Tag Archives: internet trolls

How The Idea Of “Toxic Fandom” Is Fundamentally Flawed

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The internet is a vast, wonderful place full of mesmerizing gifs, amazing stories, and the collective knowledge of our entire species. I would argue that the internet is one of humanity’s most important tools since the invention of fire. I strongly believe that is has done more good any other tool we’ve created.

I have a feeling that this rosy view of the internet is a minority opinion. These days, all the good the internet does tends to get lost in the stories that highlight its many dangers. I don’t deny that there are dangers there. The internet does have some dark places where hate, harassment, and outright depravity are on full display.

More and more, it seems, the internet is becoming an enabler of a new manifestation of popular culture. It’s called “toxic fandom” and it relies on the greatest strengths of the internet to bring out the absolute worst in people. It didn’t start with the heated fan reaction of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” but it certainly made it relevant.

Before I go any further, I want to make one thing clear. There are assholes on the internet. There are also assholes in real life. The internet doesn’t make them that way. It just gives them a platform to be an asshole on a larger scale. That’s an unfortunate side-effect of the internet, but one that tends to obscure a larger narrative.

That’s because, much like inane terms such as “toxic masculinity,” the idea of toxic fandom relies on a series of assumptions that only ever have a sliver of truth behind them. It builds around this idea of there’s this grand, over-arching effort by immature, angry young men who secretly wish they could sexually harass women with impunity. It’s not quite on the level of an Alex Jones type conspiracy, but it’s close.

There have always been overly-passionate fans. It existed long before the internet and would still exist if the internet disappeared tomorrow. “Toxic fandom,” and there’s a reason I’m putting it in quotes, is something very different.

This doesn’t involve obsession with a particular celebrity. It involves a particular type of media like a movie, a TV show, or a video game. In some respects, this sort of fandom is a byproduct of overwhelming success. When something like “Star Wars” or “Star Trek” comes along, it resonates with an audience on a profound level. That sort of impact can last a lifetime.

I can attest to the power of that impact through my love of comic books. I’ve even cited a few that I find deeply moving, both in good ways and in not-so-good ways. Most everybody has had an experience like that at some point in their life, whether it’s their reaction to seeing “Titanic” for the first time or the feeling they get after they binge-watch “Breaking Bad.”

The toxic part usually comes when the media they’ve come to love manifests in a way that’s not just disappointing. It undermines those powerful feelings they’ve come to associate with that media. The results can be very distressing and until recently, the only way to express that distress was to sulk quietly in a darkened room.

Then, the internet comes along and suddenly, fans have a way to voice their feelings, for better and for worse. They can even connect with fans who feel like they do so that they don’t feel alone. The human tendency to form groups is one of the most fundamental acts anyone can do as a member of a highly social species.

Now, there’s nothing inherently “toxic” about that behavior. It has only made the news because the passions/vitriol of fans is more visible, thanks to the internet. Just browse any comments section of any movie or show on IMDB. Chances are you’ll find a few people who claim that this thing they once loved has been ruined and will use every possible medium to voice their displeasure.

This is where the “toxic” aspects of fandom start to have real-world consequences. Most recently, Kelly Marie Tran became the face of those victimized by toxic fandoms. After her portrayal of Rose Tico in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” she became the most polarizing figure in the history of Star Wars since Jar Jar Binks.

The story surrounding Ms. Tran’s harassment, which was objectively horrible, became vindication for those who believed that the Star Wars fanbase had become a mess of angry, hate-filled fanboys. They didn’t like that something they loved was changing and becoming more diverse. As such, their criticisms don’t matter. They may as well be wounded storm troopers in a room full of angry wookies.

The problem with this assumption is the same problem we get when someone writes off facts as fake news or diversity efforts as a neo-Marxist conspiracy. It’s a simple, convenient excuse to ignore possible flaws and justify personal assumptions. It also conflates the inescapable truth that assholes exist in the world and there’s nothing we can do about it.

None of this is to imply that harassment is justified or that fans can be exceedingly unreasonable. By the same token, this doesn’t imply that studios don’t deserve criticism when they attempt to revamp a beloved franchise in a way that does not keep with the spirit of the original. It’s only when criticism gets lost in the outrage that the “toxic” behaviors become more prominent.

It’s within that outrage, though, where the true flaws in the “toxic fanbase” narrative really break down. To a large extent, the “toxicity” that many complain about aren’t a product of unhealthy attitudes. They’re a manifestation of an inherent flaw in the relationship between fans and those who produce the iconic media they love.

To illustrate that flaw, think back to a recent controversy involving a “toxic fanbase.” Before the reaction “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” became the poster child for this issue, the all-female “Ghostbusters” remake was the most prominent example. It earned a lot of hatred for reasons that I’d rather not scrutinize.

With that hatred in mind, imagine a long-time Ghostbusters fan seeking to express their dismay. They decide to write a kind, detailed, and thoughtful letter to the studio, the director, and anyone else involved detailing their dismay and their criticisms. They may even cite specific examples on what they felt was wrong with the movie.

Chances are this sort of thoughtful, well-worded message would get deleted, ignored, or just plain lost in the digital landscape. Even if the head of Sony studios read it and agreed with every point made, they wouldn’t respond. They wouldn’t do anything ot change it. That would just be too inconvenient and it would look bad publicly.

From the perspective of the fan writing the letter, though, it sends the message that their sentiment doesn’t matter. Their passion for the media doesn’t matter. They might as well not even exist in the eyes of the producers. The only way for them to even acknowledge their existance is to be louder, angrier, and even a little meaner. Even if the reponse is negative, it at least acknowledges their existence.

It’s not the same as trolling. Trolls just want upset people for the fun of it. Fans voicing their displeasure are more sincere in the sense that they believe they’re protecting something they love. Whether or not that’s misguided is debatable. Some, namely those who harass and make threats, are more misguided than others. However, they only ever make up a very small percentage of fans.

