It’s Not Fandom That’s Toxic

It’s Not Fandom That’s Toxic

There has been a lot of pixels spent explaining to all and sundry that geek culture, such as it is, is ‘toxic’. Or that elements of it are. And this is often accompanied with a certain level of finger pointing, self-flagellation, and promises to be better. I even wrote about it in the wake of Kelly Marie Tran’s leaving of Instagram over this toxic culture.

But it hit me last night that it isn’t geek culture that’s toxic. Or, that isn’t a feature exclusive to geek culture.

It’s all of it. The whole damn culture is toxic. There isn’t one area that we can avoid the contamination, not one safe space in the culture as a whole. I look around, and I see the commercials with lines like ‘get the rewards you deserve’, and it all becomes clear.

We, as a whole, got used to the idea that we exist to be pandered to. From credit cards telling us to ‘get the rewards we deserve’ to mortgage providers selling instant approval (or declination, but let’s not mention that) to apps that forward portions of your check so you don’t have to learn to budget. All of these are symptoms of a culture that is poised to devour itself.

I look at these things, and all I see is a desire to be rewarded for doing things that are not reward-worthy, and a deeper desire for immediate gratification regardless of cost. We are told we ‘deserve’ a reward for using this or that credit card. The reward is they let you buy something you actually can’t afford, and you pay them for the privilege. You don’t deserve rewards for that. We are constantly bombarded with the word ‘deserve’. We deserve service, cash back, to be first, to be exclusive, to be young, to have all the things. We don’t, actually. We deserve to be allowed to live our lives as we see fit without being forced to comply with someone else’s beliefs. We deserve the right to pursue happiness, so long as that pursuit doesn’t infringe upon another’s pursuit of the same. We deserve the right to life. We deserve equality of opportunity (equality of outcome is amongst the vilest of evils, and we never deserve that). We deserve only what can be said to be deserved by all, at birth, regardless of station. Double cash back isn’t on that list.

Shutdown Theater

Shutdown Theater

Without going into causes, the government shutdown has been a fascinating example of why we need to reform the system, possibly by firing with prejudice everyone in the current system.

First, if the essential functions of government can continue with around 380,000 workers (out of about 2.1 million total federal employees) laid off, then are those jobs really needed? It would seem that is a legitimate question, and one that supervisors and agency heads should be asking. As we increase automation, and see more and more jobs at risk because a machine can do it faster, longer, and more accurately, there is no reason to assume federal workers are somehow supposed to be exempt from that risk. I understand that new craft beer labels need approving, I just wonder at the necessity of all 380,000 furloughed positions.

Second, when it comes to the 400,000 or so workers who are not being paid, that needs to be fixed. Yes, keep the non-essential workers on furlough (and again, review their actual necessity), but pay the workers who are on the job. To do otherwise is un-American. To compound the issue, we are paying Congress, who is not addressing the issues at the root of the shutdown. If we can’t pay the workforce, we shouldn’t pay the people responsible for the problem either (President Trump doesn’t, by his own choice, draw a federal paycheck). Out of 20 Illinois Congressional members (18 in the House, 2 in the Senate), only one is refusing to be paid during the shutdown; Brad Schneider (D) of the 10th District. One. To be fair, of the 535 members of Congress, about 70 are refusing or donating their checks to charity. Pay the people working. Seriously.

But back to the first point. Do we really need these people? Does the IRS really need 36,000 people to handle refunds? Especially as more are filed electronically each year? Last year, according to eFile.com, 135,883,000 returns were processed, 126,040,000 of those electronically. That is 92% of all returns! People don’t need to handle those – they can be processed completely electronically. Yes, if a flag is triggered, then a human needs to review it, and yes, that leaves 15,491,000 returns to process by hand (while 135.8M were processed in 2018, 141.5M were sent in). I suspect there are scanners available to speed that up.

Of course, it is the government, and efficiency is not prized.

