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Ren and Stimpy and Mustard

This weekend my family and I spent some quality time at a local comic convention. It was very small – only about four rows of vendors in what was basically an auditorium – even so, among the overpriced tchotchkes and long boxes of half price graphic novels and Silver Age comics, they were able to attract the likes of Steve Niles and Darrick Robertson, who are two of my favorite comic creators. They had plenty of adoring fans crowding around at various times to get their attention, myself included, and they were gracious with the fans, as were all the artists and writers in the hall from what I could see. It wasn’t crowded, but there was a steady stream of geeks filing through, which means that this will definitely be back next year.

During our wandering, though, I was reminded of a post involving the dearth of comic fandom at cons (whether you or I agree or disagree with that post is irrelevant to this one. It just crossed my mind, and you’ll see why in a second.). Now, I don’t think it’s as dire as all that – there’s still plenty of comics fans, and considering some of the current content, comics themselves are being seen less and less as a child’s medium and more of a multi-generational thing. It’s certainly less embarrassing these days to be seen reading or talking about comics than in the past. In America. that’s been a long time coming. But what made me think of that essay was not the size of the con or the fans swarming the artists.

Down at the end of the artist’s alley was none other than John Kricfalusi. His Ren and Stimpy cartoons were a watershed moment in animation for kids, with it’s graphic violence and surreal story-lines and just all around grotesque characters foreshadowing current bizarre offerings such as Uncle Grandpa, Regular Show and The Amazing World of Gumball. I’m sure Family Guy and South Park could probably owe more than a passing nod as well. Yes, I’m aware of John K. being fired from his own show, and that may have something to do with why he’s not currently more well-known, even if he is steadily working. Even so, it was quite a coup for a tiny show charging a whole $7 a head (13 and under free). It’s not cheap to display at these shows – even if the show itself doesn’t cost much per table, there still the time you have to spend getting there, setting up, tearing down, transporting your goods … it’s a whole thing.

So, there I am with my family, trying to find some way of telling John K. that Ren And Stimpy was a great time of my life, while not insulting him that we weren’t buying a poster (because, frankly, it would’ve gotten ruined and we have no place to put it – and it was $20), he finishes up the small piece of art he’s been working on, and the fan comes back to pick it up. It was a sketch of Ren and Stimpy with a tan wiener dog. It was cute, sure, and I understand getting sketches from your favorite artists is one of the cool things about interacting with them at cons – I have my own book of favorite artist sketches that is quite awesome. That said, I felt it was rather beneath someone like john K. to do a sketch of someone’s dog, like he’s some kind of street caricaturist. The worst part was when he asked who she wanted him to sign it to, she gave him the dog’s name, Col Mustard!

At that point I just felt embarrassed for Mr. K and kind-of sad, and I had to walk away. I asked my wife what she thought and she agreed – this sort of thing seemed wrong, somehow. It’s like if someone asked Maya Angelou to write a poem to their cat, or David Mamet to write a short play about feeding your birds. Perhaps John felt different about it, and if he’s cool with drawing pictures of people’s dogs then great, but there was just something disrespectful about the whole thing.

And that’s what made me think of the post about how comics creators are having trouble meeting expenses at these shows. (No, I don’t think it’s because of cosplayers.) There’s a point where kids and young adults now haven’t had to wait for things, and so the value of those things is somewhat lessened, I think. Not that they don’t enjoy the things they enjoy, but they all start to seem more disposable and replaceable, so there’s little respect owed them. I know even I feel this on occasion, when I watch something on Netflix or read a book on my Nook – it just feels less “real”, and less important. Even when I watch shows OnDemand or get collections of comics, there’s a feeling of being slightly removed from the experience of other viewers/readers who were engaged at a completely different level by having to wait for the next installment. (Strangely, I’ve never felt this way about films I watch on DVD/Netflix. But that’s probably because I’ve been watching films at home forever. I wonder if that would have been different if I’d been older when the VCR first came out.)

To be clear, I’m no technophobe – I embrace technology. I would completely plug my mind into a computer and I’d love to live forever as data, as long as I could go to the movies every once in a while. I truly enjoy having access to the million hours of media I have at my fingertips when I go on Netflix or Hulu or  YouTube. But there’s a huge difference between having to wait for the next episode of your favorite show and just binge-watching it online. I don’t know if it’s better, per se, but at least back then I feel we were more engaged. And we’d never have asked our favorite cartoonists to do drawings of our dogs.