In the end, that’s the most important perspective to have when it comes to fandom. Those who are the loudest tend to be the most obnoxious, but they’re loud because they feel like they have to be. The internet just gives them a way to be heard, which is something most fans haven’t had before.

That’s still not an excuse for being an asshole, but it’s also not an excuse for using those same assholes to call an entire fanbase toxic. It overlooks and undermines the genuine and sincere love people have of these cultural icons. As as a result, when someone feels like their love is being ignored, that’s when toxic hate often finds a way to fill that void.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, human nature, media issues, movies, political correctness, Star Wars

Why I Don’t Use The Term “Social Justice Warrior” And Ideas For A Better Label

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Every now and then, I get comments and criticisms about my writing style. Some are constructive. Some are just angry rants that I’m perfectly content to ignore. There is one criticism, though, that I feel is worth addressing.

Specifically, it involves some specific terms I avoid using. Most people with an internet connection or access to cable news have probably heard the term “social justice warrior” at least once. It’s rarely in a positive light. It’s often used as an insult or a signal that you’re about to say something that’s going to evoke a lot of angry comments on social media.

I’ve been tempted to use it in the past. I’ve discussed many topics involving feminism, men’s issues, and social inequality that often get people throwing that term around as though it were a demonic chant. There’s a reason I’ve avoided it, though, and I hope to demonstrate that it’s a good reason.

First off, I want to make clear that I despise the term “social justice warrior” almost as much as I despise “toxic masculinity,” a phrase I believe cannot fade from our language fast enough. I see this label as one of the worst manifestations of the English language since the hippie era and at least they could blame psychedelic drugs.

I also believe that its continued usage will do more to breed hatred, outrage, and division at a time when we’re already more divided than ever. It derails a conversation and detracts from discussions about serious issue involving society, justice, and gender. This term is literally holding back progress, which is ironic given the nature of its definition.

The actual definition of a social justice warrior, or SJW as it’s colloquially used, is somewhat vague. It’s a modern-day catch-all term for a particular brand of politics and social attitudes. According to Wikipedia, the definition is as follows:

A pejorative term for an individual who promotes socially progressive views, including feminism, civil rights, and multiculturalism, as well as identity politics. The accusation that somebody is an SJW carries implications that they are pursuing personal validation rather than any deep-seated conviction, and engaging in disingenuous arguments.

I think that definition covers most of the most common ways the term is used, but I think it underscores how much vitriol it inspires. Spend any amount of time on social media and you’ll find some of the most hateful, demeaning, and divisive rhetoric you can imagine.

However, it’s not just the extreme rhetoric this term inspires that discourages me from using it. It’s not even the tendency for a conversation to devolve rapidly as soon as the words “social justice warrior” show up in a sentence. What I find most objectionable about this term is how fundamentally dishonest it is.

To illustrate how, look at the anti-abortion movement, another extremely divisive issue that tends to evoke all the wrong emotions. There are some pretty passionate opponents to abortion, but they don’t call themselves anti-abortion. They call themselves “pro-life.” It’s a disingenuous term, but from a marketing standpoint, it’s brilliant.

That’s because, if you go by the literal meaning of the words, it means you’re for life in general. It doesn’t directly imply anything about abortion. By calling themselves “pro-life,” they skew the meaning so that they can claim they’re on the side of all things alive and good.

Again, it’s a smart ploy, but it’s also dishonest and George Carlin did a brilliant job of explaining why. Those who use the “social justice” label use a similar tactic. They use words that denote inherently positive concepts like society and justice. However, I would argue that this ploy is even more dishonest than those hiding behind the “pro-life” table.

Most reasonable people are for justice. They’re also for a functional society in which people of any race, gender, religion, or ethnic background can live in peace and enjoy the same protections under the law. On paper, we have that. In practice, there’s room for improvement.

However, whenever I listen to someone who adheres to the Wikipedia definition of “social justice warrior,” I never get the impression that their ideas of justice are genuine. They tend to reflect a personal, selfish brand of justice that is more concerned with how the world makes them feel and less with how it really works.

A “social justice warrior” will look at issues like female depictions in video games, cultural appropriation in media, and proper pronoun usage and not see the full picture. In fact, they’ll go out of their way to ignore that picture and focus only on the parts that sends their emotions into overdrive.

It’s not enough to just criticize these injustices. A “social justice warrior” has to treat them like some grand conspiracy by wannabe fascists who bathe in the tears of orphans and wish they could still own slaves. It becomes a potent blend of holier-than-thou grandstanding and virtue signaling. To say that brings out the worst in some people would be an understatement.

Talk to most people outside a 4chan board and chances are, they’ll be in favor of a just society whether they’re liberal, conservative, progressive, feminist, or whatever other political affiliation they may have. The fact that “social justice” now has more to do with misguided outrage and little to do with actual justice is downright tragic.

The term gets thrown around so often that I’ve made a conscious decision to just avoid using it in my writing. After this article, I intend to use different words that I feel are more reflective of the outrageous attitudes that “social justice warrior” evokes.

I’m not doing that because using words gives them power and I don’t want to give “social justice warrior” more power than it already has. While I doubt that’ll reduce the vitriol it currently carries, I still prefer terminology that’s more reflective of these damaging attitudes.

In the name of offering some potential solutions to this issue, I want to put forth a new approach to dealing with the “social justice warrior” phenomenon. I believe that it reflects an ideology that’s worth confronting. It espouses attitudes that promote censorship, infantilize groups of people, and elevates one person’s feelings over another for all the wrong reasons.

These are people and attitudes that will continue to make noise and push bad ideas on a society that already has too many circling around. For that reason, I believe that warrants creating some new labels for them, one that I think is more descriptive of what they truly area. Here are just a few.

