Why the Recent Spate of “Religious Freedom” Bills May Be a Good Thing

Anybody who has been paying attention to politics recently has probably heard about the “religious freedom” bills that have been hitting a number of states recently. It’s a little mind boggling that all of them have been making it to state legislatures all at the same time, with similar language, but so far it’s been very difficult to actually track where they are coming from. Usually when bills like this are all proposed simultaneously, there is somebody not only writing the model legislation but willing to claim it. So far it’s been difficult at best to track down the origin.

Regardless, what started in Kansas has grown to a number of other states including Georgia, South Dakota, Tennessee, Hawaii, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon, Idaho, Alabama, Michigan, Maine, West Virginia, and is being considered in Utah. Most famous has been the recent veto of a bill that passed both houses of the Arizona legislature.

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Go see why this might be a positive thing in a couple of ways in the full post over at Queereka.

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Lowered Expectations + Vague Statements = Person of the Year

fckh8-pope-meme

By now you’ve heard that the Advocate has named Pope Francis its person of the year. In perhaps one of the most cringingly apologetic and sycophantic pieces published about the Supreme Pontiff, Lucas Grindley reaches to draw the barest scraps of meaning out of the most innocuous of statements. In fact, reading this piece, you’ll notice that most of the article is Grindley doing little more than repeating himself or explaining why other people deserve the praise more. I almost feel as if the editorial board made the decision, and poor Lucas was tasked with writing it up. But let’s examine this article to see if we can divine the thinking that makes what appears to be pandering to pop culture lionization into a legitimate choice.

As I mentioned, the first six paragraphs are about how other people should have been given this honor. Grindley focuses especially on Edie Windsor, the brave woman whose case got a part of DOMA thrown out in court. It’s followed by this remarkably cop out

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Thus begins my new piece for Queereka. Read the whole article on that site.

Let Slip the Reindeer of War

Seeing as how we are post-Thanksgiving, I think it’s safe to say that the War on Christmas has begun again. I’m woefully under armored for this particular fight, having no t-shirts or jackets that actively disparage religion or Christmas in general.

In fact, I am a pretty miserable soldier in the War on Christmas. Yes, I commit the unpardonable sin of saying “happy holidays,” but there are those like Richard Beck who claim that I am actually being less blasphemous by doing so.

It’s blasphemous to post “Merry Christmas” all through a shopping mall. It’s blasphemous to slap the name of Jesus on all the Xboxs, Playstations, iPhones, and High-Def TVs. “Happy Holidays,” while still not great given that I don’t like the word “holy” being involved, is much better than “Merry Christmas.”

And the association of “Merry Christmas” with the local, state and federal governments is just as problematic. The Nativity set in the town square is just as profane and blasphemous as the “Merry Christmas” on the Xbox.

In short, while I’m very happy to have a more tolerant and liberalized shopping experience during the holiday season (out of simple civic respect I don’t want my Muslim or Jewish neighbours to be greeted with “Merry Christmas”), my deeper concern is how the “War on Christmas” panic is inherently blasphemous and idolatrous.

Leave it to Beck to ruin my fun.

Though, I have to admit, it’s a rather quiet war this year. I mean, we’ve had some early volleys with Sarah Palin’s failed book and Rick Santorum’s failed movie (point of order: what idiot thought to release a contemporary Christian film in theaters instead of direct-to-DVD?), but for the most part we haven’t been given the Full Fox Press on every retailer that didn’t address their specific holiday consistently. Maybe because it’s still Hanukkah and it could be considered anti-Israel to ignore that as long as it doesn’t conflict with December 26th?

Either way, unless Christians find some new way to weaponize The Christmas Shoes this year (a collectable card game, maybe?), I’m planning a nice, relaxing holiday season where I don’t have to worry about being berated for not paying obeisance to the cobbled together remains of somebody else’s celebration. So, here’s just some of the things I plan to do this December.

1. Listen to Holiday Music – This can include a lot of things. I’m always looking for new versions of Good King Wenceslas, since that’s my favorite carol. Of course, I’ll probably work on trying to learn the perennially beautiful White Wine in the Sun. I’m a big fan of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s A Very Scary Solstice and An Even Scarier Solstice (my favorites are “Harley got Devoured by the Undead” and “I Saw Mommy Kissing Yog-Sothoth”). Otherwise, whether they’re religious or not, I love Christmas carols and will spend the next month singing them to myself and anyone who stands still long enough to listen.

