Friday, June 14, 2013

Now Exiting the Holier-Than-Thou Wars...

Anyone following my twitter feed might have noticed an increase in the rant-quotient of late.  Yeah, getting involved with the latest SFWA kerfuffle over sexism in their Bulletin magazine...probably not the wisest of moves.

The teeth-grindingly annoying part is I'd like to think I'm on the side of 'good'.  Greater diversity of voices and perspectives leads to a greater number of interesting and imaginative stories, which can only be a good thing.  And frankly, some of the shit women writers had to put up with in the past was abominable.

But I also subscribe fully to freedom of expression, and the chilling effect of censorship, whether it be the dictionary definition of the word or the quasi-censorship by mob that essentially results in the same outcome, scares me greatly.  My publisher, eXcessica, was nearly shut down when our payment processor, an organisation with an effective monopoly, had a sudden attack of morality.  So yep, censorship, or rather the not-quite-censorship we don't have a proper word for, concerns me a lot.

The problem is whenever someone tries to voice these concerns they usually get a battering.  Some of the people reading this (who am I kidding, I'm a grotty horror/porn writer, no one is reading this) are probably already rolling their eyes and thinking:

"Here we go again, another stupid SWM that completely doesn't get it.  All 'Blah blah Art! blah blah Fantasy! blah blah Censorship!'  Thinking it's all about him, him, him.  People are offended!  Our souls are hurting!"

I'm just a little concerned about the whole burning of stuff.  Can we not just create more cool, imaginative stuff to please a bigger, more diverse audience?  That seems better to me than taking stuff away from the audience that's already there.  Is a picture of a warrior woman in a bikini really that--

"Sexist!  Disrespectful to woman!  And totally unrealistic.  She's a fighter, not a glamour-puss sex symbol."

Um, isn't unreality sort of the whole point of fantasy, a precious little glimmer of escapism from humdrum lives.  It might not be your fantasy, but the imagination is a really big thing.  When you can create anything, it seems a bit mean to stomp all over someone else's fant--

"It's wank fodder for sad inadequates who don't know how to deal with a real woman!"

That's a little harsh, but so what if it is.  It's their fantasy, their little glimmer of escapism. Can they not--

"Oh shut up!  You're just another spoilt geek.  Go back down to your basement and take your neckbeard and bad hygiene with you!"

Ironically, despite my earlier posts expressing 'silly' concerns about censorship, I was Jim Hines'ing one of many comments like the one above to show how offensive it would look if you gender-flipped the terms, when The Guardian censored me.

Yep, that fluffy bastion of liberalism, The Guardian.  Achievement unlocked: Censored by The Guardian.

They didn't need to shout "Shut up!" at me.  You don't need to tell people to "Shut up!" when you can press a button and, poof, they are shut up.  Funnily enough the original comment is still there.  Yep, a quote of it with "men" switched to "women" was deemed to offensive to exist, but the original is fine.  I guess it's perfectly okay to describe the gaming/sci-fi/fantasy community as having a high number of "unattractive, unhygenic, neckbeard types", with a "complete lack of ability in finding a partner".

Gee whiz, why is there this backlash from the gaming community, I wonder?

I did point out the double standards.  That comment did well.  It nearly lasted a full half hour.

shut up

They don't need to froth and rave, "Shut up!"  They press a button and you are

shut up

But it's not censorship.  It's their paper.  It's their choice over what comments appear in the discussion.  They have that right.  It's fine.  I won't be reading it in future.

This was not a debate or discussion.  It's diktat.  "You will think and say what we think you should think and say, otherwise you can go and stand in the shit with the other bigots and misogynists."

No.  I'll take a third option.  I'm out.  I'm exiting the Holier-Than-Thou wars.  I'm disengaging.  It's that or let the radioactivity build up until one morning I wake up and find I'm standing in the shit with all the other frothing loonies.

Tell the truth, I'm a little concerned I might be standing in it already.

I hope not.  I quite like that whole diversity thing of people of all stripes letting their imaginations spill out without some mean fucker standing in the way and telling them they can't.

Not that what I think matters a damn jot.  After all, I'm

shut up

Well not entirely.  I'm not truly censored.  I can write this and post it to the great dark outerness of the internet.  It might not be lost forever.  It might even bubble up to the heady circles of the twitterati, where the fully evolved elite can point and laugh at another frothing neckbeard ape.  Ooo, if I'm really lucky I might even get to be described as very special.

Then again, it might be best to not hit that post button.  Not good to speak out of line.  Might jeopardize the...actually it's really more of hobby than a career.  Still, there's always the worry of my writing being

shut up

Urp.  Sorry about that.  You know how it is, sometimes you have something you really need to cough up off your chest.  In this case it's black, sludgy and I think those are eyes.  I'll kill it with fire later just to make sure.

Don't worry, I'm not going to make a habit of this.  I'm out.  Weight lifted.  Shits no longer to be given.

Time to get my head down and back to the stories.  That's what it's all about.  Create fantasies...provide escapism...entertain...delight.  Fuck the other shit.


  1. Dude, don't sweat it. It's the Guardian.
    Nine times out of ten it's only worth visiting the comments section of a newspaper to see how insane a fringe of its readership can be.

