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What Can Replace a Hashtag?

“Open your smartphones, contractors!” piped the artificial instructor projected from the screen making up the northern end of the classroom auditorium.

Students quickly followed their teacher’s commands. This new teaching model was a marked improvement over the last. Both pretty and welcoming, the instructor was tailor made to this precise community’s tastes; it was sold in countless physical variations to fit the specifications of the town’s Department of Education Attractiveness Survey. The survey was the last remnant of national testing and was universally accepted as a superior use of federal funds than standardized comparisons between students nationwide.

In addition to doing away with national standards, the Trump Administration had streamlined curriculum to encompass only necessary skills for the modern digital workplace. The Socratic relationship between teacher and student was seen as far too elitist for a society priding itself on its populist core, so actual teachers were removed in the Swamp-Draining of 2019; those receiving the required two hours of schooling a day would now be classified as independent contractors and not students, as this recognition of insubordination was acknowledged as snobbish and rightly done away with.

“Now contractors,” began the sultry digital instructor as she peered over her glasses in a seductive manner to appeal to 94% of Americans according to the 2017 Attractiveness Survey. “I will provide three excellent article summaries. Please provide a summary of a single summary from a perspective that illuminates America’s greatness. Remember: you must do so in less than 140 characters.”

Not only had books been books slowly “phased-out” of schools due to lack of interest, education contractors were only asked to read to summaries of a text. Smart individuals were expected to appreciate the information exclusively from the provided excerpts. This new approach to reading comprehensions was celebrated by the newly created Department of Making America Great Again (DoMAGA). In an attempt to do away with wasteful and divisive research in most government agencies, the administration wisely removed most academics from their positions and hired some of the most influential Twitter users. The DoMAGA agents were instrumental in the greatest foreign policy victory seen since 1876: the sale of Alaska to our great and esteemed Russian brothers to pay off the construction of the Great Southern Wall, which had unexpectedly been more expensive than even the most intelligent DoMAGA researchers had predicted.

The three article summaries were quickly pushed out to each contractor’s device. All of the excerpts discussed the year’s presidential “Press Conference Tonight!” ratings. The public had long grown uninterested in receiving their news through conversation and debate among educated media figures and embraced a superior format, where 140 character blurbs of the day’s events scrolled over the bottom of the screen as explosions, celebrities, car chases and tits appeared above. This way, citizens could be educated on important things while also being entertained. In addition, a 140-character summary of the program would be tweeted to Americans no longer able to pay attention to a 13-minute program.

Most of the text summaries provided by the digital instructor were understandably littered with ads. Yes, some contained nearly pornographic images, but the class was ordered to avoid looking at them, as such things were offensive. Nonetheless, this method of generating revenue for education was unquestionably superior to paying taxes.

After the five minute reading period had concluded (the maximum time allocated to such tasks), contractors submitted their response. It took no more than seven minutes for the program to grade each and provide feedback to the group. Rather than waste time, the class of 59 re-tweeted advertisements from the school’s sponsors, earning three cents each time they did so.

The digital instructor returned with another button undone from her blouse, tastefully exposing more of her chest in the process. DoMAGA had learned that individuals were more likely to return for the second portion of the day’s lesson if they were rewarded for their patience. Once everyone was seated, the instructor sent out advice to contractors, accompanied with clips of America’s greatest living actor: Gary Busey.

“Contractor: J. Goldberg! Your work could not be scored. It failed to be less than 140 characters. It also contained the terms “disputation” and “infantilize,” which many readers find confusing and off-putting. You have received the lowest mark: A-.”

“Contractor: E. Erickson! You have been awarded strong marks for keeping all sentences less than 4 syllables. Your argument, that Press Conference Tonight! should include more skateboard accidents has been noted. Your mark: A+.”

“Contractor: M. Yiannpoulos! While your response contained only a picture of a chimp peeing in a toad’s mouth, it was quite entertaining and thus valuable and insightful. Your mark: A++.”

“Contractor: M. Cyrus! Your response did not use any recognizable words or phrases. However, you capitalized every letter of said terms and have 4.6 million followers. Your mark A+++.”

Having received enough education for a single day, the class cheerfully shuffled off to prepare for the trial of Rachael Maddow that would be streamed live at 7 PM on Press Conference Tonight! It was expected to garner double the ratings of Scott Baio’s Puppet Theater.


Staff Writer
Twitter 

Roland Dodds is an educator, researcher and father just north of San Francisco who writes about politics, culture and education. He spent his formative years in radical left wing politics, but now prefers the company of contrarians of all political stripes (assuming they aren't teetotalers). He is a regular contributor at Harry's Place and Ordinary Times.

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103 thoughts on “What Can Replace a Hashtag?

  1. Heh

    Of course, the capacity to make such broad changes to society probably exceeds Trump’s organizational skills, and while the techno-fascists who support him (Thiel and his fuckbois) might like something like this, although not so transparently ridiculous, I don’t think they actually have the power to do it. It would require that the Trump administration focus on achieving results. They won’t do that.

    It’s funny thing, asking why Thiel supports Trump, besides the fact that odious clowns are attracted to other odious clowns. But I think there is more. Theil is repulsive, but he is smart. He must realize that Trump is an idiot. So what’s up with that?

    Simple: Thiel hates democracy. He wants it to fail. His support of Trump is accelerationism.

    All that said, I laughed.

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    • Let me tell you, , from my experiences several years ago as an adjunct instructor for the University of That City in Arizona That Isn’t Tucson, no government actor needs to push education down this path. The UTCATIT appeared to me to conform to a consumer-driven rather than an education-driven model.

      At least 35% of the grade had to come from a “group exercise,” which always degenerated into five students glomming on to the one smart student in their workgroup who actually did the work, which wasn’t fair to that one smart student. At least 10% of the grade had to come from “participation,” with standards for meaningful discussion being so ridiculously low as to effectively constitute “attendance.” I felt pressure to accept things like 140-character responses to complex concepts I was assigned to “facilitate” the learning of, and endured student complaints whenever I give a student pretty much any sort of negative feedback. I eventually gave in to that pressure and changed my class from an essay-driven to a multiple-choice evaluation method (and student performance declined, ironically), to sidestep other kinds of pushback from the non-academic portions of the UTCATIT.*

      Eventually, the pressure became enough that I felt as though I were being used as a cog in a diploma mill rather than actually providing any sort of meaningful education, and I quit because I couldn’t with integrity stay involved with that kind of an operation.

      Yes, there have been reforms and purges pushed under the Obama Administration’s Department of Education. And I don’t know if UTCATIT continues to adhere to a please-the-customer standard of academic performance in in efforts to induce students to borrow money to be thus transferred to UTCATIT regardless of their intellectual suitability for secondary education, and was so dissatisfied by my experience that I do not want to go back, even if the money for my effort was a worthwhile exchange, which it isn’t from where I’m currently sitting professionally. The UTCATIT I worked with would have loved the idea of an automated “facilitator,” with a bot raking key phrases out of student responses to questions and automatically generating grades to eliminate completely the overhead of subject matter experts as instructors / facilitators / preceptors / online class monitors / whateverthehell they actually wanted me to be.

      * Disclaimer: the one time I had an actual grade contest filed against me, UTCATIT did have my back, and held the complaining student to a high burden of proof, which it determined that she did not meet, to demonstrate that I had graded her unfairly. Nor should my criticism of this entity be understood as a refutation of the concept of distance learning.

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      • What described is pretty common across all levels of education. Oddly enough, this is one of the reasons conservatives should support and defend some form of teacher tenure. You can demand a lot more from your students if you know a few complaints about someone earning a B instead of an A won’t end in you losing your job.

        I was hanging out with a conservative teacher friend of mine last week. He teaches in liberal San Francisco and explained that he would never do so if he didn’t have tenure. He can bring texts and ideas into the class that would likely get him sacked if group-think complainers in his district had their way.

        Mind you, he is also a good teacher and challenges his students, so most parents like him even when they know he likely doesn’t share their political views. But when everyone is fearful for their job at every turn, you end up seeing the consumer model Burt described.

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    • Democracy has already failed V. This issue is where the country will end up. A stratified society of haves and nots like Elysium or Star Trek or something else. Personally, I’m expecting Elysium. But none of that matters in the context of Trump. The Deep State will not allow Trump to do this, even if he wanted to. They are already pushing back via the CIA RE Russian “hacking”. (Curious that no one mentions the US role is similar behavior)

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      • Damon,
        What, do you really want to get into US hackers sending other hackers to jail for trying (and succeeding in the concept) of actually switching votes in Presidential elections?