Professional Whiner

Regressive Whiner

Weakly Whiner

Sad Whiner

I think the theme here is pretty obvious. Most of the time, “social justice warriors” don’t really protest. They whine. They whine in a way that’s worse than any child. They don’t try to solve a problem. They don’t try to learn the facts and figure out a better process for doing something. They just whine.

That’s not just pathetic. That makes whole “warrior” part of their label hypocritical. Warriors are supposed to fight and not whine. When reality doesn’t cater to your feelings, whining never changes that. A “social justice warrior” may even understand that, but they also understand that without validation of some sort, their outrage is empty.

That, I believe, is the key to confronting the misguided attitudes of the “social justice warrior” phenomenon. Attitudes that have little to do with actual justice or a healthy society need to be called out for what they are. I say that as someone who does have attitudes that some may consider progressive, but I understand that whining about them won’t do much to further those ideals.

At the end of the day, if all “social justice warriors” have to go on is whining, then the harsh reality of the world will do plenty to undercut their attitudes in the long run. Calling them what they truly are will just help remind them a little sooner.

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Filed under Current Events, gender issues, philosophy, political correctness, sex in society

Five New Years Resolutions We Should All Make For 2018

Christmas is over. The last major holiday of 2017 has come and gone. Now that we’re done opening presents, roasting chest nuts, and getting drunk on eggnog, we turn our attention to 2018.

2017 was a long, eventful year to say the least. It started with plenty of controversy and plenty more followed it over the course of the year. Along the way, this blog underwent some enormous growth in terms of traffic. I also got finalized the release schedule for my next novel, “Rescued Hearts.”

While there were plenty of positives in 2017, especially if you’re a New England Patriots fan, I think this year will go down as one most people would rather forget. There are many reasons for that, but I don’t want to focus too much on those. I’d like to look to the future rather than lament on the past and not just because the future may have sex robots.

With every new year comes renewed hope. With renewed hope comes an opportunity to make things better than the year that came before it. However bad 2017 might have been, 2018 offers an opportunity to make it better. It’s an opportunity we should all collectively seize.

As such, I’d like to propose a brief list of New Years Resolutions for 2018. These aren’t resolutions for just one specific person or group. These are resolutions that, I hope, will apply to everyone and benefit everyone. The events of 2017 gave us all too many reasons to be jaded and cynical. With these resolutions, I believe we can make 2018 much better.


Resolution #1: React, But DON’T Overreact

This should be at the top of everyone’s list of New Years Resolutions in 2018. To hell with trying to lose weight. Make this the cornerstone of your effort to do better in the new year.

A good chunk of 2017 was built on a foundation of continue, unceasing overreactions to everything from the fan response to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” to a typo on a tweet by the President to how Kellyanne Conway sits. I get it. People are passionate about what they’re passionate about.

However, there’s a fine line between passion and outrage and nobody even tries to walk it anymore. Passion is good in that it can be channeled. Outrage is not because it’s just glorified yelling and whining, which rarely adds anything meaningful to a conversation. Sure, it’ll get attention to an issue, but it won’t do much to solve it.

Now, that’s not to say we should stop reacting to things that outrage or offend us, but we should make a concerted effort to not overreact. That way, our overall response is more meaningful and substantive. We need more of that in 2018 because we sure as hell didn’t get it in 2017


Resolution #2: Acknowledge The Positives And Don’t Belabor The Negatives

This may sound like something an idealistic guidance counselor may say. I admit it’s cheesy, but I think it has merit. One thing I noticed in 2017 that I found very distressing was how eager and quick everyone was to focus on the negatives of any issue.

It’s not enough that some person, group, or organization did something controversial. Everything about that action has to be terrible, evil, and an affront to all that is decent in the world. Whether it’s the President, a Hollywood celebrity, or a controversial policy made by a video game company, it’s only the worst parts that seem to get the energy and attention.

I don’t doubt there are negatives in a lot of these issues, but they don’t encompass the entirety of an issue. People and the world around them is more complicated than that. The truth is there are silver linings. It’s rare that an issue is so lopsided that there’s no possible benefit to consider.

I’ve tried to do my part, pointing out the silver lining to the surge of sex scandals that came out in 2017 involving powerful men. It wasn’t much, but I like to think it serves as an extra bit of perspective for 2018. There will always be plenty of bad news to go around, which makes highlighting the positives all the more important.


Resolution #3: Acknowledge Another Point Of View (Even If You Don’t Agree With It)

This feels like one of those resolutions we should’ve had at the beginning of 2017, but just let it slip aside because we were too busy processing how the Falcons collapsed in the Super Bowl. In addition to the constant outrage that dominated 2017, there was also a growing inability by anyone with an opinion to acknowledge the other side of an argument.

It’s not just on message boards, YouTube videos, and protests. The entire year of 2017 seemed like a testament to increasing polarization of everything from politics to the Season 3 finale of “Rick and Morty.” If there was a middle ground, it was either ignored or blown up with a fury of collective outrage.

More than ever, people are convinced that their ideas are correct and anyone who disagrees with them might as well be a card-carrying Nazi. It’s like Godwin’s law became a goddamn commandment and as a result, nobody is listing to anyone else make their point. It’s worse than a political echo-chamber. It’s a brutal cycle of self-glorification and never-ending frustration.

There is an easy remedy to that, but it involves taking a deep breath and actually listening to someone make their arguments. I know that’s hard when it’s so much easier and more cathartic to remain outraged, but inherently more productive and gives people fewer excuses to hate each other. Seeing as how we have enough of those, this resolution should be a high priority.


Resolution #4: Be Willing To Trust, But Eager To Verify

Another common theme of 2017 that we should avoid carrying into 2018 had to do with accusations. At first, it was just everyone accusing everyone else of being a Nazi, a racist, a bigot, and whatever other insult you see in the YouTube comments section of the “Ghostbusters” trailer. However, it got much worse and for good reason.

