Tag Archives: social media

The Hard Consequences Of Soft Censorship

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If you walked up to any random person on the street and asked them how they feel about censorship, chances are they would say they’re against it. Absent any context, most people equate censorship with tyranny and rightly so. Historically speaking, tyrannical societies are not beacons of free speech.

When you add context to that same question, though, then people are a bit more diverse in their response. They may say they’re against censorship, but they’ll also oppose hate speech and even support efforts to remove it from certain venues or platforms. It’s not the same as government-suppressed speech, but it’s still censorship on some levels.

A government’s effort to prohibit or punish speech is more daunting. That’s exactly why we have things like the First Amendment. Governments are big, powerful entities with armies and tax collectors. Their brand of censorship is a lot more concrete than others. That’s why such extensive legal protections are necessary.

When it comes less overt forms of censorship, though, the line isn’t as clear and neither are the legal protections. It can take the form of de-platforming a controversial speaker, which has happened on college campuses. It can also take the form of banning certain websites or certain subgroups within a website. These efforts aren’t usually called censorship. They’re usually referred to as preventing the spread of hate.

Personally, I don’t buy that excuse. As much as I abhor some of the things people say, both online and in person, any attempt to indirectly silence them is still censorship in my book. I call it “soft censorship” because it doesn’t involve government force. In many cases, it’s a grass roots effort to combat certain ideas that many find offensive.

That seems to be the most notable standard these days, the offensiveness of certain speech. That’s understandable, given how the world is more connected than it has ever been in human history. It’s now easier than ever for hateful, offensive speech to spread. Conversely, it’s also easy for the outrage to that speech to spread as well.

As a result, the forces behind that outrage are often the most powerful forces behind soft censorship. That outrage takes many forms too. It can be driven by political correctness, religious dogma, and general trolling. Censorship or suppression of speech is not always the stated goal, but it is often a desired result.

Given the ongoing changes to the media landscape, this brand of censorship seems to be getting more prominent than anything government effort. In fact, the reason I chose to bring this issue up is because of a few notable incidents that highlight the growing disconnect between free speech and movements to combat hate speech.

The first incident happened earlier this year and came from the gaming world, a domain that is no stranger to censorship and targeted outrage. The outrage in this case, though, had nothing to do with how beautiful women are depicted and everything to do with the policy of the popular Steam platform by Valve.

The particulars of the issue are simple. Valve was getting criticism for allowing too many violent, adult-oriented games on their platform, including those with overtly erotic themes. For a while, it looked like they would follow the same policy as Nintendo and Apple, who don’t allow anything that can’t be shown in a Disney movie.

Surprisingly, and refreshingly for some, Valve opted for a more libertarian policy. The standards are simple. As long as the content isn’t illegal or outright trolling, then it’s permitted. In the context of freedom of speech and creative freedom, this should count as a victory. However, that’s not how some saw it.

Almost immediately, Valve was heavily criticized for this freedom-centric policy and for all the wrong reasons. Some went so far as to call it irresponsible and cowardly, daring to permit games on their platform that might be overly graphic, crude, or sexy. Being a private company and not a government, that’s certainly their right.

Even so, it generated outrage. People didn’t see it as an act to promote free expression. They see it as a means of spreading hateful, offensive, sexist content and profiting from it. At at time when the video game industry sparks outrage every time it depicts a female character, Valve really took a chance by taking this approach and it’s sure to generate plenty more controversy, albeit for the wrong reasons.

Those same reasons showed up in another incident involving Reddit, a site on which I’m very active. Specifically, it involved a subreddit called KotakuInAction, which emerged in wake of the infamous GamerGate controversy in 2014. As a result, it has a reputation for being pretty brutal in its criticisms of regressive, far-left attitudes.

It’s oftent cited as one of the most “toxic” places on Reddit. There have been more than a few efforts to ban it. At one point, for reasons that I’d rather not get into, it was actually removed by its original creator. However, it was saved and put back up within less than a day, much to the relief of the nearly 100,000 subscribers.

Few will call that a victory for free speech. Those who criticize Valve and Reddit for permitting it don’t see their actions as suppressing speech. They see it as combating harassment and hate. Therein lies the problem with that effort, though. Harassment and hate are serious issues, but attacking only the speech is like attacking a single symptom of a much larger disease.

Even if Reddit had permanently banned KotakuInAction and Valve had opted to censor offensive games, it wouldn’t have made the ideas behind them disappear. Like putting a censor bar in front of female breasts, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re there and that they have an impact.

You could turn off the internet, burn every book, and shut down every newspaper tomorrow. That still wouldn’t stop people from thinking and feeling the things that lead them to want to say something offensive or create an offensive game. Speech is just a byproduct of ideas. Attacking the speech is not the same as confronting the source.

In fact, doing so can be counterproductive. There’s a real phenomenon called the Streisand Effect wherein efforts to hide, remove, or cenors something ends drawing more attention to it. The fact that Area 51 is a super-secret government facility that everyone knows about shows how powerful that effect can be.

In the context of combating hate, efforts to censor those behind it can end up elevating their message. When someone is censored, there’s an application of force implied. Whether it’s from a government or a moderator on a message board, censorship requires some level of force. Applying it to anyone is going to put them in a position to feel oppressed and that oppression tends to fuel hatred.

Harassment is different because when it comes to free speech, the line between discourse and threats is a bit less ambiguous. The Supreme Court has established a criteria for what constitutes “fighting words,” but it’s when things happen on a computer screen where it gets tricky.

Like hate, though, there’s a right and wrong way to deal with harassment. The right way to deal with a direct threat is to contact local law enforcement. The wrong way is to make it into a spectacle that requires that both the harasser and the platform they used to be condemned.

It’s an inescapable fact of life in any functioning society. The same platforms we use to interact will be used by others for disgusting, hateful, and offensive activities. We may feel disgust and revulsion for these things, but trying to silence both the people and the platform doesn’t make the sentiment behind it go away.

