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Posts Tagged ‘free expression’

So, for those of you who don’t know, at the end of Pax in a stage interview Penny Arcade (as a collective) stated their regret about pulling the Dickwolves merchandize (T-shirt and pennant) back in 2010. As you can hear on the video this is quite a popular opinion and it’s one that I share. Further, despite having had my own controversies and having handled them in sub-optimal ways I think they probably shouldn’t have engaged any more than they did with their first response comic which, for all the complaining that they didn’t understand, is the character of the sort of complaints one gets from the ‘mob’ once they get a bee in their bonnet.

I was disappointed, then, to see the response to this in Wired and elsewhere, being a step up of the ‘boycott Penny-Arcade’ cries that have been bouncing around for a couple of years and, even worse, to see Stevens (of Diesel Sweeties) slamming another webcomic crew and, even worse, Warren Ellis retweeting Stevens on this. Neither of these two are, shall we say, entirely free of controversy and both have been misunderstood in the past. To single out PA for special treatment when they should know the sting of the mob themselves to some degree is disappointing, especially in creators who should be protecting free expression.

Quotes are from the Wired article, cross check there for attribution if you’re not sure.

Whether or not the strip was offensive in itself isn’t really relevant at this point: More than the comic itself, what made the most impact was how Penny Arcade responded to the readers — including rape survivors — who said it upset them. First, they mocked their critics with a series of posts and a flippant non-apology. In a subsequent “make a strip” demonstration at PAX Prime, Krahulik further needled the issue by drawing a dickwolf, and Penny Arcade even monetized the discomfort over the rape joke by making and selling “Team Dickwolves” shirts and pennants.

The original strip was only offensive if you completely missed the point of the joke. It did not trivialise rape, the point was that in these arbitrary quests in these MMOs all anyone cares about is completing the quest. The plight of the prisoners in the strip is irrelevant, no matter how horrible their fate it. In this case rape and hard labour. The ‘dickwolf’ is a riff on the fantastical and stupid creatures you see in any number of fantasy settings, worlds and games.

Having been on the receiving end, myself, of these kind of hysterical mobs (yes, I know feminists hate that word but it’s a good word to describe frenzied, emotion-driven and irrational reactions and I don’t mean it in the Greek sense) I can tell you with some certainty that their responses of eyerolling and sarcasm were to the kind of people who make insulting and nonsensical claims that such material is rape apologia or contributes to ‘rape culture’. To reasonable human beings not steeped in outrage culture and gender studies such accusations are both:

a) Incredibly insulting.
b) Ludicrous.

In that context their responses were perfectly valid. Of course, the fusses that the ‘Social Justice’ mobs create are great publicity and polarise people into supporters and attackers and producing Dickwolf merchandise is as perfectly rational way to both cash in and to allow people to show their support. It’s also funny to think of stupid fantasy creatures being mascots for school/college sports teams.

You don’t have a lot of time to think how to react to these mobs, it whips up a frenzy very rapidly and you’re always caught on the back foot. People  want responses or apologies NOWNOWNOW and that leads to poor communication on all sides.

Given the ridiculousness and extremism of many of the people making attacks, I understand and sympathise with the nature of the response. As Jefferson once said:

“Ridicule is the only weapon which may be used against unintelligible propositions.”

Many of the objections are just that, unintelligible.

And then on Monday at PAX, in front of an audience of thousands, Krahulik told business manager Robert Khoo that he regretted pulling the Dickwolves merchandise from the Penny Arcade store — merchandise he had created as a “screw you” to rape survivors who had had the temerity to complain about a comic strip. While the audience burst into applause, Khoo nodded sagely and said that now they knew better; now they would just leave it and not engage.

I don’t think the merch was created as a ‘screw you’ to ‘rape victims’ but rather a middle finger to humourless dingbats, ‘social justice’ warriors and the kind of people who seem to think that nothing offensive should ever be made. It was also a way for people to show support for PA in the social media shitstorm that was created. It was a ‘screw you’ to the kind of people accusing them of contributing to ‘rape culture’ or being ‘rape apologists’. Victims of sexual or domestic abuse and censorious arseholes are – as I’ve found in recent interactions with A+ – not a singular demographic but, rather, an overlap in a Venn diagram. There’s a lot of victims that don’t want to be coddled and wrapped in bubblewrap or to have well-meaning but tone-deaf keyboard warriors fighting their fights for them.