2. Watching Holiday Movies – When I was growing up, I had a VHS tape that was just loaded with holiday movies. Santa Claus: the Movie, A Chipmunk Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and a number of others. I have since found digital copies of all of them seeing as I no longer own a VHS player and the tape is worn out anyway, and I make an effort to watch them all this month. I have since added a number of others. Alf’s Special Christmas is a tearjerker about love and life that shouldn’t come from a big nosed puppet Rodney Dangerfield rip-off.

The Muppets have so many Christmas specials it’s hard to watch them all (BTW: if you haven’t seen this year’s with Lady Gaga, watch it. It’s hilarious, and the gender-swapped “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Joseph Gordon-Levitt is perfect), but I try. The Muppet Christmas Carol is a must, however, and it’s something the whole family enjoys. In fact, part of the tradition is gushing with my father over how entertaining the rats are in that film.

A Claymation Christmas, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, Christmas Vacation, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, Die Hard. I love them all and can’t wait to be able to start watching through them this year.

3. Charity – I find myself more in need of charity than able to give it this year, but I still plan to work for local charities when I have the opportunity. By sheer luck, the restaurant the Dark Lord of Bakery works at got in contact with the person who runs a local battered women’s shelter, so I’m going to try to help them do fundraising for that group. I also won’t donate to the Salvation Army for obvious reasons, but I do make a point of noting how much money I would have given a bell ringer and, at the end of the season, donating that amount of a local charity, usually one that takes in homeless LGBT youth like the Zebra Coalition. And there are countless opportunities to do good all season long that I will try and avail myself of.

4. Spend Time With Loved Ones- The Sovereign of Aesthetics and the Bladed Poet are having a gathering at their home this year for us to get together, drink, sing, and play board games. So basically the same thing we do all year long, but I get to do it in a sweater, and I look amazing in sweaters. I also plan to go over there, in combination with #2 above, to show said Sovereign the Muppet/Gaga holiday special she missed. Plus I might make my family’s annual Christmas party this year, which is always fun. And for the holiday itself, it’s a big Italian meal at my parents’ house. So there will be plenty of time to socialize and enjoy the company of loved ones this year.

I could go on, but this is how I plan to fight the War on Christmas this year. More to the point, I plan on fighting it by doing basically the same things as the religious right professional martyrs do, but with no obligation to say “Merry Christmas” unless I feel like it. I encourage everyone, this holiday season, to use the greeting they feel comfortable with, accept other greetings in the spirit in which they were meant, and focus your ire on yelling at your family about health care reform, as is traditional.

Happy holidays to you all, and keep an eye out for more posts as I can.

Daily Caller Mocks Trans* Students

There are some people who think that Tucker Carlson is a nice guy, one of those conservatives that aren’t fire breathing radicals. They remember when he was on MSNBC, they look at the bowties that preceded Doctor Who but not Buckaroo Banzai, and think, “he’s not so bad.” But they would be wrong, at least when it comes to his website.

The Daily Caller actually has a habit of being awful, especially to trans* people, but this is somewhat of a new (not really new) low: being awful to trans* kids. On September 11, the Douche Canoe posted an article titled, “This week in transgender high schoolers running for homecoming king, queen, whatever“, a misgendering nightmare about school districts that are giving trans* students a hard time about running for the appropriate Homecoming title.

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Thus begins my latest post for Queereka. Head over there and take a look.

Pull List of Justice: September 2013

pulllistofjusticeRegular readers of my stuff will know that I am a comic book fanatic and have argued many times that comics have historically been at the forefront of social progress, often addressing issues that television and other mediums have been unable or unwilling to. Yes, they can also be problematic, but I contend that finding the right book with the right author can lead to a wealth of fantastic characters representing all sorts of diverse types of people and ideas.