A couple of orthogonal thoughts about Robin Williams’ suicide

I read a post a couple of days ago saying that such is fame that terrible deaths are happening all over the globe, and yet the Internet mourns Robin Williams. I think that’s largely to do with the fact that those deaths, as terrible as they are, really aren’t people we know or even think we know. They are more of an abstraction: it’s hard to grasp 5000 dead or 15,000 stranded on a mountain, etc. Those numbers get very impersonal, and even though we are empathetic, there’s a limit to how much emotion – other than outrage – we can really show. It doesn’t mean those deaths are not as important as a famous persons’, it just means it’s harder for us to grasp and properly mourn or react to. They are complicated deaths with complicated circumstances that leave us with complicated feelings.

Conversely, when a single person we grew up with, who touched our lives in some way if for no other reason than they made us smile when we didn’t feel like it, or told us something important about ourselves that we hadn’t thought of before – this death isn’t some complicated abstract idea that happens on the other side of the world to people we’ll never really know much more about than their nationality or religious affiliation. This death is specific, easily understandable, and feels like the loss of a member of our extended family – that cousin they always tell stories about at Thanksgiving, for instance.

So, while the post above wasn’t judging the fact that we seem to care more about one death than the other, I really think that isn’t the case. I think it’s that, any reaction other than hoping for the widespread death of thousands to stop seems a bit insincere, since we don’t know any of the people who died and they didn’t really touch us with their lives. But we know how to react to the other death, because that one feels personal and seems preventable.

The second thought is about other people we know with this sort of disease. I know many of us have been struck with some level of depression, whether it’s brought on by some other problem, like ADD or pregnancy hormones, or many times the depression itself is the problem. And any of us who are here right now have pulled through that depression and made it out the other side, or are still going through it but have not yet reached that final pit where the walls seem made of slick black obsidian and the light is so very very far away – and seeing someone as famous as Mr. Williams succumb to this dark, empty place may give you the impression that, if he can’t make it out with all of his money and therapy and helpers and fans and whatever else he had as a support group, then how the fuck are YOU supposed to? Well, keep in mind that when anyone, famous or not, is at that point, it doesn’t matter how famous they are, or any of that other stuff. What matters is that they didn’t reach out to the people who loved them and who they loved, and they didn’t get the helping hand they needed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t. Their inability to either speak up or avail themselves of the help they had available is irrelevant to your ability to do the same thing. Which means, those of us who are NOT going through something like this have the responsibility to pay attention to those of us who are. Know your friends and loved ones, listen, and pay attention, and be there when they need you – hell, be there when they don’t even KNOW they need you. That’s how we keep the next depressive episode from turning out like this.

Which brings me to my last thought – has anyone checked on Patton Oswalt?

_____

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

Privilege, privilege, who’s got the privilege? (spoiler – we do)

So, I’ve been on a bit of a tear lately about exposing privilege, for really no other reason than it’s rampant in the communities I enjoy and I’d like it to, well, become less rampant. Case in point – the video game Dragon’s Crown. Essentially, it’s a game where you either play an overly-muscled man who saves provocatively-posed, large-breasted and barely-dressed village girls, or you play what’s essentially a giant pair of boobs who saves provocatively-posed, large-breasted and barely-dressed village girls.

Now, I’m not against provocatively-posed, large-breasted and barely-dressed village girls as a general rule. They have their place on occasion, as do heavily muscled man-ape-hero-things and giant pairs of boobs. The problem here is that, 1) they are all in the same game at the same time, 2) they have no other actual qualities than being provocative, man-ape-hero, or boobs, and 3) way too many people not only have no problem with that, but they attack anyone who does.

Look – the fact is that, when you have nothing but fuck-me posed mostly-naked women in your game, you’re contributing to a less-than-healthy mind-set for impressionable young men who are the market for your product. Yes, it’s a game, but it’s not “only” a game – you’re going to be playing it for a couple of hours. A couple of hours of being force-fed hyper-sexualized images of helpless, young, nearly-naked women. According to the reviewer, after about an hour(!) he barely noticed them. Well, there you go – it’s not a problem, because it only took an hour before he was desensitized to the constant images of these helpless women – does that sound right to you? Does that sound healthy?