That’s the ultimate danger of soft censorship. It’s not like a censorship-loving government that can be overthrown or reformed. It’s a mentality that seeks to remove content from certain mediums in hopes that it will subsequently discourage the mentality behind it. Unfortunately, human beings aren’t wired that way.

That’s the ultimate danger of soft censorship. It’s not like a censorship-loving government that can be overthrown or reformed. It’s a mentality that seeks to remove content from certain mediums in hopes that it will subsequently discourage the mentality behind it. Considering the impact of the the Streisand Effect, it’s utterly backwards.

I’m all for confronting hate and combating harassment, but not through censorship, hard or soft. It’s hard enough trying to change someone’s mind in an era where they can customize their news feeds. At the end of the day, we can only truly affect someone’s heart and mind by focusing on the person and not what’s on their computer screens.

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Filed under censorship, Current Events, human nature, media issues, political correctness

Why We Should Accept James Gunn’s Apology And Support His Re-Hiring

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In the spirit of honesty and transparency, I’m going to admit something that should surprise no one.

I, Jack Fisher, have said horrible, offensive things in the past. For that, I sincerely apologize.

I’ll give everyone a moment to recoil in shock. Now, I’ll turn off the sarcasm and get serious because this is an issue I’ve already done plenty to belabor. People say offensive things. People write offensive things. I know I have, given some of the sensitive topics I’ve covered.

I’m certainly not alone. These days, it’s hard to go more than a day without reading something horribly offensive on social media. Not all of the offense warrants the same outrage, though. Some comments are just trolling. Some trigger reactions that lead to actual crimes. Not all offensive speech warrants immense outrage is what I’m saying.

That brings me to James Gunn, the man who made movies about a talking raccoon, a talking tree, and the goofy guy from “Parks and Recreation” that went onto make over $1.6 billion at the box office. His star really rose fast after the unexpected success of “Guardians of the Galaxy.” He’s credited with taking the Marvel Cinematic Universe to cosmic heights. He has accomplished a lot in the past four years.

Now, he’s been fired. He’ll have no part in “Guardians of the Galaxy 3.” The circumstances, context, and fallout from this huge turn of events is astonishing, but for all the wrong reasons.

The particulars here are striking. Mr. Gunn was not fired because he committed a serious crime or got embroiled in a disturbing scandal. He got fired because someone who didn’t agree with his political views dug up some old social media posts from 10 years ago that were lewd, offensive, and downright disgusting.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Gunn apologized for it immediately. He didn’t make excuses. He didn’t whine about fake news. He didn’t claim his account was hacked. He took ownership of the things he said and apologized.

Many people who have followed my career know when I started, I viewed myself as a provocateur, making movies and telling jokes that were outrageous and taboo. As I have discussed publicly many times, as I’ve developed as a person, so has my work and my humor.

It’s not to say I’m better, but I am very, very different than I was a few years ago; today I try to root my work in love and connection and less in anger. My days saying something just because it’s shocking and trying to get a reaction are over.

In the past, I have apologized for humor of mine that hurt people. I truly felt sorry and meant every word of my apologies.

For the record, when I made these shocking jokes, I wasn’t living them out. I know this is a weird statement to make, and seems obvious, but, still, here I am, saying it.

Anyway, that’s the completely honest truth: I used to make a lot of offensive jokes. I don’t anymore. I don’t blame my past self for this, but I like myself more and feel like a more full human being and creator today. Love you to you all.

It still wasn’t enough, though. He still got fired and there’s a very good chance that the career he worked so hard for has been damaged beyond repair. It’s all because of horrible things he said 10 years ago. That’s worth emphasizing because the person someone is now and the person they were 10 years ago can be very different.

People grow, develop, and change over the course of their lives. I certainly have. In that time, people will say and do things that they don’t realize will have major consequences 10 years down the line. We can’t even know what kind of person we’ll be a week from now, let alone 10 years.

We’re going to do and say dumb things. That’s just a part of being human. However, now that the internet and social media document these things, our worst moments and most ill-advised decisions are there for all to see. We can no longer trust people to just forget. In Mr. Gunn’s case, someone went out of their way to dig up these horrible comments and that continues a dangerous precedent.

That precedent was already set with Rosanne Barr and this effectively raises the stakes. Now, even when you don’t blame sleep medications and give a sincere apology, you can still lose everything you’ve worked for. All it takes is someone with enough free time, resources, and hatred to do it. For celebrities, these are dangerous and unforgiving times, indeed.

Now, I know it’s hard to feel sympathy for celebrities, who live in big mansions, get preferential treatment wherever they go, and never have to worry about their next mortgage payment. Mr. Gunn is probably going to be okay thanks to the millions he’s already made. At the same time, though, what does undermining his career accomplish?

It doesn’t undo the things he said. It doesn’t undo any of the offense people felt. If anything, it sends a message to aspiring celebrities that anything they say and do will be used against them in the future. Even if that makes some people more careful about what they say online, it doesn’t change the fact that people will say and do dumb things every now and then.

It’s a no-win situation. If you can’t make excuses or offer a sincere apology, then what is the recourse? What was Mr. Gunn’s alternative? Short of going back in time and punching himself in the throat, there was nothing he could’ve done. How is that fair? How is that even logical?

On some levels, I don’t blame Marvel Studios and Disney for cutting ties with Mr. Gunn. They’re a multi-billion dollar media conglomerate that is very sensitive to the value of their brand. They’re also a private entity and not a government so the first amendment does not necessarily apply to them. They can fire whoever they want for whatever reason they want.

Even so, there doesn’t appear to be much effort to accept Mr. Gunn’s apology. While some have expressed understanding, there isn’t much effort in terms of undoing the damage. It’s as though this is the new normal. This is what happens to anyone who dares to let their stupidity end up on the internet. There’s no forgiveness. There are no second chances, either. If you mess up once, you’re finished and your career is over.

