My favorite legs. Ever. Because it’s Saturday. And, y’know. Love.
On Thanksgiving, we spent the day with my parents. While there, they handed me a stack of prints and a pile of negatives I had completely forgotten about. Most of them are crap. They’re from 1971 for the most part and I was in the early stages of trying to learn photography. I was shooting a LOT of film and about 99% was ultimately junk. But this is the way I learn. I dive in and do a great deal of whatever it is I’m trying to do, largely ignoring instructions and books, which I consult only when I’m so hopelessly lost that I admit to needing expert help. It’s an absurd way to go about it, but when I do finally learn something it stays learned.
Anyway, among the negatives I found a couple shots my dad took of me at the keyboard. At this time I still hadn’t made up my mind what I wanted to do or be. Music was always a possibility, a big deal, but it turned out not to be. However, I had aspirations. (When you’re that young, you think you can do it all. At one time I simultaneously wanted to be an actor, a musician, a photographer, and a writer, and saw no reason why I couldn’t. The acting has, subsequently, faded completely from my list of ambitions.)
So, here I am being…well, I was getting my Keith Emerson on, clearly, as well as the serious composer bit.
Seems I couldn’t read my own notation…
A curious thing came out of the midterms. The fact that a lot of GOP candidates won their races (many by a nose hair) and yet in those same districts more or less progressive referenda also won. Legalization of marijuana and the legitimization of gay marriage being the two most prominent. This is curious when you consider that for the last umpteen years now the GOP has made its bones by being obsessively loudmouthed social naysayers. People seem to have been voting for them because they are opposed to all the things identified as signaling the End Times of Civilization, most of which can be lumped loosely under the rubric of “Permissiveness.” Abortion, sex education, liberal arts education, science, critical thinking, and so forth have all come in for pulpit-drubbings by various right wing candidates.
And yet, it seems, even while in local to state races the electorate has been rewarding such rhetoric, when given the chance to actually vote on specific policies the trend would appear in the opposite direction, if only by a smidgen.
According to polls, the country has maintained more or less the same split over abortion, namely that the majority favors its legality. On the local level, the Right have resorted to playing very narrow games of accreditation for facilities in order to shut down clinics and in some cases have enacted what may appear to the uninvolved perfectly reasonable waiting period laws, but every “personhood” amendment on the ballot across the country failed. When it comes to the actual core issue—a woman’s right to choose—that divide doesn’t budge. (If they keep playing games like this, though, we may discover in the next couple of election cycles that a greater majority favor legal access than we previously assessed as people get tired of the brinksmanship.)
The War on Drugs, declared under Nixon lo these many decades past, is losing its moral legitimacy with more and more people.
And finally Texas school books have been purged of anti-science rhetoric. Now all we have to do is achieve the same in history.
So what exactly is going on? If right wing demagogues are being elected to “represent” districts while at the same time those districts are rejecting the social programs being pushed by these demagogues, some head-scratching is in order.
It may not be as baffling as it first appears. It just depends on what battle we think is being fought.
It occurs to me that, stepping back and trying to see it as a whole, the closest fit would be to see this as a variation on the Civil War. Specifically, the debate between local and federal control. It is a fact that most of the men who fought for the Confederacy were not slave owners, they had no direct stake in the Peculiar Institution (although it would be a mistake to maintain that they were totally unaffected by the question), and that there were deep pockets of abolitionist sentiment throughout the South. Of the multiple reasons they would fight so ardently, the one that makes the most sense is the “Because you’re down here” issue. They did not think of themselves as Americans in the sense of a single national political (or even social) entity, but as a general idea expressed through regional tradition. Culturally, it would difficult to describe a New England seaman, an Appalachian hardscrabble farmer, and a Louisiana riverman as belonging to the same social aggragate. We are, as we like to say, a nation of immigrants, and no one abandoned their heritage when they got off the boat, even if they tried. We are a nation of villages.
When the Civil War broke, the driving political question was where the primary power to change lives lay. Locally? Where most people, even in the North, naturally assumed? Or centrally, at the federal level, with laws emerging from the minds of people most of the country did not know and did not understand and could, it would be reasonable to assume, knew nothing of “how we live here.”
This is not to say we lacked any kind of national identity. Far from it, but for the most part the two—local, or regional, and national—had little real interaction. You could be an American and believe you lived in a country of fellow Americans, without that ever meaning you had to do anything to accommodate the sensibilities of people living a thousand miles away. Or even a hundred, for that matter. It became an issue when those people came to your area and began telling you that, in fact, you did have to make such accommodation.
Again, probably for most people in any given area or era, this was not a big deal. But we can see explosions of when it became one. The Range Wars in the west over settlers and grazing rights is exactly this kind of dispute. The Whiskey Rebellion, while not usually characterized this way, was one of the earliest and most prominent, an explosion coming out of the fact that the Atlantic seaboard had no idea of the conditions for survival in Western Pennsylvania.
The so-called Civil War is the largest of these and utterly transformed the relationship between states and the nation as a single entity.
It’s useful to recall the by-now well-known statement that Robert E. Lee made when refusing command of the Union Army, that he could never fight against his country. It is perhaps simplistic to see that as his claiming that Virginia, the state, was what he regarded as “his country” and it wouldn’t be wrong, only insufficient. Lee was not simplistic and he was a West Pointer. “His country” may well have been both—Virginia and the United States—and his statement would then have made sense as a declaration of his unwillingness to fight in opposition to the configuration in which both existed in relation to each other. Fighting for the Union in order to facilitate the imposition of the federal over the states would for him be as bad as treason, because that meant changing the very intent of that relationship.