As they seem to have settled on here, they should have just not responded, not engaged and let the argument and the fight fade into obscurity. I doubt they were expecting this reaction this time around, after all, what’s been expressed is nothing new.

@BrendanAdkins – Incredibly disappointed to have volunteered until midnight at #PAX three days running and then hear @cwgabriel still mocking rape survivors.

I’m not sure quite how you get ‘mocking rape victims’ from ‘it was a mistake to pull controversial merchandise’ but this is illustrative of the hysteria-driven hyperbole I was talking about earlier. Some people are determined to receive a different message to the one transmitted due to their own biases.

Cartoonist Rich Stevens of Diesel Sweeties reached out to WIRED when he heard we planned to report on the PAX incident. “It’s just so disappointing to see people I’ve known since we were all new and broke turn out to be such tone-deaf, old man bullies. He’s Rush Limbaugh with tattoos. I could get over the original comic if they’d just moved on or apologized, but they had to make merchandise out of rape just to poke back at people and then encourage fans to wear it to a convention that supposedly has pro-woman policies,” said Stevens.

Pax etc do have ‘pro-woman’ policies, if by ‘pro-woman’ you mean ‘anti-sex’. There’s a hypocrisy about objecting to booth babes and simultaneously objecting to some male geeks’ wariness about ‘fake geek girls’ especially given some of the reasoning to object to booth babes, but I’ve talked about that before elsewhere. This policy has even been extended to cosplay and I think regarding it as ‘pro-woman’ requires a particularly narrow point of view of what that entails.

I don’t think the merchandise is ‘of rape’ either. It’s about the incident and it’s about the silly creature  they created. One that will now live forever in infamy due to the Streisand Effect – something else you’d think ‘social justice’ warriors would be aware of as they create and sustain these popular ‘monsters’ of things they object to. As to the accusation of bullying, there is definitely bullying going on, but it’s not coming from PA who are, after all, still on the defensive.

Sampat also has firsthand experience with the dangers of criticizing Penny Arcade. This week, she posted an impassioned condemnation of Penny Arcade and PAX, outlining the company’s history of inappropriate public comments and behavior, as well as its failure to address the harassment and alleged assault of a volunteer by another volunteer at PAX East. Since then, she has received thousands of angry comments, including rape threats and death threats directed not only at her but at her children. (In 2010 and 2011, critics who wrote about the original dickwolves incidents were similarly flooded with harassment and rape threats.)

Alleged assault. Alleged behaviour. Alleged harassment. Frankly, these are not really jobs for convention staff, they’re jobs for the police. As we’re seeing throughout geek/hacker/skeptic culture there’s a big push for rather draconian convention policies that presume guilt and are enforced to the letter. These policies and the strict application thereof are starting to backfire with the cancellation of a talk by Violet Blue causing some backlash and, ironically, Rebecca Watson of Skepchick being tossed off a con’s trading table for breaking their rules (Tablegate). We don’t know the specifics of the case – which is only alleged – and so we should not be passing judgement or holding anyone accountable for something that may not have happened.

As to trolling, as with the Streisand Effect I’m amazed that anyone active on the internet for more than five minutes hasn’t figured out that spurious trolling and threats is just that, spurious trolling. Show yourself to be a target and you’ll get shit for it. This doesn’t excuse the trolling behaviour – not victim blaming here – but using that reaction as a weapon to beat the people you’re actually having the above-ground dispute with is not acceptable either. Trolls gonna troll.

