I hadn’t been planning on watching The Flash, because, well, I’m a little tired of superhero TV shows. Agents of SHIELD just hasn’t floated my boat this season, and Gotham has been getting such mixed reviews we haven’t even started it, so even though The Flash is one of my great childhood heroes, I didn’t start it.
No. That’s wrong.
Because The Flash is one of my great childhood heroes, I didn’t start it. I’m attached to The Flash. If they got him wrong, it’d just make me sad that this grim-and-gritty misfire was the face of one of my favorite superheroes. So I tuned out.
Until my friend Guthrie emailed me to say, “Please tell me you’re enjoying The Flash as much as I am.” I trust Guthrie. He’s a Green Lantern guy, I’m a Flash fan, so we obviously have our differences, but the Flash and Green Lantern can still team up to be buddies.
And I was all like, Well, if Guthrie loves it, I’ll give it a shot.
So we sat down last night and I fell in love.
It’s rare that any show nails what I consider to be the heart of a comic book character, because any long-running comic book character has many hearts. Like when I saw The Dark Knight with my friend Dana. I thought it was a brilliant interpretation, but Dana’s Batman-heart was “The World’s Greatest Detective,” a dude who relied more on intellect than raw might, and yeah, that Batman wasn’t there. Likewise, for many Batman is an avenging devil, as portrayed by Frank Miller, this gritty guy who’s just a hair better than his enemies – a valid interpretation, but not how I view it. Or Batman’s the goofy 1960s Adam West version, all clean-cut and surrounded by art deco.
They’re all valid. Some interpretations are more popular than others, but each of those Batmen are a Batman that someone grew up and idolized.
There’s no right and wrong here, but there is disappointment if someone emphasizes the wrong character traits.
But no! This Flash is heroic. He is a literal do-gooder – a little naive, but who would risk his life for others like this if he weren’t? He is incredibly smart, but he needs his friends in a way that other superheroes don’t. He is likeable, wisecracking, the kind of superhero you’d want to have a beer with.
My favorite scene in the entire DCU hands-down is where Wally West has the opportunity to beat up a supervillain at the bar, and instead he quietly asks if that villain has been taking his medications, and the villain admits shamefully that he hasn’t, and Wally gets him into treatment. That’s this Flash. He cares. He fights because there aren’t better options, but he’ll cheerfully try to talk if he can.
Now, this Flash is a little heavy on Daddy issues, but I suppose they gotta give him something to work past. We’re only three episodes in. I’ll live with that.
But the action sequences are spiffy and the dialogue is relatively good and I love the simple, bold way they humanize people. There’s not a lot of subtlety in this, but I don’t want deep characterization in my Flash media. I want big damn heroes, and I am hooked.
So if you’ve been paying attention to Gamergate, it’s been death threats a-plenty for the women in the gaming industry. But don’t worry, women! Men are getting death threats, too!
Yesterday, the developer of a game death-threatened Gabe Newell, the founder of the Steam game delivery platform, after the game was released marked as “Early Access” instead as a finalized game. Steam found out about the Tweets, terminated his account, and the game he’s worked on for a year has currently sold only 12 copies.
And I think this is an example of Guy Culture at work. Where when a guy gets mad, it’s seen very much as “boys will be boys” and he can scream at whoever he wants because heck, we all know he doesn’t mean it. You see that kind of repellent work in Scorcese movies – the guy-heaviest of guy films – where men routinely humiliate other men. (I’m thinking in particular of The Wolf of Wall Street, wherein the salesmen were routinely abused by the charming and competent leads, and the salesmen loved it because these men were rich and smart and hey, you just expect a little creative abuse, amiright?)
So you have these hothouse cultures where competency matters for everything, and tact matters for nothing – well, actually a lack of tact is frequently seen as proof of competency, because who could possibly dress down someone that harshly unless they were really certain? So you wind up with an atmosphere where intellectual issues are hashed out in screaming matches, and incompetency is met with streams of over-the-top swearing.