        Sadly, the people on the “we can switch votes” side of things have a lot of money and resources.

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  2. I guess I need to read these in the spirit of them being the worst-case scenario for the authors and I can see how a teacher would view this as a worst-case scenario especially one dedicated to teaching long and difficult texts in an age that does not necessarily reward reading and understanding such texts.

    But it strikes me as being way over the top still which goes to my dystopia problem. Not enough subtleness to be plausible.

    I think the dystopia of the humanities admirer might be here partially. Education is being seen as more and more about economic end games and points. Students are being encouraged into practical majors and fields. Even a Democratic President and rather elegant one found it easy to make a swipe against Art History majors. Though he quickly withdrew his comment and apologized.

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    • I apologize for a side comment that it’s not related to the Original Post, but I have an issue with what just said here:

      Education is being seen as more and more about economic end games and points. Students are being encouraged into practical majors and fields. Even a Democratic President and rather elegant one found it easy to make a swipe against Art History majors.

      It used to be that practical people were supposed to have culture. You were supposed to be able to manage your farm (or latifundia), be a politician, have a business, or even be a miner AND have culture. Play musical instruments. Read books. Understand the allegorical meaning of paintings in the vault of the bank, whether you were the manager, or the person making the deposit. The arts and culture were to be taken seriously by everybody.

      And then, at some point, it all bifurcated. The practical people were not taught about art and culture and symbolism. Instead, tHe Arts and Culture became the domain of “Art History Majors”, who, most of the time, might know the date of birth of Michelangelo, but not why Plato and Aristotle’s hands point in different directions in the Raphael painting. Most Art History Majors then go to Law School, Business School or the Starbucks Management Program. Now, nobody has “culture”. Instead, we whitewash the bank lobbies painted ceilings.

      Man, I’m old. I want to go back to a time when we all read the great books, were taught by our parents to appreciate arts, and were aware of the history of civilization. Going into 140 characters education is just the end of a process that started way before.

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      • @j_a

        I’m not sure I fully agree with the full picture. Can you cite an example of a miner or farmer who could talk about the allegorical nature of a painting? Playing instruments yes but this was before recorded music and when you needed to have musicians around if you wanted to listen to music or have it at the weekly dance. The number of books many families had before the 20th century was pretty slim.

        Also the Frankfurt school would argue there is a difference between “art” and “culture”. There have been a spate of articles on how the Frankfurt school foretold of Trump. These were German Marxists who wondered why their advanced country produced the Nazis but the supposedly backward Russians got the Communist revolution. The Frankfurtians were largely Jewish and fled to the U.S. during the 1930s and 40s. They saw a difference between art (which elevates and causes someone to deeply question the status quo) v. culture which lulls someone into compliance. Adorno saw Hollywood as culture.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theodor_W._Adorno

        Most people reject the Frankfurt School because of how extreme and all encompassing they were.

        I would like to think there was a time when people got credit for being into high culture/high art. I have a rough idea that in the 1960s, a person did get credit for knowing who Truffaut and Goddard and Bergman and Kurosawa, etc. were. Or for reading Milan Kundera. But I don’t know if this is true or many romantic version of the 1960s as someone who is dedicated snob. Even hardcore non-snobs have acknowledged that I “sincerely” like high art/culture.

        But something changed. I don’t when or why or how. What I see know is a lot of arguments pushing back on concepts of adult hood that require one to give up the pleasures of childhood. The argument is usually stated as “Fish You. I pay my bills, hold down a job and mortgage, support my family, etc. How dare you say I am not an adult because I prefer Sailor Moon to Ozu or would rather read the Hunger Games instead of struggling with Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.”

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    • Hmmm, I never interpreted dystopian fiction as something that needed to be immediately plausible. Reading F451 or Who Can Replace a Man? (the narrative I borrowed from to some degree when writing this) are unlikely to occur but do allow for the author’s to explore problems they see in our society today.

      Not that I am comparing my work to Bradbury or Aldiss. Just that the more outlandish and even humorous dystopias can still be useful in exploring truths present now.

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      • Science fiction is, I have always found, at its best when it takes one idea and runs with it, even to the point of unreality. The whole motivating force of science fiction is that “what would the world be like if this one thing were different”. Like, what if we could live forever? What if we could change gender? What if we could instantaneously be somewhere else just by wanting it hard enough? What if we had a method to objectively define and quantify morality?

        So, no, “it’s implausible” isn’t always a useful criticism. It’s like a hypothetical in legal teaching; whether it’s plausible or not is outside the question, you’re required by the parameters of the experiment to accept that somehow it’s true. (Now, of course, maybe what you learn is “don’t ever let this happen”…)

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  3. Much (not all) dystopian fiction has, either explicitly or implicitly, solid engineering education. Eg, Heinlein’s American theocracy in If This Goes On— (1940) had its Dept. of Applied Miracles doing radio, television, and assorted special effects. Fortresses get built. Weapons systems are deployed. Smartphone processors and displays sit at the top of a technology pyramid that includes electrical, mechanical, chemical, and software engineering at several different levels. A question I found myself asking as I read through this was “When did the engineers get segregated out? Do they get to live in the same neighborhoods with the people taking this class?”

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  4. In meditating on dystopia more and more, there are two things that occur to me:

    Most dystopias assume “one size fits all” and focuses on the people who agitate for the label to be changed to “one size fits most”.

    Holy crap, we live in a dystopia.

    I mean, dig this part:

    In addition to doing away with national standards, the Trump Administration had streamlined curriculum to encompass only necessary skills for the modern digital workplace. The Socratic relationship between teacher and student was seen as far too elitist for a society priding itself on its populist core, so actual teachers were removed in the Swamp-Draining of 2019; those receiving the required two hours of schooling a day would now be classified as independent contractors and not students, as this recognition of insubordination was acknowledged as snobbish and rightly done away with.

    Let’s say that I wanted to be cheeky and flip this.
    The Socratic relationship between teacher and student was seen as far too elitist and so the students began collaborating with the professors to see which parts of the curriculum needed to be removed. “This thinker is too offensive. We do not wish to read his works.”, was sufficient to remove Plato. Having removed Plato, it became exceptionally easy to abolish more and more of the Socratic habits established by the earliest and most backward thinkers to be replaced by the newest and freshest thinkers.

    So on and so forth.

    The assumption for this educational dystopia is that it has exactly as much power as it ought to have if someone good were in charge of steering it properly…

    But what if someone bad grabbed the steering wheel?

    “That will never happen”, the architects laughed. “Hey. Let’s put the President in charge of required reading lists!”

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    • I loved this post, even as I disagreed with it.

      The mistake I made in looking at my dystopias was in getting too big picture. I ought to have picked just one small area and said “what would a dystopia look like in this small corner.”

      What would a comic book store look like in a dystopia?
      What would walking past the coming attractions posters at the big multiplex movie theater look like?
      What would computer maintenance look like in a dystopia?

      And then we can have the discussion that begins with “That’s not a dystopia, Jaybird. That’s dumb. You’re dumb.”

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      • Via “What would a comic book store look like in a dystopia?”

        I got excited by that prospect. “You write what you know” and all that jazz, but how cool would it be to write a dystopian piece from the perspective of a comic store employee? F451 may be a bit difficult, but 1984? That could be an interesting narrative!

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        • “We’re getting rid of Tony Stark in Iron Man. Too white, too male. We’re replacing him with an African-American Woman.”

          “Doesn’t that strain plausibility?”

          “These are comic books, duh. What? Do you have a problem with this plan?”

          “No! Um, No! I am on board with it! We should make her, um… we should make her 15 years old!”

          “That’s better.”

          ———

          “That’s not a dystopia, Jaybird. That’s dumb. You’re dumb.”

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            • One person’s utopia is another person’s dystopia.

              Of course, moving from “the devil you know” dystopia into “the devil you don’t” dystopia is likely to provoke immune responses that present similarly to that of the immune responses of leaving a utopia.

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                • Yeah, yeah. Let’s talk about Jaybird personally.

                  Hey, he has four cats. Do you think that this indicates anything about his personality?

                  OOOH! Since he doesn’t have children, he must be… um… wait. I read a book about this…

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              • I was possibly being harsh but I don’t get your point here.

                Comic book heroes have been overwhelmingly white guys (and sometimes gals) for decades. Now sometimes they are POC because the comic book creators and owners realize that this is a market that reads comics and buys them.

