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amanda-palmer-plays-an-intimate-outdoor-gig-01

Amanda Palmer. Shit-stirrer.

So, the lovely Amanda Palmer was talking on Twitter the other day about piracy, streaming and so on and actively encouraging people to share and talk about and promote music. This was taken by some as advocacy of piracy and… then the slanging match got started.

The equally lovely Sarah Pinborough – a writer rather than a musician – surprised me by coming out against filesharing and so on, engaging quite strongly in a conversation about piracy and the problems it creates for creators.

Needless to say there’s some disagreement both within the musician community and the writing community about all this with people on all sides and battle lines drawn. By and large tough the kind of circles I move in have come to accept that piracy exists and that its the cost of doing business, a trade for the enormous benefits of the internet.

Those companies in gaming that have embraced the internet and changed their business model have made great strides (Paizo, Evil Hat, Posthuman) while those frozen in an older mode of business have been clumsy and have lost ground (Wizards). So, to say I find the more traditionalist attitude to the internet as badwrong perplexing is an understatement.

However, during the argument,  people linked to studies and gave reasons and, as ever, studies contradicted each other and the sources and sponsors were called into question. However, Sarah is a pretty switched on person, seems to make good use of social media, is delightful, interesting and sweary by turns and someone I had thought was ‘doing it right’ so – perceptions challenged – I had another look at things as they stand today and reconsidered where it is that I am on the nature of the internet and creative endeavour.

  • Whether we think the changes are a Good Thing(TM) or not, they have changed. It’s useless to hope for the ‘good old days’ to come back and in many ways they weren’t that good anyway for a large number of people.
  • Realistically speaking there is no way to protect books, music, games. There will always be a way around it and attempts to lock down content only piss off your legitimate customers and make things more difficult for them.
  • As a creator, you are your brand as much as the stuff you’re creating. A presence and a personal connection with your audience fans is the best and perhaps the only way to make impacting on your living meaningful to them. Keep in mind that the average person can only actually relate directly to 150 others (the Dunbar number or Monkeysphere) so this is always going to be a little illusory but it doesn’t take much to make an impact on someone.
  • The idea of ‘1000 true fans‘ works in some arenas but writing has been devalued a huge amount. A novel is more like an album than a single and with both selling for a  buck its not hard to see that $1,000 per book – once or twice a year – isn’t a goer and even musically $12,0000 once or twice a year is better, but not hugely liveable. Even if you go the hermetic-artist existence.
  • The Long-Tail compensates somewhat for this as you’ll go on making sales at a lower rate over time, potentially for your lifetime. As you build up a body of work this makes creative life more sustainable long term and may be a viable retirement plan in a world where job security has the same mythological status as dragons.
  • One model that does seem to work in mobilising fans and getting money up front is crowdfunding and hostageware. That gets your 1,000 true fans to spend more on your projects, to promote your projects, to be activists for you and your work and all in exchange for a greater closeness to you, the work and a feeling of participation. It’s like old style patronage, but distributed. I don’t know how long this can hold out and how much use it is to new people but if you have an established presence it can equal an income AND you can give away the resulting work should you so choose. One major downside is the degree of entitlement and lack of understanding contributors have for delays or problems.
  • Piracy does help the little guy in getting known. Word of mouth is often all there is and people like to browse, to see something before they buy it. As the death of the UK high street is showing that’s becoming increasingly difficult. You’re not going to find new music or authors in stores. MTV doesn’t play music. The radio plays oldies or the most banal shit going. The music companies haven’t grasped that streaming is the new radio and are crippling services like Spotify and Grooveshark into unsustainable business models compared to the old media. So what other options are there?

So there’s the problems and the state of affairs as I think it stands and I really don’t think there’s anything we can ‘do’ about digital piracy without sacrificing a free and open internet and going the way of China and North Korea. I don’t think that’s very appealing whether its governments or legions of corporate attack lawyers doing the enforcement.

If you want to see how to succeed I think you need to look at the people who make it work. You can’t do the exact same things they do, you’ve got to be your own thing, but there’s pointers there. Look at Warren Ellis,  Amanda Palmer, Wil Wheaton, Felicia Day, Adrianne Curry, Neal Stephenson, Fred Hicks, Notch, Adam Jury, Penny-Arcade (and friends) and hopefully, one day, me. I do suffer the huge disadvantage of being British and regarding self-promotion as terribly gauche narcissism, but we’ll see.

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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.

Pax

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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catch22A few conversations and discussions of late have thrown into additional light on the problems and discussions that have characterised 2012 for me. That is to say arguments about inclusion, tolerance, race, gender, depictions, sexuality etc as they relate to creative endeavours. For me this has mostly been in gaming, but more broadly this seems to be a hot topic across games, film, writing, everything.

Part of this is the hysteria and bandwagoning nature of social media acting as an amplifier, but it’s persistent enough across all media lately that I think it needs addressing.