David Brin has written an overview of a version of this ongoing civil war. While I might quibble with details, it suffices to describe a sentiment which I believe is at the heart of the apparent contradiction evident in the last election. The visceral rage evidenced by the Right since Obama’s election, something which has been building and gaining momentum since Reagan took office, seems to me perfectly explicable when viewed in this way. What we’ve been seeing is not so much a rejection of progressivism or even social justice—although there certainly is such rejection by certain factions—as it is a rejection of federal hegemony and centrality. Progressive ideals and social justice become collateral damage in this fight, which may seem a weak description of the real impact of such damage, yet the lack of any kind of genuine guiding principle behind their rollbacks can be explained by the apparent larger battle. This may be the last phase of an ongoing war over identity that has raged, to greater or lesser degree, for two centuries.
We want to be Americans but only as defined by local identity.
As I noted in the previous post, low midterm voter turnout may be an artifact of a perceived pointlessness in voting locally when one can do nothing about another district’s or state’s representative. If, in other words, my vote won’t get that guy from Ohio or Kentucky out of office, what’s the point? This would be a component of this identity question, expressed in ambivalence and manifest as apathy.
When you look at certain maps of electoral trends, there would appear to be a set of characteristics that are being squeezed. As frustrating as recent politics have been, federalism seems to be gradually winning the field. America is becoming one country, finally, after all this time.
Which would explain, in part, the most recent battle over immigration. The forces circling the wagons around the besieged identities of which I speak see rationalizing immigration policy as another attack on their primacy. Who can say what several million newly naturalized voters might do at the polls? Better to do all we can to keep them out and try to gain some kind of upper hand for—
Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? If what I suggest underlies all this, then the fight is over the desire to retain independence from the very thing you put forward as a last hope for freedom. You want to be an American but you don’t want to change yourself in order to be what that might mean.
Which makes several apparently absurd things make a kind of sense. Opposition, for instance, to the theory of evolution. If evolution is true—and, worse, we teach it to our kids—then that means change is natural, indeed inevitable, and, furthermore, that there is no scientific basis for exclusion. These twin notions, when put in political context, are explosive for certain people who are also trying to assert that our Founding Fathers based our guiding documents and institutions on Biblical foundations, which they by their own admission did not.
God created Americans, whole and perfect, and these pesky scientific notions of change and mutation and inconstancy violate that conceived perfection.
How about climate change, then? Never mind the cause, but the fact of it means we will have to change how we live in order to meet the challenge of the new environment. We will environmentally stop being the Land of Milk and Honey, the cornucopeia we have always told ourselves we are. If you are someone who believes the above idea about perfect creation, then this can be nothing but divine judgment (as opposed to natural evolution, which might be addressable if we would just get out of our own way), and by all that is who we wish to be that cannot be. It must be because of—
And the litany of the excluded follows. Gays, minorities, socialists, feminists.
As long as the larger world did not intrude upon your small patch of the landscape and you could define yourself according to standards shared by your next door neighbor without any regard for the nation or the world, everything could be fine.
Of course, it’s not, because such hermetic isolation is impossible, and ideas if nothing else seep in. The former Soviet Union was nothing if not an almost century-long attempt to isolate an entire nation ideologically from outside ideas, and if failed miserably, resulting in its collapse when the weight of willed ignorance grew too much.
I’m not here claiming a preference so much as indicating vectors and possible causes. The invective hurled at Obama would seem baseless and utterly without motive in any rational sense, the yowling of people who feel threatened for no apparent reason. But if seen from this perspective, it begins to make a kind of sense. This is, possibly, the last campaign of a civil war that has been going on for a long, long time. This is a stand against the future. Obama won both elections by wide margins of the popular vote, so clearly this is not a majority reaction, but a stung minority who see him as representative of a change which many of them may not themselves have clearly defined. That the very progressive measures which one assumes are the meat and bread oppositions of the representatives recently elected passed in so many places suggest that policy is less important in this than a kind of granulated regionalism.
It’s not the kind of argument, unfortunately, that lends itself to clarity, to a clearly defined right and wrong. Which is what makes the rhetoric so unfathomable at times.
I do not play games. I haven’t for decades. I used to play Trivial Pursuit™ and I still enjoy a game of chess, but both these games are high on the mental acuity charts and low on the following the rules charts. Sorry, but it’s true—to play Trivial Pursuit™, inane as some of the questions are occasionally, you actually have to know something about, you know, The World and its contents. That’s why people who read widely and pay attention to things outside themselves do well at it. Chess requires strategizing way outside the possibilities prescribed by the relatively simple set of rules and works the gray cells and synapses much more thoroughly than the repeatable pattern-following of many games.
Most games bore me, but more than that I am put off by the zero-sum essence of so many of them. For me to win, someone has to lose, and while that is also true in both chess and Trivial Pursuit™, it is also true that you can play both those games without having that as the primary focus. Chess is a problem-solving game and Trivial Pursuit™ is about its contents. That’s my take on both and I’m sticking to it.
Even so, I rarely play either anymore. The fundamental competitiveness of games puts me off. I’m not particularly competitive and I have too often come face to face with the ugly side of a player who staked his entire status on winning games. (I’ve played foosball once. Once. Some friends of mine and I happened to be in a bar, toying with trying the game out. None of us had played it before. We were approached by a guy who, in retrospect, was a regular and a true foosball fanatic, who offered to play by giving us a fourth. Well, he was on “my side” and I was terrible. My friends and I were laughing while trying to figure it out, but this guy damn near punched me out for being so bad. It was far more to him than “just a game” and I never tried it again.) For the most part, this is just me and I have no brief on others who are into playing games. They’re having a good time, life is short, go for it.
So this is about those who make a life out of games, especially those who have chosen to invest in those games everything of value of themselves. Obsession above and beyond the weekend warrior variety, because for these folks the game is life.
Even with that, there are many gamers for whom more is definitely merrier, they are inclusive, expansive, and social. I’m not talking about them.
I’m talking about those who are evidently very particular about who gets invited into the clubhouse.
We come now to the ongoing farce known as GamerGate. I say farce knowing full well that it has, for some, gone way beyond what may normally be meant by that word. This is not harmless. This is exemplary of just about everything negative in a certain kind of mindset. We’re talking elitism, hypercompetitiveness, insensitivity to others, paranoia, exclusiveness in the extreme, and the abandonment of empathy that comes from a psychic insularity bordering on the pathological.