What we’re starting to see is that clash of cultures – where programmer dudebros, conditioned by years of condoned hothouse-flower environments where losing your shit is just Part Of The Process, are running into other cultures where threatening to cut someone’s balls off is seen as the cheap intimidation tactic it is.
And what you’ve got is this weird mess. Because afterwards, you’re going to get some weird mix of “Okay, I probably shouldn’t have done that” followed by “But he should know I wasn’t really going to kill him!” Yet what you never get to is the truth of “I wasn’t actually going to kill him, but I just wanted to express all my murderous rage without any filters, because a lot of the time threatening people actually works for me.”
We have this idea that women are the crazy emotional ones in this society, led around by their soft estrogen-producing wombs, just crying at the drop of a hat. And frankly, I’d prefer we didn’t stereotype any gender with the label of “They’re the ones who can’t control themselves,” because frankly I think any sort of lack of control comes down to culture and mental health, not gender.
But what we’ve seen lately are a lot of men who are used to getting their way, and they lose their shit if anything goes wrong. That’s a culture that’s trained them to be that way. And so you have a bunch of very machismo men who have translated their bad-boy private outbursts into embarrassing online outbursts, and it does not go over nearly as well online.
They will see this as proof that Men Can’t Be Men! Whereas I – a man – see that as proof that Some Men Can’t Be Men. They can only be modified toddlers, screaming the worst things they can think of whenever they don’t get their way. Worse, there’s whole cultures where that behavior is rewarded, and encouraged, and respected – and seen, internally, as the only real place where smart men can thrive, these constant Darwinistic showdowns where tearing each other apart is the only true way to find optimal solutions.
Nah. There are other ways of doing things that get you results just as good. But you don’t get the catharsis of yelling at people.
Maybe it’s time you admitted you value the catharsis over actual results.
I had an essay geared up in my head for tomorrow’s posting on doxxing, and why I have weirdly mixed feelings about revealing someone’s name (not their address or other identifying details) because while in theory, anonymity is used to shield the weak from the predations of the strong, in practice anonymity too often allows people to exist as harmful assholes without any drawbacks.
Then Robert J. Bennett went and wrote everything I was going to say, except, like a thousand times better.
So read what he had to say. He’s a smart dude.
On Saturday, the Internet lit up with a horrifically embarrassing story: Kathleen Hale confronting her online critic.
I cannot recall reading an article as painfully embarrassing as this. An author confronts her critic. Ow. Ow. Ow. http://t.co/UdzBYquIxy
— Ferrett Steinmetz (@ferretthimself) October 18, 2014
I would advise you to read this article in full before continuing, because it’s probably going to be the most interesting thing you’ve read all week.
But interestingly, a lot of people seemed to miss both sides of this.
Many didn’t see Kathleen Hale as an obsessive stalker, which she clearly was – she tracked her reviewer back to her house, for God’s sake, and still just wants to talk to her. This is deranged behavior of the worst sort – I don’t think Kathleen would hurt her critic, but boy howdy is this beyond the pale. (Plus, “Catfishing” is incorrectly used – catfishing is when you lure someone into a romantic relationship under false Internet pretenses, and her critic was merely using a pseudonym. Kathleen is attempting to misuse the term to imply that hey, I had a relationship with my bad reviewer! But she didn’t. She really didn’t.)
But those who condemned Kathleen roundly also missed the fact that her critic (at least as presented here) was kinda dickish, a bully of the tawdry sort you find everywhere on the Internet – the sort of person who rallies folks to her cause, derails arguments, and has no problems trying to insult her detractors into silence by repeatedly mocking them.
I’m all in favor of bad reviews. If you don’t like something, say so. Anyone who’s watched me deal with my comments threads will tell you that I’m generally pretty tolerant of people going, “Jesus, Ferrett, that was awful and stupid and you shouldn’t have written it.” Authors are notoriously thin-skinned when it comes to bad reviews, which is patently stupid, because shit, man, Shakespeare isn’t universally loved and you won’t be.
