In my own, small, relatively unsuccessful way I am what we might loosely call a ‘creative’.
Originally I wanted to be an artist, I’ve written for games, a comic, submitted to a few short story collections, published my own shit and worked with some pretty interesting and heavy people in my niche. I worry though, as I’m seeing a pattern across everything that I care about, games, journalism, art, writing of de facto censorship.
Several things have thrown this into sharp relief lately. The Dead Island Torso, Django’s use of the word ‘nigger‘ and violence, Kingdom Death’s Kickstarter, Julie Burchill and Suzanne Moore’s ongoing social/traditional media battle with transexuals.
The common thread is offence, outrage and censoriousness. Some people are taking all this as some sort of sign of a culture war that’s being won, they don’t seem to see what’s being lost or to understand that shutting people down is the opposite of liberation.
It used to be, once upon a time, that I could identify ‘hate speech’ easily. It was something that actively and meaningfully denigrated or encouraged/excused violence towards another human being. Now? Well, the term seems to be being interpreted so loosely as to have become virtually meaningless, a noise, the alarm thump of a particularly nervous rabbit. It’s applied to anything and everything, even a rather positive and jealous reference to Brazillian transexuals.
In this environment that we’re creating where there is no longer a clear delineation between hate speech and just being obnoxious. Where everything you have ever said to anyone, ever, no matter how drunk or angry is recorded for posterity and taken to be your ‘true feelings’ what possible solution is there for someone who values freedom of expression than to shift to a more hard-line point of view that ANY AND ALL speech should be protected? Even ‘Jugend Raus’.
I don’t want to be an extremist but the extreme points of view of others, as they gain purchase, sometimes force me to adopt a more extreme position in order to effectively and meaningfully oppose them.
I just don’t know where this is going to end up. This hysterical mobbing is an extreme kind of conservatism that you normally only see from the religious right. It’s the moral equivalent of the WBC’s picketing and yet it’s pouring from the left to such an extent that sub-groups within it are tearing into each other in a macabre game of ‘more oppressed than thou’.
‘Problematic’ is the word, isn’t it? That’s the label that’s used. The scarlet letter or the yellow star, the docked hand or the notched ear. The ‘she’s a witch!’ of the modern era.
‘This is problematic because REASONS’: whether those reasons are genuine, hold water or not.
The unspoken part is ‘and therefore shouldn’t exist’ but rather than going the legal route, social pressure is applied by the Twitterstorm or the Facebook campaign which whips up a seeming frenzy of opprobrium to the point where a single, throwaway, line in article about feminism ends up spawning an hour long debate on Channel Four news. The unthinking angry responses in one direction pass without comment but the unthinking angry response of the person being attacked is given no such free pass.
Fuck talking about ‘some people’. I’m ‘some people. I am interested in transgressive and controversial things. Not because of some deep-rooted ‘look at me!’ need to be edgy and shocking but because these are interesting psychological and artistic pressure points.
Tarantino challenging us with screen violence and the language of racism is interesting.
The attempt by Samuel L Jackson to get a white interviewer to say the word was also interesting.
A gory take on the Venus De Milo is interesting – and cheeky – and well within the confines of the horror genre.
Kingdom Death’s minis remind me of Clive Barker’s dream like imagination and highly sexual take on body horror.
People not batting an eyelid about the VP of the USA meeting with video game designers after a school massacre is very interesting (and worrying). How many studies do we need confirming there’s no link before people stop going after games as an easy target?
People and companies are being forced to apologise for and to withdraw things they should not feel bad about. They are being shamed no less than women get slut shamed. Projects will suffer as creative freedom is tamped down.
We had to fight a huge battle to stop the destruction of the erotica genre at the hands of ‘community standards’ by Paypal and this, broader, threat is no less ‘problematic’.
What’s more the fusses cause The Streisand Effect. As much as the fuss may harm the target it may also benefit them (financially if not emotionally). For me, certainly, the censorship directed at Tentacle Bento was an impetus to sink a fair chunk of money into their cause and should the special edition of Dead Island Riptide still get made I’m far more likely to buy one of those now too. Why? Because the fuss has made these things into fetish objects that represent a broader meaning. Tentacle Bento turned out to actually be tame as fuck, but the fact that I have it is as much a comment on who I am and what I believe in as the music in my computer, the clothes I wear, or the books that have pride of place on my shelf. The Dead Island torso would be the same. A totemic, physical representation of my commitment to free expression in all media. A middle finger to the Social Justice Sallies.
I want people to be free to explore the full gamut of human experience, fair and foul, in any medium. I want them to be free to express sentiments that I don’t agree with, even that I find horrifying and disgusting. I think the onus should be on the consumer to avoid that they don’t want to experience, not on the creator to cater to the whims of the most easily offended.
I hate that these sorts of fusses are making me second-guess myself, not because I don’t believe in the projects, not because I think they’re ‘bad’ but because I don’t know if I can marshal enough mental energy to deal with the inevitable haters. How is that good for anyone?
I don’t know what to do about it.
Then again, the problem isn’t the law any more, it’s sanctimonious arseholes and their ability to shout, loudly. You can shout back but then you get decried as all sorts of terrible and untrue things and that takes its toll and taints you. It’s much the same as the way you’ll find more conspiracy theories and creationism on the internet than debunking and science because crazy people with a bug up their arse are more committed than sane and rational human beings who have other things to do.
The whole sad fuss just makes me want to cry but at the same time I don’t feel that I can leave it alone because that cedes the stage to the loonies.
I’d give up, but I can’t.
PS: I have selected images that represent celebrated causes and key moments in the battles over censorship and obscenity but I want to be absolutely clear that I do NOT think ‘quality’ should be a metric for what is permissible.