You do not threaten people’s lives and physical safety over a fucking game!
What’s wrong with you? So there’s a girl who plays games as well if not better than you and she has some suggestions for making it better for more people. So? What’s this whole Attila the Hun thing about keeping her out and beating, raping, and maybe killing her if she doesn’t stop criticizing your fucking game? Did you miss the part that it’s a game? Didn’t your mother teach you that you don’t make threats to people just because they have a different opinion?
Or are you so terrified of women that you just can’t deal with them inside the clubhouse?
Yes, I’m using the simplest terms and models for this because I just cannot wrap my head around anyone older than nine reacting this way.
Unless, of course, we are dealing with a sociopathology that has somehow found a place within gaming from which to look out upon a world that is nothing less than an absolutely hostile place determined to take away all meaning from your life.
This is basic ingrown immaturity which in order to feel worthwhile at all seeks to define everyone else as in some way less in order for you to feel even nominally worthwhile. It appears not much more complicated than that, although I will quickly point out that simple heuristics, put in play, can often result in complex manifestations.
It would be perhaps worthwhile to see a full psychological and anthropological work-up on the mentality at work in someone who is so threatened by the presence of a female in their preferred venue of escapism that they would resort to violence to not only prevent the females from entering but to tear them down to a level of complete subservience from which they might never be able to rise again. Maybe. But I think it reasonable to say that we’ve all encountered something like this from time to time in individuals who have so little sense of who or what they are that just about anything outside their sphere of understanding demands that they ridicule, revile, and render harmless via full-bore antagonism. Rather than step outside and find out about something, better for them to shut it down, blow it up, kill it. Rather than risk the hermetic seal insulating them from any recognition that there are things which they not only lack understanding but which are perhaps more important than the arrangement of furniture in their pyschic den they play a hard and fast game of total destruction on the offending truth.
Game? Did I say game? Indeed, because that’s all this is. The harm comes from the sudden interface with reality that catches them completely unprepared. The game is all, the game is the world, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world itself was the game. Simpler, where the rules, as byzantine, myriad, and manifold as they are, could be known, memorized, mastered, and those who did not play by them could be penalized immediately, without any considerations of rights or ethics or pesky maturity. A place where every eventuality is covered by a rule.
For young males of a certain age and mentality, females seem to conform to no rules, at least none they understand. The presence of a female is a chaos-making event that is fraught with exactly the kind of uncertainty these males have fought hard to deny.
I say that knowing full well that any individual, of any sex or gender, who is not part of the game represents exactly that kind of potential to upend everything and render all these carefully-wrought rules…inapplicable. Imagine trying to roll against someone who not only may not know what the die faces mean but who doesn’t care. Imagine then the sheer terror of rolling against someone who not only knows all the rules you do but intends to change some of them to accommodate factors you joined the game in order to avoid.
The vitriol and childish, tantrum-soaked invective of the GamerGaters is precisely the reaction one should expect from someone in full reality-denial mode who doesn’t want their (artificial) paradigm fucked with. They doubtless experience similar reactions to males who threaten the model, but it’s harder to tell the males apart.
Women are obvious purely by their appearance.
Is this sounding pathetic?
Here’s something even more so. That some idiot can publicly threaten violence in a public space and get away with it because the powers that be are too afraid to piss off a different set of Gamers playing by another set of reality-denying rules by doing anything about it. I’m talking about the Anita Sarkeesian event in Utah, canceled because the university refused to enforce a no-carry policy in an open carry state, and yes, I’m comparing the fanatics backing open carry to the GamerGaters, because they’re exhibiting the same pathology of establishing the parameters of a worldview inconsistent with reality or reason and excoriating anyone who suggests that maybe there are circumstances in which a reasonable alternative to walking around armed every-damn-where might be in order.
Like in the auditorium of a university where there will be a speaker appearing who has been threatened with death if she steps up to the podium.
(Pathology? What else do you call people who see the blocking of approval of a surgeons general at a time when we may be facing a rather nasty epidemic just because he said some things you find objectionable? I suggest that the mentality is about the same.)
Others have gone public with rebuttals and denunciations of the GamerGaters, so much of what I have to say is redundant to say the least. But I’m saying it because I think more males need to get out there with this, that targeting women, because they are women, because you can’t handle dealing with them is pathetic, spineless, and repulsive. I don’t care what level psionic warrior you are within the cramped confines of your game, if you don’t know how to talk to a girl like a human being and feel so threatened by females that you would rather stay in the monastery of your game than even attempt to accommodate reality, you have nothing.
And under no circumstances is it acceptable to threaten anyone, especially if all they do is suggest your game could be improved.
I realize that GamerGate is comprised of a small group within the large and diverse gaming community, but the structure of these games has the unfortunate effect of granting permissions for obscene behavior in the minds of certain poorly functioning child-men. In this is it similar to religion, and in a world which is fully aware of the weight of ugliness layered upon women because men have decided what they are and what they may be, no one who has the least interest in something called morality or civilization can tolerate this infantile nonsense.
Admittedly, I have no profound insights here. There’s actually, in my mind, very little depth involved. These are people who have mistaken a game for reality and forgot—or never learned—how to behave in public. Assholes who talk loudly in the movie theater, ruining the experience for everyone, and who ought to be escorted out. These are the disrupters who sat in the back of the class, fouling the air for everyone else. The inept wannabes who think it’s cool to drug a girl at a party and rape her, because who the hell wants to actually talk to a girl? The real question is, why don’t they want to talk to you? Well, because.
Within their games they are warriors and rulers, wizards and magicians, with many arcane powers. Unfortunately, outside of the game they’re still ten years old and they haven’t learned how to behave.
But they aren’t ten. Physically, they’re adults, and living with such illusions makes them just a bit dangerous.