Be grateful for most bad reviews, painful as they are. They serve a purpose. They tell people what to expect, so they don’t buy your book and hate it personally. If you can’t deal with the fact that some people won’t like your book, don’t publish. Authors are far too willing to call someone with a consistent dislike of their output a “bully.”
That doesn’t mean there aren’t bullies out there, though.
Because there does come a point where a bad review steps beyond the boundaries of bad reviews and into power plays. Kathleen’s portrait of the heckler as someone who wants to have their own show is correct, and some very small but very damaging subset of reviewers have found that bashing creators in entertaining, malicious, and personal ways is a great way to attract attention without really having to show that they can do better.
The instructions we give to authors – and they are good ones – is DO NOT ENGAGE, which is why you’ll notice Kathleen Hale blitzing past Goodreads and her very wise friend and, well, everybody saying to not engage. But that’s not because there’s some sort of moral imperative involved here. That’s because, if you are an author, there is no good way to interact with a negative review and not come out looking bad, even if the reviewer is a catastrophic jerk.
That’s why this is all really pitiful. Kathleen is insecure, and unwise, and ultimately unhinged. But in a better world, we wouldn’t have critics like Kathleen describes – I’m not necessarily sure whether Kathleen’s portrait of her critic is accurate, given her lack of self-reflection here, but I do know of many authors who’ve endured vitriolic personal attacks as part of the show. There are certainly critics who are like that. (Also and people who go, “Well, you wrote a book, you deserve whatever nasty feedback you get! That’s the price for seeking fame!”)
To me, man, authors shouldn’t go so nuts as to show up on their critics’ doorsteps, and reviewers shouldn’t go so nuts as to think of an author as their White Whale, relentlessly pursuing them for sins both real and imagined, making it a personal crusade to pillory anyone who enjoyed what they didn’t.
These are just books, man. Nothing’s that important. And it’s sad all around, watching critics and authors drown in these thimble-sized seas of ego. That’s all.
Cherie Priest’s Maplecroft: The Borden Dispatches
Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When Cherie saw what Liz had done
A Cthulhu mashup tale she spun
You may remember Lizzie Borden from the jumprope rhymes of your youth, but as with most things you heard on the playground, things weren’t that simple. Turns out that the trial had some evidence that Lizzie might, in fact, have been innocent – certainly her doctor thought she was.
So naturally, you’d think, “Well, clearly Lizzie chopped up her father and stepmother because they were turning into sea monsters, right?”
Well, you would if you were Cherie Priest.
In the Borden Dispatches, Lizzie Borden is a steampunk scientist and monster-hunter, chopping up hideous creatures with her axe. Her sister, more classically trained, helps. And their doctor suspects things are going on in the town of Fall River. Events draw them together, and Bad Shit happens.
The fascinating thing about this book is that it is simultaneously predictable and compelling, which is one of the hardest tricks to pull off. This is one of those horror books where the first time you think “Uh-oh,” well, yeah, that’s going to turn out exactly as bad as you think it’ll be. Pretty much every suspicion you have gets borne out. And yet the characterization is so wonderful that you keep reading, mainly because Lizzie and her shut-in, sick sister are furiously sympathetic characters – trying their best to help their town, loyal to a populace that thinks they’re murderers, brave and bold in all the best ways. It helps that everyone’s smart, acting in their best interests, even as those interests might be skewed by the call of the Old Ones.
Every chapter is a letter to someone, or a diary entry, each from a different character – and each character has their own distinct voice. I usually get irritated by missive books because I get confused as to whose viewpoint we’re in, but Cherie cues us in with style.