“Mike’s reaction when he’s criticized for this kind of behavior is always to comment on how he hates bullying, and how he sees himself as fighting back against a bunch of internet bullies,” Story told WIRED. For her, the primary conflict is about Penny Arcade’s continual abuse of power. “The unexamined privilege in [Mike’s] viewpoint is sort of breathtaking — the fact that a straight white male, a celebrity with countless followers who will agree with anything he says, doesn’t see that he is in a position of power over other significantly marginalized groups is almost beyond believing. What he is doing is bullying, no question, and it’s not excused by the fact that kids were mean to him when he was in school.”

This is not acceptable. Mike IS fighting back against internet bullies, they just do not – or cannot – see themselves as such because they’ve bought into an heroic narrative that they’re fighting against the big bad and that excuses anything. If you’ll pardon the hyperbole, this is not unlike the mentality behind terrorism.

Mike’s heterosexuality, gender, his colour and his celebrity are irrelevant to what is true or not. It’s a ‘poisoning the well’ fallacy and it’s racism, sexism and heterophobia. I’m not saying it’s ‘reverse’ any of those things, prejudice is prejudice and its ugly in whichever direction it’s aimed. Can people in positions of assumed authority and power be bullied? Absolutely. The minorities in this case are using their victim status to lend authority to their claims that something bad is going on here. Nobody wants or likes to be seen being sexist, anti-woman, to be picking on rape victims or anything of a similar ilk and so these accusations can create a panic reaction. One well exploited by those abusing the victimhood of others or identifying themselves only by their minority status.

Yes, absolutely, marginalised groups can be bullies, when they have the means to do so.

Mike Krahulik is not a brave upstart defending freedom of speech, even if that’s a defense Penny Arcade has hidden behind time and again. Freedom of speech is not and never has been in danger here: Krahulik has every legal right to be shitty to rape survivors and trans*people and react like a child told he can no longer break the other kids’ toys. There is no law preventing him from flaunting the fact that he has a lot more financial and social power than the people criticizing him for abusing it; nor is anyone arguing that there ought to be.

Yes, he absolutely is. They all are. Free speech includes ‘icky speech’, to quote Gaiman. They and many other creators are engaged in a war of attrition with an absolutist mob with no sense of context, nuance or humour. Free expression is no longer at the mercy of governments but in private hands and the attempts of these mobs, with their false accusations and hyperbolic interpretations, are not directed at criticism but at boycott and censure by other means than the law. You have control over your media intake, if something bothers you, don’t consume it and – unless it breaks a law – let that be an end to it.

And that means that if the gaming community’s going to keep moving forward, the time has come time to leave PAX behind.

I don’t disagree here. I think Pax, gaming, writing and almost every other endeavour would be better served if the mobs went their way and the creators who don’t give as much of a damn about their pet hates went their own. Pax will not be harmed by a few extremists not going any more and may in fact strengthen for it.

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosby

If you want characterless, lifeless, riskless entertainment and dull, safe events. Go make your own and let the people who want something else have their events too. Make your own games, make your own comics and stop trying to turn your personal dislike for something into a massive social ill that NEEDS ADDRESSING RIGHT NOW.

Let’s all go our own ways, make more art and compare notes in five years time.

***

Update

Mike posted some clarification etc here, something I don’t think he should have done (no engagement after all) but it makes a few points that could stand to be covered.

If we had just stopped with the strip and moved on, the Dickwolf never would have become what it is today. Which is a joke at the expense of rape victims or a symbol of the dismissal of people who have suffered a sexual assault. the comic itself obviously points out the absurd morality of the average MMO where you are actually forced to help some people and ignore others in the same situation. Oddly enough, the first comic by itself is exactly the opposite of what this whole thing has turned into.

This is the part I don’t get. The initial strip so obviously and inarguably had rape as a bad and terrible thing and poked fun at the artificial indifference to the problems of the NPCs that the ‘level grind’ MMO atmosphere creates. It isn’t Mike and Penny-Arcade that turned the Dickwolf into a symbol of dismissal and, in fact, it still is anything but. The people who turned it into something more are the very people who supposedly hated the message it allegedly made. Ironically, they’re the ones that turned it into something it wasn’t and you shouldn’t apologise for the actions of others.