But it needs to be. The bloating of the bureaucracy continues to be an issue, and we, the people who have to deal with this bloat in so very many ways, need to rise up and say ‘enough’. If a functioning government exists without 380,000 employees present, then those 380,000 employees are probably not needed. At all. They should have their positions reviewed, and if they are not necessary (and we should be very narrow in what is ‘necessary’), then they should be let go. Full stop. With a reported average salary in 2014 of $84,153 (before benefits are applied), cutting loose those 380,000 would save the taxpayers $31,978,140,000 per year ($45,574,920,000 with benefits). How much more could $45 billion do injected into the US economy?

So, Congress, pay the people working, look seriously into firing the ones not, and stop paying yourselves first. You are supposed to be servants, not self-aggrandizing masters. Get it right for a change.

Brands And Social Commentary

Brands And Social Commentary

When is publicity bad for a brand?

Despite the old saw of their being no such thing as bad press, there is indeed such a thing, and knowing how to avoid it is increasingly paramount in today’s hot-take-driven media landscape.

But Gillette is discovering, as others have before, that taking a social commentary position has consequences. For the record, I stopped using cartridge razors back in 2013, and have only used double edged safety razors since (I use the Merkur Safety Razorand these blades), so my comments on the Gillette ad are not driven by any relationship to the company or it’s products.

Gillette is facing backlash over their ‘toxic masculinity’ ad, and that was something they could have avoided. Their parent company, Procter & Gamble, has seen their stock dip post-release. And there is a lot of chatter about switching away from Gillette products, which are a bit less than 50% of the shaving market.

So why do it? That is the question that a brand needs to answer before making a statement that can damage your market. Sometimes controversy is good – especially if you land early on the winning side. Bold statements can drive customers to you, as you show confidence and vision on an issue. This can also backfire, if you choose a position that is opposed to your customer base, or appears to be an attack on them (some analysis of the Gillette ad suggests that the tone is scolding or one of talking down to the customer).

My advice to the small business brand manager or brand decision makers is to avoid commentary on social issues at all costs. And if you feel the need, be sure to be aspirational, positive, and pick a safe topic. You won’t offend anyone by standing up for equality, but might if you choose a more fringe aspect of your issue.

The core function of business is to move a product, and make a profit. Taking social positions is not the function of a business, and has all too often caused harm. Gillette won’t be going anywhere, a 1 person shop just might.

Anger Derails Progress

Anger Derails Progress

Once upon a time, not so long ago, things seemed to be moving the ‘right’ direction. We were ending discrimination as a society, people were raised, exposed to, and expected to see the person not the wrapper. It seemed, to me at least, that we were finally working on that whole ‘content of character not color of skin’ thing, and making real progress.

Then…something…happened. Now, we have the most overt racism (and other discriminations) of any time in my life. We have people calling the police because there is a black person doing…nothing really. Existing. Yes, there is sometimes more to the story (the condo entry is a good example), but too often it looks like the idea that acting in an overly racist manner is back to being acceptable. I pull up short of calling people racist for one very good reason.

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Toxic Fandom

Toxic Fandom

Kelly Marie Tran was a mostly unknown actress until she landed the part of Rose in Star Wars: The Last Jedi (SW8EP8).

As I have written, Rose the character, was three points short of useless and completely unnecessary. A simple explanation of the plan to the heroes would have avoided a lot of bad film-making, and absurdly convoluted actions and plot MacGuffins..

That is Rose, the character.

As I also wrote, Kelly Marie Tran did a fine job with the role. And now it seems that some so-called Star Wars fans have decided to harass and intimidate her to the point of leaving social media (Instagram, specifically). Remember, the character sucked, the acting did not (or, not beyond the level of the usual Lucas-style direction, but that is on the director). I don’t want to repeat this, but it really seems like there are a lot of people missing the point.

Character bad. Actor not bad.

This is part of the problem in fandom these days. We have come to believe that creators are somehow beholden to us…no, that isn’t it. That we, the fans, control the property they created. Hint: we don’t. We didn’t when Vader was revealed as Luke’s father (and yes, that was hotly debated at the time), we didn’t when Lucas gave us Jar-Jar Binks and the wildly racist Trade Federation, we didn’t when needless works like ‘Shadows of the Empire’ happened…or the Yuuzhan Vong dropped a moon on Chewbacca. We didn’t at any of these points, and still don’t.