Like it or not, 2017 will go down as the year that sexual misconduct by men of significant power became a huge issue. I’ve covered it in multiple ways, acknowledging the extent of the misdeeds and expressing concerns about the implications. However, as the year went on, it became less about the conduct and more about the accusations.

We’re at a point where there seems to be new accusations of sexual misdeeds every other week. We’re almost used to it and that’s a dangerous thing because accusations aren’t the same as actual facts. While it’s not inherently wrong to believe someone when they say they’ve been a victim of sexual misconduct, that belief shouldn’t be blind.

Blind belief isn’t just unhealthy. It’s the primary ingredient in creating dangerous cults. We should continue taking sexual misconduct seriously in 2018 and beyond, but we can’t just keep focusing on the accusations. We need to be more eager to verify the validity of those accusations, making sure they have some basis in reality before someone’s life is irreparably ruined.

I know this resolution will be controversial. There’s a growing sentiment that not believing an accuser somehow counts as victim blaming. It’s not easy resisting that sentiment because most people inherently sympathize with victims, but sympathy is only meaningful when there’s some measure of validity to the accusations.


Resolution #5: Try To Love And Not Just Tolerate

This is more an approach, rather than a resolution. I won’t say it should be at the top of anyone’s list, but it should be in the back of everyone’s mind in 2018. Again, I know it seems like more hippie talk, but there is some greater purpose behind it.

For years now, tolerance has been a major goal. For the most part, we’ve succeeded in that goal. People today are far more tolerant of other races, religions, ethnicity, and sexual minorities than they’ve ever been before. That’s an objectively good thing. We should continue that effort as much as possible in 2018.

However, tolerance has become kind of a low bar in recent years. It’s one thing to tolerate a minority, but it’s quite another to actually embrace and love them. That’s something we haven’t put a lot of energy into in our efforts to create a more peaceful society.

Given all the outrage and polarization that emerged in 2017, I think 2018 is a good time to start making that extra effort. We can’t just be satisfied with tolerance. It’s like the humanitarian equivalent of a C-minus. We need to start shooting for B’s and A’s in 2018.

That means making an effort to love someone, even when there are things about them we find distressing. It goes back to my comments about having faith in people. Sometimes, we have to put some extra effort into believing people are better than we think they are. Making that effort in 2018 will go a long way towards helping people be better for the new year and beyond.

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Filed under Current Events, Reasons and Excuses

Why We SHOULDN’T Judge People For The (Stupid) Things They Say In Their Youth

We all say dumb things when we’re young. That’s not an opinion. That’s an inescapable fact, right up there with gravity, taxes, and the inherent sex appeal of Jennifer Lopez. I doubt anyone would argue that young, inexperienced people say foolish things that they later regret. Despite that, why do we belabor that foolishness later in life?

This is an increasingly relevant question in the era of social media. For much of human history, you could usually get away with saying the dumbest, crudest, most ill-informed shit anyone could possibly say at any age. That’s because peoples’ memories are exceedingly fallible, so much so that even the courts recognize that.

Then, the internet came along and, on top of all the free porn and cat videos, some of that filthy, misguided rhetoric ended up in the digital coffers that are frustratingly robust. It’s become a popular meme that “The internet never forgets.” However, I think it has graduated from meme to a fundamental law of the digital universe.

Like most things, there are benefits and drawbacks to having a system that can remember how foolish and pig-headed we all were in our youth. A little perspective in terms of who we once were and how far we’ve come can actually be healthy. That said, it can also undermine our ability to function as adults who once were pig-headed youth.

This brings me to Cenk Uygur, a media personality that I mentioned earlier this year in a post about winning arguments versus being right. He’s a member of an internet media group called The Young Turks and, for a time, they were at the cutting edge of a new kind of news media.

They were unapologetically progressive in their message, often poking fun at extreme right-wing personalities who probably said less foolish things in their youth. They also provided genuine insight that didn’t always make it into the cable news networks, which was part of why I found them appealing for a while.

Then, the 2016 election happened and The Young Turks began getting more extreme. They became less about covering the news that cable news networks ignored and more about bemoaning the fact that some of their politics were falling out of favor. Cenk Uygur, being one of the most outspoken of the bunch, became one of the loudest voices.

Now, I didn’t care for his exceedingly vocal tactics and have since unsubscribed to the Young Turks network. However, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Mr. Uygur when the laws of the digital universe caught up with him and revealed an old blog post that could only have been written by someone young, uniformed, inexperienced, and in this case, horny.

I won’t get into all the details of the post, since others have already done so. Even by the standards of an aspiring erotica/romance writer who has said more than his share of stupid things on the internet, it’s still pretty crude. Here is just a clip of what Mr. Uygur said.

“Obviously, the genes of women are flawed. They are poorly designed creatures who do not want to have sex nearly as often as needed for the human race to get along peaceably and fruitfully.”

I don’t deny that the rhetoric is crass and offensive. I certainly wouldn’t blame any woman who felt offended reading it. However, and I know this is probably one of those things I’ll end up belaboring again at some point, people say stupid things when they’re young and/or misinformed.

Mr. Uygur may have been in his 30s when he wrote those, but I would still put it under the kind of ill-informed foolishness that we all experience in our youth and even as adults. It’s also worth noting that these blog posts occurred in the early 2000s before YouTube, FaceBook, social media, and cat memes. The internet was a very different place back then is what I’m saying.

Now, because of this crap that he wrote over a decade ago when he was in a different time, place, and mindset, Mr. Uygur is getting all sorts of criticism about this. Just this past week, he got kicked off the board of the Justice Democrats, a group he helped found, no less. Again, it’s not because of crime he committed in the present. It was because of something he wrote over a decade ago.