So, guys—yeah, all you males on the sidelines who know better—time to step up and start stating up front that this is wrong, that women are people first and foremost, that venting spleen over someone just having an opinion is the mark of a very poorly developed intellect, and that threatening and abusing women is no longer acceptable.
As for the GamerGaters—I’m reminded of that foosball fanatic who was ready to take me to the parking lot and beat me up because I caused him to lose a game. Pathetic. Grow up. I’ve known magic people and they didn’t get their powers from a fucking board game. They got them by living life.
I realize people don’t want to hear about your woes, not unless they’re amusing in some karmic way, or you have a manner of relating them that takes them up out of the pit of despond wherein the currents swirl in an effort to pull you down further. But life is a heady mix of things, both good and bad.
Let me start with the good, just to leaven the stew.
We’re alive, the meteor missed the house, and the dog is happy.
Well, now. On to the rest?
Last Friday I was due to be at work at two in the afternoon to prepare, with coworkers, for a Big Deal event for Left Bank Books. We were entertaining Melissa Gilbert at Maryville. Yes, that Melissa Gilbert, of Little House On The Prairie fame. Half Pint? Was that the character’s nickname? I wouldn’t know. I think I’ve seen three or four episodes, ever. Not my thing. (But to my chagrin, no one got my repeated references to Z’Ha’Dum, so maybe that evens things up.) Anyway, I had to stop by the post office on the way and do something else (I don’t remember now) and after that I turned onto Kingshighway to head north.
As I drove along I glanced to the right and saw a woman walking down the street, just past Ackerman Toyota, dressed in what I think of as “Dig Me” attire. She was attractive, seemed in good shape, and was certainly an attention grabber, painted on distressed and ripped jeans, tank top, long blond hair. I saw all this in less than an eyeblink and turned my attention back to the road.
Traffic was stopped at the light at Osceola, at the north end of the Charles Schmitt car lot. I stopped just shy of the entrance to said lot.
A moment or two later I heard a horrible squealing of tires, looked up to see a large pick-up bearing down on me, just time enough to think “Oh, shit” and brace for impact. Bam! Rocked the car, jostled me around, ruined my afternoon. Naturally, just as this happened, the light turned green and the vehicles ahead of me moved on. A few seconds either way…
The truck that hit me was a Ram 1500. Appropriately named, I think. Two men got out, both in workmans attire (painter pants, t-shirts) and the driver had a panicked expression.
“In a hurry are you?” I asked.
“Not really,” he said.
Then I realized what had happened. “But she was awful nice to look at, wasn’t she?” I said.
He hesitated, then gave me a goofy, embarrassed grin. “Yeah, I admit it.”
Naturally, the young lady to whom I referred was nowhere to be seen. Not that it really mattered. He could have been trying to read a billboard for all it mattered, the fact was he hadn’t been paying attention to what was in front of his fairly rapidly moving vehicle.
His passenger called the report in on his cell phone. We pulled onto the lot so we didn’t block traffic. A mistake, I realized later, since it then took damn near two hours before a cop showed up to take the report.
The people at Charles Schmitt let me call my work to let them know I might be late.
At which point Kris and Jay appeared, as if by magic, to see what had happened. My bosses. They’d been on their way in and passed the lot and Kris said “Is that Mark?” Jay said, “I don’t know, was he wearing a hat?” They called Left Bank and found out about my call, turned around, and hung with me for a time until they absolutely had to go.
The event that evening was going to be awkward without me, but they assured me they’d handle it. After the police FINALLY arrived, I walked down to Ackerman Toyota to see about leaving the car there. We’re good customers. We’ve bought three vehicles from them (and will likely buy more) and get all our service done there, so no problem. I then called Donna, who was as it happened on her way home. She picked me up at Ackerman and took me to work.
No one had actually expected me to come in, but they seemed appreciative.
Now, I had just spent almost $600.00 on that car repairing the automatic window mechanism on the driver’s side. It’s probable that the car is now totaled, but we’ll see.
Yesterday I learn that the gentleman who hit me let his insurance lapse months ago. Wonderful.
This is some kind of cherry on the sundae of my year. I’ve had to replace me glasses. There were other repairs. My coffeemaker died. But several weeks ago I injured my arm at work. An annoying injury at the bicep that is taking a damnably long time to heal and when this guy hit me I apparently jammed that arm again and it now hurts about as bad as it did when I first injured it. It’s now Tuesday, though, and I have no other mysterious aches and pains, so I seem to have dodged the whiplash bullet. (I’m fortunate to be in as good a shape as I am, otherwise I might be more screwed up.)
The prospect of buying a new car is one of mixed emotions. I’d love one. But not just yet. We’ve had a year of unexpected expenses and more stress due to other factors which I would rather not discuss here, and things are…awkward. We were talking a couple more years before new car time for me. We really can’t afford it, but on the other hand you do what you have to.
I had two new books come out this year, of which I am very proud and happy. I would appreciate a bit more attention to them. A few reviews in the appropriate places wouldn’t hurt, a few more sales, etc. But all in all, that part is good. But if this is some kind of karmic realignment, I think I’m glad a new novel didn’t come out this year, I’m not sure I’d survive the balance of joss payments!
One thing of which Donna and I are extremely grateful is the number of good friends we have. They’ve been terrific, even in wholly unexpected ways.
But I would rather not have things happen that calls upon them to be as supportive as they have been.
In a few weeks I’ll be sixty. The mind boggles. Unrealistically, I’d thought things might be a little easier by now, and really, when I pull back from dealing with the daily nonsense, much of life is easier. It’s just that I don’t have as much energy to deal with it all as I used to, so it seems…well, more annoying, to be sure.
I picked up my rental this morning—a rather cumbersome Kia SUV—and the insurance adjustor has already looked at my old Corolla. I await his call to tell me what will be. Whatever it is, we’ll deal with it.
With a little help from our friends, who have been terrific. Thank you all.
So let me wrap this report up. Just letting you all know what’s going on.