If you saw the panel you know that someone in the audience shouted out and asked us to bring the merchandise back. Both Robert and I immediately said no way. We have worked very hard to make PAX a safe place. We have an incredible anti-harassment policy, a “booth babe” policy that you will not find anywhere else in the industry,and panels that cover all the social issues facing gaming today in a meaningful way. That’s the heart of PAX and that will never change.

Those policies are things that I also think are mistakes (to an extent). Give an inch and people take a mile and as PA continues to rediscover, there is simply no way you can satisfy the demands of the ‘social justice’ warrior. Nothing you do is good enough, your motivations are suspect and they just keep going and going like an Energiser bunny with an axe to grind.

What I can promise is that we will continue to be honest with you. There’s no bullshit, no PR, this is just Jerry and I and we’re doing the best we can. Hopefully we will keep getting better.

For me that’s the best possible thing. Honesty. Nothing short of abject grovelling will ever satisfy these people so you can’t win there. You can maintain an honest and ‘real’ attitude and in the long run that’s a lot better. Plus it doesn’t run the risk of a complete breakdown, preachification and – as a consequence – becoming desperately unfunny.

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personal_trollface_hdThere’s been – yet another – blow up about trolling on Twitter but the context provided by the UK porn filter discussion makes this a slightly different debate.

It is my bitter experience that while I hate to condescend to people, assuming too much reading comprehension skill on the part of the internet as a whole is to invite misinterpretation and problems further down the line. So if this post comes across as a little patronising it’s not because I intend to be, it’s because I don’t want to be misunderstood.

Let’s get a few things said up front to provide some context:

Misogyny is bad
The word gets overused a bit, but in its original meaning ‘irrational hatred of women’ yes, it’s absolutely a terrible thing. Anyone promoting or engaging in misogyny deserves little or no sympathy and like any other irrational prejudice or hatred it’s unacceptable. I am against misogyny and everyone should be in my humble opinion.

Trolling is bad
Like misogyny, the term ‘trolling’ gets overused to include anyone who vehemently and passionately disagrees or gets into a heated argument. Still, genuine trolling does still exist and it is destructive, problematic for debates and more and more of a problem because people don’t seem to understand that they’re being trolled.

As defined in: “Trolling in Asynchronous Computer-Mediated Communication,” by University of Central Lancashire lecturer Claire Hardaker, a Troll is:

…an individual “who constructs the identity of sincerely wishing to be part of the group in question, including professing or conveying pseudo-sincere intentions, but whose real intention(s) is/are to cause disruption and/or to trigger or exacerbate conflict for the purposes of their own amusement.”

How do you deal with it?:

“Trolling can (1) be frustrated if users correctly interpret an intent to troll, but are not provoked into responding, (2) be thwarted if users correctly interpret an intent to troll, but counter in such a way as to curtail or neutralise the success of the troller, (3) fail if users do not correctly interpret an intent to troll and are not provoked by the troller, or, (4) succeed if users are deceived into believing the troller’s pseudo-intention(s), and are provoked into responding sincerely. Finally, users can mock troll. That is, they may undertake what appears to be trolling with the aim of enhancing or increasing effect, or group cohesion.”

Women bloggers, columnists, article writers etc who keep bringing up the trolling they get as a serious issue are giving the trolls what they want by virtue of ‘4’.

Again, nobody – I know of – is arguing that trolling it a good thing.

Let’s also be clear that this isn’t a uniquely female problem. Express a political, social, religious or even an artistic/critical opinion and you’re likely to attract trolling. The major difference seems to only be that – for some reason – women take it more seriously than men.

Trying to control the internet is also bad
Internet sites that allow users to post their own content – such as Twitter – are more akin to paper manufacturers than they are to TV channels. Given the sheer amount of content and the problems with automated processes expecting Twitter or Facebook or even a website host to control or monitor the content ‘written on their paper’ is a mug’s game. It should not be their responsibility but rather the responsibility of the person using their ‘paper’. The ISP or host can help once abuse is correctly identified but doing this is frustratingly slow – so long as we provide decent protection against false reporting.