Think about that, for a moment. Imagine that your boss, parents, or enemies suddenly had access to records for all the stupid, profane, and flat out wrong things you’ve ever dared to say. Most of us, if we’re being honest with ourselves, would be sweating bullets at the prospect. I certainly would. I know there are things I’ve written and said that I would prefer not become public. Who else can claim otherwise?

I’ve often asked this question to some of my older friends and family. I try to get them to seriously contemplate how different their lives would’ve panned out if the internet, cell phones, and social media existed in its current form when they were young. Most don’t really give me a straight answer. A few honest people flat out tell me they would be screwed.

That’s an important perspective to have because our propensity to say and think stupid things goes beyond the internet’s ability to never forget. Youth, inexperience, and an overall limited understanding of the world are unavoidable . We don’t come out of the womb with a sense of context to the complexities of the world. We’re basically limited minds with limited perspectives trying to make sense of an unlimited world.

Have you ever heard a kid, teenager, or horny twenty-something pitch a fit about how the world hates them? Never mind the fact that they live in one of the most prosperous periods in human history and have access to more information than any generation before it. From their perspective, they might as well be a real-life Charlie Brown.

Most people, observing from the outside, would rightly roll their eyes at that sentiment. Even I don’t deny that I’ve engaged in that kind of whining in the past. At the time, though, that’s how it really felt. My perspectives and my understandings of the world were just too limited to convince me otherwise. It wasn’t a flaw in my thinking. It was just a lack of information.

That’s not to say there aren’t truly despicable people in the world who say and think these things, despite having no excuses for seeing the bigger picture. However, I would not put someone like Cenk Uygur, or most people for that matter, in that category.

He said something stupid and offensive years ago. He has since apologized for it and, as I’ve espoused before, we should make an effort to forgive him. People say stupid things when they’re young, dumb, and misinformed. No matter how powerful or robust the internet gets, people will continue saying stupid things. Until we can upgrade our caveman brains, that’s just the nature of who we are.

Accepting that also means understanding that, despite all the stupid things people say, there is a context to consider. Even in a world where the internet never lets us forget any of the stupid things we say or do, we shouldn’t judge someone solely on the basis of the dumbest things they’ve said.

That’s not to say writings like Mr. Uygur’s should be completely overlooked, but it shouldn’t take away from the man he is now and the man he’s trying to be. If we’re not willing to let people learn and grow from the dumb things they say, then nobody will be able to gain the perspective they need to stop saying dumb things in the first place.

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Filed under Current Events, Reasons and Excuses

How NOT To Fight For Net Neutrality

It’s neither unusual, nor surprising when the government does something stupid. It’s also fairly common to see those same governments make decisions that are not popular with the people. Governments are human-led institutions and humans are flawed creatures to begin with. As such, there will always be moments where government action incurs significant outrage.

The latest example of this has to do with net neutrality, a topic with a boring name, but enormous implications. If you’ve been near a news feed at all over the past few weeks, you know that recent government decisions regarding this topic have generated a lot of headlines and that’s rarely a good thing. Outside wars and moon landings, more government headlines usually implies more trouble.

However, I don’t intend to make this article about the merits of net neutrality or why it’s important. There are already people much smarter than I am who have broken this issue down and organizations much better-equipped than I am to help people do something about it. Let them be your guides in navigating the nuts and bolts of this issue.

Instead, I want to focus on one particular element of the debate that isn’t being discussed, but has been painfully obvious. It has less to do with the actual controversy surrounding net neutrality and more to do with how some are reacting to it. To say those reactions have been heated would be like saying Johnny Depp is mildly eccentric.

When the FCC rendered its controversial decision on December 14, 2017 to reverse the net neutrality provisions that had been put in place back in 2015, it generated a negative backlash almost on par with a major tax increase and a new sex scandal. Celebrities were quick to voice their opinions. Here are just a few.

Those reactions, for the most part, were fairly tame. They expressed dismay, concern, and anger over the decision. That’s entirely okay. That’s even appropriate, given the nature of the decision.

However, some reactions were a lot more severe. On top of that, they were a lot more personal as well, directing the anger and animosity towards one particular person. That person, whose name has become synonymous with all that is wrong and ugly about the world, is Ajit Pai.

Now, without getting into the details of who this man is and why he did what he did, I need to make one thing clear. I’m not out to defend this man or endorse his politics, nor am I looking to add to the pile of hate that he’s gotten over the past few weeks. I just want to note the sheer breadth of that hate. This is just a sample of that hate.

The level of hatred got so absurd that Pai himself actually took the time to read some of these tweets and after getting into an argument with Mark Hamill, no less. I’m not sure if whether it’s him having a sense of humor about the whole situation or he’s just entered that state of learned helplessness that renders him incapable of caring.

Whatever his reaction and whatever further reactions anyone may have to Mr. Pai, there is one important detail that is getting overlooked in this situation. It’s a detail that both Mr. Pai and those that hate him need to acknowledge. It may not make much difference at this point, but here it is.

Hating and insulting Ajit Pai will NOT change his mind or undo his decision.

If I could yell that into a bullhorn and direct it into the ears of every person on the internet, I would because it’s a critical detail for anyone that actually cares about the topic at hand. Insulting the man who helped render the decision and directing all that outrage into personal attacks will not undo what has already been done.

The decision is made. Whether you think it’s a good thing or the worst thing to ever happen in the history of modern civilization, it’s too late now. It’s in the past and unless you’re Dr. Who or have a flux capacitor handy, no amount of outrage or hatred can change that.

If anything, that may make it even worse. There’s a sound, psychological reason why overt personal attacks don’t work in debates. Anyone who has any debating experience or has taken any classes in the subject learns fairly quickly that these kinds of attacks are considered logical fallacies for a good reason. They don’t further the argument, nor do they change or shape the minds of others.

In fact, “South Parkdid an entire episode recently about just how counterproductive these sorts of attacks can be. They showed with their trademark vulgarity that just insulting someone only makes them more defensive and more determined to justify their actions, no matter how irrational they may be. This is also why debates with creationists are so counterproductive.