Have a better day.
p.s. Well wishing and so forth are appreciated. But I’m perfectly serious about boosting the signal on the books. That kind of support would do some serious good anytime, but right now it would be balm to a sore psyché.
Gravity Box and Other Spaces
The Logic of Departure
Or, if you’re so inclined, give a follow on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MWTiedemann That would be like a kindly Thumbs Up sent across the interweebs.
I suppose I should link to some of the news feeds about this, but I think it’s been sufficiently covered among those who give a damn that I don’t need to.
My people—what I used to think of as my people—have once more led with their chins and embarrassed the lot of us. Recently a mini-catastrophe, relevant to the exalted standards and reputation in which certain folks would like to believe the SF community maintains, explode-a-pated all over everyone in the carnival reaction to Jonathan Ross, a person of some note on the BBC and in England, being selected to host the Hugo Awards at the next worldcon in London. Seems Mr. Ross has a less than tarnishless reputation in popular circles as a comedic curmudgeon who likes to belittle people of various types, most notably women, and makes fun of everyone whom he considers targettable. I’m taking this on faith here as until this happened I had no clue who the man is.
He has withdrawn himself as host to the awards in the wake of what by all accounts has been a savage twitter attack on him and his family from, ahem, Certain Elements within the SFnal community. Or maybe not. It’s hard to tell with these things, since everyone can hide so neatly behind hashtags and handles and alternate personae. For all anyone knows, the whole assault may have been two or three exceptionally small-concerned misanthropes in a basement somewhere with too much time, a live feed, and no clue what it means to live in a community.
Neil Gaiman has written rather well on the subject. (So, yeah, I guess I’m linking to some of it.)
A couple of things occur to me about this, one from some personal experience. I’ve done time serving with an organization that had as part of its mandate the selection of Notables for certain public events. I’ve been in the proverbial “back room” while such things have been deliberated. My first reaction to this was “Didn’t the people who chose him have a clue what might happen?” And I thought, “it’s possible for enthusiasm to overwhelm common sense in these things, the whole idea of Getting Someone Important to appear can seem so rarefied as to pump nitrous oxide into any discussion and lobotomize a committee.” On that score, it seems to me, SF fans, even those in positions of authority, are often still just 12 years old. Even so, when some one among them says “This is not a good idea” it is incumbent on the others to listen and at least have a damn good reason for going ahead anyway. From what it looks like on the outside, this didn’t happen. Someone threw what weight they had around and stamped their feet and got what they wanted…and reaped a minor whirlwind.
This is why such things take time, or should, and why we need to get over the whole Big Name Personality Syndrome that affects too many of us. SF wants to be taken seriously, SF should grow up and take the world seriously. None of this should ever have gotten out of that Back Room. If Mr. Ross came with that kind of baggage, the issue should have died a quiet death long before invitations had been made and resignations proffered. That is called professionalism.
Still, no one is psychic. Mistakes get made.
But the second thing that occurred to me was what Neil said. Whoever, whichever segment of My People, decided to take it upon themselves to tell Mr. Ross what they thought of him and his family—you have acted the Ass.
Before the internet, before FB and Twitter, people got exercised about this stuff, talked trash among themselves, and maybe a few would write letters. Nasty fan mail has always been with us. But our technology has enabled us to show our true selves faster and more publicly than ever before possible and it is, in instances like these, ugliness incarnate.
Just what difference do you think letting someone know you think he’s on your “never invite for cocktails” list makes to either him/her or to the world at large? No, don’t overthink it, I’ll tell you. None. All it does is add a bit more vile to an already questionable brew. This is the snickering prankishness of chickenshit adolescents who think it’s cool to let everyone who already doesn’t know they exist know that they care very much about being ignored by making themselves even less pleasant than anyone realized before.
The ability to add your two-cents at a keystroke has enabled some of us to ramp up the ugly faster than their minds could possibly intervene with a cautionary “Maybe you should think this through before you Send.” In this instance, they have let Mr. Ross know how much they dislike him by demonstrating how much worse they can be than he.
Or, even sadder, these are people who do this habitually, without any stake in the debate, simply because they’ve become intoxicated by the sound of their own ignorance flashed across the world. “Oh, look! An Issue! Let me let let me, I can come up with a really cool insult, too!”
People who lead with their mouths and have nothing to say, who walk into any room, any party, often uninvited, with no clue how to behave or, apparently, even how to think. There is an arcane term for them—boors. They indulge boorishness.
It’s not just science fiction where this has been on display, its even worse in political fora. We scratch our heads and wonder why such third-rate politicians are the only ones who run for office anymore. It’s bad enough to be challenged by the marginally thoughtful, but to have to deal daily with sport pissers would drive anyone with any self-respect to question the value of running for office.
Finally, though, it is the anonymity afforded by the technology that exacerbates. The ignorant, the boorish, the cowardly can lob this shit from the presumed comfort of no one knowing who they are.
It accomplishes nothing.
I think it’s sad what has happened to Mr. Ross. There are ways of dealing with these sorts of things that spare feelings and have the benefit of not making everyone involved look like a fool.
I suppose we should be grateful that this is how it’s done, though. Tarring and feathering used to be the preferred manner and it could actually kill.
By now those who don’t know about Phil Robertson and the debacle at A & E are most likely among those who have no access to any kind of media. They have no idea what the world is doing, because they have no way of knowing what to pay attention to. How can they possibly know anything about reality without the all-important medium of…well…media?
This isn’t really about Phil or Duck Dynasty or anything directly related to the people at the center of this. Not really. How can it be when what we see of them and hear them is simply not real?
How’s that? Didn’t Mr. Robertson say those thing printed in GQ that got him suspended from his on-air presence in his own reality show?
Well, he did and he didn’t. The man playing the part of Phil Robertson, in character as the patriarch of a television show, said some thing which were printed in a high fashion magazine that normally wouldn’t touch plaid shirts, bib overalls, and pump action shotguns or the beards sported by these folks. They aren’t ZZ Top wailing about sharp dressed men with cheap sunglasses, so to begin with, the question is why were these words in GQ in the first place?
