The Ring of Power and The Use Thereof – An Open Letter to the Kermit Independent School District

Dear Kermit Independent School District,

I write to you in defence of Master Aiden Steward, a fourth-grader in one of your municipal schools, recently suspended for threatening to “use” the One Ring on another student.

I do not cavil with the child’s possession of the One Ring, or dispute that it is an artifact of considerably dangerous magical power. The extent to which it has somehow avoided destruction at the end of the Third Age is indeed disturbing (reputedly destroyed on March 25, 3019TA, Old Reckoning), and to see it in the hands of a child, quite disturbing! How right you are to take some interest!

That being said, it must be stressed that Master Steward would have no opportunity, and indeed, no ability to use the One Ring “on” another child! This is no mere Ring of Power! Whilst Narya, the Elven Ring of Fire, can be used to “inspire others to resist tyranny, domination, and despair”, for example, the One Ring, like the Seven and the Nine can only be used to enhance the innate powers and abilities of the wearer.

Hence, for Hobbits, it enhanced the natural stealth and quietude of the bearer into true invisibility, but invisibility was not the ring’s power, nor for that matter “disappearance”. It would only likely apply to externalities when wielded by a powerful magician in their own right, to enhance their powers. To quote Gandalf:

“With that power I should have power too great and terrible. And over me the Ring would gain a power still greater and more deadly. Do not tempt me! For I do not wish to become like the Dark Lord himself. Yet the way of the Ring to my heart is by pity, pity for weakness and the desire of strength to do good. Do not tempt me! I dare not take it, not even to keep it safe, unused. The wish to wield it would be too great for my strength. I shall have such need of it. Great perils lie before me.”

It is quite unlikely that even a noticeably malevolent boy from West Texas is sufficiently trained in the sorcerer’s arts to wield the Ring of Power to channel magic against another.

Of course, children with natural magical gifts are not unknown: there is an anecdotal case of a fifteen year old girl named Sarah Williams able to invoke the power of Jareth the Goblin King as late as 1986. In that instance, the outcome of that case, and the Goblin King’s prurient interest in the minor is well known – it is to be anticipated that the danger was in age-inappropriate fraternization, and not natural magical ability.

If you are questioning the relevance of these submissions, you should familiarise yourself with the case of Tuberville v Savage (1669), jurisprudence imported into American law from before the War of Independence, and indeed, although Texas was contemporaneously under Spanish and later Mexican authority, brought to bear as part of the laws of Texas when it came to join the Union.

In that case, Tuberville grabbed the handle of his sword and stated, “If it were not assize-time, I would not take such language from you.” A serious threat, much in the manner of claiming to wield the One Ring against someone! In that instance, however, the court held that the threat was of no-effect as it was assize-time, and accordingly by implication Tuberville would take such language. Although not precisely “on all fours”, the similarities can still be noted: the threat to “use” the One Ring to cause another child to vanish could not ever be undertaken – even ignoring the ancient provenance of this law, the elements of a threat which is actionable requires both the threat and the ostensible or apparent means to genuinely carry it out! Master Steward might have issued a similar threat with nothing more than one of his schoolbooks, or a wave of his hands! Even were Master Steward one of the vaunted “Stewards of Gondor” (the line of Húrin, now extinguished), it would not likely confer upon him magical powers of the kind alleged!

In fact, amusingly, the only way in which Master Steward could cause another child to vanish with the One Ring would be to give it over to that other child freely, and allow them access to its power. Although there would be a degree of moral hazard in such a proposal, a gift, freely given, is not a “terroristic threat”, as the suspension orders have maintained. All in all, this appears to an instance where, like Sauron himself, overreach has caused your position to become untenable. We trust that you can see there is no ongoing risk to any child, and that the threat alleged was not such that any form of disciplinary action (inclusive of suspension) needs to be undertaken against Master Steward.

Of course, if you find a student threatening another with a Hogwarts affiliated wand, please contact the proper authorities.

Go Yellow Jackets!