If there are legitimate reasons to oppose Mr. Pai’s decision regarding net neutrality, and I believe there are, then insulting or attacking him is the quickest way to ensure that neither he, nor his supporters will listen. They’ll just dig in even more, clinging to every reason and excuse they can to justify their decision. At that point, neither yelling nor rational discourse will have any meaningful effect.

I don’t deny the passion and the sincerity of those who decry the recent FCC decision. I get why they’re singling out Mr. Pai for such scorn. He’s the chairman of the FCC. He’s the one who signed off on this decision. It’s his name on the dotted line. He’ll bare a larger chunk of responsibility than most once the consequences of his decision set in.

Be that as it may, that doesn’t mean anger and hatred are the best ways to combat that decision. I know that sounds like the kind of touchy feely crap that has no place on the internet these days, especially on the unfiltered platforms like social media and 4chan. However, there is some merit behind a less heated approach and it has precedent.

It comes courtesy of a man most of us knew growing up as kids. His name is Fred Rogers, host of the long-running children’s program, “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.” Beyond being a wholesome kids show, Fred Rogers might have been the nicest man to have ever endured these harsh modern times.

He did this by being caring, compassionate, and completely genuine in everything he did. When there was something terrible happening, he didn’t focus on the negatives. He looked to inspire hope. He did it after the September 11th attacks. He did it every day on his show for decades. He also did it in front of Congress.

Back in 1969, Congress was looking to cut federal funding to PBS, calling it an unnecessary expenditure of taxpayer money. Mr. Rogers, who relied on public broadcasting to get his show to the masses, decided to take action. He didn’t do this by using John Oliver’s approach of incessant and childish mockery. Instead, he used the same caring, compassionate rhetoric he used to inspire children.

It worked too. In fact, it worked so well that instead of cutting PBS’ budget, it actually got increased after Mr. Rogers’ testimony. He did all that without a single mean tweet, angry rant, or public shaming campaign. He just reached out and connected with these powerful people with sincerity and heart and they responded.

That is how you exact meaningful change in a tense debate. That is how you get someone to listen to your arguments, even if they’re not inclined to accept them. Insulting or yelling at them only gives them reason to shut you out. Show a little heart, as Mr. Rogers did every day, and people will respond.

I don’t know if it’s too late to use that approach with Ajit Pai, but I do know that the debate over net neutrality isn’t over. There will be other chances to confront the issue and change the course of the debate. There will be other people not named Ajit Pai who will end up making this hard, unpopular decisions.

When that time comes, anger and outrage will do little to move the conversation forward in a meaningful way. There’s a right way and a wrong way to convince people of what the right thing to do is for a complex issue, such as net neutrality. Even if the ways of Mr. Rogers aren’t enough, the ways people are using to attack Mr. Pai can only do more harm than good.

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Filed under Current Events

Comics, Milkshakes, And (Failing To Fight) Internet Trolls

Before I say anything, I need to make one thing clear. I am extremely reluctant to talk about an issue that’s still fresh, so to speak. In general, I prefer to wait until he uproar has died down and/or the angry masses of the internet have tired themselves out over an issue. I usually find it easier to sift through the rubble after the storm has passed.

This may very well be the most hesitant I’ve ever been to talk about a particular issue. Think about that for a moment. I’m someone who has talked about sex robots, awkward boners, and his own circumcision. If I’m reluctant to talk about a topic, then it must be pretty nasty.

Well, don’t adjust your gag reflex just yet because it’s not that kind of topic. This isn’t something that just sparks revulsion or passionate disagreement. This is the kind of stuff that just brings out the worst in everybody. It’s like licking the shit stains on a toilet before they’ve dried. It just makes a bad topic that much worse.

However, I’m willing to suck in my gut, brace myself, and ignore my reluctance because I feel like this is something that needs to be said while certain people are still listening. Plus, it involves comics and the comic book industry. Other than the erotica/romance industry, few are quite so near and dear to me.

Even those who don’t follow the industry probably noticed an unusual hashtag trending in the news recently. It involved an incident with some of Marvel’s editorial staff. When I first saw it, I had no idea it was a controversy. I thought it was some new promotional effort. Marvel, and most comic companies, do that all the time.

For once, I’m sad to say that this had nothing to do with an ad gimmick. The hashtag in question was #MakeMineMilkshake and it was inspired by this innocent-looking tweet from Heather Antos, who happens to be an editor at Marvel.

I actually saw this on my Twitter feed. I thought it was a nice moment. It put a smile on my face. It involved milkshakes, comics, and cute girls in the comic book industry. I honestly can’t think of something more appealing to me without adding pizza, the beach, or free tickets to a football game.

Then, some asshole internet trolls, of which there are many, had to look at this happy little moment and mess it up for everyone. They did this by replying to the Tweet with a bunch of crude, vulgar comments. I won’t get into the substance of those comments because they’re not worth spreading. I won’t even make an assessment over how bad they were. I’ve been to the many toilets of the internet. I know how bad it can get.

However bad it was, it created a hashtag that has spread like a wildfire and burned away any faith you might have had in humanity, comics, or peoples’ ability to discuss an issue rationally. Like other hashtags before it, #MakeMineMarvel has become a catalyst for two sides of a pointless debate to whine and moan endlessly about how right they are. It’s a debate that nobody can ever win.

The hashtag, which I doubt Ms. Antos intended to start, has created this rage-filled rant on toxic sub-cultures like comics. On one side, you have those claiming that it’s full of angry young men who don’t want to see women screwing up their favorite toys. On the other, you have those who feel like they’re being demonized for comments that just a few idiot trolls made. Again, nobody wins that debate.

It was frustrating to me because, being a man, it made me feel like I’m being lumped in with the same group of assholes and I want no part of that. I didn’t respond to Ms. Antos’ tweet. I didn’t respond to anyone who asked me to respond. This was just a hornet’s nest that I didn’t want to poke.