Kafkatraps & False Dilemmas
Whether it’s the proposed porn filter or asking Twitter to police ‘harassment’ this is presented as a kafkatrap. Any response at all is interpreted in the worst possible way and as support for the proposed stricture.

  • Oppose the porn filter? You must be a creepy paedophile or an abuser.
  • Oppose pointless efforts to control or censor Twitter? You must be a misogynist.

It’s an emotional appeal on an emotional issue from an emotional reaction.

It is perfectly possible to both oppose child porn, or abusive harassment and to oppose proposed tools or controls to deal with it.

The cost of control & abuse of control systems
The internet routes around censorship and control as though it were damage. Like DRM or the porn filter trying to control abuse/harassment/trolling will have virtually no effect on the trolls and will have a big effect on normal users. Indeed trolls are likely to use and abuse any such system to silence people themselves.

This already happens.

As part of the #atheist community on Twitter I regularly see people who are merely strident or effective debaters getting their accounts suspended due to organised abuse of the spam report button that already exists. The process seems to be somewhat automated (volume of communication is too big to expect people to go over it all). Enough spam reports and your account is suspended. It takes some time to get it back. As a case in point I present @RosaRubicondior, an active Twitter atheist currently knocked offline due to abuse of the report system by a Catholic apologist with multiple accounts. There are even whole groups that coordinate spam reports to knock people offline.

Adding an abuse button – as is being proposed – will just provide another means for legitimate users to get knocked offline and it’s likely to be used against the very people asking for these controls and tools.

Will it stop a determined troll?

No. They’ll make multiple accounts, they’ll use proxies etc to get past any protections that are put down. To be even moderately effective any tool will have to identify the user (which presents its own problems). Remove anonymity and you don’t particularly stop a determined troll. Anonymity has a cost in terms of cyberbullies but it also has a big positive side that lessening anonymity would hurt:

  • Political dissidents use twitter and other online media because of their anonymity.
  • Homosexuals – still criminalised in many countries – are able to get a sense of community and support only because of anonymity.
  • Battered spouses and victims of real life abuse can seek help through anonymity and safety.

That’s a tiny few examples of many. You threaten to destroy that by changing things.

You already have options
‘Don’t feed the trolls’ is getting a bad rap for some reason, but it remains the best way to deal with it. The payoff for a troll is getting a big reaction a twitterstorm, newspaper articles, people wringing their hands and even making blog posts like this!

We play into their hands by doing so. Block the person, ignore them and they get no payoff from you.

I don’t see any other way to deal with it that doesn’t have a massive cost in terms of free expression, abuse of the system and loss of the upside of anonymity. We don’t seem to be able to change the trolls so we need to change ourselves (or at least some of us do).

  1. Block ’em.
  2. Don’t take ’em seriously – after all, how many online ‘threats’ actually come to fruition?
  3. Understand what trolling is and change your reaction to it.

1. Almost every social media platform has a block function. Even outside of social media there are plugins for browsers that will block forum trolls and even cut off  whole websites. You can set your email spam filters too and most newspaper and other, similar hosts are much more heavily moderated.

2. Come on. Really. How many internet threats go flying around every day? I’ve been trolled, harassed and threatened by a combination of trolls, true believers, social justice warriors and militant Islamists. I’ve been threatened with burning, stabbing, beheading, ruination, maiming etc etc. Here I still am. Why should I take these threats seriously and why should you? Why do you? The only people that have come close to following through are the supposed progressives!

3. A troll is a parasite who gets an emotional high (and a salve to their boredom) from provoking you and making you react. If your reaction is to take them seriously and demand changes and censorship you’re doing what they want. ‘Ur doin it rong’. You simply cannot control or stop trolling in a way that allows us to preserve the upsides of the internet. The only thing you can change is your reaction. I think it’s somewhat telling that men don’t seem to react in the same way. Perhaps due to a culture of ‘joshing’ and ‘friendly insults’. This does seem a healthier way to react though.

These kinds of kneejerk reactions to what absolutely is reprehensible behaviour threaten to cause more harm, not less.