So welcome to the beginning of what will hopefully be a monthly feature in which I describe the wonderful things that are happening in the comics I read that send a positive message in the social justice arena. I should point out that I can only really write about the comics I actually read, so if you have a book that you think would be great that I don’t cover, mention it in the comments. Otherwise, all comics and characters are the property of their respective companies and are being reproduced in part here under Fair Use guidelines.

Now, let’s jump right in.

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Thus begins my latest piece for Queereka. I hope that this will become a regular thing and get more people reading some of the amazing and socially progressive comics out there.

First US Administration to Actually Address Bi Issues

Bifurious Femininja

I want this to be a real manga (via)

I generally don’t like to make a big deal around token gestures. It’s one thing to talk about things and another to actually do something. But this does seem like an important step.

For the first time in history, a representative from the White House will be holding a roundtable discussion on bisexual issues, specifically how bisexuals are affected by public health problems, partner violence, and several other subjects that are usually discussed in the context of monosexuality. It will be hosted by White House LGBT liaison Gautam Raghavan on September 23.

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Thus begins my latest contribution to Queereka. Go take a look to read the rest.

Comics Leading Society

I know this is a little late, so please excuse me, but I just couldn’t let this go without saying something.

You might have heard that some serious heavyweights in the comics industry dismissed accusations of sexism, while also saying that comics are usually following, not leading, social change, so that makes it totes ok if they were sexist, which they aren’t. Their arguments read like a greatest hits of privilege apologetics (e.g. “We objectify men, too!”, “Why don’t they make their own comics?”, and the suggestion that superhero comics, like skepticism, are more of a guy thing), and include a digression that touches on race by arguing that actively pursuing diversity automatically means not creating a stand-alone good character.

The people in question are Len Wein, most famous for creating Wolverine, Gerry Conway, who invented The Punisher (and gave what was to me the most baffling and infuriating quote, that “…the comics follow society. They don’t lead society.”), and Todd McFarlane, who developed a comic book as an excuse to sell toys.

Before we get too into this, I think it’s important that we have some context for these guys’ careers, because they are not lightweights in the industry, and all of them have had significant impacts on the way we experience comics to this day, for good and for ill. But by examining where they came from, we might be able to understand why they are so horrendously wrong.

Let’s start with Wein. While Len Wein is best known for his creation of Wolverine, he actually created a number of the X-men that are incredibly popular, including Nightcrawler, Storm, and Colossus.  He revived the book from five years of hiatus in 1975 and his tenure on the title set the stage for the team most non-comic readers would become familiar with: the 90’s animated series composition. Wolverine was introduced to the team in this book, but the fuzzball was introduced to the universe over a year before in Incredible Hulk 181, touted as “The World’s First and Greatest Canadian Super Hero”. However, unlike his predecessors and, to an extent, his successors, X-men under his direction wasn’t as socially conscious, preferring to focus less on the place of mutants in the world and more on super-powered people beating up on one another. Wein eventually became Editor-in-Chief at Marvel.

It was under his leadership that a man named Gerry Conway would be writing The Amazing Spider-man. Conway started at Marvel around the same time as Wein. In fact, 1970’s Daredevil #71 was Wein’s first comic at Marvel, and Daredevil #72 was Conway’s. Conway took over Spider-man at the tender age of 19, after a couple of years of writing duties being passed between Roy Thomas and Stan Lee. Again, we saw a move away from making any statements (ironic, only a year after Amazing Spider-man #96-98, which was not given a Comics Code Authority label because Lee wouldn’t abandon a plot thread about the dangers of drug use), and the eventual introduction of Punisher in issue 129. He would also script “The Night Gwen Stacy Died“. Punisher wasn’t given his own book until the early 80s, but stood out for his willingness to kill, a function largely of his antagonists being the mob and it being easier to mow down scores of faceless goombas than to have to create a new Doctor Octopus or The Vulture every couple of issues because you keep killing off unique villains.