Think about the larger implications of that situation. If that’s how we’re going to deal with people who say offensive things, then where’s the real incentive for people to learn from their mistakes? Why would anyone even try to apologize or show regret if the end result is the same?

That’s not to say the situation is hopeless. There is already a Change.org petition to urge Marvel and Disney to rehire Mr. Gunn. As of this writing, it has over 150,000 signatures. Whether that’s enough remains to be seen and the fact that something like that is necessary to accept someone’s apology is still saying a lot.

I already worry that the next time a well-known celebrity says or does something offensive, they won’t even bother with apologizing. Why would they if it’s just going to sink their career or require a petition to keep it going? What kind of excuses will they resort to and how much more damaging will they be?

Accepting apologies aren’t just good values to live by. They’re critical to helping people grow as human beings. I believe Mr. Gunn meant it when he apologized, but I worry that he and other celebrities like him will come to see it as an empty gesture that won’t save their careers.

There are plenty of cases where accepting someone’s apology just isn’t warranted, especially if they have a history of saying and doing terrible things. Mr. Gunn is not such a case. If ever there was a time to set a precedent for accepting someone’s sincere apology, this is it. Even if it’s too late for Mr. Gunn, it’s still a precedent worth setting.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, censorship, Current Events, human nature, media issues, psychology, superhero movies

Why Henry Cavill Shouldn’t Apologize For His Comments On The Anti-Harassment Movement (But Still Had To)

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What does it say about the state of a society when people have to apologize for voicing honest, legitimate concerns? Pragmatically speaking, it implies that the value of truth and just has been subsumed by other influences. Whether it’s politics or ideology, it’s not hard for society to get to a point where unreasonable forces subvert reasonable issues.

In that sense, it’s ironic that the latest person to experience those influences once played Superman, the personification of truth, justice, and the American way. Henry Cavill, whose star has risen significantly since he broke out in “Man of Steel,” got into some hot water recently after an interview with GQ.

In that interview, he essentially made the same mistake Matt Damon made when he tried to comment on the anti-harassment movement. He said something that was reasonable, honest, and understandable from a purely logistical standpoint. He’s worried that something as simile as flirting with a woman could somehow be construed as harassment, which could lead to a full-blown scandal.

For reference, these were his exact words from the interview and the ones that subsequently led him down the same path as Matt Damon.

It’s very difficult to do that if there are certain rules in place. Because then it’s like: ‘Well, I don’t want to go up and talk to her, because I’m going to be called a rapist or something’. So you’re like, ‘Forget it, I’m going to call an ex-girlfriend instead, and then just go back to a relationship, which never really worked’. But it’s way safer than casting myself into the fires of hell, because I’m someone in the public eye, and if I go and flirt with someone, then who knows what’s going to happen?

Now? Now you really can’t pursue someone further than, ‘No’. It’s like, ‘OK, cool’. But then there’s the, ‘Oh why’d you give up?’ And it’s like, ‘Well, because I didn’t want to go to jail?’

Think about what he’s saying here and take a step back to see how he got to that point. He’s talking about being called a rapist just for going up to a woman and talking to her. How is that reasonable? It’s not. It sounds paranoid, but it’s perfectly understandable in the current social climate.

It’s easy to picture a scenario where someone like Cavill walks up to a woman, starts flirting, and ends up saying something inappropriate. That’s not just something men do. Women do that too. Being vulgar knows no gender. However, if the woman in this scenario takes particular offense, it could be construed as harassment or even assault.

If a woman was especially vindictive or just prone to exaggeration, she could accuse him of assaulting her. Even if those accusations aren’t even close to warranting an actual crime, it would still be devastating. The accusation alone would be enough to derail a promising career.

You don’t have to look far for evidence of this. Aziz Ansari was not charged with any crimes for the infamous incident that came out earlier this year and even if he had been, there’s no way he would’ve been convicted. An incident built entirely around a he said/she-said situation doesn’t come close to meeting the burden of proof for a criminal conviction.

That doesn’t matter, though. Ansari’s career has already taken a major down turn. His hit show, “Masters of None,” has not been renewed by Netflix since the allegations came out. Men like Henry Cavill, whose careers are ascending, certainly take notice of that. They don’t even have to commit a crime and suddenly, everything they worked for is in ashes.

For powerful men in Hollywood, it’s a reasonable concern, but one they probably won’t get much sympathy for expressing. Men like Henry Cavill are rich, successful, and handsome enough to comfortably wear Superman’s skin-tight costume. He’s a man who can attract women just by breathing. However, that may end up making him even more vulnerable.

Most people aren’t going to be inclined to make a big deal about someone who flirts inappropriately. When that person is a celebrity, though, the incentives are much stronger. You need only have an overreaction or a burning desire for attention to twist it into something much worse.

It’s for that reason that Cavill shouldn’t have apologized for his comments. His concerns are legitimate and after all the work he’s put in, he’s right to worry about the forces that might destroy it. That still didn’t matter. His comments still triggered a major backlash on social media. He also had to apologize for it. These were his exact words.

“Having seen the reaction to an article in particular about my feelings on dating and the #metoo movement, I just wanted to apologize for any confusion and misunderstanding that this may have created. Insensitivity was absolutely not my intention. In light of this I would just like to clarify and confirm to all that I have always and will continue to hold women in the highest of regard, no matter the type of relationship whether it be friendship, professional, or a significant other. Never would I intend to disrespect in any way, shape or form. This experience has taught me a valuable lesson as to the context and the nuance of editorial liberties. I look forward to clarifying my position in the future towards a subject that it so vitally important and in which I wholeheartedly support.”

Notice that there’s nothing in that apology that expands on his concerns. Cavill doesn’t attempt to re-frame his point or address some of the complaints levied against him. He just throws his hands up and apologizes about everything, as though every word he said was factually wrong.

Now, to be fair to Cavill, it’s very likely that the statement he gave was written by a publicist or agent. Chances are he was pressured to read that as quickly as possible in order to prevent him from getting labeled a misogynist or someone who did not wholly support the anti-harassment movement. Even if he didn’t feel inclined to apologize, he still had to do it in order to preserve his career and reputation.