Yours,

Robert Mackenzie

Buy Someone A Beverage

Last year, the Christmas posting was a whimsical assessment of the fun of getting drunk and enjoying Doctor Who.

Let’s face it, 2014 has been less than whimsical. It’s been, in fact, less than joyous. Whilst good stuff has been happening this year (for some of us), random internet sampling, mixed with generalised awfulness, has given me a pretty clear indication that all my nearest (and not so nearest, thanks to the POWER OF THE INTERNET™) and dearest have been suffering pretty hard this year. I can only blame it on an alignment of dark stars that overshadow the fates of the righteous – or possibly just random coincidence.

WHATEVER the cause, it’s time we did something about it. I don’t have the capacity to send round a singing Christmas gorilla-gram to cheer people, or even to think of something appropriately comforting to say. It’s easy to mouth platitudes, but it’s also easy to see that for all the good we have going on (and there is some good), we can’t necessarily resolve all our problems. All we can do is help each other manage them.

To that end, I propose that if you’re reading this, you buy someone a beverage. Not necessarily alcoholic (though of course, why not?). Buy yuletide cocoa, or eggnog – or an orange juice, milkshake, classic Coke or even that good old reliable: a cup of coffee. A lot of people are doing it tough financially, so I’m not proposing you do more than one, nor that you means test it – just find someone, and without solicitation, offer to pick them up a drink in an appropriate context. Nothing picks me up quite so much as the idea that random acts of kindness do happen – it helps remind us that they might be just around the corner for each of us.

Please don’t use it as an excuse for flirting (unless the other party is giving you clear consent for that, I’m not trying to start a burst of cliched pick-ups here). You’re welcome to buy it in rounds with your friends – sometimes an excuse to gather together and look after one another is just as valuable as something for a stranger.

Let’s try and end 2014 with a little bit more grace than it’s shown us, eh?

Oh, and if you do it – please do let me know.

Illegitimi non carborundum and, if I don’t speak to you again, gentle readers – happy holidays. I’m thinking of you.

Santa Baby (Reprise)

Because of a lament on the internet I overheard today regarding a lack of appropriate seasonal duets, I had to do a quick mock-up of a secular Christmas duet to add to the repertoire this year. With apologies to Eartha Kitt.

“Santa Baby, slip a sable under the tree, For me. (Granting Christmas wishes is what I’m here for!)
been an awful good girl, Santa baby, (That’s what the idea’s for!)
so hurry down the chimney tonight.

Santa baby, a 54 convertible too,
Light blue. (I…see…well, I suppose it is the giving time of year. That’s fine.)
I’ll wait up for you dear, (Don’t, because I operate on a non-linear perception of time.)
Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight.

Think of all the fun I’ve missed,
Think of all the fellas that I haven’t kissed, (That’s not really my concern.)
Next year I could be just as good,
If you’ll check off my Christmas list, (Wait a minute, are you trying to earn?)

Santa baby, I wanna yacht,
And really that’s not a lot, (I have to tell you, lady, Christmas isn’t for a spending spree.)
Been an angel all year, (Wait, are you trying to seduce presents out of me?)
Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight.

Santa honey, there’s one thing I really do need, (ONE THING?)
The deed
To a platinum mine, (Oh, for pity’s sake! That takes the cake!)
Santa honey, so hurry down the chimney tonight.

Santa cutie, and fill my stocking with a duplex,
And checks. (This isn’t in the spirit of Yuletide cheer!)
Sign your ‘X’ on the line,
Santa cutie, and hurry down the chimney tonight. (I love all the people on the Earth, but not like this my dear.)

Come and trim my Christmas tree, (Okay, I see what you’re doing there.)
With some decorations bought at Tiffany’s,
I really do believe in you, (I have to say, this isn’t fair.)
Let’s see if you believe in me,

Santa baby, forgot to mention one little thing,
A ring. (I’m already married!)
I don’t mean on the phone, (We’ve never even met!)
Santa baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight,
Hurry down the chimney tonight,
Hurry, tonight.”