                Are a lot of white guys butt hurt? Seemingly so. Do you think their butt hurt means that comic book companies should not create comics for other demographics? Straight answer. Yes or no?

                Do you think people who are not white guys should just read comics with superheroes who are white guys and say “Gee I would love to see myself represented by the big players but it will hurt the fee-fees of some white guys so I should just keep Iron Man and Spider-Man as is?” Straight answer. Yes or no?

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                  • My point is not to disagree with your observation that one person’s utopia is another person’s dystopia. That observation is banal.

                    I just find it curious that when you make all these banal points, you always manage to do examples that are critical of what liberals and the left see as improvements to society.

                    How about a conservative utopia with strict enforcement of drug laws and inaction on civil rights being bad for minorities?

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                    • That observation is banal.

                      You have no idea how pleased I am to hear you say that.

                      I’m used to people arguing tooth and nail against my banal observations. Reaching the point where everybody knows these things strikes me as being an important part of the process of fixing the root issues.

                      How about a conservative utopia with strict enforcement of drug laws and inaction on civil rights being bad for minorities?

                      You mean like Singapore? Japan?

                      Well, I used to argue for Libertarian solutions to such a dystopia but you probably wouldn’t believe how people argued against that sort of thing.

                      It’s like as if a libertarian solution to such a dystopia was considered even worse than the continuation of it!

                      But if I were to come up with a good, solid, liberal solution, it’d probably look like something like Bernie Sanders, a good decent moral person who would be able to argue for common-sense drug laws and great advancements on civil rights.

                      Plus there’s the whole thing about how he’d have been able to beat someone like Trump. If only the liberals hadn’t gotten in the way of the left…

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                    • I just find it curious that when you make all these banal points, you always manage to do examples that are critical of what liberals and the left see as improvements to society.

                      It’s this. seems to have boundless sympathy for the angry #gamergate guy who had his toys “stolen” by “feminazis” (or whatever), but absolutely zero for anyone else. It’s so ass-backward.

                      For example, media representation remains strongly skewed in favor of white/male protagonists, but that’s changing and women are getting into the double-digit percentages — but OMG the boys freak out over this.

                      The problem is it feels so unfair, that they do not dominate 95% of everything. Could they even deal with 51%?

                      Keep in mind, I’m talking about a population who is transparently racist and sexist, the turd-puppies who hated the new Ghostbusters before it was even released. On and on. It’s easy to find examples.

                      Now, if you went to see the movie and you didn’t like it, that’s fine. You’re allowed to not like a movie. On the other hand, the whole conversation is pretty poisoned, so you should be aware of that when you talk about it.

                      I thought the movie was meh. I enjoyed parts, but it certainly was not a milestone or anything. Whatevs.

                      Mad Max, on the other hand, was fucking amazeballs.

                      You’re allowed to disagree with that and not be a sexist.

                      But all the same, being called a “racist” or “sexist” — unconscious bias exists, and it is unlikely that anyone here is entirely immune. So in some ways most of us are racist, and sexist and transphobic and so on. This is hard to talk about, cuz everyone is so damn defensive. But all the same, I bet these attitudes shape how you respond to media.

                      Is that a “moral” point? I dunno. To me it sounds like an empirical observation of how people behave.

                      Another observation: most media has been by-and-for white dudes since forever. That’s changing. I certainly welcome the change. Do you?

                      (And yeah that means a certain number of media properties will be preachy and overwrought and so on, as if that never happened in the by-and-for white dudes media.)

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                      • v,
                        Can we please actually talk about why the new Ghostbusters was a flop?
                        And why exactly MOST people hated it before it was released?

                        Because you’re talking about less than one percent of the people who hated the thing before they saw it.

                        And the worst part is? You probably don’t even know what was so offensive about Ghostbusters.

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                      • “Jaybird seems to have boundless sympathy for the angry #gamergate guy”

                        I haven’t seen it.

                        I’ve seen him asking why the #gamergate guy is so angry, or feels like his toys are being stolen. I’ve seen him worry that the shade thrown at #gamergate guys hits people who aren’t actually #gamergate guys, causing them to figure that maybe they’re #gamergate guys after all. I’ve seen him express concern that the quest to take away the #gamergate guys’ toys seems to be more about the joy of taking than anything else.

                        I haven’t seen actual sympathy.

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                • I have been fine with all the cultural changes Marvel has made recently (mostly because comics are very stale and if it means making the characters another ethnicity/gender will require new stories/takes on the characters, I am all for it) but should the existing white fanbase be excused and disregarded outright?

                  Not sure I would agree with your characterization of , but I also have no problem with white males looking to retain ownership over something that feels distinctly theirs. I am sure there is enough room to include all people in the comic world, but I also don’t disparage white young men for not wanting their hobby to become a preach-fest against them

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                  • Milestone Comics were hit and miss but Hardware and Static were pretty good.

                    Miles Morales was handled very well and makes for a great Spider-Man. Unfortunately his stories kinda evolved from “Miles Morales Stories” into “Spider-Man Stories” for a while there but they’re finding their feet again.

                    Iron-Man? That’s, like, an example of how to do it in such a way that would come across as a strawman argument by a cis-het white male mocking SJWs.

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                  • — so far the pattern had been the very announcement of a diverse title creates the outrage, long before the actual content is released. This was certainly the case with the Ghostbusters remake, likewise with girl Thor.

                    In any case, speaking as a minority media consumer, yeah diversity is a big deal. White males are not “default humans.” Likewise, the response to increased diversity has been petty and childish.

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                    • v,
                      You can’t possibly be mad that a publicity strategy worked, can you?

                      There are public relations folks out there who haven’t quite grasped the concept of “bad publicity”.

                      (See the new Ghostbusters Cast in a cancer ward. And the subsequent PR about them spawn camping).

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                    • speaking as a minority media consumer

                      Is a comic book written by a white dude and then drawn and inked by a white dude and the published by other white dudes “minority media” because the fictional main character is African-American?

                      My wokeness advisors are conflicted on this topic.

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                      • — The problem is your attitude sucks. You get that, right?

                        Diversity is actually hard. When people struggle with hard topics, there will be missteps.

                        And yes, this issue covers both the characters being portrayed and also those writing and creating the works. I’ve written much about this. Casey Plett has written a very insightful article about trans representation: https://thewalrus.ca/rise-of-the-gender-novel/

                        This conversation does not benefit from snide comments about “wokeness.” It does benefit from listening.

                        Can white people effectively write about black people? I dunno. I’d rather let black people comment on that. I bet the answer is complex.

                        Can cis people write about trans people?

                        Sometimes. I found Tangerine really well done. Of course, when you find out how the screenwriter went about creating that script, in close cooperation with the main actresses, who themselves were trans women who lived (and I believed worked) in the neighborhood he portrays — I am not surprised Tangerine worked.

                        That said, The Danish Girl was pablum. Nomi in Sense 8 was pretty great. This does not surprise me.

                        #####

                        What is your goal here? You realize that you come across as snide, right? Is that intended?

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                        • “The problem is your attitude sucks. You get that, right?”

                          Why would you bother writing anything else after this part? Why are you engaging with Jaybird at all if he’s such a rich white racist sexist homophobic BernieBro?

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                        • You get that, right?

                          I actually don’t. I suppose that that’s part of the problem. Part of what makes this our own personal dystopia.

                          What is your goal here? You realize that you come across as snide, right? Is that intended?

                          Here? I guess I’m still somewhere in the territory of pointing out that matters of taste are not, in fact, matters of morality.

                          I imagine that to those who see these matters as matters of morality, it *DOES* come across as snide.

                          I imagine that o those who see these matters as matters of taste, it instead comes across as the equivalent of making fun of the parson.

                          It’s not *INTENDED* as much as it is merely a side effect.

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                • I’ll try to answer the straight questions, but I’m not sure that the questions were good in the first place. Let’s find out.

                  Do you think their butt hurt means that comic book companies should not create comics for other demographics? Straight answer. Yes or no?

                  Sure they should. Yes.

                  Do you think people who are not white guys should just read comics with superheroes who are white guys and say “Gee I would love to see myself represented by the big players but it will hurt the fee-fees of some white guys so I should just keep Iron Man and Spider-Man as is?” Straight answer. Yes or no?

                  I think they should read whatever they want to read. Comic books are pretty much the definition of leisure reading. “You shouldn’t be reading *THIS* when you’ve got some ‘me time’, you should be reading *THAT*” is not really a stance that I’m a fan of.