Well, because GQ wasn’t interviewing Philip Robertson, they were interviewing Phil from Duck Dynasty, which is not the same thing.
Again, how’s that?
In the past couple of decades we have become familiarized with the so-called “reality show.” By now, we have, depending on which ones we’ve followed, which ones we like, and which ones we hate, have acquired the necessary distance to realize that these confections are shows about a particular reality. Which is not the same as shows that are “real.” That kind of show we understand to be a documentary. Or, occasionally, the news. We know this in our bones. There is a difference between reality and a show. We know it’s a fabrication and that the people displayed are not actually like that in—you know—real life.
Reality shows are manufactured product, which in turn makes the characters in them manufactured. The Phil we see on Duck Dynasty is a caricature, a sketch, and to a large extent a fictional character based on a real person, but not the real person himself. No more than the people on Survivor actually behave like that once the show is over. At best, they are exaggerations, but in reality (there’s that word again) they are characterizations.
Novelists do this all the time.
The difference being that novelists (and other writers of fiction that pretends to be nothing else but fiction) seek the truth through the artifice of their creations while as best I can tell the main point of “reality shows” is to impose drama through an abstraction of reality that ends up giving us no truth whatsoever, because at the end of the show we know nothing about who these people really are, only what they do in front of a bunch of cameras filming them as they follow a loose script that sets up situations they would normally never experience. Since the script itself has no thematic point, there’s no way to elicit truth out of what become nothing but a bunch of situational reactions with exaggerated responses.
In short, a reality show does exactly the opposite of what fiction is normally all about. There’s no truth there, not even reality (how real can it be with a director giving directions and scenes being fed the actors?) but a farce designed to make us think we’re seeing what reality would be like if we all lived on a soundstage.
So when Phil Robertson gives an interview to a high profile fashion magazine that is highlighting his presence as the principle character of his show, everyone should know that this is not reality being engaged, but two fictions colliding.
(You don’t have this problem with actual fiction on tv because everyone knows the actors are not their characters—or should know—but the primary conceit of “reality shows” is that they are their characters.)
There are YouTube videos of Phil giving speeches and saying all kinds of things that are consistent with what he said in GQ and A & E never pulled him off the air for those. Why now?
Well, because in GQ it’s the image talking—because it’s, you know, GQ—but all those other speeches are Mr. Robertson talking.
Mr. Robertson’s First Amendment rights were not violated by the disciplinary action taken by A & E because it wasn’t him giving the interview, but a character from a tv show. That character—and you can tell it was the character because that’s how GQ packaged it—is pretty much fictional. Are we going to defend the rights of a manufactured image that is owned by corporations? And I don’t mean just A & E here, but the Robertson clan.
If it sounds like a tangle, that’s because we have entered upon a bizarre new scene in which fiction and reality have been mingled in such a way that it is genuinely confusing to some people which is which. This isn’t cognitive dissonance in the classic sense, but cognitive estrangement in the sense that people are reduced to image and the image is empowered with more substance than our next door neighbor. It’s as if people supporting Phil are suddenly aware that they can be removed from their show. Maybe some of them even think that without a show, no one has any rights. Certainly we’ve entered a new phase of only recognizing reality that ends up on television.
If that were not confusing enough, more has emerged about the Robertsons and how far they seem to be from their characters. The yuppie lifestyles, the fashion sense, the cleanshaven condo-on-the-Gulf American Dream that has opted, for the sake of advertising and a larger market share, to don the garb and attitude of swamp-dwellers who’ve barely learned what a fork is for. Which is the real Robertson Clan and which is the “reality” clan?
The net result has been a manufactured drama of civil rights that were never at risk. (People have gotten so incensed at how Phil’s “rights” have been trodden upon but I can’t help but wonder where their ire is when some hapless minimum wage drudge loses his or her job because of something they posted on FaceBook. ) People have gotten pissed because a favorite character might have been taken away from them just for being himself.
And while that goes on we seem not to notice how this has cheapened the rights supposedly in peril. What has been defended is the “right” of someone to misrepresent himself and say things he may or may not actually believe and then pretend that the misrepresentation is being oppressed.
Because nothing Mr. Robertson said has been censored. He’s not serving jail time for what he said. In fact, he didn’t even lose any income. The censure—and that’s what it was, or should have been, censure, which is not the same thing as censor despite their similar appearance (and this is all about similar appearances, isn’t it?)—involved nothing that even prevented him from saying the same things again afterward. The only people affected were his fans, but nobody said anything about their rights.
The Robertsons are in the business of making and selling decoys.
Reality Shows are very expensive, long-running decoys.
The people on reality shows are merely stand-ins for themselves.
The First Amendment is there to protect our right to speak truth to power.
Phil Robertson has made a great deal of money pretending to be someone based on himself and saying things and doing things that entertain people who get off on the image of that kind of lifestyle.
Even if he said something worth hearing, how would anyone, under these circumstances, know? You hear the sound of the decoy, you fly in to find reality, and the substanceless fakery captures you and damages your right not be manipulated.
I really hope 2014 is better than this.
So recently I turned 59. It doesn’t feel much different from 58, or that from 57, but since I often still feel 35, it occasionally jars. I have little to complain about, save for a nagging sense of lack of time.
I’d been toying with getting an electric guitar for years. A frivolity I could not quite talk myself into for a long time. I have a terrific acoustic guitar which I do not play as well as I should, but which gives me a great deal of pleasure pretending to play well.
There are some things you just can’t mimic on an acoustic, though. It’s like trying to play Deep Purple on a spinet pianola. It lacks gravitas.
So an opportunity came my way and I threw common sense to the wind and bought a delightful Epiphone Les Paul. Not the one I’d had my eyes on for many years, but it’s a Les Paul. (Yeah, yeah, I hear the purists kvetching over in the corner, but it ain’t a Gibson, like that makes all that much difference. Well, it does, by several hundred dollars.)