    The Daily Mail has the hang 'em and flog 'em brigade.
    The Telegraph has people who think business regulations equate to communism.
    The Guardian has the most frustrating lot of all - those who think their viewpoint should be inflicted on others. Support for issues like the Lose The Lads Mag campaign points to that. Socially progressive movements that aren't about explaining why lads' mag aren't a good thing but twisting legislation to get them banned instead.

    And the arguments the com enters use... Blow me.
    You disagree with someone? Then you haven't thought the issue through.
    Your dissenting viewpoint popular in opinion polls? Then you've been brainwashed by the mainstream media. Because only Guardianistas can critically analyse news stories and make decisions for themselves.
    And if the person you're debating it with can't find fault in your argument?
    Then, as you've found out, they'll stretch the definition of 'straw man argument' to breaking point.
    They do that last one a lot.

    Seriously you're better off out. Now get back to writing about sexy succubi and hope you're one day famous enough for some humourless Guardian columnist to call for your sick misogynist filth to be banned under the Equality Act!

  2. I half-agree with you. The main kind of censorship that concerns me is the kind enforced by the government, but non-government censorship comes in varying degrees of badness.

    The Guardian censoring your comments seems inappropriate. It's reasonable for them to censor comments that aren't civil or respectful, but deleting comments just because they don't agree with you is wrong - especially since the point of those comment sections is to allow discussion and multiple points of view to be heard.

    The PayPal thing also strikes me as inappropriate because they have a virtual monopoly, and thus undue influence over many other businesses. By analogy, I wouldn't give a crap about the MPAA's ridiculous standards for rating movies if it weren't for the fact that they have undue influence over the American film industry.

    Where I disagree, however, is the implication that normal people expressing moral outrage over certain kinds of media amounts to a kind of "censorship." To use an extreme example, suppose the New York Times (perhaps in an attempt to be edgy) hires a columnist who consistently argues that women are subhuman and that they should be barred from voting, owning property, having a job, getting an education, etc. It would be perfectly reasonable for readers to say, "Hey, NYT, this is sexist bullshit - you shouldn't have this crap in your newspaper!" The protesters spread the word, they mount a popular campaign, and eventually they get the NYT to fire the columnist. I don't see anything wrong with that - either on the part of the protesters or on the part of the NYT.

    The sexism controversy you mentioned strikes me as *structurally* similar to the extreme situation I just mentioned; the main difference lies in the actual *content* of the debate. That is, it's not so obvious whether it's reasonable to be outraged by a chainmail bikini.

    Long story short: I think it's a mistake to make this an issue about censorship or freedom of speech. The better approach is to directly address the issue of whether something like a chainmail bikini is sexist/misogynist/whatever (which, in fairness, you did do).

    A related issue, of course, is the fact that it's difficult to engage in that kind of debate because - rather than engaging in a rational discussion - people just shout things like "racist!", "sexist!" as a means to de-legitimize the other side. But again, I don't think this is a censorship or freedom of speech issue, since the same tactics are used for issues that have nothing to do with censorship (e.g., de-legitimize arguments against war by calling such people "un-patriotic"). Unfortunately, it's mainly a problem of people lacking critical-thinking skills.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful response.

      I think the NYT example is a form of quasi-censorship, but it can be a huge grey area. I don't think I can tackle it in a comment (I tried - it was a mess). I might come back to it in more detail in a full blog post.

      This is a summary of sorts:

      For me it's about voice and audience. If no one wants to listen to a voice, the voice isn't being censored, it doesn't have an audience. If a voice does - or would - have an audience, but can't reach them because another entity is blocking the path, a form of quasi-censorship is taking place. Ultimately the audience should be the true arbiters*. Anything squeezing the pipe from voice to audience is a form of quasi-censorship in my opinion.

      *Okay, with some commonsense exemptions - outright hate speech, material unsuitable for minors...

      My position is probably a little more relaxed than other people would be comfortable with. But this is because most of the entertainment I enjoy - the extreme stories I write, the horror films I watch, the violent videogames I play - are usually the first to get rubbed out when the morality screw gets tightened.

      Moral outrage can be a big squeeze on the pipe between voice and audience. Everyone has a right to express disapproval, but when it gets loud enough that authorities panic and shut up a voice, or the voice is so intimidated they shut themselves up, one person's freedom of expression tips over the line into freedom to silence someone else's freedom of expression.

      The shouting bugs me. Someone expresses disapproval and they get "shut up, bitch!" hatemail. Someone else says they don't think it was that bad and they get "shut up, bigot/misogynist!"

      It just makes the atmosphere toxic. Most of the time I find I agree with A & B, but express reservations on C (mainly because of my extreme reluctance to see anything banned or frozen out). This isn't good enough. You're either for all A, B & C, or you're in the shit with the nasty folk. No tolerance at all for any variation on 'The Line'.

      Hence my frustration boiling over into that coughed-up hairball of a rant above. :)

  3. The censorship may not just be because the work seems obscene but because of proximity with the legal lines.

    For example, in the US as of 2006 computer generated imagery of specific types may cross the line based on the Miller Test. If you consider precedent for what has been legally punished so far, you may find that certain games may not be the risk to possess.

    Consider it this way, if we cross the line on A (even if poorly contrived), are in the grey area on B, and are in the safe zone on C. Well, you get the point. Association gets us in trouble. In my case, I gave up A.