                  That said, a good story is a good story and a good story is something that makes it easy for me to say “hey, if you liked that book, you’ll love this one. They rethink the idea of Spider-man. It’s like a reboot but they mix it up and put together some new and good stories with a new and interesting protagonist and they flip his origin story somewhat. It’s a remix of stuff that I know you’re inclined to like anyway.”

                  But there’s a difference between that and “we made Spider-Man black, if you don’t like it, you’re a racist.”

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                  • It would be trivially easy for me to find examples of white men complaining about diversity in media, using terms such as “white genocide” and so on. In any case, that shit exists. Those who say that shit seem to like Trump a lot. I dunno. Whatever.

                    The broader issue is not so much racist white dudes — it’s fucking thin skinned white dudes, who cannot stand the slightest critique of their racial/gendered attitudes, or the shape of their received culture, without throwing a damn hissy fit.

                    Anyway, the Internet is big. Somewhere someone will call you a racist. Someone will call me a tranny. Someone else will call all of us something.

                    Some media titles will be subtle and well written. Others will be preachy. But then, comics have traditionally been pretty ham fisted. No one minded much when they were ham fisted in a comfortable way. So all a sudden, if they are ham fisted in a social justice direction, oh gosh no! Not that!

                    All a sudden young horny men obsessed with violence, who would accept the most shallow garbage as long as its race-and-gender themes were comfortable for them — they will cry in outrage at material no better or worse than the shallow preachy crap they once enjoyed. It’s almost as if they are exactly what they pretend to hate.

                    Harden the fuck up.

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                    • Ah, well. There’s really nothing you can say to the thin-skinned, is there?

                      Anyway, the Internet is big. Somewhere someone will call you a racist. Someone will call me a tranny. Someone else will call all of us something.

                      The comics universe is big too. For that matter, the entertainment universe is *HUGE*.

                      The fact that people spend their entertainment dollars on entertainment that entertains them is something that strikes me as… well… trivial. I’d more wonder at the people who spend their money on hobbies that they don’t enjoy. Like they were somehow engaging in a weird form of self-harm or something. Or chasing the dragon, trying to get the same endorphins from a habit that used to feel good but, jeez, no longer does. “I’ve been buying this comic book since issue #1… if I stop buying it, then I won’t be collecting it anymore.” “When was the last time you read one?” “I don’t know. I put them on the shelf… I plan on sitting down and reading them some day.” “But when was the last time you actually sat down and *READ* one?” “I dunno. When they got that new writer, I guess.”

                      Some media titles will be subtle and well written. Others will be preachy. But then, comics have traditionally been pretty ham fisted. No one minded much when they were ham fisted in a comfortable way. So all a sudden, if they are ham fisted in a social justice direction, oh gosh no! Not that!

                      It’s a leisure activity. It’s a matter of taste. If your favorite restaurant starts adding peas to their guacamole and you’re less inclined to order the guacamole, that’s not the restaurant’s *FAULT*, necessarily. But neither is it a fault in you. They changed the recipe. It’s okay to not like it as much as you used to. Even to the point where you stop ordering it when you go there, or, get this, going to a different restaurant that makes guac *WITHOUT* peas.

                      “Oh, all the sudden, all these white guys who appropriate the hell out of Mexican culture decide that they are too high and mighty for guac with peas in it and so they prove how racist they are by going to a restaurant that *PANDERS* to them by making guac without peas!!!!”

                      It’s trying to turn a discussion of a matter of taste into a matter of aesthetics, and then turn that new matter of aesthetics into a matter of morality.

                      Not everything is a matter of morality, Veronica.

                      That’s a lesson that the Religious Right had to learn the hard way.

                      I imagine that the Calvinist Left will get to learn it as well.

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                      • That could be our next great dystopia.

                        A world in which *EVERYTHING* is a matter of morality. No area is off limits: food preferences, sexual preferences, entertainment preferences, employment preferences, educational preferences… it’s *ALL* a moral choice.

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                          • Yeah, stuff like that. “Oh, you liked *THAT* book? Personally, I find its author to be odious, its story to be evil, and its treatment of its characters to be beneath contempt. I have similar conclusions about people who read such things without reaching similar conclusions.”

                            Report

                            • You’ve read it, right? The omniscient narrator explains that everyone who died in the train tunnel deserved it, because they had done evil things like applying for a small business loan, or had evil opinions, i.e. don’t accept every tenet of Objectivism. It’s a world in which everything is a matter not just of morality, but of whether or not you should die in a gas chamber.

                              But that’s not nearly as bad as being asked to put yourself in someone else’s place before criticizing them.

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                              • I haven’t read the book, but I have read excerpts enough to tell me that I don’t need to read the book.

                                And given that we both agree that it’s a bad book with a wicked philosophy written by a horrid person, why would I *WANT* to read it?

                                I could be putting money in the pocket of someone that I actually want to receive it and pay attention to someone actually good instead of someone actually bad.

                                Report

                                  • I’ve spent too much time hanging in Libertarian circles and arguing with people who like to argue with Libertarians to not know what happens in the book but I only know the Cliffs Notes version. Never read the book itself.

                                    It never really struck me as required reading (though, I admit, there are a handful of speeches I’ve read in excerpts of the book that made me say “that’s a good speech” but it was never sufficient to get me to pick the book up itself).

                                    The path I took to get me to (and then through) Libertarianism was by way of Solzhenitsyn rather than Rand.

                                    If you’d like to turn this into an attack, you could probably pull the “oh, so you refuse to read women!” card.

                                    Report

                                    • I’m not attacking you, I’m just surprised. And I’m certainly not recommending you read it. But I am suggesting that when people say “It’s ironic that the bible of a group that names itself after liberty things lovingly describes people dying for having the wrong opinions”, you recognize that it really does just that.

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                        • A world in which *EVERYTHING* is a matter of morality. No area is off limits…

                          We are already on our way towards that. Except, almost no one calls it morality. Rather, the folks trying to enforce one set of cultural, sexual or personal norms almost always try to posit some very questionable link between all of those personal aesthetic choices and corresponding political and ethical positions.

                          James Poulos wrote a series of articles (http://thefederalist.com/2014/07/17/welcome-to-the-pink-police-state-regime-change-in-america/) on the supremacy of “health and safety concerns.” And I think that the articles are overlong and somewhat convoluted, but most definitely on to something.

                          Report

                        • In some self-style “progressive” college towns, we’re already getting there.

                          (I almost blew up at a colleague last month when I tossed a sheet of paper in the trash and his response to me was “You know, you could have recycled that.” I was having an awful day that was part of a string of awful days and frankly I DIDN’T CARE. And my town makes recycling complicated)

                          I also remember being lectured some 20 years ago while in a checkout line at a grocery in Ann Arbor over the food I was buying. If I were a more aggressive person I would have slugged the woman and said, “Walk a mile in my shoes first, wench” but I’m not so I just went home and cried quietly and then didn’t really enjoy the cookies she had lectured at me about.

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                      • Trying to determine what is a matter of taste and what is a matter of morality is not easy though. Take meat eating. To many vegetarians and vegans, the very act of killing an animal to make use out of it for food and clothing is immoral. The animal is alive and killing anything an act of murder. For meat eaters, its just that we happen to like the taste of meat and we might like to wear leather or fur. Its taste.

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                        • Trying to determine what is a matter of taste and what is a matter of morality is not easy though.

                          Depends on your priors. For some, it’s exceptionally easy.

                          You mention meat eating.

                          But how’s about eating foods with high-fructose corn syrup?

                          How’s about eating foods that have been produced in a factory that also handles peanuts, pine nuts, or gluten?

                          Oh. My. God. You’re eating pork products? There are rules about that. Pork is taboo.

                          And then we can argue over whether we shouldn’t eat pork because pigs are as intelligent as dogs, whether we shouldn’t eat pigs because they have faces, or whether we shouldn’t eat pork because of some messages that came from some deity through some celestial functionaries to some guy in some desert in some dystopic desert wasteland.

                          The wackiest thing is that there’s pretty much only one way to be a matter of taste… but a matter of morality? There are a thousand ways for a thing to be a matter of morality.

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                          • This is what you wrote:

                            “We’re getting rid of Tony Stark in Iron Man. Too white, too male. We’re replacing him with an African-American Woman.”

                            “Doesn’t that strain plausibility?”

                            “These are comic books, duh. What? Do you have a problem with this plan?”

                            “No! Um, No! I am on board with it! We should make her, um… we should make her 15 years old!”