Take a breath, think about it as a whole.

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postmanThe UK government proposing bringing in a ‘Great Firewall’ to block pornographic content – and according to some news reports 18-rated material other than pornography. Ostensibly this is supposed to be about preventing access to child porn, but child porn is not generally traded on the open internet. The government has conflated this genuinely worrying child porn issue with ‘extreme porn’ (consensual or otherwise, including BDSM, rape-play and other pornography) and pornography in general.

Opposition has been worryingly scarce, perhaps because speaking up in favour of erotic material and against ‘protecting the children’ is seen as political suicide.

That means it’s up to us:

You can find your MP’s email here:
http://www.parliament.uk/about/contacting/mp/

Many use forms etc now, rather than direct emails, so it can be a lot of work to contact several people.

office@greenparty.org.uk
https://www.libdems.org.uk/contact.aspx
https://email.number10.gov.uk/
http://www.labour.org.uk/contact
http://www.ukip.org/contact
http://www.votegeorgegalloway.com/2011/01/contact-george-and-respect.html
http://www.snp.org/contact

There is a parliamentary e-petition here:
http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/51746

Hashtags to show support are:
#ViveLaKink
#PornOptInPlease

Below is a form letter that you’re welcome to use

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am sad to see the government supporting a blanket block of adult material online, requiring people to identify – and in effect shame themselves – by opting in to be able to see it. The lack of vocal opposition to this is also deeply worrying. It is the responsibility of a democracy to guarantee the rights of minority interests against mob rule, not to indulge or inflame the mob.

What is even more disturbing, is to see legal, consensual activity and erotic material conflated in the rhetoric with child pornography. This shames people with legal and consensual sexual proclivities and fantasies unnecessarily.

Content like child pornography is not being traded on the public internet but, rather, on the darknet. (File-sharing on closed, private networks or via hidden means). Censoring the public internet will do precisely nothing to tackle the problem and will only harm innocent users.

Problems like this are best tackled by funding and expertise, not by token gestures that directly harm free expression and law abiding, normal citizens of the country.

Please consider opposing this move vocally and publicly.

Sincerely,

[Your Name]

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2013 - 3Here’s my new kitten Nik (named for Nikola Tesla) telling me to shut up. That way, you don’t have to.

Please read – and parse – what I’m actually saying before posting a comment or linking on some outrage tumblr, thanks.

Recently there was a Kickstarter project for a ‘seduction manual‘ which turned out to contain some quite rapey and illegal advice on how to pick up women, involving being physically overbearing and invading personal space. For once the outrage levelled at something on the internet actually seemed to have a bit of substance and after some sniffing around and checking into it I joined the voices asking for it to be pulled. It crossed a certain line for me in advocating real, genuine, illegal and horrible behaviour in real life.

The project funded anyway, Kickstarter acted too slowly to withdraw it, but instead they apologised and gave a sizeable donation to a charity.

So far, so good. Until you read through the apology.

I’m a pretty staunch free expression advocate and getting more hard-line that way with almost every day and every twitterstorm over something or other that someone finds offensive. I made an exception in this case because the book was advocating a breach of personal autonomy, the chief reason I’m for free expression. Kickstarter’s apology is, however, worrying on several levels.

1. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seduction guides, per se.

That is, they’re distasteful and crappy but no more so than Cosmos’ ‘how to please your man’. Many of them – based on my limited experience – seem to be more like self-help guides to give guys the confidence they need to approach women and that’s not necessarily a bad thing so long as it doesn’t advocate anything criminal. Sure there’s things like ‘negging’ and ‘peacocking’ but these aren’t the same as suggesting you shove someone around and, like the yellow and black stripes on a wasp, they act as a warning that the guy doing it is a douche.

2. Saying that content ‘glorifying or promoting violence against women’ is already barred.

It is all too common to conflate ‘depicting’ with ‘glorifying’ or even ‘promoting’. If you wanted to get backing for your 50-Shades-Alike via Kickstarter you probably couldn’t, because it would be adult and would depict fictional bondage. Tentacle Bento – a rather tame (but suggestive) card game was already knocked off Kickstarter well before its closing date unlike this one. Despite being coy and cartoony.