The biggest problem with the book, sadly, is that the ending left me hanging for a sequel. Which I don’t have a problem with per se, as this is a two-book series, but the ending is a little anticlimactic and it makes me vexed that I now have to wait some time to find out what’s happening with Lizzie and her sister and the sea monsters. Still, if I think of it as a series and not a standalone book, I can tolerate a little hang-time for something as entertainingly murderous as this.
Zombie Baseball Beatdown, by Paolo Bacigalupi
I picked this up as a quick-read, a sort of amuse bouche between heftier courses, and stumbled into a happily goddamned deep book for kids.
The plot of this book is inherently silly: the meat-packing plant accidentally creates cow zombies (and eventually people zombies) in an effort to save cash, and only the local little league baseball team can stop them. So, you know, not expecting much aside from gloriously stupid zombie shenanigans.
But this is actually a surprisingly deep look at race and corporate greed in America. One of the character’s families is made up of the illegal immigrants who work at the meat-packing plant, though he was born here, and so there’s some great character-rooted looks at what happens when you work illegally. And the meat-packing plant itself isn’t cartoonish – Paolo actually uses the lawyer’s tactics that actual meat-packing plants use to cover up outbreaks of e. coli.
I thought the focus would be on zombies, or even baseball, but what I got was a happily cogent window for kids into just how realistically shitty corporations can be. Not that there’s not a lot of beating the crap out of zombies with baseball bats, because there is, but there’s an *ahem* meaty tale wrapped inside this candy-happy cover. Seriously recommended. (Thanks to Netmouse for recommending it.)
D&D Players Guide, Fifth Edition
I, like many players, did not like the way D&D Fourth Edition got D&D back to its roots, because D&D’s roots kinda suck. D&D 4E removed most of the roleplaying, and yoinked us all the way back to wargaming, where there was much emphasis on character placement and grids.
The problem is, in 1970, we didn’t have ready access to computers. Now we do. So basically, what they wound up making despite their best intentions was a slower, clunkier videogame. It didn’t go over well in the long run.
D&D 5E is attempting to bring that happy blush of roleplaying out again by having, you know, spells that don’t affect combat. And they’ve gone balls-to-the-wall on this one; this is by far the most evocative D&D players’ guide yet, with gorgeous illustrations and lots of emphasis on what kind of character you’re going to play. Not what class; character. Because there’s an extensive section comparing two fighters with similar stats, except one is a cold, withdrawn assassin and the other is a family-loving freedom fighter. And each section is introduced by an excerpt from one of the many D&D novelizations to show you what an elf/dwarf/tiefling looks like in the wild, a slam-dunk bit of cross-marketing that’s so effective I don’t know why anyone didn’t think of it before.
And there’s some nice touches. I like the new advantage/disadvantage system, where if you have an advantage you roll two d20s and take the better roll, and if you’re at a disadvantage you take the lesser roll. I like that multi-classing is back. I like that feats seem to allow for a bit more character customization this time around. I like that you’re heavily encouraged to ask “Why are these people hanging around together, killing monsters?” and to create reasons for that.
And yet for all of that… I’m just not that excited about running a campaign. Or playing. There was a time when I fetishized each D&D release, reading every spell, thinking, “Oh, that’s how I could build a cleric.” But I’ve played too many clerics in my time, and fighters, and wizards, and so I skimmed a good half of this book as I went, “Okay, big list of character stuff, sure, sure.”
What would excite me, probably, would be an interesting world for me to play in – something a little less time worn than Greyhawk and Waterdeep and all the old standbys – but that’s always been D&D’s strength. It doesn’t have a setting. You can bolt one on if you want, but the joy of D&D is that kids all over can just say, “Okay, you meet at the inn, you’re in a dungeon” and get down to what they wanted – namely, kicking a dragon’s ass.
It’s power play. And I’m a little beyond that right now, and after thirty years of imagining the power of fireball spells, that fantasy is a little threadbare for me. So it works for what it’s supposed to do, but I’m no longer the target audience.