Regardless of his reasons for doing so, he still apologized for telling the honest truth. The backlash he received didn’t even argue that truth. Most of it amounted to scoffing at the concerns of a rich, handsome celebrity who is undeserving of any sympathy. One commenter even went so far as to call him a wannabe victim.

Such criticism is every bit as absurd as the kind Matt Damon got when he dared to point out that there’s a difference between patting a woman on the butt and full-blown rape. They also fail to acknowledge that it’s entirely possible for a woman to be vindictive enough to falsely accuse someone of a heinous crime for the sole purpose of ruining their career, despite documented cases that this has happened.

It’s one thing to expose the serious crimes of predators like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. Those cases did have evidence and are being processed through appropriate legal means. The behaviors Henry Cavill described don’t even come close to that kind of conduct.

The fact that Cavill had to apologize sets a dangerous precedent for the anti-harassment movement. History has shown that any movement that throws off honest truth and basic justice is built on a poor foundation. In time, that foundation eventually crumbles and the merits of the movement get lost.

There are plenty of behaviors among celebrities and non-celebrities that warrant outrage. What Henry Cavill said wasn’t one of them. The fact he still had to apologize for his words does not bode well for anyone concerned with the values that heroes like Superman embody.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Current Events, gender issues, media issues, political correctness, sex in media, sex in society, sexuality

Why Social Media Is NOT The New Tobacco

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It’s a full-blown crisis. Kids are spending hours upon hours using it. They’re becoming mindless, unmotivated zombies. Every day, it’s getting worse. It’s all around them. There’s no escaping it and if something drastic isn’t done, it’ll corrupt an entire generation beyond repair.

No, that’s not some hysterical rant from Jessica Lovejoy on “The Simpsons.” It’s not referring to smartphones or social media, either. That urgent message was referring to television. This isn’t another one of my thought experiments. This is one of my memories. It’s true. Televisions was a real concern when I was a kid. Some called it a full blown health hazard.

If that sounds strange, then chances are you aren’t old enough to remember a time before the internet was the ultimate addiction. It really existed. It makes me and many others in my cohort feel old, but it happened. When I was a kid still in grade school, especially between first and sixth grade, the internet wasn’t the thing destroying kids. It was television.

That memory I mentioned wasn’t unique. It came courtesy of an assembly my school held. I don’t entirely remember the purpose of the assembly. I was just a kid and it was an excuse to get out of class. What I do remember, though, was the common refrain about the dangers of television.

Adults of all kinds would find creative ways to tell us to stop watching television and do something “productive,” which I took to mean more homework, more chores, and anything else my teachers made me do. It didn’t really appeal to me and I don’t think it changed the TV habits of my peers, either.

That panic, while nowhere nearly as extreme as the Satanic Panic of the 80s, came and went like many moral crusades tend to do. Some are just forgotten, but others just evolve into a whole new panic. That seems to be happening with the internet and social media now. Watching TV is actually in decline among younger cohorts while their usage of the internet and social media is increasing.

I imagine those same teachers who bemoaned the impact of TV when I was a kid would be giving similar lectures on social media now. They would have competition too because parents today worry about their kids’ internet usage more than their drug usage. Some go so far as to call it the new tobacco to belabor its damaging and addictive nature.

While that kind of comparison strikes all the right emotional chords with concerned parents, I think it’s an unfit comparison to say the least. At most, I would call it absurd. The memories of all those warnings about the dangers of TV leave me inherently skeptical of anything that’s allegedly poisoning children. Unless it’s actual poison, I think the tobacco comparisons are premature.

Now, there’s no question that the internet and social media are having an impact on young people, old people, and everyone in between. There are documented cases where people have exhibited addictive behaviors surrounding their internet usage. Before you make any nicotine comparisons, though, keep in mind that people can be addicted to all sorts of weird things. The human mind is just that strange, powerful, and flawed.

Tobacco, and the nicotine it delivers, is an outside chemical that enters the brain and has real, measurable effects. Using the internet, whether you’re checking FaceBook or browsing Instagram, is not like that. That’s why internet addiction is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that legitimate doctors use to diagnose addiction, but substance abuse is.

It’s also why porn addiction is not considered a true addiction, which I’ve talked about before. However, porn is more specific in its purpose and its effects. There’s also still a stigma, albeit a damaging one, surrounding it that sets it apart from the rest of the internet. A kid browsing the internet, for the most part, is no less damaging than watching cartoons on TV all day.

That doesn’t stop a growing number of people from expressing sincere concern about the effects it’s having on their minds and their health. Some may even prefer that their kids watch old Hanna Barbara cartoons rather than tweet, text, and live-stream all day. There’s a growing sentiment that the internet, social media in particular, hacks our brain’s rewards system.

On paper, it makes sense. You pick up your smart phone, you turn it on not knowing what to expect, and if you find something you like, you get a quick release of pleasure chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. It’s basically a form of gambling. A slot machine works the same way, but you don’t need to be a high roller to enjoy the gambling-like thrill.

Like so many other ideas on paper that go onto fail, though, it’s nowhere near that simple. The human brain can’t be that crude with its chemistry. As a good rule of thumb, if you ever hear someone other than a legitimate neurologist talks about the effects of dopamine on pleasure or addiction, chances are they have a very limited understanding of it at best.

While dopamine does play a role in how we experience pleasure, that’s just one part of a wide range of functions it has within our brains. Trying to understand addiction through dopamine alone is like trying to bake a cake with only a teaspoon of flour. There are many more chemicals, processes, and interactions at play.

Using social media may offer its users a rush whenever they get exciting news on their feed or see something that intrigues and/or offends them, but our brain processes that in a way fairly similar to anything else that catches our attention. The primary difference with the internet and social media is that it happens solely through a digital screen and that does somewhat limit those reactions.