                            “That’s better.”

                            Do you see this as a bad thing? Honestly I don’t get it? Reboots happen a lot. Sometimes they work. Often they do not.

                            But you mentioned nothing about the reboot except the sex and race and age of the new protagonist, which then I guess is your problem with the whole thing. Yes, diversity has become “marketable”, and that has pros and cons. Certainly much has been written (by minorities) about how their identity gets packaged and sold as mass culture entities. This is a long conversation.

                            Do you have anything to add to that conversation?

                            As a transgender woman, I find it very complex. For example, I loathe things such as The Danish Girl. On the other hand, I very much liked Nomi from Sense 8, even if on the whole I though the show was weak.

                            There was a hilarious meme on Tumblr. It was something like:

                            Cis person writes trans character: “Oh I’m so sad, life is so hard, watch me transition.”

                            Trans person writes trans character: “I’m a psychic computer hacker fighting government agents!”

                            I know which I prefer.

                            Anyway, I loved Jessica Jones. I quite liked Luke Cage, although I thought it had a few structural flaws. But still, yeah diversity matters.

                            That said, tokenism is a real thing, and I expect the big media companies to do a good job sometimes and a bad job others. Much can be said about this.

                            Do you have anything to add, anything serious, sensitive, insightful?

                            Honestly, to me you sound like a run-of-the-mill butthurt white guy. Plenty of those guys exist. Do you mean to sound like them?

                            “That’s not a dystopia, Jaybird. That’s dumb. You’re dumb.”

                            Feeling persecuted much?

                            Report

                            • Do you see this as a bad thing?

                              I see it as a “trying too hard” thing. I see it as an attempt to turn an argument over a matter of taste into an argument over a matter of morality, and I see it as likely to not succeed and then its lack of success will be blamed on the audience rather than on anything else.

                              See also: Ghostbusters.

                              But you mentioned nothing about the reboot except the sex and race and age of the new protagonist, which then I guess is your problem with the whole thing.

                              Quick: Have you read it? What did you think of her origin story? What did you think of her first antagonists? What did you think of her conversation with Tony Stark?

                              What do you remember from the story?

                              Do you have anything to add to that conversation?

                              Dunno. Does “they hit it out of the ballpark with the first dozen issues of the Miles Morales Spider-Man and this was not on the same level as that was” add anything to that conversation?

                              If it doesn’t, then no.

                              Do you have anything to add, anything serious, sensitive, insightful?

                              Not really, above and beyond having read the stuff and having an opinion on it.

                              Is it more insightful to defend the idea of a thing done poorly than to criticize the actuality of the poorly done thing? More serious? More sensitive?

                              Honestly, to me you sound like a run-of-the-mill butthurt white guy. Plenty of those guys exist. Do you mean to sound like them?

                              Any other week, not really. During dystopia week? Oh, there’s a lot of dystopia nooks and crannies to explore. Some of them will sound like someone moving from one dystopia to another (which, I admit, can sound like someone moving from a utopia to a dystopia on the surface). Sometimes that will require giving opinions on things that include not liking them.

                              And, as a fanboy, I can truly understand the pain of someone else not liking what one likes.

                              Some might even describe such pain as “butt-hurt”.

                              Feeling persecuted much?

                              By having my priors validated?

                              Quite honestly, there’s precious little that I enjoy more.

                              Report

                              • I don’t think is criticizing tokenism so much as criticizing the social justice critique of media, from whence comes his snide comments about “wokeness” and his railing against “morality” in media, which of course means his railing against any moral stance which makes him uncomfortable, which is distinct from the invisible value-sets that are present in all media, but which he doesn’t notice (in the “a fish doesn’t know its wet” sense).

                                In other words, he’s being a jerk about it.

                                Report

                                • v,
                                  If I’m going to bother to criticize the SJW contingent, I’m going to do it in a financial sense.

                                  Here they go bitching and complaining about how video games are so white (which, um, yeah, they are).

                                  Then the designers say “you got a point. Here. let us make something neat”

                                  Then the SJWs take credit for the victory, and go back to what they were doing originally (bitchng about racism,e tc).

                                  The game devs show up and ask, “Why didn’t you buy our game?”

                                  “Oh, that’s easy. Turns out we really don’t like video games anyway”

                                  Report

                                  • Sometimes Kim listens a little too much to Delirium, sometimes she listens to Her juuuuust enough.

                                    This case is smack dab in the middle of the latter.

                                    I don’t think that the anti-#gamergate left appreciates how much they shot themselves in the feet by not purchasing Sunset in the first two weeks of its release.

                                    You want to change the industry? Then make a lot of companies sit up and take notice and say something to the effect of “dude, if we jump on this bandwagon, we can make a freakin’ mint”.

                                    Marvel has already had to cancel Mockingbird, A-Force, and there are rumors that the numbers for other titles are rockier than had been hoped (though it looks like the entire industry is going through a rough patch).

                                    If the corporation sees that they’re moving product, they will continue to create the product that moves.

                                    The whole “we want you to make *THIS* for the people who buy *THAT*” only works if the “we” in that sentence also purchases the product. If “we” don’t buy it, “we” ought not be surprised when corporations correct course in a handful of months back to making entertainment products that pander to the tastes of the people who bother to shell out for it.

                                    Report

                                • VD,

                                  which is distinct from the invisible value-sets that are present in all media, but which he doesn’t notice

                                  I look at it more like this: If those value sets are invisible, then what exposes them? Not pointing at them, that’s for sure. Rather, those value sets are “made visible” by understanding and internalizing a particular way of looking at the world, one which is – by definition, given the logic here – currently not understood by the unseeing.

                                  So the disagreement isn’t about neutral facts of the matter, but – in a roundaout way – the ideological priors required to see certain things as facts.

                                  What would it take for someone to wake up and vividly see those obvious-yet-invisible facts? The adoption of a world view where those value sets are obvious and visible.

                                  Report

                                  • How do you properly argue that something that has been miscategorized into the set of “matters of taste” needs to be moved into the set of “matters of morality”?

                                    If you’re arguing against utilitarians, just point to the outcomes and second order outcomes if you’ve got those working in your argument’s favor and, if you can’t do that, you can attempt to point to how much better things would be if the something was categorized properly.

                                    If you’re arguing against deontologists, you’re pretty much stuck hoping that they share your priors but, if they don’t, there are a lot of social control tools to raise the “cost” of disagreeing and reward those for agreeing. These were very popular in the Southern Babtist Church, for example, but you can see them out in the wild, if you look for them.

                                    The third way that I can think of is one that I’ve hinted at a handful of times in comments is the turn the matter of taste into a matter of aesthetics, and then turn the matter of aesthetics into a mater of morality. There problems with that approach when you’re arguing about art that is well within “low culture” and then again if you’re arguing over something that, at the end of the day, wasn’t particularly “awesome” (for lack of a better term). At that point, you’re stuck appealing to Sturgeon’s Law and subtly switching to deontology and social tools and just hope that the opponent doesn’t notice that we hadn’t made it all the way to solid footing on the aesthetic argument first.

                                    Those are pretty much the tactics I’d use when arguing for a recategorization of a (seemingly) miscategorized matter of taste, anyway.

                                    Report

                        • Lee,
                          Lack of forethought and common sense is not a matter of taste. It is merely the human condition, and how we damn not just ourselves, but our children and the entire human race.

                          Report

                        • Fair enough, but I thought that we were talking about people spending their entertainment dollars on what they felt like.

                          I mean, it’s not like I’m arguing that Veronica has a moral obligation to vacation in one of those states and, more than that, remain silent if she didn’t like the vacation.

                          We’re talking about entertainment spending.

                          Which, you’d think, wouldn’t be a matter of morality up there with passing laws against people who were different.

                          But here we are.

                          Report

                          • Sure, if someone doesn’t want to watch a movie because Idris Elba doesn’t look like the real Norse god, no one here thinks he should be forced him to go. But if I’m not supposed to say out loud what a moron he is, is that because of taste or morality?

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                            • Feel free!

                              Nobody is arguing that you shouldn’t spread your opinion on other people’s opinions as thick as you want!

                              Hey, everybody needs a hobby.

                              But if I was going to write a short story about a dystopia, it could easily include a scene where someone doesn’t do something and gets chewed out by someone else who also didn’t do the same something but for *GOOD* reasons rather than for evil reasons.

                              And there’d be an entire section devoted to knock-down drag out moral arguments taking place between two people who reach similar conclusions about the things they’re not inclined to do in the first place.