That’s fine. It’s like Doctor Who these days. It’s appealing to somebody, just not me.
If I refuse to argue with you, that doesn’t mean you’ve won the argument. It means I’m not choosing to engage with you personally at the moment.
There is a difference.
The Internet is the refuge for people with too goddamned much time on their hands, and in general that’s glorious. Do I have time to create, say, a full-on Transformers costume that lets you actually transform? Or spend time mastering the art of making Walking Dead pancakes? Hell no. But I get to turn on Twitter every morning and watch a stream of awesomely unproductive people work their magic for me.
But for every dude/ette who’s spending hours relentlessly filming ping-pong balls, there’s someone who’s devoted their full time to arguing with people. And they have packed themselves full of facts. Or things that look like facts, anyway. They’re certainly taken from web pages on the Internet.
And here’s the thing: they all want to interface with you directly.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve had this argument somewhere else on the Internet, or even have a separate thread on this very blog entry where you’re refuting their points, they just got here and by God they won’t be happy until you personally have debated with them extensively. And so if you’re not careful, if a blog post gets even a moderate bit of Internet attention, you’ll wind up having the same conversation with a hundred different newcomers, each certain that they will be the sole person who changes your mind on this topic, each much like a cut-and-copy of the ninety-nine other people who’ve come before them.
Worse, this is their version of “too goddamned much time on their hands,” and so they have many facts. Why is it so hard to debate evolution and make it convincing to laymen? Because the anti-evolution people have entire encyclopedias worth of factually wrong content that sound convincing until you dig deeper, these scientific “studies” couched in tech-talk, and refuting them isn’t that hard but boy does it take time looking up each link and finding the counter-argument and summarizing it and posting it.
99% of what the creationists are spouting is bullshit, whereas 99% of the evolutionary arguments are factual hypotheses. But again, when you take someone who considers it their full-time job to push this view forward, and they aren’t particularly scrupulous about where they get their data, then eventually refuting them point-by-point becomes like stamping out cockroaches.
Or worse yet, they have actually good data, but you feel their interpretation is skewed, and now you have to read the studies and discuss what you think that really means.
And keep in mind, I believe in interfacing with these people, if you’ve got the energy for it. Yes, ninety-nine out of a hundred of them are intransigent, and are merely here to spout whatever extensive talking points they’ve scraped up – but if even one out of a hundred is reachable, then converting that extra 1% is the sort of math that changes elections.
Yet my point remains: if you’re a blogger of any significant size, you could spend all the rest of your days arguing with replies on the Internet. And to quote Mitchell and Webb, “The football will never stop! The football is officially going on forever! It will never be finally decided who has won The Football!”
At some point, you have to say, “I might be able to convince this person of the error of their ways, but I have a lover and work and and a fun game to play and other more interesting blog posts to write.”
And you leave.
That decision does not mean that the other person has won the debate. It means that you refuse to engage, because you have other priorities that individually convincing each person who shows up in your life of the correctness of your decision.
This is the Internet. There are people with infinite time on their hands, people who will spend an entire week doing nothing but rabidly posting rebuttals. But “infinite spare time” is not the same as “good logic” or “well-sourced credentials” or, in fact, any of the things that make for a compelling argument. There are plenty of writers with infinite spare time, endlessly churning out stories, who never get good at writing fiction, because they’re just writing the same story over and over again and never listening to feedback.
“Spare time” is not the defining factor of anything: “quality of effort” is.
And when you go, “Ha! They weren’t willing to engage me, so they lost!” what you are actually saying is, “The person who has the most time to waste discussing things will inevitably be the victor.” In which case I’ll just hook you up against an Elizabot, who never tires of arguing Gamergate, and tell you she’s the winner.
“But that bot is stupid!” you cry. “She always says the same thing! There’s no chance of changing her mind!”
Just got the notification that my Soylent is on its way. So we’ll be drinking goop for a week any day now.
You’re in for a treat.