An abandoned hornet's nest my dad found in his shed that he hadn't been in for a couple years. The head is apart of a wooden statue it fused with.

Then, the hashtag kept trending and people at Marvel and DC, two rival companies mind you, began responding to it. They even made milkshakes into counter-protest, of sorts, using it to fight against internet trolls and toxic subcultures. Considering some of the other protests we’ve seen this past year, I think that’s a fairly innocuous method.

However, the mere fact that this is even a thing speaks to a much larger issue. It’s one of those things where neither side, be it Ms. Antos or those who now despise her, can see the forest from the trees. After it started trending, Ms. Antos posted this tweet and understandably so. There are just certain parts of the internet and certain people who use it that completely warrant that sentiment.

Now, here’s where I start saying things that I know will rub certain people the wrong way. I’m going to try and be very careful with my words here.

I don’t want to start a new hashtag or anything. I also don’t want to get blocked because I follow people like Heather Antos on social media. I’ve said enough dumb things in the past and I’m trying to limit that, especially in these sensitive times we live in. I’ll do my best to be polite about it, but I’m not going to shy away from the truth. I’m just going to add what I hope is meaningful context.

With that in mind, I’d like to send Ms. Antos an important message that I doubt she’ll never read. That same message should apply to others who supported her since #MakeMineMilkshake started trending. Here it is and excuse me while I brace myself with an adamantium shield.

“The trolls have already won. You’re letting them win with every word you say about this issue. PLEASE change the way you fight them.”

I’m going to keep that adamantium shield up just in case, but I know this will probably take some uncomfortable explanations. I’ve talked about dealing with internet trolls before. I’ve also talked about professional trolls who go out of their way to start digital shit storms like this for their own benefit. What I’ve seen with #MakeMineMilkshake is basically a case-study in how not to respond to trolls.

Now, that’s not to say that Ms. Antos’ intentions are misguided. I don’t doubt for a second that she responded to the comments she got in the best way she thought possible. Maybe she didn’t intend for it to start trending. Nobody can really know whether or not something will become a thing, especially if it doesn’t involve cute animals.

Even if #MakeMineMilkshake didn’t start trending, though, Ms. Antos’ response would’ve already ceded some form of victory to the trolls. Like punting on third down in a football game, she didn’t adapt her game plan. Given how quickly this unfolded, I doubt she thought she even needed one.

The problem with turning her response into a hashtag, albeit indirectly, is that doing so gave the trolls exactly what they wanted. With every retweet, response, and cute quip, they get even more. That’s because trolls don’t deal in the traditional currencies of shame, sorrow, and basic human decency. They only understand one form of coin and that’s attention.

It may very well be the most important currency of the digital age. It may even be more than just a currency. It could very well be the life force with which trolls need to sustain themselves. Like Galactus, devourer of worlds, the hunger is never sated. Lacking heralds or The Power Cosmic, these trolls must resort to the lowest lows of the internet to feed their hunger.

With #MakeMineMilkshake, they basically got a free buffet and a complementary desert. I guarantee that once this hashtag started trending, they didn’t cower with fear, dread, or remorse. They’re probably still grinning and twirling their fake mustache. If they could make a collective statement towards Ms. Antos and everyone who came to her defense, this is what they would probably say.

“Ha! I did it! I got under her skin. I made this person who is more successful than I’ll ever be cry out for help, play the victim, and seek validation. They can call me a racist, bigoted, sexist pig all they want. It doesn’t matter. They just proved they’re a bunch of thin-skinned, hyper-sensitive snowflakes. Now, thanks to the hashtag, the world knows it! They know it and it’s all because of me! Mwhahahahahahaha!”

I concede that the evil laughter might be an exaggeration, but since this involves comics, I think it’s appropriate. Internet trolls are the closest thing most of us have to villains. Other than former child stars and the IRS, it’s hard to think of anyone more devious.

It pains me to say it, but the trolls won this round. Ms. Antos, whatever her intentions might have been, gave them what they wanted. She gave them attention and they’re using it. They’re already turning this misguided hashtag into Round 1,283,285,206,809 of the angry alt-right versus the bossy progressive left. It’s a fight that never has any winners.

Again, I know Ms. Antos is never going to read this post. I’m not successful enough or smart enough to have that kind of audience just yet. I’m working on it, but Ms. Antos is so far ahead of me that I can totally understand her not responding to every aspiring writer who tries to add his thoughts to an overly-complex issue. She’s an editor at Marvel. She has far more awesome things to do with her time.

If I could send her a message, though, I would offer her a simple bit of advice. When dealing with trolls, you have countless ways to lose and only a few with which to win. Anything that gives them the slightest bit of attention, no matter how negative, counts as a victory for them and a defeat for you.

To defeat the trolls, the best thing you can do is ignore them. Don’t just instinctively block them, though. Let them whine, yell, and complain with the worst digital drivel they can come up with. Either they’ll get bored or they’ll make an ass of themselves. In either case, you’ll save yourself the frustration and not embolden those who would frustrate you.

If ignoring them isn’t possible, then the second best thing you can do is fight them with kindness. I know that sounds cheesy. I know that sounds like something Superman, Captain America, or Spider-Man would say in an after school special. It still has merit, though. Your capacity for kindness, even to those who insult you, shines a brighter light on the kind of person you are while also exposing the kind of person the troll is.

The worst thing you could do is take what these trolls say and turn them into a rallying cry, of sorts. That doesn’t just give the trolls even more attention. It gives them a larger target to hit. It’s the digital equivalent of Newton’s Third Law. For every action, there is an equal an opposite reaction. With respect to trolls, poking them just makes them poke back harder.

If Ms. Antos is still with me at this point, I thank her. I know there are some who have already decided to block me at this point. I’m hoping I can still reach those willing to listen so here’s my final thought.