                              Report

                              • Can you not see how this works, tho? Simply, the push for diversity it to address an existing imbalance, which is to say, if you participate in American media culture, you will get an endless string of stories staring str8-cis-white-men. You will see fewer staring minorities. Thus, choosing a minority to play a traditionally “white role” has a quite different impact from choosing a white person to play a “minority role.”

                                As an illustration, a while back there was a cartoon that made its way to my Tumblr feed (but which unfortunately I cannot find). It showed two kids, one white, one black. Each had a jar with some marbles in it. The white kid’s jar was full of dozens of marbles. The black kid’s jar contained three marbles. The question was, what happens if you take one of the black kid’s marbles and give it to the white kid? What happens if you do the reverse? The psychology behind this is obvious.

                                Consider the Idris Elba thing. Sure, he played a Norse god. But he didn’t play Thor.

                                Black actors with the chops to play “leads” still often end up with minor roles in ensemble casts. It is the same with women. This is particularly true for the big-budget blow out films. Captain America, white and male. Thor, white and male. Etc.

                                Marvel gives us diversity on Netflix. I’m glad to have it, but there is a difference.

                                #####

                                To pull back the camera, I don’t know what a perfect racial/gender paradise would look like, but I don’t believe in perfectibility anyhow. We have the here and now. We have reality as it currently is. There remains a large imbalance, one that favors whites and str8s and cis people and men. I’d like to see that imbalance lessened.

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                          • — Honestly it would help if you focused your critiques better, cuz your “elliptical” style of presentation seems to confuse the heck out of many of us here.

                            You began by (it seemed) criticizing diversity in comics. But I love the efforts to increase diversity across all of media. I would be very surprised if you felt otherwise. Next you seemed to pivot and say it was only because it was done badly. (I’m summarizing here.) But that runs straight into Sturgeon’s Law. Of course it will be done badly, sometimes, but it will be done well other times. So it goes.

                            Add to this “That’s dumb Jaybird, you’re dumb,” which sounded to me like a persecution thing. It left me wondering if this is less about media and more about your disliking criticism?

                            I don’t like criticism either, but when we called George Lucas a “dream killer” and told him that Jar Jar sucked, was that dystopia? Shall no one ever be criticized?

                            #####

                            I can “boycott” North Carolina, except my sister lives there, and North Carolina is a US state, and I’m a US citizen, thus I cannot travel to see my sister in my own country because legally encoded bigotry.

                            The reality is, of course, they are not enforcing the law. I’m not sure how to feel about that. The point is, as a practical matter I probably could travel to see her. I don’t know. It’s complicated.

                            Last year my employer sent my team on a big-expensive trip to Disney. Had Florida passed such a law, I would have complained, muchly. There is a good chance the trip would have been cancelled and changed to a state where I could travel.

                            My employer has some assets in North Carolina. Will they add more assets, if employees such as myself cannot travel there?

                            What are our values?

                            #####

                            Leisure time is important (a moral statement). I certainly support your freedom to pursue leisure (another moral statement).

                            But actually, I don’t believe in a mind-independent morality. For me these are value statements, which aren’t exactly the same thing —

                            — I guess. I find meta-ethics rather tedious. I suppose I’m a moral nihilist who practices virtue ethics, cuz such a system runs well on my wetware. But it’s all in my brain, not in the world.

                            #####

                            Mass culture matters. The way transgender people are presented matters. For example, if the media paints trans women as perverted men in women’s clothes, and if that is what people see, then some of those people might vote to bar me from using public restrooms. (It’s hard to ignore the reality of this, given the number of state legislatures proposing such laws. On the other hand, there is no reason you need to care.)

                            By contrast, if mass culture provides a sanctimonious “white liberal” version of us — well maybe that helps some. Then “good liberals” can feel good being supportive. Surely I prefer that to outright bigotry.

                            But still. It’s hard to explain what it is like being the “oppressed minority du jour.” I can try to explain. Do you want to understand? It’s subtle and involves dialectic.

                            Setting aside all of that, I am also a media consumer, and gosh I like to see trans women in the media who are a person I would aspire to be. (So far there is Nomi and not much else.)

                            God knows plenty of dudes enjoy “zero to hero” stories of the nerdling who gets the girl. That stuff saturates the media, or at least it did in years past. And indeed, on Netflix now you watch Flash, which shows just such a story.

                            (Honestly I found it pretty mediocre, even allowing for my general impatience with the zero to hero narrative. But all the same, Sturgeon’s Law.)

                            #####

                            When I critique media, I’m looking at the big picture. Is there media for me? Is the media about me honest and fair? Are people like me being used as a shallow punching bag? — which indeed comes back at me as those who view that media encounter “trans issues.” Are people like me treated as (in a sense) “normal,” with all our virtues and flaws in full measure, just as white-cis-men-etc. are presented in the media?

                            On and on, these are real questions. They matter.

                            Furthermore, just as I want cis people to care about me, I think I should care about other minorities. Solidarity. Thus I suppose a general trend toward better diversity.

                            #####

                            “But I don’t wanna think about that! I just want my leisure time!”

                            I mean, I know that privilege conversations can become tedious, but they’re real and they matter.

                            Are you complaining that you’re being forced to read diverse stories? (By whom?) Are you complaining that diverse stories are being produced? Are you complaining about the balance between diverse and non-diverse stories? (What should the balance properly be? Is a mere shift enough to cause concern?) Are you concerned that random people on the Internet might say mean things about white people? (As if people such as myself have not long ago learned to live in a mass culture saturated with negative messages about me.) (See also, white fragility.)

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                            • “[I]t would help if you focused your critiques better, cuz your “elliptical” style of presentation seems to confuse the heck out of many of us here.”

                              This sounds a lot like “you’re making me think too much, stop making me think!”

                              “You began by (it seemed) criticizing diversity in comics.”

                              He began by criticizing tokenism and market-driven diversity, and he expected pushback along the lines of “you’re criticizing comics that have black people because YOUR A FRAGILE WHITE NERD RACIST WHO HATES SEEING BLACK PEOPLE IN COMICS”, and he got what he expected.

                              ” “That’s dumb Jaybird, you’re dumb,” which sounded to me like a persecution thing.”

                              Well you started your post with a restatement of “Jaybird, you’re dumb”, sooooo…

                              “When I critique media, I’m looking at the big picture. Is there media for me? Is the media about me honest and fair? Are people like me being used as a shallow punching bag?”

                              I have spent my entire life seeing me and people like me used as a shallow punching bag in the media. In fact, the most popular comedy on TV right now has a character who’s pretty close to a TV version of me–and that character is presented as a physically-incapable horndog who dresses like a clown, an overgrown boy, an annoying small man with odious personal habits and reprehensible attitudes. And this is not an uncommon portrayal of this sort of person. So, y’know. Obviously I don’t experience the degree of pain that you do, but it’s not as though I don’t look at the media and see everywhere my entire existence presented as a subject for people to goof on.

                              “Are you complaining that you’re being forced to read diverse stories?”

                              Jaybird is complaining that he’s hoping for good stories but getting garbage, and he’s being told that A) garbage is OK so long as it comes in a different color sack, B) only racists think it’s garbage really, and C) if he’s complaining then he’s probably a racist.

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                            • You began by (it seemed) criticizing diversity in comics.

                              Erm, no. I was criticizing crowbars.
                              I was a fan of Milestone comics (some of them, anyway) and am somewhat pleased that DC is bringing them back to some extent.

                              Hardware and Static are diversity in comics.
                              Ironheart is something… something else. Something crowbarred into a story.

                              The point to the questions about what you liked and what you remembered about her origin story was to make a fairly straightforward point:

                              If the only thing you remember about the 15 year old African-American Female replacement to Tony Stark is that she was African-American and 15 years old, then they wrote the character *POORLY*.

                              And, in this case, they wrote the character in such a way that if I described it to someone who was unfamiliar with comic books that they might think that I was mocking SJWs instead of accurately describing the direction that Marvel decided to take.

                              Add to this “That’s dumb Jaybird, you’re dumb,” which sounded to me like a persecution thing. It left me wondering if this is less about media and more about your disliking criticism?

                              It was more of a callback to the original post that started all this. Describe a dystopia in a comic book store.
                              “Description of thing that happened”
                              “That’s not a dystopia! That’s dumb. You’re dumb!” The comment is right up there. You can scroll to it.

                              It was immediately followed by discussions in which I was told that that’s not a dystopia and then started talking about me personally.

