenon peculiar to our culture.

    I see where you're coming from with this, but I don't think it is. You've made reference to religious groups citing the bible and religious edicts, and I think the comparison is very apt.

    But I take the opposite stance for (strangely) the same reason. I have had this conversation with my wife.

    She was raised (among other religious) Baptist. And among the members of her religion, Catholics were considered heretics because they believed anything the Pope said and took his interpretations as gospel.

    But ALL organized religions accept interpretions of faith in different ways. Even if we just distill it down to one translation of one group of writings (say, the King James Bible), three groups are going to have three different interpretations of that text, and ALL will say that theirs is "canonical."

    What does an eye for an eye mean? Does it mean that you should pluck a person's eye out if they've done that in the past? Or does it mean that you should act as the eyes of a person who is blind?

    I've heard both interpretations, and both from Priests.

    "Thou shalt not kill" in the Christian bible is "thou shalt not murder" in English translations of the Koran. Does that mean the same thing?

    Anyway. I guess my point is that this absolute assertion and confidence about interpretations that are, in the end, only second-hand guesses of people who were not there to talk to the writer and do not have first-hand knowledge of his thoughts, worries or dreams. That is, to a T, the average, obsessed comic book fan.

  20. "The bible polarizes, but it runs a great big pole down the middle of ones own self."

    I actually think there isn't nearly enough criticism of faiths that propose having a loving God who sticks his enemies in a giant concentration camp.

    Or that want to be mentioned in science text books so long as their miracles and erroneous history aren't overly analyzed.

    Seriously, I really want to hear what line of thought justifies having a Hell - I spent a year working on Dante and Christian imagination and it all read like Nazi apologism.

    Sorry if that offends, but that is my honest belief. And if you think every Jew in the Holocaust and every pagan African who died on a slave ship is in Hell because they didn't think Jesus was the messiah, then don't be surprised when others are offended.

    As a Post-Holocaust Jewish theologian (Berkowitz?) said, how can one have dialogue with people who think you're damned for eternity?

    "Is God punishing us?"
    "Let Him try",