Curious Things – The Doctor Who Finale (Spoilers)

SPOILERS HEREUNDER

This is not, hopefully clearly now, my Doctor Who blog. But looking back over the archive, I do spend a bit of time talking about the show, when I’m not complaining about politics or writing parody songs. It’s only natural – I’m a big fan of the property, and unlike many of my other areas of interest I don’t otherwise have an online outlet through which to spout off about it. Longer thoughts than Twitter can handle, irregular enough that I don’t bother reviewing every episode. Normally I just enthuse, or complain, to people about it when cornered.

So, to preface all of this, let me say that I’ve enjoyed the heck out of this season, all things considered. Some genuinely great episodes, two that I really loved, more that I genuinely liked. It’s been AT least two seasons since I’ve been as happy with the show overall…

…BUT…

hated tonight’s finale. To borrow a phrase from the late great Roger Ebert, I hated, hated, hated, hated, HATED this finale. I think there are two reasons for this, both nested, both stemming from laziness, but both ultimately pernicious. This isn’t just lazy writing, it’s BAD writing, and looking at the two issues, you can really see why. There’s a lot to like here, as everywhere, Capaldi’s always fantastic, I enjoyed “Missy’s” performance just fine, and I even concede there’s the germs of some good ideas here and there…

…BUT…

1) Responsibility

The thing that works about the Mistress’ plan? That fundamentally giving the Doctor ultimate power is a great attack. Oblique, but brilliant, and brilliant because it should – if executed correctly – be infallible. Because inaction is a sin too, if you follow the metric through properly. If he commands an army to force an ethos, then he’s accountable as a conqueror. But if he refuses to command that army then he’s responsible for everything they don’t do. Pacifism is a fine thing, but if you declare that you won’t use your power to stop, say, Hitler from invading Poland, then you’re – to a degree – responsible for what happens when he does. Not acting is a choice too.

Of course, the Doctor does – and must – do this every day. He has limits, for which ultimately he is grateful. And he has rules, which are like limits, but are self-defined (and sometimes broken), but that allow him to sleep at night. Thematically, though, he’s carried with him since the relaunch the fact that he IS making those choices, as any time traveler must.

I’ve been rewatching Goodnight Sweetheart lately, almost the conceptual opposite of Doctor Who in terms of time travel stories: it’s about a patently human man, and not a very nice one at that, who can only travel from a fixed location to another fixed location, from one time to another in a particular increment. Gary Sparrow, our protagonist jaunts between the mid ’90s and WWII London for a spot of light plagiarism and heavy adultery. But despite the fact there’s a war on, about which he has vital information, he struggles with how much to use it. “What happens,” he asks, “if I interfere?”

Doctor Who sometimes tries to play with this question, but it by and large relies on handwaves to avoid the big questions about destiny and interference because week to week it likes to be a show about a very peculiar type of superhero. And that’s okay. Except in episodes like this one, which seek to have their cake and eat it too. If you raise the question of moral hazard, you have to address it. The power proposed to be handed to him is just an extension of the power he uses everyday, which means rejecting it contains anti-science philosophy of the worst order (ME AM PLAY GOD, cries the Doctor, berating himself for pushing past the limits of what he’s meant to do) which is untenable because he regularly helps people by shattering barriers of limitation (like when he agreed to disrupt the natural order of life and death for a buddy in this two-parter) or sheer lack of empathy (“Yes, yes, ultimate power, but that doesn’t suit ME, I prefer my box and the helping I do when travelling is ultimately a question of ‘why not?'”), which is tenable, but inconsistent with a hundred putative self-sacrifices and the show’s hoped for tone overall. So then, what’s the point of it all? The episode doesn’t appear to function as a renunciation of the Doctor’s meddling – after all, when he throws the bracelet to Danny he has a plan as evidenced by the end of the episode when he’s aware of the possibility, indeed, in his mind, the likelihood of Danny coming back. The Doctor claims his companions are better than an army…and then proves it by using them in such a manner. Which, if nothing else, demonstrates that the moral hazard that the Mistress is theoretically subjecting him to is null and void. The conflict, such as it is, is without stakes, and has always been without stakes. He is not rejecting power, he’s merely demonstrating he’s always had more of it, so the gift is an irrelevance, despite the show’s attempts to paint it as something incredible. Of course, the Doctor (since the relaunch) has regularly defeated unstoppable armies with nothing but his wits and his friends, so I don’t know why the Mistress (or the Doctor) expects any different.