I know that undercuts the concerns of parents who think the internet permanently damaging the collective psyche of their children, but I think they’re overestimating the influence of things that are experienced solely through a screen. Much like TV, the internet and social media can only effect so many senses and that is a major mitigating factor in its impact.

To understand that, go find a picture or video of an exotic location. If you’re a heavy user of Instagram, chances are that won’t be too hard. Look at those pictures. Watch that video. Take in the sights and sounds of that location. To your brain, it’s an appealing bit of visual and auditory sensations. However, those are the only two senses it stimulates.

What about the smell of the air, the feeling of the wind, and the sense of place that being in those locations evokes in our brains? Even if you experience it through hyper-realistic virtual reality, it’s still just sights and sounds at most. Thinking that alone is enough to damage a kid’s brain is like thinking someone can win a sword fight with a sewing needle.

That’s not to say the internet and social media can’t have a powerful psychological impact on certain people. That’s the key, though. It impacts certain people the same way TV impacts certain people. Sure, there are documented cases where social media played a role in a major tragedy, but those are the exceptions and not the norms.

In the same way not everyone gets addicted to a drug after they try it, not everyone is going to be irreparably damaged by the internet, social media, or TV. There’s a reason why extreme cases of people being heavily influenced by these things makes the news in the first place. It’s exceedingly rare.

I would still make the case that the internet and social media are more influential on people, society, and our culture than TV ever was. By being so hyper-connected to such a wide audience, the professional trolls of the world have a way to effect others in a way that just wasn’t possible, even with TV.

As bad as some of those trolls are and as tragic as it is when some suffer because of them, blaming the internet for those ills is like blaming umbrellas for hurricanes. Lumping it in with cancer-causing drugs only further obscures the real issues associated with the ever-evolving internet.

There are, indeed, serious issues with how people use the internet and how it manifests. However, treating it like a dangerous drug did nothing to address the issues surrounding TV. It’ll do just as little in addressing the various controversies of the internet. Until the next “new tobacco” comes along, those same people who lectured me on too much TV will bemoan the dangers of the internet while ignoring all the good it does.

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How Negative Expectations May Ruin “X-men: Dark Phoenix” (For The Wrong Reasons)

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There’s an important, but understated difference between negative expectations and a self-fulfilling prophecy. Expectations are like reflexes. They’re somewhat involuntary, reflecting our assumptions and understanding of a situation. A self-fulfilling prophecy involves actual effort. Whether intentional or not, it guides our perceptions in a particular direction, one often associated with a particular bias.

To some extent, a self-fulfilling prophecy is akin to self-hypnosis. We convince ourselves so thoroughly of a particular outcome that to consider otherwise would be downright shocking, if not distressing. That’s why it’s so difficult, at times, to escape a particular expectation, especially if it’s negative.

I bring up expectations and self-fulfilling prophecies because they do plenty to shape our reactions and attitudes, especially in the media we consume. For better or for worse, often varying from person to person, we tend to determine how much we enjoy something before we even experience it.

Sometimes, it works to the benefit of a particular movie, video game, or TV show. The powerful brand of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is built heavily on the expectations that a long list of quality, well-received movies have established. Conversely, the DCEU struggles with negative expectations, thanks largely to a catalog of movies that have failed to consistently deliver.

Then, there’s “X-men: Dark Phoenix.” It’s a movie for which I’ve made my passion and my excitement very clear over the past year. It’s also a movie that is in the midst of an emerging crisis. It’s not the kind that involves negative press, actors melting down on set, or sordid sex scandals, for once. Instead, it’s an issue that involves negative expectations that may very well become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As big an X-men fan as I am, I don’t deny that the X-men franchise is not on the same level it was in the early 2000s when it dominated the box office alongside Spider-Man. Even though I loved “X-men: Apocalypse,” I can’t deny it under-performed and underwhelmed.

Despite that, “X-men: Dark Phoenix” has more going for it. It’s attempting to tell the Dark Phoenix Saga, the most iconic X-men story ever told. Moreover, it’s attempting to tell that story after it botched it horribly in “X-men: The Last Stand.” Even the director, Simon Kinberg, has gone on record as saying that he wants to “X-men: Dark Phoenix” to succeed where the last one failed.

Given how rare that kind of humility is in Hollywood these days, X-men fans and fans of superhero movies in general have every reason to expect better things from this movie. Given how low the bar is after “X-men: The Last Stand,” I’m more optimistic than I dare to be when it comes to comic book movies.

Unfortunately, that sense of optimism seems to beg getting less and less prevalent. Whether due to the underwhelming performance of “X-men: Apocalypse” or a growing impatience to see the X-men join the MCU after the Disney/Fox merger is complete, there’s a general sentiment that this movie is going to be bad.

I see it on popular YouTube channels. I see in the many comic book message boards I frequent. The overall consensus is that this is a Marvel movie that isn’t part of the MCU. Therefore, it’s going to be terrible. That is, by every measure, a terrible excuse to dismiss a movie, especially when we haven’t even seen a trailer.

To make matters worse, a recent string of leaks from an alleged test screening revealed details that have only fueled those negative expectations. For reasons that I’ll make clear in a moment, I won’t list the details of those links. I will, however, offer a direct quote that aptly sums up the prevailing attitude for this movie.

“I do believe some things won’t change. What can’t change is the movie being really underwhelming. Really lower your expectations because this one is not good.”

This news, if accurate, is not encouraging to anyone hoping to see a well-done Dark Phoenix Saga on the big screen. To make matters worse, those who already had negative expectations about this movie have even more excuses to resent it.

As I’ve noted before, people tend to cling to excuses that justify their preconceived notions. It doesn’t even matter if the excuse is true. Once they have it, they cling to it. It’s usually not done out of malice. It’s just a lot easier to keep thinking what you’ve already thought rather than adjust your expectations.

In this case those, the story surrounding the leaks has already confirmed to be untrue. That leak came from a Reddit post, of all things, which is akin to getting your news from 4chan. On top of that, and this is a testament to Reddit’s users, the mods have stated outright that the user was not credible. This is an exact quote.