It’s a huge goddamn issue and it straddles all manner of different topics like some bloated, Tolkienesque spider awaiting its prey. Worth a bash though.

TheComputerYou Can’t Create if You’re too Paranoid

It’s hard enough to create, unless you’re arrogant enough to think yourself infallible. Pretty much most people who are good creators – in any field – are riddled with self-doubt, second-guess themselves and fret constantly. Many are just good at hiding it.

It’s hard enough struggling with your own demons without having to take into account everyone else’s and the rapidity of modern interactive media means that every single word you write or image you draw is subject to enormous scrutiny and feedback with a laser-like focus it would not have attracted even ten years ago.

Accounting for any and every Tom, Dick and Harriet and their personal foibles and concerns is impossible and if you ignore it or minimalise it you’re going to get flak. You’re going to get flak anyway though so…

CaucasianAdventuresExclusion/Appropriation

If you happen to be white and/or male and/or straight and/or anything else perceived rightly or wrongly as being a position of privilege and you create, you’re stuffed. If you ‘write what you know’ you’ll be accused of being racist, sexist, homomisiac and any number of other things whether you write about them or not.

If you leave these things out you’re *ist by exclusion. If you include them you’re *ist because of the mistakes you’ll be perceived to make. You’re damned if you don’t and you’re appropriating cultures, minorities etc if you do.

close-but-no-cigarMore Right-on than Thou

Even if you do your absolute best to be a right-on, ‘politically correct’, progressive and enlightened 21st century human being it will never, ever, ever be good enough as someone else will be out to prove their chops by being even more progressive and right-on than you are and by making you out to be an evil cunt. Here’s a really good example of someone super-progressive being monstered in a perverse game of one-upmanship.

muhammad_cartoonYou Are to Blame for your Audience

Your intent and even your execution on a topic doesn’t matter. a jot. What seems to matter is the reaction your audience has to it. Of late this kind of argument seems to have been centred around Tarantino’s ‘Django Unchained’ wherein some people are worried/concerned and upset about the racism in it.

Racism all but confined to villains who get their comeuppance.

Racism which is in no way presented as being a ‘good thing’.

Racism which is funny because it is absurd and extreme.

Of course a few no-chin, redneck, white-supremacy types are going to get a kick out of the word ‘nigger’ and black characters being terrorise but that’s on them. Not the creator of the material. It’s unreasonable to hold the creator accountable for every single reaction to their work.

stjeromeDeath of the Author

It doesn’t seem to matter what you think you’ve made. Those who choose to analyse your work will presume they know your intentions better than you do and will ascribe motivations and reasons to you themselves, without listening to what you have to say about it. just because you made a thing doesn’t seem to mean you know anything about it.

6obeSatire is Dead

Someone will take what you say seriously and as if you meant it. This happens to The Onion all the time and is a part of ‘Poe’s Law’. Parody will be taken seriously by someone, somewhere and what’s serious can also be taken for parody. The two can be almost indistinguishable (reference the Westboro Baptist Church for an example).

Once someone’s failed to understand that what a piece is, is satire they often still won’t back down when this is pointed out. Again they may claim that this is some sort of reflection of your subconscious prejudice or, simply, that it ‘isn’t funny’ or ‘isn’t well done’. It’s never that the person has no sense of humour or that they’re embarrassed that they didn’t ‘get it’. Oh no.

sign-brownest-thingContext Doesn’t Seem to Matter

Are you writing an historical piece? Drawing an image from a fantasy or science-fictional society with different morals and social mores? Is the material we’re discussing from fifty years ago, a hundred, more?

Doesn’t matter. If something is offensive it always is and it doesn’t matter if its historically accurate or a preservation of old attitudes for cultural and historical reasons (Nigger Jim anyone?) It’s bad and wrong and will be used as a stick to beat you with.

There’s also the problem that a statement you make in the heat of an argument with a douchebag or off the cuff in a moment of humour now lives forever on the internet and will be relentlessly quote-mine forever and ever even if you change your mind over time or you’re being misrepresented. Sometimes these quotes will even be completely made up! IT doesn’t matter!

Solutions?

There’s no easy solutions here as, in the main, the problems lie with other people. I think a starting point to dealing with the problems above are:

  • Surround yourself with people you respect to give you feedback: Not necessarily people who agree with you, but people whose dissent you can acknowledge and take seriously. Not YouTube commentators.
  • Understand your own values: Other people are going to judge you by theirs, but what are yours? Are you a libertine or a moralising conservative? Do you value verisimilitude or comfort? Do you want to be unflinching or accommodating? To thine own self be true and if people want work that meets other criteria, they can damn well do it themselves. What’s your hierarchy of interests and concerns? You can’t cover EVERYTHING.
  • Publish & be Damned: Do it anyway. Fuck ’em.

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Couldn’t decide which blog to put this in as it applies to all of them, but you can go read it HERE.

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