Another complain that is dismissed by the privileged many is the giant barely-covered breasts of the female PC. The men are exaggerated, so it’s the same thing, right? Wrong. The men are exaggerated by making them MORE muscular and strong in an attempt to make them look more heroic – hardly the same thing as exaggerating the sexual characteristics of a woman which doesn’t make them anything more than wank material. An apt comparison would be if they made the men smaller, but enlarged the bulge in their pants so much that they entered every room dick-first and knocked over furniture every time they turned around. Their balls could bounce around and get in the way, like they had elephantiasis. And the women would be lining up in droves, DROVES, to play it, right? No? Hmm – then perhaps it’s NOT an appropriate way to sell your game.

Between this game, that nauseating video “Asian Girls“, and the constant defense of dehumanizing women in these various media, we as men; white, straight, or otherwise; have a lot of work to do in educating our peers that treating women as human beings and not as flesh-colored penis trophies is the only way to keep evolving as humans. Guys – we can do better. If I can learn, so can you.

Freedoms to remember

On the eve of a rather delightful 4th of July, in which I spent a full day with my family bowing to the altars of consumerism and sanitized history in the form of a day-trip to LEGOland California, I wish to extend a thought for the freedoms we have currently won in this state and this country – same sex marriage is now legal in the state of California, hopefully for good barring any underhanded tricks, and it is now worthy of recognition by the Federal Government as taxable in the way that opposite sex marriage is. A step in the right direction, to be sure, and congratulations to all of my friends who can now experience the same social norms as well as the same yearly headaches and anxieties as my family.

On the other hand, I would be remiss to not point out the freedoms we’ve lost in the states of Ohio, and North Carolina in the form of a woman’s rights over her own body. Legislation was passed that, while specifically discussing budgets and Sharia law, defunds Planned Parenthood and effectively makes it impossible for various other abortion clinics to operate because of arcane and labyrinthine rules. Not to mention the invasive procedures and outright lies doctors are now forced to ply the unfortunate women in these states with as a part of pregnancy visits, which are difficult enough as it is. Fie on you, state Republicans – you are a pox on our government. The sooner you are voted out, but the exercise of our freedom to vote, the better.

Speaking of voting, the Voting Rights Act was recently severely damaged by the Supreme Court in a furious twist of irony by pointing out that we don’t need it any longer because minority voters were not being disenfranchised – ignoring the fact minority voters were not being disenfranchised because we had it. (Also ignoring the fact that they DID have to use it 73 times in the past few years.) Within two hours, one state that was denied the right to disenfranchise minority voters due to the Voting Rights act, quickly acted to, yes, disenfranchise minority voters. Along with Citizens United, this stands as the worst decision this Court has made in decades, and it’s just a shame that Ginsburg, Sotomeyer, Breyer, and Kagan will have to be associated with this farce of a Supreme Court at all.

And finally, a big shout out to Wendy Davis, the Texas congressperson who effectively killed yet another restrictive and damaging bill by physically standing in her pink sneakers and successfully filibustered a Rick Perry-led anti-abortion bill that would have closed down all but around 5 clinics in the entire state of Texas. Of course, since she used her freedom to filibuster, and she’s a woman, she was called all sorts of names and I’ve heard it expressed that she never should have been allowed to filibuster at all – even though she did everything to the letter of the Senate Rules.

So, remember and reflect this weekend on the the flag you flew and the fireworks you watched – those  actually mean something. They aren’t just excuses to sit at the beach or drink beer or eat bar-b-q. They’re symbols of the fight over 200 years ago that allowed us to create these freedoms that we are allowing various people to take from us through terrible laws, horrible decisions, and the guise of religion. America is better than that. Let’s start acting like it.

Happy Holidays!

How to inappropriately market to our children

I just watched a disturbing commercial for Build-a-Bear. Apparently, you can get Cody Simpson’s fan message in a bear now. This is bothersome to me for a couple of reasons.