Trolls, in whatever form they take, should never be used as a basis to judge larger swaths of a population. Using these trolls to condemn all men, comic book fans, and Twitter users is a huge mistake. It’s basically a bonus to the trolls on top of the attention because it means more will identify with the trolls than their victims. That’s the last thing you want and the last thing the internet needs.

I don’t doubt for a second that there will be other misguided hashtags like #MakeMineMilkshake. I suspect there will be far worse trolling down the line. That’s because people are always going to say stupid shit, both online and in real life. It’s just part of the package that is the human condition. It’s how you react to it that determines whether you’ve saved the day or aided a Skrull agent.


Update: Well, I wrote this post under the assumption that Ms. Antos, or anyone else who is many times more successful than me, would ever read it. I was wrong and I’m more than relieved to say that. Ms. Antos did actually read this post. As a result, there’s something I need to clear up. Several hours after I posted this, Ms. Antos issued the following tweet.

I sincerely thank her for her response and I apologize for the impression that my post had given. In reading it over again, I realize I had implied that she was the one who started the #MakeMineMilkshake hashtag. She did not. I never thought she did, but I implied otherwise. For that, I sincerely apologize. Apparently, I was not careful enough with my words. I’ll try to be mindful of that in the future.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes

The REAL Alex Jones: Performance Artist Or Troll?

https://i1.wp.com/media.salon.com/2013/10/alex_jones.jpg

Recently, I talked about how media figures like Bill O’Riley, Ann Coulter, Michael Moore, and Lena Dunham are basically professional trolls who exploit your caveman brain’s love of outrage. In public, they’re walking controversies who inspire protests wherever they go. In private, they’re about as genuine as a Nigerian prince.

Within that who’s who of professional trolls, I mentioned a man named Alex Jones. I didn’t go into too much detail about him because there are cartoon animals that are more genuine than him. Think of the craziest, crackpot conspiracy theories this side of a Dan Brown novel. Then, triple it and give it an endless supply of crack. That’s Alex Jones.

If there’s a crazy, insane, downright stupid right-wing conspiracy theory, including those that involve aliens and lizard people, this guy believes it. Tell him that Barack Obama is a time-traveling alien who shot JFK from the grassy knoll and he’ll believe it. He’s just that crazy.

However, is he really crazy? Or is he just saying what he thinks his audience wants to hear so they’ll give him attention, money, and fame? Given how crazy people tend be poor managers of all three, as most hair metal bands from the 70s and 80s have shown, the latter is far more likely than the former.

A recent story that broke earlier this week may actually confirm it. According to the Independent, Alex Jones’ lawyer called him a “performance artist playing a character.” That’s not the same as calling him a professional troll. It’s a lot more polite, but the implications are the same.

Like David Copperfield doing magic at a Las Vegas show, Jones is just giving his audience a spectacle. He’s giving them something they want to see and for some reason, a lot of people want to see an overweight, middle-aged man drone on and on about how aliens and the Illuminati are mind-controlling us by putting fluoride in our water. I’m not judging. I’m just saying I’d rather see David Copperfield’s show.

A number of people, myself included, have claimed that Jones doesn’t believe even 99 percent of the crazy shit he says. Even if it makes a lot of sense, given how much money and attention that crazy shit earned him, his fans still brushed it off. Now, his own legal team may screw him over more than usual by pulling back the curtain, so to speak.

So why is he in this situation to begin with? Why are his lawyers spilling the beans on his secret persona? Well, there’s no alien agenda this time. It’s just part of a bitter custody battle between him and his wife. Sadly, sometimes the truth really is that inane.

His wife wants out of their marriage and she wants custody of his three children. If it’s an agenda by the Illuminati, it’s not a very elaborate one. This is something real people go through, regardless of whether or not they believe in shape-shifting lizard people.

Even without the aid of lizard people, Jones’ wife has a lot of advantages here, if only because she can use Jones’ own trolling against him. She says:

“He’s not a stable person. He says he wants to break Alec Baldwin’s neck. He wants J-Lo to get raped.”

Notice how she points out what he says. That doesn’t necessarily means he believes it when his head hits the pillow at night. His wife may even know that to some degree, but in a court of law where money and kids are at stake, sometimes truth is more expensive than lawyer fees.

She may just be saying that to win favorable treatment in a separation, as well as a chunk of Jones’ assets. That’s entirely understandable. It may also be part of a larger conspiracy against Jones, organized by Obama and funded by the George Soros. That’s far less likely, but something Jones’ fans would totally buy.

Whatever the case, the story offers insight into the world of professional trolls. While Jones’ most ardent supporters would never admit it, they’re playing us. They’re using our brain’s inability to differentiate between outrage and arousal to influence us. We get our little dopamine fix. He gets money, attention, and fame. It’s not quite as even as it sounds.

I won’t go so far as to say this news vindicates the points I made in my previous article. This is a legal battle between two people going through a bitter breakup. With lawyers involved, everything is basically a he said/she said shit storm where the truth is almost impossible to smell, let alone keep up with.

At the very least, it offers an inconvenient truth to those who either buy into the craziness or get overly outraged by the antics of trolls. In both cases, it only serves to benefit the troll. Jones may or may not believe most of what he says, but what he does still gets a response from people. Given his net worth is in the millions, he knows how to convert that response into money.

Remember this next time someone like Bill O’Riley or Lena Dunham says something that gets people outraged. What are the chances that behind the scenes, they’re just rolling their eyes and counting their money? I’d say those odds are far better than we care to admit.

They know outrage generates attention. They also know that attention is the first step in selling shit for money. They want to make money like the rest of us. The problem isn’t them. It’s us, the ones who succumb to the trolling. So long as we keep giving people like Alex Jones attention, money, and fame, they’ll keep doing what they do. No shape-shifting aliens need apply.

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