Which necessitated getting an amplifier.
I have a good friend in Jefferson City who is something of a musician (actually, he’s a very good musician and graces me with a willingness to jam on our infrequent visits) who knows people. Sound people. I told him what I’d gotten and he said “Come on out and we’ll fix you up.”
Fix me up indeed.
I’ve been out of the music biz too long, I didn’t even recognize the name—a Line—but it’s a gem. 50 watts, all the bells and whistles (well, at least more than I’ll master in the next several years) and by pure serendipity the color scheme matches my axe. It came with a pedal board, too, which, for the price I paid, astonished me.
I have every intention of getting down to it and learning some songs. I’ve been playing it almost every day since I brought it home. It is loud. We have installed it in my office, so I can close the door, and Donna can enjoy it through the walls and floor. It’s more than I need.
I did not buy the Ferrari. I’m having a much more modest midlife, er, crisis. More a midlife ruffle, really. Despite my complaining, I’m a reasonably happy guy. Hell, I’m still alive, which after last year’s little contretemps is a very positive thing.
I’ve been finding online lessons. Stumbled on a guitar player of some considerable merit who does instructional videos, although I can barely keep up. (He tends to assume you already know the rudiments.) So I thought I’d put one here just to show you how far out of reach my aspirations go.
Till I started surfing for this kind of thing I’d never heard of this guy. (Told you I’ve kind of been out of it for a while.) Turns out he did a turn with Asia. Yeah, Heat of the Moment Asia, but an incarnation with only one original member, Geoffrey Downes. I’m trying to imagine what they must’ve sounded like with this guy.
Anyway, I’m dipping into his how-to vids. He reminds me a lot of Ian Anderson.
Anyway, I must now get back to the start-up of my second half-century. Stay tuned.
I’ve been thinking deeply about the recent eruption of controversy in SFWA over sexism. Seems just about anywhere we look in the last several years there are examples of men behaving stupidly toward and about women. While this is nothing new, where it has been cropping up seems surprising.
There have been several incidents, both online and out in the world, within the skeptical community. The boys came out to try to tell the girls to get their own clubhouse and stop invading what for some reason these males had regarded as somehow the province of people with testicles. Prominent women—skeptics, humanists, atheists, scientists—have been treated to high school-level chauvinism by males intent on…
It’s worth reading this article by Rebecca Watson, one of the most prominent women in the active skeptical world. Some of what she has gone through seems totally bizarre, of the “what planet did this happen on” variety. And yet, there it is. The Thing We (people like me) Had Thought We Were Done With. Males acting like schoolyard bullies toward women, especially women who claim themselves as individuals with minds, choices, and, apparently, interests that don’t include them. The boys, that is.
Reading that, someone like me can feel pretty virtuous. “I don’t think that way! I don’t do that! The people I hang with don’t, either, we’ve outgrown adolescence and never were that gauche!” We might feel that way and some of us might even be justified.
But not all of us.
I’ve been a science fiction reader practically all my life. I’ve been a professional SF writer since 1990, therefore a member of SFWA. I have credited science fiction, my early exposure to it, as reason for my awareness of gender issues, my embrace of feminisim, and certainly my affiliation with skepticism, rationality, and—may I say it?—humanist morality. The circles in which I move resonate with all this as well and over decades a kind of blanket of comforting isolation has settled around me that has buffered me from some of the kinds of bullshit that has evidently been there all along.
There’ve been several instances of sexism over the last few years within the science fiction community, some at an apparently low-level, others fairly significant, culminating in the current Matter At Hand over a series of articles in the SFWA Bulletin (as well as a cover painting for one issue) and the responses prompted concerning them.
Disclaimer: I tend to ignore the Bulletin anymore. A lot of the information contained therein is wonderful for beginning writers or those just starting up the ladder of their careers. Occasionally there’s something technical in an issue worth reading. But really, it comes because I pay my dues and I go through the Market Report. Therefore, I had to go find the issues at the center of the storm, dig them out of the pile, and read the pieces in question.
Which means that I absorbed them somewhat in isolation.
Nevertheless, to my complete embarrassment and shame, I misread what was supposed to be the problem. Then I compounded that failure by defending them.
Not full-faced “what the hell is wrong with you people” defend, just…
The offending articles were two in the long-running series of dialogues by Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg about the history of the genre. These are, for those of you who do not get the Bulletin and don’t know, done as conversations, two guys who’ve been around for a long time, yacking about the Old Days and who wrote what, published where, said that, or did this. They are framed as personal reminiscence.
Which to my mind is a somewhat different context than a straightforward article about, say, copyright law or manuscript formatting or how to write a cover letter. It’s a different kind of work and therefore has different parameters. Like memoir, what the author (or authors) get to talk about and how they talk about it gets more leeway. Constraints are not as tight, subject and content are more flexible. To my mind.
So therefore when I read a couple of paragraphs in one of these about a particular editor who was evidently “drop dead gorgeous” and “looked great in a bikini” I thought nothing, or at least very little, of it. It’s not the same as if it had been a straight up piece about how to submit a story to said editor and had included the aside, “and by the way, when submitting to her, keep in mind she’s a babe!” Had such a sentence been in such an article, my hair would have stood on end and electric cascades would have run up and down my spine. What the hell does that have to do with the professional relationship detailed in the article? And it’s true, that if the article had been talking about a male editor, you would likely never see an equivalent remark “And by the way, when submitting to this guy, remember he has a hell of a package!”
Had you read such a remark, we should all know (if it needs explaining, as it apparently does) that the difference is that in the case of the man it is an irrelevancy but for the woman it is a threat.
More clarity? While a man might view his “package” as an essential aspect of his identity, society at large does not. The same cannot be said about a woman and her physical attributes. Therefore, the inclusion of such a comment about a woman is automatically limiting and de facto sexist. Because the writer has decided that this is the important fact about this woman and while he (or she) may not intend it to be limiting, there is a whole file cabinet of associated conclusions attached to such a description that gets opened once the statement is made.