Who is Build-a-Bear for, really? Yes, OK, you can get them for people graduating from college, sick people, and those sorts of reasons. But they do the bulk of their business selling the experience of building your “best friend” to younger children – from what I’ve seen, mainly girls. Now, on occasion I see older girls in there buying bears somewhat ironically. And again, no problem.

Now, who is Cody Simpson for? Really, WHAT is he for? He’s a young pop star who appeals to younger girls. How young? Well, my 5-year old said she liked him because of his “cool hair”, which, frankly, was not something I wanted to hear at this age. Obviously, she’s on the youngest side of the Simpson fan bus. But he’s being marketed to girls around 12 or younger, from what I’ve seen. And what are they supposed to feel about him? They like him because of his “cool hair” or his Aussie accent, or “cool” clothes – I’ve never actually heard him sing AFAIK even though that’s supposedly his gig. So, he’s the “safe” boy all the parents think is OK for their daughters to like as they confront their burgeoning sexuality, and the corporations are using that to sell records or merch.

OK, I get that. It’s just how it’s “done” and yelling about it is like shaking a fist at passing clouds. I don’t have to like it, and I’ll try to steer my kid away from it, but there’s enough parents out there paying such little attention or that don’t care that any gesture I make to teach my child more about quality over superficiality will probably be lost in the noise. But that’s not even the problem I have with this.

Teaming Cody Simpson with Build-a-Bear is essentially infantilizing our adolescent daughters while simultaneously sexualizing our younger ones. It sends a mixed message to our kids about being physically older but acting like children, and puts them at odds with their bodies and feelings. It says “Boys like it when you act younger than you are.” while forcing older feelings on the younger children. It’s an unfair and cynical strategy to not just rob our wallets, but to rob our children of being, well, children and becoming consumers – moreso than most other ad campaigns that I’ve seen. It disgusts me. I’m not sure I can support Build-a-Bear any longer, and we usually go there once a year and get new costumes for the kid’s bears and buy bears for the disadvantaged children that they have available. It was a bad decision, and I hope they see it sooner rather than later, and if they don’t, I hope it backfires on them.

Why, yes, I will have a bite of that shit sandwich, please.

I’ve been wanting to write about privilege and how I realized I had it even though I didn’t want it. I wanted to speak about how it affects me, or doesn’t; about how I try to minimize it where possible, and about how it makes me feel when I realize it. I wanted to discuss male gamers and their loathsome attacks on female gamers and the articles written by John Scalzi and others about this very thing. But I’ve yet to find the proper words, and so, this is not that article.

No, this article is about Christian Persecution™and how I know it’s complete bullshit.

I was in a situation just a few minutes ago that I’m still reeling from just a little bit. During a conversation, a comment was made that “You have to have a strong moral center …” which was the beginning of a comment about needing God in your life, and I said, “Why do you have to have God to have morals? I’m an Atheist, I’m moral.” I found his comment slightly insulting, but he didn’t have any problem putting it out there. But a few seconds later when discussing my mother, the Evangelical, I said “I’m not a Christian because I’m not a hateful bigot.” he got very offended. And then I felt slightly threatened. And after a short verbal shuffle where others pointed out I was talking about my mother, I apologized.

I. Apologized.

To clarify – Do I think folks who believe in God are hateful bigots? Not really, no. Do I think people who are involved in institutionalized and organized religion are, for the most part, hateful bigots? Probably not. Do I think the institutions themselves are breeding grounds for hateful bigotry? Yes, I do. For an example, Prop 8 and the African anti-gay laws. Religious institutions as the extension of a very few religious folk caused and are causing lots of problems for gay people. Prop 8 treats them like second class citizens. The African laws treat them as less than human. Both are promoted by the Catholic, Mormon, and Evangelical churches. I can’t think of an Atheist institution (assuming they exist) are promoting this sort of hatred or bigotry.

In other words, all Atheists probably don’t have a strong moral center, but it’s good guess most do of Atheists would be raping and killing and stealing en masse, and that’s just not the case; it’s far more likely a Klansman or Good ‘ol boy in a pick-up truck beating up minorities or Prop 8 supporter are religious in some way. Mainly because there are more religious folk than Atheists, but also because there are provisions within the religions that make it OK to hate people not like them. Atheists have no such mandate.