Yes, we have the right to have expectations, to be disappointed, angry, frustrated, or hurt when things go in ways we don’t like. Yes, we have the right to complain about this, and wail and cry about it. Yes, we have the right, and perhaps even duty, to hold the creator responsible for their creation, and if we feel that their vision is too far from our own, we have the right to be mad, and quit consuming the content.

But we do not, ever, have the right to demand that the creators follow our vision of their creation. Their. Creation. Not yours, not mine, not ours. Theirs.

Part of that creation is including the characters they want to include. If that means characters we find annoying, unwelcome, unattractive, or whatever, that’s our problem, not theirs. And they don’t have to apologize for it. So, when Rose Tico was added to the plot and script of The Last Jedi, we had no say in that. Rightly. When Kelly Marie Tran was cast to play the part, we had no say in that. Also rightly. When the character turned out to be a poorly drawn, unnecessary, and ill-conceived part of the movie, we had no say in that either. But that is anger, disappointment, frustration, or whatever at a character. Attaching it to an actor is crossing a line.

Star Wars fandom has had this issue for some time now. From the irrational hate directed at Jake Lloyd to the current vitriol directed at Daisy Ridley and Kelly Marie Tran, there is a dark side to this fandom. I believe this is symptomatic of a larger problem in the SF/F community as a whole, but that’s another post for another time. In the SW universe, fans have the annoying habit of believing they are owed something.

Pro Tip: We. Aren’t.

Look, short of those who devote large sections of their lives to this, I am one of the biggest SW fans out there. It was the first movie I ever saw, in 1977. So, yeah, it is a thing. And yes, I was not in love with the prequels, or Last Jedi. And yes, I want a higher grade product, and have my own ideas on where the series and property should go. Like any fan. And, like the vast majority of us, I understand that I am not being consulted, and have precisely no control over this. Some folk didn’t get the memo.

So what to do about this? Really, the only thing we can do is confront it head on. And not just people attacking actors for choices and such not their own. Confront people who insist that any creative property bend to their will. Remind them that if they want that, they need to create it, and while criticism and venting is good, and welcome, there is a line. It is hard to see, sometimes, but it is there. We, as fans, have a responsibility to police ourselves, and find ways to make the best of low-quality product (including celebrating high-quality product more than we bemoan low-quality). We need to do this because we stand to loose more than the creators do.

What would Star Wars Celebration be without guests? Think about that. If we, as the mainline fandom, allow the lunatic fringe to push the actors away (and once them, who is next?), why would they appear anywhere for the fans? Of course, they get paid, and it may even be in their contracts, so there is that motivation. But do you think that Kelly Marie Tran, if she is cast in a future SF/F property, will have that included? Force her to meet the fans…many of whom would be gracious and welcoming, but who may have come to scream at her? Would you do that? I wouldn’t.

So, be passionate about the property. Be engaged in the community. But don’t be toxic. Don’t attack actors for the sins of the writers or directors. Don’t be a dick.

Origins Game Fair – Where Discourse Is Unwelcome

Origins Game Fair – Where Discourse Is Unwelcome

First things first. I don’t have a dog in this hunt. I was not planning on attending Origins, and never would have, as it is in Ohio, and I simply won’t go to that state unless absolutely necessary. So this doesn’t impact my plans in the least.

Second things…I am very torn on this, as I am, at my core, a free speech absolutist. I believe that there should be no limits on speech, and have written at length about that. In brief, I believe that you should be allowed to speak, and operate your businesses, as you see fit – including discrimination against potential customers – without governmental interference or censure. The flip side is that you must also accept that the population may not support you, and you must not be saved from failure by the government either. Thus, I respect Origins Game Fair’s right to invite whomever they wish, and disinvite (as rude as that may be) whomever they wish. This is their right, and their excise of this right is nothing to comment on. While I think their decisions are poor, and will harm them in the long run, it is their right to do so, and I respect and defend that right, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.

But.

There is the issue of the now-deleted tweet from Origins announcing the removal of New York Times bestselling author Larry Correia from their guest list. First, by deleting the tweet, it looks like they are either covering up, or ashamed of, their position. That is one of my main complaints about the modern world, and maybe worth a post in itself. We no longer seem to even have the courage of our personal belief, of our convictions. See books by Lars Walker for a better look at that than I can give just now. That is one issue, but the real issue, the kicker, as it were, is the wording of the tweet itself:

Third paragraph. Last sentence. “We focus on fun, not discourse and controversy”. Emphasis mine.