Apparently test screen guy is Atlanta Filming, created an account and sent fake spoilers/leaks. Trying to discredit other bloggers because he wants to be “the only legit source”.

If that weren’t telling enough, it was already announced back in March that the movie was going to undergo reshoots in August. Now thanks to “Justice League,” reshoots have gotten a bad name, but they’re a fairly common practice. Even the heavily-hyped, positively-perceived “Avengers 4” is scheduled for reshoots.

Even if those leaks were accurate, chances are the cut of the movie shown at test screenings isn’t the final cut. Kinberg himself has said that the reshoots are intended to shore up the final product, as one would expect of any piece of art. It sounds so reasonable and logical.

That still doesn’t matter, though. It doesn’t change the expectations. This movie still isn’t meeting the impossible set of criteria that fans spoiled by the MCU have so unreasonably set. It’s not in the MCU, nor is it being guided by Kevin Feige. Therefore, it must be terrible.

It’s unfair, unreasonable, and just plain asinine to judge “X-men: Dark Phoenix” by those standards, especially with reshoots to come and no official trailer. At this point, the negative expectations are so heavy that they’re starting to sound more and more like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

With that being the case, I feel like I can predict the reactions from people once the trailer drops. Sure, there will be some like me who are eager to give this movie a chance after what happened with “X-men: The Last Stand,” but I think there will be more comments like this.

“It’s not the MCU. I’ll pass.”

“X-men Apocalypse sucked! I’m not even giving this one a chance.”

“To hell with this movie! Just let Marvel have the rights back already! Fox can’t do anything right!”

Now, far be it from me to defend Fox, the same company that gave us “Wolverine: Origins,” but these are all intensely petty reasons to judge a movie. I say that as someone who is guilty of setting low expectations for movies, cartoons, comics, and TV shows. Hindsight has done plenty to reveal which of those were the result of self-fulfilling prophecies. That still doesn’t make the expectations any less absurd.

Even for those who aren’t just ardently opposed to any superhero movie that isn’t a product of the MCU, I think I can predict the criticisms they’ll probably levy against this movie even after it comes out. Chances are, they’ll be every bit as petty and include comments like this.

“It’s too dark and not cosmic enough!”

“It’s too cosmic and not grounded enough!’

“It’s too much like the comics!”

“It’s not enough like the comics!”

“It doesn’t have enough [Insert Favorite Character Here]!”

“It has too much [Insert Intensely Hated Character Here]!”

There will probably be plenty more excuses for hating this movie, far more than I can list. It doesn’t even matter how subjective they are or how empty they may be. People who are determined to hate something will find an excuse that satisfies their psyche and vindicates their feelings. Anything else would require that someone actually re-evaluate their expectations and that’s just untenable.

It’s frustrating and tragic that a movie or any piece of media would be subject to this kind of debasement before it’s even completed. It’s one thing for a movie to face skepticism because of production troubles, “Solo: A Star Wars Story” being the most recent example. For a movie whose primary crime is not being in the MCU, that’s just plain absurd.

In terms of the bigger picture, it’s good for superhero movies, as a whole, if “X-men: Dark Phoenix” succeeds. It’s unhealthy for the genre if the MCU is the only acceptable avenue for quality superhero movies. We’ve seen with “Wonder Woman” that it is possible for a superhero movie to succeed in a world that doesn’t have Robert Downy Jr. or Chris Pratt.

X-men: Dark Phoenix” deserves the same chance. That’s why I intend to keep my expectations high, but cautious for this movie. Even if it turns out to be good, though, I worry that it’ll be undercut by too many people who are too eager to hate it. It would be both a tragedy for the movie and all those involved, as well as a bad omen for the genre as a whole.

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Filed under Comic Books, Jack Fisher, Superheroes, media issues, movies, X-men

The War On Boredom: Generation Z Already Bored With The Internet?

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There’s a recurring theme in the history of conflict, crises, and panics of all kinds. Most of the time, there are obvious signs. From the Great Depression to the Great Recession of 2008 to telling signs that something was up with Harvey Weinstein, there were ominous hints that something much bigger was going on. By not heeding those hints, we made things worse in the long run.

Granted, those hints are obvious through the lens of hindsight. I don’t mean to make it sound like predicting a crisis is easy. If it were, then nobody would ever lose money in the stock market and terrorists would be out of a job. It’s an unfortunate, but unavoidable theme in human history. The various signs of looming issue are subtle and the implications require more foresight than our brains permit.

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That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make an effort to sniff out a crisis before it happens. The cost of being wrong is usually far less than the anguish of being right, albeit with a few notable exceptions. I’ve been talking about a particular crisis that may very well be in the early stages as I write this. It doesn’t involve harassment, wars, or economic collapse, though. It involves boredom.

I’ve speculated that boredom may be the plague of the future. I’ve even hypothesized that Generation Z, the current cohort that is barely out of their teen years, may be prone to the kind of nihilistic mentality that further compounds the effects of boredom. I sincerely hope I’m wrong, but I’ve yet to see anything to discount my points.

Call it the boredom wave. Call it the coming War on Boredom. Call it whatever you want. It’s an issue that we’ll have to address on some levels. As more and more of society becomes automated by machines and streamlined by artificial intelligence, more and more people will have more and more free time on their hands.

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Even if we get to the point where society has a universal basic income so that nobody has to work or toil, we still have a problem. What are people going to do with all that free time? What happens when there’s so much of it that the boredom becomes infuriating? It’s hard to say, although there have been some disturbing signs.

Recently, though, another sign emerged, courtesy of The Daily Beast. In a recent article, Taylor Lorenz explores some revealing anecdotes about how the emerging youth in Generation Z is getting bored with the internet activities that have kept Millennials so entertained for the past couple decades. If the War on Boredom is to be a real conflict, then this could end up being the catalyst.