But I apologized. I received no such apology. After all, it’s OK to insult an Atheist, they’re not like real people, with feelings given by God and morals given by God and the God-given RIGHT to tell them exactly what’s wrong with them!

So, I backed off. I reversed myself. I said I was sorry to cause an issue. I left. And I felt like shit. And I can guarantee that, assuming this resonated with him at all, in his head, he was the one who was persecuted and attacked for his beliefs. And I know he feels righteous about it. Because when you’re persecuted for your beliefs, that’s how you’re supposed to feel.

Men’s Rights

Hey, guys, has this ever happened to you? You do something nice for a woman – like hold a door open, or vote for her right to control her own body – and instead of giving you the thanks you rightfully deserve as a MAN, she posts on Facebook that men just need to shut the fuck up about women’s reproductive rights because, well, they aren’t women? How rude!

You don’t have to let those women get the better of you, men. After all, who’s wearing the pants around here, anyway? I mean, women have only had the right to vote for a few years, nowhere NEAR as long as men have – they couldn’t POSSIBLY know what’s best for them. And that’s where you come in, men. Whenever those women try to make you stop mouthing off about their birth control, abortion rights, exclusionary clubs, and various other women-related issues, remind them that they need to be appreciative of all the work you’ve done for them, and that without you they’d have nothing. That should get them back in line pretty quickly! They need to respect you for giving them their place in society, and if they don’t, well, the kitchen could use a good cleaning!

So, just remember, men; your sense of entitlement trumps the very real problems women face every day – make sure you threaten them about not voting for their rights if they make you feel bad. It’s your right, as a man.

*facepalm*

I’m a male human. I have male genitals, male pattern baldness, and have fathered two children – that I know about. I play video games and enjoy scifi and do all sort of things that are generally considered guy stuff. And yet … somehow .. I manage not to be a complete misogynist asshole to geek women, or, really, any women. Somehow …

Anita Sarkeesian is a woman in San Francisco who has decided to explore the tropes of video games vs women in video games. To that end, she started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money it would take for her to set aside her own time, probably away from work, and focus on this project. She was asking for, well, a pittance really – especially compared to all the game-related Kickstarters out there – $6000. If just 6000 people were interested in her study and donated a dollar, there you go. Done and done. Instead, she received over $150,000 in donations! Pretty amazing!

Now, I’m not entirely sold on the thesis of her study. There are plenty of video game tropes that stereotype men as well as women, and in general I don’t think there’s anything sexist about the average computer game. Should there be women in combat in the Medal of Honor series, for instance? Hell, who can even tell if half those soldiers are men or women with that armor on? At any rate, it reflects the current state of our military, which is No Women Allowed in combat roles. I’m not sure you can blame the game for that – besides, being male or female wouldn’t have any bearing on the story. I can see how chainmail bikinis are ridiculous and unnecessary in fantasy games – although many male characters sometimes wear very little, as well. Regardless, for every Tomb Raider, there are many more inroads to be taken by developers to make women in games as important as their male counterparts.

But that’s not the point of this post.

While reading about comments a Mr. Joe Peacock made about disparaging female cosplayers (although he later clarified to mean those girls who parade around looking for attention but aren’t really geeks – like booth babes) and the sexual harassement Genevieve Valentine had to endure at Readercon, I saw a comment about Ms. Sarkeesian and the abuse she’s had to endure at the hands of male gamers who seem to be offended that a woman would deign to talk about sexism tropes in gaming. They’ve even created a game where you get to beat up Ms. Sarkeesian. How classy. (I think my favorite part is how offended they got when they were told that a game where the whole purpose is to beat up a woman is misogynistic.)

This, then, led me to another site which is all about the sick and twisted messages male gamers send to random female gamers because, well, they’re female you know and girls don’t play video games. I’m no shrinking violet, and the words themselves aren’t shocking or anything like that. No, the disturbing part is that these boys (not men – men don’t act that way) have no idea who’s on the other side of that screen and are STILL sending these sorts of messages. It could be an adult woman – yes, many of them play video games – and while that is still misogynistic and wrong, at least an adult woman has (probably) heard or seen these words before and already knows what a shit these guys can be. But there are younger women who play games as well, and they don’t need to see that trash. They just want to play games the way young males want to play games, and there’s no excuse for the sorts of things being said.