What about teh menz? Where’s the concern over glorifying or promoting violence against men?

This all seems very… reactive. Tightening an already rather strict and exclusionary funding opportunity from yet more people and skewing away from creators and towards vocal opposition.

3. Backing RAINN.

I’m sure RAINN does a lot of good work but they’re mostly known – to me – for their promotion of what appear to be vastly inflated rape statistics. I am deeply uncomfortable with my objection to the project having lead, indirectly, to funding an organisation that seems to use and abuse poor statistics. I don’t, personally, believe that you need to inflate the figures. Rape is a horrible crime and making people more afraid than they need to be doesn’t help. It just creates a climate of terror not unlike the irrational fear many old people have of crime based on watching the news.

In conclusion, Kickstarter is already one of the most restrictive crowdfunding sources out there. I tend to prefer IndieGoGo which seems to be more ethical overall when it comes to free expression issues and access to crowdfunding. There is no question, however, that Kickstarter is the big boy in crowdfunding and so any tightening of the rules becomes de facto censorship, no matter how justified in this instance.

Good: Kickstarter listened, apologised, made amends in a transparent way.
Bad: It’s going to make it even harder for risqué, grown-up or legal-but-difficult projects to get made.

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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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This is reaching the proportion of Kafkaesque nonsense. Or possibly life mirrors ART.

I have never condoned or excused rape. I don’t say it’s a good thing. Never have.

I defended its use as a story element and largely because I have been concerned about things being written off on the basis of the character of content, sight unseen and unthinking.

I think anything should potentially be open for dramatic interpretation

Anyway, I would appreciate the assistance of those who know me, who know better, who have actually absorbed what I genuinely think and say to go against this nonsense.

There’s a human rights petition, which would be lol-worthy were they not serious.

Also a poll at Mongoose Publishing.

If people want to calmly and politely ask me about any of these issues and asks in good faith, I’ll happily field your questions and clarifications.

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Well that’s all been a jolly bit of fun eh? Who would have suspected that defending the right of creative people to explore difficult topics would have been such a contentious issue. Foolishly, perhaps, I thought the creative community of writers, games designers, artists and so on would be all for free expression. It seems not.

You see, really, the whole point of the original article was that creative people should be free to examine, tackle and explore any topic however difficult or ‘offensive’ and that it should be judged on quality rather than content.

Ironically, people judged the post on its content. They saw the title and their lizard brain went into overdrive. If I had simply said:

Creative people should be free to write about any topic and judged on the quality of their work, rather than its content.

Would there have been this storm? Would even 1/10th of the number of people who have seen the post looked at it? It’s just a shame so few actually read it because the points made really aren’t contentious and one could go though the same process for any difficult or controversial topic, as I did for murder.

See… this is what so many of you do in all these instances. You don’t stop to think, or look, or confirm. You see that a game, book, TV show or whatever includes an element and that’s enough for you to pick up your pitchfork and join the mob.

Your reaction to my post only reinforces it’s point.

I really have a hard time believing that many people can’t read, or that my communication skill is that poor, considering the number of people who DID understand what I was saying, even if they disagreed.

There’s something else going on, some suspension of rational thought, some determination to present an ‘acceptable’ viewpoint rather than to actually think about the topic.

That’s a shame.

Anyway, this’ll – hopefully – be the final word on this here. The Outrage Posse will be on to the next thing in a day or two, probably a comic cover or a video game trailer. I have friends over the weekend for gaming and a podcast interview, so I may not be able to get back to Shanks this week but I’ll be back to it as soon as I can.

It has been suggested that I engaged in all this for self-publicity, rather than to broach a serious topic. Clearly being hated so much by so many people for no real reason is a great trade off for a couple of sales. If there’s one thing of mine I would want my detractors to look at after this, it would be the game The Little Grey Book, which is free. So don’t worry about giving ‘that rapist arsehole’ any money.

Pax

x

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