Posts Tagged ‘comics’

arsefaceAs a cisgendered, melanin-lacking, imperfect female I’m often considered to have privilege and thus not to be worth listening to on any topic you care to mention. Apparently, and without irony, because society is designed to cater to my every whim – not that it feels that way. However, there is at least one arena in which I can be considered an oppressed minority and that’s the arena of mental health. I’m not neurotypical.

OK, I prefer to speak straightforwardly and I can’t keep that up for much longer, so let’s cut to the chase.

I am mentally ill, if functional, in that I suffer from moderate to severe depression. Having inadvertently seen my doctor’s notes I know that I’m on record as being much more at the severe end. This doesn’t mean I’m cuckoo for cocoa puffs, just that my brain is broken in such a way that I have an incredibly low self image (resistant to outside reinforcement and support), have trouble experiencing joy and happiness, have a naturally quite pessimistic outlook and am frequently indescribably miserable and unmotivated for no reason that makes sense to someone who hasn’t had a bout of depression. I have been depressed to the point of being suicidal a handful of times in my 37 years, though I’ve only been diagnosed and treated for a handful of years now.

Enter the controversy du jour in nerd circles. The Harley Quinn sexy-suicide competition.

Suddenly it’s not my whiteness, maleness, age, first-world geography or regrettable lack of obvious gender/sexuality minority status that’s important. It’s my broken brain and the fact I’ve been a victim of my own desperation (or rather, a ‘survivor’).

This is a fucking weird experience.

I’ve written about my depression but not so much from a position of authority but one of empathy and understanding. I’ve been there. I know what it feels like. This’ll pass, you just have to hold on. Tea and sympathy for other people feeling the same way. I’ve also written scenes of desperation and self-loathing in my stories, especially in the book that’s still in editing. In fiction, my experiences can lend writing about that sort of scene an authenticity and reality that improves the writing and draws the reader in. I’m not a huge believer in only writing what you know, but it can help.

The temptation is to thrust my mental illness into people’s faces while they’re talking about this, in a sort of vengeful ‘HAH! You have to listen to me now! I’m the victim! My opinion is the only one that counts!’ It’s also a rush to be in this position of… well, unlike claims of privilege made for being white/male/cis this genuinely does feel like privilege.

I’ve made a few comments here and there but I’ve also felt held back a bit. After all, my personal and deeply subjective experience creates bias in me and despite suffering from bouts of depression and having come to the point of suicide several times, that doesn’t actually make me an expert on the issue. I’m also uncomfortable with the way swinging the fact of my issues around like a club reduces me to that issue, rather than a whole person.

Personally I feel that I would rather have discussions and depictions of mental health issues out there in public, even poorly done, even comedic, even flippant. Anything to familiarise people with the issues, reduce the stigma and stop people feeling so isolated. In the few comments on this I have made people seem to have leant weight to my opinion simply because I’m a sufferer, not because I have made any particularly cogent argument.

So I stopped myself, took a deep breath and a step back and did a bit of research.

Turns out that the question of whether media depictions of suicide are helpful or harmful is still a bit up in the air. In factual media there is an effect, called the Werther effect, where information about methods of suicide or high profile cases (such as celebrities) lead to copycat suicides. With fictional media the effect is not so easy to discern and it’s unclear whether it has a genuine effect or not. It’s further unclear as to the effectiveness of media on de-stigmatising, provoking people to seek help, or directly helping them cope and find the resources to survive.

My opinion is now a bit better qualified due to reading up on genuine scientific research in the field and isn’t that much changed from what it was before. Still, I take a few lessons from this:

  • It’s dangerous to lend too much weight to someone’s opinion because of their victim status.
  • Victim status can be a more powerful and effective privilege than many others.
  • Having this privilege is an addictive rush and it’s tempting to use it aggressively to shut people down.
  • Having victim status can make people afraid to argue, even when you’re wrong or ill-informed.
  • Knowledge trumps emotion.

For the record, I don’t see the problem with the Harley suicide competition thing, other than that it seems an odd and difficult topic to run a competition around.

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50-years-banner-edited-for-websiteI don’t know where this post is going to go, I just know I need to vent and to ‘re-balance my humours’.

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.

Huckleberry-FinnIn 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’.

It’s heartbreaking.

‘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.

62599Fuck 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?

lady-chatterleys-loverI hate that just holding the position that people should be free to say things I don’t like is now, somehow, radical and contentious.

I don’t know what to do about it.

Maybe this.

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.

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