Discourse. Webster’s defines this as

  1. verbal interchange of ideas; especially : conversation
  2. formal and orderly and usually extended expression of thought on a subject
    1. connected speech or writing
    2. a linguistic unit (such as a conversation or a story) larger than a sentence
  3. a mode of organizing knowledge, ideas, or experience that is rooted in language and its concrete contexts (such as history or institutions) critical discourse
  4. archaic: the capacity of orderly thought or procedure : rationality
  5. obsolete: social familiarity

So, Origins, per their executive director, is not a place for a verbal exchange of ideas, conversation, or civil discussion. While I expect he meant to use the word ‘discord’, that isn’t what was written. And I think that is revealing. By refusing to honor an invitation to a man who is considered by all who have met him to be a great person, kind, gracious, gentle, etc. (disclaimer: I have never met him, but know people who have), and then saying ‘we don’t want to be a place for conversation’, Origins shows a staggering intolerance of diversity.

The simple reality is that the political position occupied by the sort of people who screech about ‘unsafe’ (and do explain how that is in any way accurate….I’ll wait) is also all about the refusal to engage in any discourse with anyone not of their specific group or flavor. In this, they haven’t exactly progressed past their origins in the early 1800s, and demonstrate they still love a good lynching. In civil society, ideas are to be discussed, to be considered, and to be accepted or rejected on their merits – not because some screeching stain says they make her (in this specific case, it was a her – isn’t always) feel, somehow, unsafe. As if someone holding a different opinion is unsafe. This back to the absurdist position that somehow conservative speech is violence, but liberal violence is speech. I am neither alone nor original in stating that 1984 was a warning, not an instruction manual.

So what is a thinking person to do (and yes, in case it isn’t obvious, I am excluding the sort of person who thinks this is right or good from the set ‘thinking’, not ‘people’) when confronted with this kind of idiocy? What is the correct response? Again, no dog in the hunt, but I think the correct response may look like this:

  • Boycott Origins. In all ways – do not support them, their sponsors, their allies, their friends, their ConCom’s businesses. You want to make this personal, on your head be it. The vendors are innocent in this, and don’t deserve to be caught in the insanity Origins has started. If you know they were there, and see them elsewhere, proceed as normal – this is not on them. Sponsors…that’s different.
  • Promote the competition of all the above – boycotting is step one. Always look at the second step, and that is to move any business from the supporters of the position you disagree with to their competitors. It isn’t enough to just not shop there…
  • Under no circumstances encourage, condone, support, suggest, or hint at any kind of violent response – even in metaphor, jest, ad absurdum, mockery, and so on. The enemy – and they have declared themselves so – chooses when to take this as an actual threat, and when to not. Hint: if conservatives say it, it is a threat, if they say it, it isn’t (even when it is by any reasonable standard).
  • Do patronize conventions where banned and disinvited authors are welcome. Be active in those communities, and keep the good cons going. Since they want segregation so badly, we can give it to them.
  • See #3…really, not even in jest. With the fallout and discussion in full froth, Mr. Correia posted that he awoke this AM to reports that people in his Facebook group made bomb threats. I suspect someone reported his wife, for the ‘nuke em’ post she made. This is how deranged the enemy is. Just think for a moment about that.
  • Strike back in their forum and manner. So Origins kicked Mr. Correia. And by doing so removed the only non-white guest from their convention. Make some noise about that! No women, no POC, only white males! How dare they – isn’t that making us unsafe? Or whatever their position is. Use mockery, as they cannot stand being mocked. Subvert their own methods and practices. We have a true spectrum of people who are on our side, people they claim have more valid voices…use those voices to make it impossible for conventions like Origins to function. Use their weapons to orchestrate their downfall.

In closing, remember to remain true to yourselves. There is nothing wrong with a convention making an unpopular choice – they have that right and must be encouraged to exercise it. To do otherwise is to be the next in line for the boxcars. Forgive them, as we are called to do. But also remember we are not compelled or called to support them either.