Say what you will about the veracity of these anecdotes. There’s a reason anecdotal evidence is considered weak evidence by the legal and scientific community. These stories still offer distressing insights with equally distressing implications. This is just one that the article highlighted.

“When I’m bored while I’m on my phone and I’m switching between different apps… I’m just searching for something to do,” said Addie, a 15-year-old in Long Island. “It’s like walking around your house in circles.” Often, they’ll find nothing on their phone entertaining and simply zone out and daydream.

Now, I’m sure every previous generations, from Millennials to the Baby Boomers, will roll their eyes at that complaint. I can already hear the condemnations of this emerging generation. A part of me, a Millennial, even feels that way.

They say things like, “You kids have no idea how great you have it! You’ve got a gadget in your pocket that gives you unlimited access to the entire library of human knowledge and an endless stream of entertainment, from books to videos to pictures of cats. How the hell can you be bored by that?”

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However, that’s easy to say for those who are old enough to remember a world without the internet, smartphones, or streaming media. I didn’t have internet access in my house until I was about 13-years-old and even then it was a dial-up connection that was painfully slow and prone to cutting out suddenly. In terms of combating boredom, my generation had different tools and different methods when we were kids.

To us, as well as the generations before us, the usage of smartphones and the entertainment content of the internet is still amazing to us. I still remember what it was like being at the complete mercy of what was on TV and having to play video games with no online multiplayer or DLC. Those time seem so distant now, but the teenagers of Generation Z have no such perspective.

From their point of view, smartphones have always existed. The internet has always been this ubiquitous thing that they’re a part of. It’s not a modern wonder to them. It’s a trivial, mundane part of their lives. People like me can’t see it like that because we still remember a world without it.

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As a result, Generation Z isn’t going to see all the entertainment and media as a wonder. They’re going to see it as part of their normal and no matter what form normal takes, it’s still going to be boring to some extent. That’s part of what makes normal what it is. The article itself even acknowledges this.

It’s tempting to think that these devices, with their endless ability to stimulate, offer salvation from the type of mind-numbing boredom that is so core to the teen experience. But humans adapt to the conditions that surround them, and technical advances are no different. What seemed novel to one generation feels passé to the next. To many teens, smartphones and the internet have already lost their appeal.

It goes even further, distinguishing how Generation Z sees their smartphones and contrasting it with their Millennial predecessors. When someone my age or older sees a teenager on a phone, we don’t usually assume they’re just bored. We think they’re just another self-obsessed teenager who can’t resist checking their social media feeds every half-second.

While it’s much easier and more self-serving to assume that teenagers are just that self-obsessed, it’s probably more likely that boredom is a larger factor here. I would take it further than that. I would go so far as to claim that this is one of those signs that we foolishly overlooked in the future.

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These teenagers have access to the same technology and media that has kept other generations so engaged and enthralled. However, they’re seeing it and they’re bored by it. Anyone who knows anything about boredom understands that when boredom reaches a certain level, you’ll go to extremes to feel any kind of stimulation.

With that in mind, what kind of extremes will Generation Z resort to in their efforts to combat boredom? If they can’t get it from their phones or their computers, how will they combat this issue? To them, it’ll be a war. To every other generation, it’ll seem asinine. However, it may very well consume the social and political landscape of the future.

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Filed under Current Events, War on Boredom

When “Progress” Isn’t Really Progress

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After I graduated college, I got my first full-time job at a software company providing technical support. Out of respect for my former employer, I won’t name the company or the type of software it made. I’ll just say that, like all software, it sometimes malfunctioned and users got really upset.

For the most part, those seeking support were polite and reasonable. I enjoyed helping them. It made the job feel rewarding, despite the erratic hours and mediocre pay. However, there were certain customers who, for whatever reason, just weren’t satisfied complaining about the product. They basically went out of their way vent all their problems on whoever was unlucky enough to get their call.

At my office, we called these people “rubber wall users” because they weren’t just an impenetrable wall of whining. Any time you tried to throw something at them to fix their issue, it just bounced right back at you. While we tried to be professional, there was an unwritten rule that even my supervisor understood. You say whatever you have to say to get that person off the phone and on with their miserable lives.

I’m sharing that story because it’s a fitting metaphor for a phenomenon we’re seeing more and more of these days. I see it in movies, TV shows, video games, and even novels, which especially concerns me. It involves pressuring artists, producers, and developers to be more inclusive and diverse with their media. Then, when it finally happens, that’s labeled “progress.”

With respect to the sincerity of those efforts, as well as the memories of some of the angry customers I dealt with, I disagree.

I’ve talked about progress on this blog before, mostly within the context of just how much the human race has made over the past century. You won’t find many people who celebrate that progress as much as I do. By nearly every measure, we’re far more prosperous, tolerant, and well-behaved than we’ve ever been.

That said, there are certain kinds of progress that shouldn’t count as progress. They’re only progress in the same way that getting an unruly customer off the phone with some moniker of professionalism counted as progress at my old job. It’s not motivated by a sincere acceptance of diverse opinions. It’s just a way to stop the whining.

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For the past couple years, I’ve found myself wondering just how much of this false progress is being mislabeled. I’ve been seeing it in multiple mediums. Comic books, a medium for which I regularly express my love on this blog, is just one of them.

While I’ve avoided talking about such controversies, I have noticed the same trend that others have vocally criticized in other mediums. Major publishers, including Marvel, have been pushing for more diversity in their books, but their efforts haven’t always been well-received and the resulting “progress” isn’t necessarily cause for celebration.

Beyond the diversity push, Marvel even made an effort to de-sexualize their characters. While that’s only possible to some extent for overtly sexual characters like Emma Frost or DC’s Starfire, some of those efforts have had a noticeable effect on characters like Carol Danvers and Black Cat. It’s now much rarer to see female characters flaunt their sexuality.