                              It’s not that I dislike criticism.
                              It’s that I prefer criticism that comes from something like common ground rather than, say, being upset that I’m treating a matter of morality like it was a mere matter of taste.

                              I don’t like criticism either, but when we called George Lucas a “dream killer” and told him that Jar Jar sucked, was that dystopia? Shall no one ever be criticized?

                              Heaven forfend!

                              But I did think that calling Lucas a racist because Jar-Jar was black went to a weird place to criticize him.

                              I would have preferred if we had stuck to “you’re a dream killer, you suck, you can’t direct, Hayden Christiansen could act in Shattered Glass… what the hell did you do to him to hobble him so badly in Attack of the Clones?” and so on.

                              You know, arguments that focused on the difference between doing things well and doing them poorly rather than on how he was anti-Semitic because Watto was so obviously Jewy.

                              #####

                              North Carolina

                              That totally sucks. I’m torn between the whole “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” issue of how the problem is the moderate who always wants things to change, but always wants them to start changing tomorrow, and more slowly… and, on the other side, how too much change too fast might lead to a cultural backlash manifesting in some absurd way.

                              And it’s so very easy to argue that we need to fight back against the moderates who talk about moderation.

                              Until you forget that, oh yeah. The other thing.

                              What are our values?

                              As far as I can tell, we have different ones.
                              On top of that, we have different meta-values from which our values spring.

                              Personally, I prefer my meta-values to those of others.

                              #####

                              Leisure time is important (a moral statement). I certainly support your freedom to pursue leisure (another moral statement).

                              But actually, I don’t believe in a mind-independent morality. For me these are value statements, which aren’t exactly the same thing —

                              — I guess. I find meta-ethics rather tedious. I suppose I’m a moral nihilist who practices virtue ethics, cuz such a system runs well on my wetware. But it’s all in my brain, not in the world.

                              I find the problem with nihilistic meta-ethics is that they take the steam out of high dudgeon.

                              #####

                              But still. It’s hard to explain what it is like being the “oppressed minority du jour.” I can try to explain. Do you want to understand? It’s subtle and involves dialectic.

                              I think I dig what the issue is. From what I can tell, it has to do with the crowbar I was talking about earlier. If I’m wrong on that, yeah. Please explain it to me. If you think that I might actually be in the ballpark, it’s good.

                              Setting aside all of that, I am also a media consumer, and gosh I like to see trans women in the media who are a person I would aspire to be. (So far there is Nomi and not much else.)

                              I can dig that. I suppose it’s cold comfort to say that the best places to look are in small batch artisinal comic books for that sort of thing. I’m not sure that Marvel or DC is quite up to the task.

                              #####

                              Is there media for me?

                              There is. It’s just not mainstream media. To the extent that that is a problem… then what?

                              #####

                              “But I don’t wanna think about that! I just want my leisure time!”

                              I mean, I know that privilege conversations can become tedious, but they’re real and they matter.

                              Sure. But be careful. You might find yourself arguing that a matter of taste is really a matter of morality. If it turns out that it’s actually a matter of taste, you come across like some sort of crazy evangelical arguing that people shouldn’t watch Ben-Hur because it’s not Biblical *ENOUGH*.

                              A story from my Focus on the Family days: we were going around the circle asking for prayer requests and I happened to mention that my best friend in the whole world was flying in from Cleveland. Someone pointed out to me “Jesus should be your best friend, Jay.”

                              That dynamic pops up all over.

                              “I’m really enjoying this ensemble comic book!”
                              “Is it sufficiently diverse?”

                              Are you complaining that you’re being forced to read diverse stories?

                              Nope.

                              Are you complaining that diverse stories are being produced?

                              Nope.

                              Are you complaining about the balance between diverse and non-diverse stories?

                              Nope.

                              I’m complaining about “diversity” that amounts to crowbarring adjectives onto a character. Telling rather than showing, if you will.

                              I’m down with Milestone. I’m down with Miles Morales.
                              If you haven’t read Hardware, Static, or the new Spider-Man books, you might be tempted to not be able to tell the difference between them and Riri Williams.

                              I mean, hey. They look alike, right?

                              The only reason someone might object is because of white fragility.

                              I mean, if you haven’t read them.

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                              • , in other words, it’s OK for there to dozens of bland straight white male characters, but every non-straight white male character must be special.

                                If you say Riri Williams shouldn’t exist, then what about the dozens of bland white guys in comic books? Why aren’t there dozens of articles from white dudes about how terrible it is that random character x isn’t good enough for white dudes?

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                                • Jesse,
                                  People wrote tons of articles like that. Mostly about superman being a fucking asshole to his friends. Or about Tony Stark figuring children could work off a lifedebt by getting a job.

                                  It’s easy to have a character with a stupid quirk. Hell, isn’t that Hulk in a Nutshell? Good guy, smart. Anger ISSUES.

                                  But, it’s almost even easier to say, “He’s black!” And that’s new and shiny and we can forget that he’s supposed to have some characterization other than that.

                                  This is worse when you have multi-character comics, because characterization tends to suffer the more characters you’ve got.

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                                • …in other words, it’s OK for there to dozens of bland straight white male characters, but every non-straight white male character must be special.

                                  Exactly this. seems to be suggesting that there is some direct line between choosing to represent minorities and bad art. And while certainly he can find examples of ham-fisted creative decisions, can he really say there are no such decisions made in general?

                                  In other words, he notices Sturgeon’s Law when black people arrive, but seems oblivious to the steady stream mediocre white dudes creating mediocre pablum for other white dudes — inasmuch as there are decades of terrible comics without a queer trans woman of color anywhere to be found.

                                  Regarding “is Marvel up to the task” — they did fucking great in their Netflix series. Can they do it with pen and ink? I don’t know. I hope they continue to try.

                                  Hint: hire minority writers.

                                  In any case, he seemed to sidestep the argument about representation in mass culture. Which is to say, sure, niche markets are nice. I’ve spent most of my life in niche markets. That said, I felt something very enjoyable when Hunger Games suddenly became a break-out hit, inasmuch as it was the first time something I really liked (at least the first book) became a mass culture “thing.”

                                  I guess the “received wisdom” was that young women would read stories about boys, but young men would not read stories about girls. Hunger Games turned that on its head. Yay!

                                  Anyway, it’s more than that. It is this: most people don’t really know many trans folks. A fair segment of white America probably doesn’t know many black people. If all they see of trans folks is “dead hooker #3” on Law and Order or (good grief) Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs — can I just say those aren’t particularly deep presentations of our reality.

                                  (Although sadly “dead hooker #3” isn’t unrealistic, just very limiting.)

                                  The point is, Nomi from Sense 8 rings true. She’s really-real. We’re really like that, many of us.

                                  I know people much like her. I’m a bit like her. (Minus the psychic powers, of course. But we can dream.)

                                  The writing in that show isn’t great. It’s kinda heavy handed. But still, it’s something.

                                  Or else, consider a show like True Blood, one that is watched by many people. It’s not a great show, but it’s entertaining enough. It has a character such as Lafayette, and dammit a likable queer-femme black man is a big deal, not just for we queers who can watch and relate to him, but for all the str8 folks who can watch and maybe themselves relate to him a little bit. This is empathy expansion. It is perspective. It is humanizing.

                                  talks endlessly about empathy, but how else do people learn about each other?

                                  #####

                                  Every so often I’m strolling through Manhattan (or wherever) and I’ll see some obviously-tourist family just gawking at me. It’s like, look Becky! a real New York transsexual.

                                  They don’t actually say that, but it comes through in their expressions, and the hushed whispers.

                                  Of course, I’m a tourist too, not that they can tell. (I assume real New Yorkers can tell.) But still, it’s like I’m a fucking zoo animal.

                                  What do they know about my life? Can they even imagine that I’m a lesbian? (This fact shocks many gay men, who know little of trans culture and thus confuse it with drag culture.) Would they think it likely I work in software, instead of sex work or hairdressing or whatever TV tells them I do? What assumptions do they make? Why?

                                  Every so often I’ll have a chance to talk to someone like that, where I’m literally the first trans person they’ve met. Sure, that helps. I try to relate to them. Usually it’s quite nice. But I’m one girl. It’s a big country out there.

                                  Most people watch TV. One show can reach millions.

                                  #####

                                  The fact is, cis people are fascinated by us. Thus I expect we’ll keep showing up in media — but can we do better than what has been done so far, so much unrealistic, dehumanizing crap?