Is this a bad thing, you ask?
Well. As has been pointed out by some over this, good or bad, it is problematic. Because the message has connotative force in the negative. Because, unfortunately, for too many people, “looks great in a bikini” is the beginning and end of any worthwhile description. All else becomes secondary. Tertiary. Immaterial. Distracting.
Welcome to Gor.
My mistake was in not recognizing this essential fact. That intent doesn’t matter when there is ample information that such a phrase will be taken as a threat by a great many people.*
Resnick and Malzberg also consistently qualified who they were talking about. “Lady writers” and “lady editors.” Again, my context filters were on. I thought, that’s who these guys are, they’re from a generation that would consider that a polite cognomen, what’s the big deal? Forgetting, as I read, how qualifiers play into limiting people not of the majority culture in, say, ethnicity. The main subject of the two articles was “Women In Science Fiction”—why the continued use of a label which served only to underscore a “specialness” that is not necessarily positive in the context of professional circles? While the substance of what they had to say was overwhelmingly laudatory (Alice Sheldon was held up to be as good as Alfred Bester and at no point did a phrase like “well, she was really good for a woman” appear) that continual qualifier became a kind of apology. In the context of a reminiscence, it was indicative of the character of the two authors—quaint, a “cute” term—but outside that context, it is like continually using the term “black writer” in a piece about African American Writers. We already know the people being discussed are black, the only reason to continually use the qualifier is to make a point of difference. Do it enough, the difference becomes the only relevant factor.
I missed all this and shrugged it off.
The other article was, in fact, a How To piece, in which Barbie was held forth as a model for professional behavior. Now, I can see how the author thought this was tongue-in-cheek, a clever, satirical way to make a point, but…
The only excuse for this is carelessness.
Well, maybe not the only excuse. Intentional, programmatic sexism is certainly possible.
Barbie cannot be a model for any kind of self-aware, in control, self-directed person. Other People have always determined, right down to the color of plastic used, what Barbie is, will be, or can be, and this point should have been obvious. The use of a toy in a prescriptive article, aimed at women, can only be…well, problematic.
Two things here. The first is, I’m disappointed. Science fiction has been for me a font of enlightenment. I don’t mean by that “everything I know about living I got from science fiction.” What I mean is, that many of the foundational ideas I consider important in my life first came to me from science fiction. I had to flesh them out later, from other sources, but something as basic as gender equality first penetrated my adolescent brain from reading science fiction. So for this to have occurred in the field which gave me my earliest intellectual nurture is profoundly distressing. It’s almost like hearing someway say “Oh, I just say all that shit in my novels, I don’t actually believe any of it!”
And, no, I am not saying that Resnick and Malzberg are themselves chauvinists. I suspect they’re shocked and dismayed both by the reaction to what they wrote and hurt by the suggestion that they are sexists. But they dropped the ball in understanding the context in which they wrote. (They compounded it by crying fowl and bleating about censorship. No one called for censorship. If anything, a call was made for more awareness.)
I said two things. I put my foot in my mouth over this because I also failed to see how things have evolved and how they have played out in the last 40 years. I imagined that we might reach a time when men and women might be able to recognize and appreciate each others’ sexuality without such recognition in any way acting as threat or limitation. Because a woman is beautiful (or a man handsome) does not mean she is obligated to be that for the fantasy edification of people she doesn’t know or should be constrained by that fact because others can’t see past the surface. For many people, physicality is destiny. Or fate. And often, when people in possession of certain physical traits act in ways that don’t fit those fantasy preconceptions, there is a kind of breaking that occurs which is profoundly tragic in that such preconceptions should never have been put in place to begin with. Limitation goes both ways. If all you can see is the great bod, the perfect smile, and the lush hair, I feel sorry for you—you’re missing a whole world.
Men don’t see this as a problem, though, and that’s why it’s such a big deal. Men have never been barred from being anything else they want to be by their looks. At least, not as far as the larger culture is concerned. A man is good looking, well, that’s just one more thing in the plus column, lucky bastard!
Women have different experiences with that.
Many men will still not get it. (No doubt a lot of women, too, though for different reasons.) What they will see is another demand that we stop enjoying women. That we must ignore their physicality, their sexuality. That we must turn our libidos off. They will see this as another call that we stop being “men.” That’s not it at all.
Treat women as People first. Not female People. People. It seems so simple, that. And yet…
Part of the problem in all this is the lack of grasp exhibited by otherwise bright people. You have to ask yourself, what makes you think that the kind of stuff you’re likely to hear in a bar made suitable copy for a professional journal? When you insert a sexualized comment in an article about professional people in a given field, you really aren’t talking about them, you’re talking about yourself.
Anyway, I still have a couple of toes to extract, so I’m done talking for now.
One last thing: You’re never too old to screw up, but you’re also never too old to learn from it.
* Threat? What threat? I hear some think. The threat that nothing one does matters if one doesn’t fuck. That no matter what accomplishments a woman may have, if she’s not also someone interested in, willing, and able to get sweaty with a male who thinks it’s his right and her privilege, then she’s not worth considering. That any female who seems to think she can be her own Self without this aspect is delusional and that self-selected male has not only the right but the obligation to “show her what she’s missing.” Basically, we’re talking about rape, implied and actualized, because what matters is the sex. To be sure, something of this attaches to men as well, but without the element of coercion, which renders it wholly different. Consider for a moment the most basic difference in attitude regarding “conquests.” Men who seem to have sex with numerous women acquire, with a few exceptions, a patina of glamor, respect, and envy, while women who engage in a similar lifestyle receive a very different designation and concomitant image and with few exceptions is generally negative. Furthermore, for men, it is simply one more aspect of their overall image, but for women it almost wholly subsumes anything else about them. If the boys want the women to stop pointing out their sexism, this will have to change, and the fact that it’s still the case means we have yet to achieve the kind of gender equity men like me thought we were on our way to achieving.