Finally you have McFarlane. It’s hard to count him among the other two since he didn’t make his money or his fame from comic books directly. Rather, he created a comic, then marketed the hell out of toys for the comic. Yes, he did work on Spider-man as well, but really his success came from his founding of Image comics, an exercise in remembering why artists don’t just write their own stuff, and the creation of Spawn, who has limped along in comic fandom with some hard core followers but no lasting impression. I’m sure there are some Spawn fans out there, maybe even a couple that can name a Spawn villain off the top of their head that isn’t Clown, Satan, or Martin Sheen, but when your supporting characters are so incidental (BTW: Spawn had a supporting cast) that they can be cannibalized by your former company in an ill-advised continuity-merging event, you haven’t created a lasting property. Ultimately, McFarlane’s influence would probably be felt less as a creator and more as one of the people most fueling the Speculation Bubble that was one of the main reasons 90s comics were so awful.

The reason why I go into this digression is two-fold. The first is to point out that asking Todd McFarlane his opinion on comic books is a lot like asking Uwe Boll his opinion on movies. Sure, he’s made a few, but they’re not very good and usually a means to an end. McFarlane is much better equipped to answer questions about character design, much like Boll is better equipped to answer questions about just barely avoiding committing fraud.

The second point is that while McFarlane, who drove the Liefeldian testosterone-fueled 90s overeaction to body shape and human behavior (hello Youngblood, Cable, Doom’s IV, and Hardcore Station, to name a few), could be excused for thinking that comics never did anything he wasn’t interested in doing, Wein and Conway know better.

As I mentioned above, Conway, who gave the damn quote, took over Amazing about a year after Stan Lee specifically bucked the industry trade group in order to publish an incredibly timely comment on drug abuse and its dangers. Wein revived a book that had a really respectable seven year run as a metaphor to the Civil Rights movement while it was going on. Both of them started at DC and worked there during Denny O’Neill and Neal Adams’ incredibly well done and successful Green Lantern/Green Arrow crossovers, which were specifically designed to address social issues because those were the books that were popular at the time (as a side note, they were also astounding and dealt with issues from a really balanced, but hard-hitting way).

Conway and Wein were executives at Marvel when X-men: God Loves, Man Kills was published in 1982. They were part of the industry and even could have grown up reading Archie Comics, which has always presented Riverdale as progressively accepting of other people, being one of the first comics to have regular appearances by characters of color, fairly recently introducing gay teen Kevin Keller, depicting Keller’s future marriage to a same-sex partner (after coming home a war hero), and this month showing him kissing his boyfriend on the cover of his title book.

Wein and Conway both should be aware of William Marston’s opinion that women should be in charge of the world, and how his feminism guided the creation of Wonder Woman. They might have even heard of Truth: Red, White, and Black, X-men: Magneto Testament, or Pride of Baghdad. You’d think they would have been familiar with Iron Man’s continuing battle with alcoholism or the decades of thoughtful fallout from Hank Pym’s abuse of his wife. Or with the importance of the introduction of characters like Black Panther, Luke Cage, and White Tiger. It’s possible they haven’t seen how well Batgirl has been doing since the launch of the New 52 under Gail Simone’s leadership.They almost certainly have heard of the Marvel Civil War, which is my favorite crossover event of all time because it dealt with the question of how much liberty we can sacrifice for security at the height of the War on Terror.

Even if all of those things escaped their notice, they might be peripherally aware of this comic about an immigrant boy who comes to be raised in middle America and becomes a hero. In fact, the popularity of this comic is attributed as one of the reasons why many immigrants joined the war effort in the early 1940s, despite immigration being a very sore subject during the time of that comic’s popularity.

Comics have consistently been ahead of or right in the middle of social change. They are often overlooked as a significant mover of social progress, mostly by people like Wein, Conway, and McFarlane who have never and will never have to worry about whether a character is like them at all: most characters are in a number of ways. They will never care about seeing people dealing with the problems that affect their lives, because the problems that affect their lives are not the kind of problems that need heroes.

But to suggest that comics are behind the curve is to project their own apathy onto a medium that has spoken directly about issues that have had to be tiptoed around in other places. It has been in front of so many social movements, and that we see it lagging behind on women’s issues in many significant ways is more disappointing because they have been a positive voice on so many other things.

Comics can be a catalyst for change, especially super hero comics, even from the Big Two publishers. That’s why it’s important that we push back against these types of attitudes, and demonstrate that the books that we want are the ones that are not only well written, but make a point to be inclusive and allow characters to be something other than wish fantasy fulfillment for straight white cis teenage boys.