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For some, that counts as progress. Specifically, for those who believe depictions of sexy female characters promotes misogyny and sexism, it counts as a victory. If it upsets the fans and robs an inherently visual medium of a unique form of beauty, then so be it. That’s the price of “progress.” If I could say that with more sarcasm, I would.

Again, I disagree. In fact, I would go so far as to say those efforts by Marvel backfired and not just because it cost their editor-in-chief his job. Marvel, like all media companies, is a business. Businesses need to please their customers. When certain customers are especially vocal, they have to listen to some extent, just as I had to listen to those customers.

It’s debatable how much those at Marvel actually bought into the “progress” that certain critics were asking for. I don’t doubt that some creators were sincere in their desire to improve diversity and expand the appeal of their comics. However, I also don’t doubt that a part of that effort was just to temper some of the whining by people who know how to be extra loud in the era of social media.

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While the impact on Marvel comics concerns me greatly, I noticed a much bigger effort late last year from an industry that has been prone to much louder criticisms. Specifically, it happened in one of my favorite video game franchises of all time, “Mass Effect.” Unlike what happened with Marvel, I’m not sure this beloved series will survive.

Prior to 2014, “Mass Effect” was the cream of the crop of video game franchises. It had a little of everything. There was action, drama, romance, exploration, insight, and yes, even a little sexiness. Characters like Miranda Lawson, Liara T’soni, Samara, EDI, and even the female protagonist, Shepard, had undeniable sex appeal.

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Then, in between the release of “Mass Effect 3” and the 2017 sequel, “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” a scandal broke out in the video game industry that involved everything from sexism to harassment to just how visible a character’s butt could be in a video game. I wish I were exaggerating, but it really happened and I don’t think the industry has fully recovered.

In the midst of that scandal, the demand for “progress” soared more than it did for most other mediums. Suddenly, the act of making a video game character too sexy was seen as contributing to a toxic culture of misogyny, sexism, and violence against women and minorities. It’s not like sex appeal had nothing to do with Lara Croft becoming so successful. Again, if I could say those words with more sarcasm, I would.

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Mass Effect: Andromeda” was developed in the eye of that storm. EA and Bioware couldn’t use the same approach they did with previous “Mass Effect” games. They had to be very careful with how they designed their characters, especially their female characters. One misplaced curve is all it would take to reignite a controversy that nobody wanted to deal with, given all the negative press the gaming industry had incurred.

As a result, the female characters in “Mass Effect: Andromeda” didn’t just dial down the sex appeal. In some cases, there was a concerted effort to make their female characters less attractive. This is best shown in the female model used for Sara Ryder, the main female protagonist. To say it didn’t translate to the game would be like saying drinking a gallon of bleach might make you a little queasy.

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Ryder wasn’t the only female character to have her looks tempered. Pretty much every female character, from the supporting cast to background characters, was designed with minimal sex appeal in mind. That’s not to say the game didn’t have some sexier moments, but compared to what other games attempted before that, it was pretty watered down.

That was just one of many problems that “Mass Effect: Andromeda” faced when it launched in March 2017. Now, games launching with bugs and glitches is nothing new. It’s standard practice for a game to get patched after launch. However, the extent of those bugs in “Mass Effect: Andromeda,” combined with unattractive characters, did not help the game’s reception.

I say that as someone who played the game and still loved it, for the most part. Since I love “Mass Effect” games so much, I found plenty of reasons to love “Mass Effect: Andromeda.” However, I found myself having to overlook more flaws than usual. I also found it hard to really admire the visual aspects of the game. Like comics, undermining that part of the experience can be pretty detrimental.

There were a lot of criticism levied against “Mass Effect: Andromeda.” Some are legitimate. Some are painfully valid. More than any other game, though, it was developed with the intent to promote a more diverse and inclusive product that appealed everyone and offended no one. As the sales and reception seem to indicate, though, even female gamers don’t like looking at unattractive characters.

As a result, nobody really hailed “Mass Effect: Andromeda” as progress. However, nobody staged a mass online protest claiming the game made its female characters too sexy and promoted toxic behaviors among its users. Some might count that as progress too. I am not one of them.

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In a sense, “Mass Effect: Andromeda” is a case study in a product where efforts towards progress just masked a desire to avoid outrage. Just avoiding outrage does not count as progress in any capacity. It just counts as a company trying to shield itself from bad publicity that might damaged its brand. Say what you will about corporate greed, but brand still matters to them, often more than money.

I don’t blame Bioware or EA at all for going that route, but simply avoiding outrage set the bar pretty low and it might have doomed “Mass Effect: Andromeda” before it ever had a chance. At the moment, the “Mass Effect” franchise is on indefinite hold because the response to “Mass Effect: Andromeda” was not what the developer had hoped.

Beyond the tragedy of damaging a beloved franchise, “Mass Effect: Andromeda” reflects a dangerous and potentially regressive sentiment in the industry. Rather than focus on pushing the envelope and doing something bold, artists and developers are more concerned with avoiding outrage. The actual quality of the final product can only ever be secondary, at most.

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There are a great many challenges facing the video game industry, as anyone who followed the news surrounding “Star Wars: Battlefront II” can attest. However, the precedent set by “Mass Effect: Andromeda” may very well be the most damaging.

Most agree that video games, like any other media, should work to appeal to a broad audience. However, as Marvel found out, forcing certain kinds of “progress” can have some pretty detrimental effects in the long run. It alienates consumers, frustrates developers, and limits the incentives to innovate and try new things.

At the end of the day, making female superheroes less sexy in comics and making characters in “Mass Effect” less attractive did nothing to reduce sexism, promote gender equality, or foster a more inclusive culture. All it really did was go out of its way to stop exceedingly vocal critics from whining.

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Bioware and EA didn’t suddenly become more enlightened about video games, female characters, and the impact of mass media. They simply took the path of least resistance, doing what would generate the least amount of outrage, at least in terms of sexist accusations. That’s not progress. That’s just frustration and, like my old job, very little good comes from it.

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Filed under gender issues, sex in media, sexuality, video games