I was agog at many of the messages males felt were perfectly appropriate to send to these girls and women. At no time in my life would I ever have thought to send anyone a message like that, unless we were already friends, etc and that’s the sort of relationship we had – although I can’t imagine having the sort of relationship with anyone that would appreciate poorly spelled ignorance explaining how they would be raped before they get sent back to their kitchen. I have a daughter who doesn’t currently play any video games – but one day she might. I don’t want to have to limit her because of the behavior of a bunch of adolescent head-cases with shitty parents. I want her to be able to enjoy the things she enjoys with a limited amount of harassment and, hopefully, no rape threats. I know it’ll never go away completely, just like any sort of prejudicial or hateful attitude can’t be completely eradicated. I’ll try to give her the tools she needs to be able to shrug it off and handle it. But it’s not her responsibility to NOT be the victim of hateful attacks when she’s enjoying her geeky pastimes.

Come on, guys. Seriously – are you no better than this? You make me embarrassed to be part of geek and gaming culture when you act that way. I know what many of you look like; frankly, insulting women is the last thing you should be doing. But more than that, you’re making gaming and relative geekery unwelcome to women. I always hear how some geek guy or another can’t find a girl interested in his hobbies – when we allow this behavior, we’re just as guilty, whether we did it or not, and we are driving these women away and keeping them at arm’s length.

Guys, we can do better. We MUST do better. Only by welcoming in new members into the club – men AND women – can we keep our hobbies alive. Scifi media, games, geeky music, comics, etc – they are always just on the verge of dying out. We are the harbingers of a new age of geekery, Big Bang Theory notwithstanding. There’s never a good reason for this sort of behavior.

Stop it.

Life took center stage

Who knew that raising two kids would take up so much time?

There’s only so many hours in the day, and those hours are usually spent by feeding children, changing them, taking them to school or karate or swim lessons, the playground, the store, or just holding them while they cry or sleep. They are wonderful children, but it doesn’t matter how wonderful they are – they still take up time. I wonder how people who manage to write whole screenplays or novels are able to do so while being at home with the kids – the only thing I can see is that they forego all other entertainments while the kids are asleep and live a relatively ascetic life outside of the parenting.

I can’t do that. I love my films, my games, my interactions with others. It makes me wonder if I’ll ever be able to finish something of significance, or if I should just be happy that my kids are alive and well-cared-for and I should enjoy the rest of my time, as it exists, as I see fit.

Just some random musings. Have a nice day!

Clarion

I have aspirations to become a writer.

Well, to be fair, I am a writer – now I want to be a published author.

I had a couple of stories I was working on to send to the Clarion writing program. I was going to try to attend this year, considering it’s right down the road.

After some thought, I don’t think I’m going to try to attend this year. There are many reasons for this. Well, a few, anyway.

Reason, the First: We just had a new baby, and my wife has gone back to work. While I am certain we could get a babysitter for the six weeks of the program, I would feel awful, and it would be difficult to concentrate on the program.

Reason, the Second: Clarion costs about $1200 to attend, not to mention the $40 to apply and the selection process. We would not have the money this year for something that could be considered a luxury. I am a part of a couple of writing groups, so I can and will avail myself of that resource. That costs nothing but my time.

Reason, the Third: One of the things the workshop is interested in is your writing habits, and well, mine suck. I need to buckle down and start some. One hour a day, regardless, for now. One new story a month.

Reason, the Fourth: The stories just are not ready. I’ve learned so much writing them, and revising them, but they are just not good enough. Well, maybe they are – this is, after all, an unpublished author short-story intensive program – but I really feel like I can do so much better.

I guess that’s enough reasons for now. I’m not against going this year, I just don’t think I’m ready. I will be next year, though, and I will make sure of it. In the mean time, I have started work on a graphic novel, and I am going  to focus on that as my main project. Of course, I will work on the stories as well, and maybe if I can get published this year, I won’t HAVE to go to Clarion and spend all that money – I can just be successful all on my own – with the loving help of my wife, friends, and family, without whom I could do less than nothing.

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