                                  Of course they can humanize us. They can give us “spotlight episodes.” They could even (gasp!) make us the hero!

                                  But how? Hint: hire trans writers.

                                  After all, I’ve watched and been entertained by 348309840239849023093 shows featuring white-cis-str8 dudes. If there is symmetry, then those dudes can enjoy a show featuring someone like me.

                                  They can do that, right?

                                  I liked Luke Cage (the show). I’m not a black man.

                                  Empathy is possible.

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                                  • People: “There should be more nonwhite characters in comics!”

                                    Jaybird: “And it would be cool if they weren’t just white characters painted black.”

                                    People: “OMG U RACIST. WHAT IS WRONG WITH NONWHITE CHARACTERS IN COMICS?”

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                                  • Jaybird seems to be suggesting that there is some direct line between choosing to represent minorities and bad art.

                                    He is?!?

                                    And while certainly he can find examples of ham-fisted creative decisions, can he really say there are no such decisions made in general?

                                    Wow, this Jaybird sounds like a real jerk! He probably needs a hug!

                                    In other words, he notices Sturgeon’s Law when black people arrive, but seems oblivious to the steady stream mediocre white dudes creating mediocre pablum for other white dudes — inasmuch as there are decades of terrible comics without a queer trans woman of color anywhere to be found.

                                    And the mediocre pablum sold, or it didn’t sell, and it got cancelled, and it got rebooted, and it was nothing more than mediocre pablum for white dudes.

                                    It wasn’t “important” or “meaningful” or “a significant cultural milestone”.

                                    It was low-culture entertainment.

                                    It’s when Riri Williams shows up that, suddenly, the medium becomes important, meaningful, and an important cultural milestone and… well, at the end of the day, it’s just another piece of mediocre pablum.

                                    “HEY! THIS GUY IS SAYING RIRI IS MEDIOCRE PABLUM!!!! HE MUST BE RACIST!!!!”

                                    Regarding “is Marvel up to the task” — they did fucking great in their Netflix series. Can they do it with pen and ink? I don’t know. I hope they continue to try.

                                    You know what the best signal you can send them is, right?
                                    Have you been sending it?

                                    Hint: hire minority writers.

                                    And after they do this, you know what *YOU* need to do? It’s exceptionally straightforward.

                                    In any case, he seemed to sidestep the argument about representation in mass culture.

                                    Well, it’s more that I don’t see the argument about representation in mass culture as trumping the argument of it being a matter of taste.

                                    The point is, Nomi from Sense 8 rings true. She’s really-real. We’re really like that, many of us.

                                    Good! That’s *GREAT*.

                                    Wait, I thought we were talking about Riri.

                                    Jaybird talks endlessly about empathy, but how else do people learn about each other?

                                    Wow. This went some weird places.

                                    When I was a kid, one of the things my parents went out of their way to do was to make sure that almost all of my entertainments were Christian (Saturday Morning cartoons were a wonderful refuge). Christian comic books, Christian movies, Christian rock and roll…

                                    When it comes to the importance of having Moral Art, let me tell you: I’ve been there. I’ve done that.
                                    I bought the t-shirt.
                                    It had an ichthys on it.

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                                  • So, there’s at least one place out there that is cheerily letting anything goes get published (Amazon). How many minority writers do we have there?

                                    We can play the game of “you aren’t hiring us!!”, but I damn well want you to bring your facts to the fucking table.

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                                • in other words, it’s OK for there to dozens of bland straight white male characters, but every non-straight white male character must be special.

                                  If you’re thinking that I’m making a moral argument (“must”), then you’re making a mistake.

                                  I’m not making a moral argument. Marvel can, indeed, do whatever they want. But if they were hoping to make a character that was half as memorable as Miles Morales, they almost succeeded.

                                  If you say Riri Williams shouldn’t exist, then what about the dozens of bland white guys in comic books?

                                  “If they wanted to accomplish (X), it sure seems like they failed” is not a moral argument.

                                  I mean, you’re not even using aesthetic arguments against me. “Look, I read the book and I *LOVED* her monologue. I loved the scene in which she gave her new tagline! She kicked ass and they really did a good job in her first fight against (antagonist) and they played up how (antagonist) thought they were fighting Tony Stark and that’s why Riri was able to win but then they flipped it around and set up the future with the (antagonist) not going to make that same mistake next time, Riri knowing that she got lucky rather than was good, and there’s a lot of dramatic tension and I can’t want to read the next one!”

                                  Instead you’re arguing some position as if I’m arguing that Riri should never have been created.

                                  No. I’m arguing that I’m noticing that everybody is talking about how they like the idea of Riri and nobody is talking about how they like Riri.

                                  And when I point out “Riri is kinda bland” the counter-argument is against whether I approve of the *IDEA* of Riri rather than her actuality.

                                  I mean, normally I’m the guy jumping from Object level to Meta level but here we are.

                                  Why aren’t there dozens of articles from white dudes about how terrible it is that random character x isn’t good enough for white dudes?

                                  Well, in the past, when (character) wasn’t good enough for white dudes, they merely canceled the book. You know, as a business decision. No fanfare. “Huh, this character isn’t moving product. Mothball it. Maybe we can do a gritty reboot next time there’s room for that.”

                                  No moral arguments required.

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    • I quite like your cheeky flip of the script. Sadly, the world you crafted is much closer to the immediate reality facing most college students these days.

      But that is another story.

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      • Talk to those students and they’ll tell you “This isn’t a dystopia. You know what was a dystopia? Being forced to go to college and be gavage-fed Dead White Males and being forced to able to repeat their thought-processes in order to get a halfway decent dead-end job moving numbers around for a giant corporation.”

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  5. – “Quick: Have you read it? What did you think of her origin story? What did you think of her first antagonists? What did you think of her conversation with Tony Stark?

    What do you remember from the story?”

    Non-straight white males have the right to cardboard run of the mill superheroes as well.

    I mean, if we put every single comic book from Marvel to the same test you just did, 90% of comics wouldn’t exist. Yet, it’s perfectly OK for 90% of stories involving straight white dudes to be bland and rote. But suddenly, all comic book fans, who dutifully but all those bland and rote stories are suddenly worried about the quality when it comes to any story involving a minority character.

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    • Sure. But if you didn’t buy the title (hell, if you didn’t even freakin’ *READ* the title), you are going to find yourself in a dystopia where corporations start making products for their customers.

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    • Exactly this. is completely entitled to hate the book. Gosh, I sure hated the Star Wars prequels. But whatever. I didn’t try to make it a social justice issue. I wasn’t “wronged.” It was not a “dystopia.” It was just some crappy movies that did not live up to the originals.

      The more recent Star Wars movies have been pretty okay. They haven’t been great-great-great, not in the way that Jessica Jones or Max Max were great. But that’s okay. Genius is hard to mass produce. You cannot catch the lightning in a bottle. To get the great stuff, there will need to be a steady stream of meh and gah!

      And yes, having female protagonists is a big deal to me.

      Diversity is important. But Sturgeon’s Law will certain apply to diverse titles the same as non-diverse titles. Likewise I’d like to see more minority creators, because indeed we have insights into our own lives that str8-white-cis-male-etc. (or some subset) people do not. That said, I’m not quite prepared to say that str8-white-cis-male-etc. (or some subset) creators should not attempt to create minority characters. That would be too limiting. That said, they should realize that doing so has a different dynamic. For example, there is simply no way a cis writer would produce Nevada. But so what? They can still write effective trans characters. Just, avoid fucking cliches. Don’t “queer code.” Pay attention to the cultural critique. Try to be part of the conversation.

      When speaking of comic book properties, I’m really going to be more familiar with the films and TV shows. Myself, I love what Marvel has been doing with its Netflix series, particularly Jessica Jones and Luke Cage. They’re really trying to push the envelope, and in both cases did a damn fine job.

      Good god I was glad to avoid another angry, violent edgelord guy, who uses the death of his family (or whatever) to justify his violent rage (grrrrr!). Likewise, I was glad to avoid another sadsack nerdling who gets the girl.

      Those are fine stories, I suppose, but I’ve seen them, again and again and again and again and again and again until the banality hits some level of peak banality that cannot be described.

      That said, I’ll probably watch the next Spider Man. It looks fun. I bet things will blow up.

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  6. Jeez, I’m sorry Roland. I know that intentions and 4 bucks will get you two cans of Monster from the 7-11 but I didn’t intend for your post comments to turn into the Jaybird show.

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