Responding to Fandom

First thing’s first: to everybody who has been sharing my post from last night all over Facebook and the like, thank you so much. I wrote it because I was too angry to sleep. and now it’s really just taking off like crazy. I have the best, most intelligent, most attractive readers on the internet, and I hope that those of you who came around for the last Human Excommunication or to read about how re-posting the Frankenstein’s monster of a Bill Cosby speech doesn’t make black people the absolute worst will stick around for more rage coupled with supporting details.

Yea. Like that.

And it is on that note that we’re going to take a small digression away from rage to discuss something that is merely frustrating, perhaps a bit anger-inducing: the new Robin.

But first, some history.

During the 90′s, when everything about comics sucked, the few gems in the industry really stood out. Among them, we were introduced to a semi-villianess named Spoiler, the daughter to Chuck Dixon’s pulled-from-the-bin-and-dusted-off Cluemaster. Basically, she ruined her father’s plans, but wasn’t really a “good guy”, much like the Huntress from Green Arrow. She had her own agenda, and often it matched up with the Dynamic Duo, specifically Tim Drake Robin for whom she became a love interest.

Due to a number of things, Tim’s father finds out that his son is Robin, forces him to retire, and Spoiler, who is named Stephanie Brown, gets her own Robin costume and demands that Batman train her. He does, she’s Robin, all is good until she makes some serious mistakes and is fired…and becomes Batgirl.

During this time period, however, Steph really gained a major fan following. She’s spunky, raw, and really an interesting character. So when DC annouced they would be bringing in a female Robin, people got excited that it might be Steph.

Nope. It’s Carrie Kelly from “The Dark Knight Returns.” This is about as much of a letdown as when DC announced that one of it’s “major characters” would be gay, then made it Alan Scott, who is absolutely awesome as a character, but let’s not pretend that when people think of “Green Lantern,” they’re thinking of his Earth 2 counterpart. Similarly, I really, really like Carrie Kelly, but there’s a whole lot more going on behind this.

Ultimately, DC isn’t my comic label, Marvel is, but after reading Jess’s take on the bizarre and active opposition to Steph at DC, I can’t help but wonder what the hell they think they’re doing over there. Here’s a partial list of the things that DC has done to prevent this character from seeing the light of day, as compiled by Jess.

  • made Steph Robin as part of a publicity stunt, only to promptly kill her off in a lengthy, brutal, sexualized sequence;
  • subsequently announced that she had never really been a Robin and denied her a memorial case for years;
  • hosted a panel in which one of their freelancers, speaking as a representative of their company, expressed a desire to violently murder her fans for asking when they would see her again, and did not subsequently apologize nor request that the writer do so;
  • removed a character who, again, made The New York Times bestseller list, along with Cassandra Cain, from their New 52 in favor of Barbara Gordon, claiming it was to avoid confusion, while retaining four essentially identical-looking male Robins (thus eliminating not just two female characters, but a character of color and a differently-abled character);
  • rejected multiple pitches from popular writers to use her, including Gail Simone, Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder, Bryan Q. Miller, and Scott Lobdell;

There are several more examples over at the post, and I highly recommend reading them all. The point is, despite a dedicated and huge fanbase, the high muckity-mucks at DC really, really, really don’t like Stephanie Brown and they’re going to do everything in their power to ignore fans and keep this character out.

That’s one reason why I’ve always been more of a Marvel reader, really: they tend to be more responsive to the fans (also, Doctor Strange is an amazing character, and the new Defenders is fantastic). In fact, like we see with the absolute train wreck of 90′s Spider-man plots that eventually ended up with a plane-crash-on-train-wreck attempt to correct those plots (One More Day, the Clone Saga, I’m looking at you guys), they may be even too responsive to their fans. However, I prize more highly a ham-handed attempt to correct a wrong than the steadfast refusal to admit to it.

And now we get to the crux of the matter: is it better to save face and deny a problem or to admit to it? Well, we can look at some examples.

Perhaps the most obvious is the Vatican, an organization that has staked its claim on infallibility, so they are completely unable to admit to wrongdoing, instead having to hide, deny, and command away any problems they may face. Even when they do apologize, it’s for things far too late or minor that any change can be affected. By extension, the ever-dwindling group of people who still give credence to the Vatican as a moral guide will reflexively proclaim every pope BESTEST POPE EVAAAAARRRR, and the problems will continue.

But yes, that’s an easy target. “You’re always down on the Church, Kaoru! Why don’t you ever criticize atheists?” Well, dear reader, let me do just that.

Sam Harris has recently come under attack for being “Islamophobic”. This is part of a recent trend these last two weeks to conflate the criticism of Islam by the New Atheists with a hatred of Muslim people in that weird way that we say “race” when we’re talking about “religion” (see also: Jewish). I think many of the criticisms of him and people like Jerry Coyne are off base, but then we have Harris’s response (h/t PZ Myers).

A general point about the mechanics of defamation: It is impossible to effectively defend oneself against unethical critics. If nothing else, the law of entropy is on their side, because it will always be easier to make a mess than to clean it up. It is, for instance, easier to call a person a “racist,” a “bigot,” a “misogynist,” etc. than it is for one’s target to prove that he isn’t any of these things. In fact, the very act of defending himself against such accusations quickly becomes debasing. Whether or not the original charges can be made to stick, the victim immediately seems thin-skinned and overly concerned about his reputation. And, rebutted or not, the original charges will be repeated in blogs and comment threads, and many readers will assume that where there’s smoke, there must be fire.

Rather than admit that at the very least when he regurgitates well-worn philosophical experiments and tries to apply them to the real world, they have the potential to negatively affect people in the real world (PZ has plenty of examples), he basically says that any of his critics are unethical for calling him names. I disagree with most of his critics, if for no reason other than they are criticizing the wrong thing, but Harris’s response is a blatant attempt to cover up mistakes by blithely putting his fingers in his ears and repeating to himself how much better a philosopher he is than other people.

We make mistakes. It happens and it’s a part of human nature. Sam Harris needs to admit that his philosophical riffing often comes across as callous because he is trying to impose the results on a real world that doesn’t so easily conform to thought experiments. DC needs to realize that Steph Brown is not going away and it’s time to confront that and address it rather than attempt to suppress it. The Vatican…well, it needs to close up shop, but at the very least it needs to show some real humility (not just washing the feet of AIDS patients or choosing a less ostentatious wardrobe, neither of which require any effort), admit to its mistakes, and make an effort to actually fix them (working with governments for the prosecution of people who had raped children, falsely imprisoned women, or snatched babies from their parents would be a start).

Joe Davidson can donate 10% of the nightly earnings to Camp Quest from the night that he reneged on his deal with them.

Brad Paisley can resolve to talk to some black people who are from the South and not multimillionaires to learn about modern racism, why wearing a Confederate flag is not a color-blind expression of heritage, and make an effort to highlight actual Southern contributions to this country.

We all make mistakes, but we can learn from them, we can grow and we can make amends. That sometimes means listening to our fandoms, even when they’re being our critics.

One thought on “Responding to Fandom

  1. Pingback: What the Comics Industry Can Teach the Atheist Movement | Reasonable Conversation

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