This would be bad, of course, but it’s followed by the even more asinine (and indeed, more offensive) murder of the Mistress at the hands of the CyberBrig. Now, some people have suggested the likelihood that (of course) the Mistress will live through this, and all signs point to yes – but it’s not presented that way within the confines of the narrative. Chance the Gardner isn’t walking across a hidden pier: what is on the screen is on the screen and it is presented, unequivocally, as murder. Now, I don’t have a problem with the Brig shooting people. He’s the Brigadier, and it is to an extent what he’s for. But like Jack Harkness (for those more familiar with New Who than Old Who), the Brigadier always served as a counterpoint, someone embracing an alternate conflict resolution philosophy which brought him into conflict with the Doctor even as their mutual respect as peers deepened into reliance and friendship. Now, this Doctor clearly has a slightly different attitude towards killing than most of the recent crop (for better or for worse) and the fact that this summary execution is topped off with a respectful salute to an old friend might have passed as a minor sin if not for the fact that the episode just – immediately prior to the execution in question – set it up as a grave moral wrong. A sin so vile that to do it would “destroy Clara’s soul”, another cross for the Doctor to bear on someone else’s behalf. Until, a few seconds later, it’s a problem conveniently solved.

This is inconsistency, but it’s not due to a muddling of events or “confusion” (an allegation often laid at Moffat’s feet), it’s due to a complete failure to take a position on the ethical issue with which the Doctor is confronted. Like the promise of ultimate power, ultimately cast aside by the Doctor with nary a qualm, the moral praxis of the situation is revealed, in fact, not to exist. It makes for something far worse than an inconsistent show, it makes for an EMPTY show. A hollow show.

The episode fails to carry through on a single one of its posited issues because it fundamentally fails to take those ethical positions, instead allowing people’s emotions towards activities to drift moment by moment to service speeches. The Undead Cybermen are the greatest threat the universe has ever faced, except they can easily be ordered to self-destruct. The Doctor’s decision to let them go will haunt him until the end of his days, except it clearly doesn’t – by episode’s end he’s moved on to OTHER apparently haunting moral choices. Danny hates officers but can save the day as a simple soldier…by ordering mindless drones to destroy themselves and their technological foundation. To kill the Mistress would be a bad thing if Clara did it, a less bad thing if the Doctor did it, and apparently not a thing at all if the Brigadier did it. Tennant’s Doctor, who wept uncontrollably as he lost the Master, who begged him to stay on the understanding that things could be different, that they needed each other, is gone, Capaldi’s doctor steps over the corpse of his one time friend without a magnificent eyebrow out of place. Which, you know, might be alright given that the episode doesn’t explain why Clara killing a mass-murdering grave robber would be wrong. It takes it as sinful as a given, then when the sin is committed, breezes past it. This can only lead to a feeling of disconnectedness, of artifice because suddenly you can see the strings in the puppet show.

Without these moments, what’s left? The Mistress doing her best Con-Air? The Doctor plummeting like Roger Moore for the safety of a target? Sanjeev Bhaskar doing Nightmare at 20,000 Feet? The murder of fan-favourite guest stars? The answer is very, very little.

And yet, we’re not done. We haven’t crossed into the realm of the most damning moment in the episode, the minute that takes it from bad to genuinely bothersome. The kind of thing that inspires multi-thousand word blog posts.

2) The Power of Love

Now, almost every review I’ve read, comment I’ve seen made, has noted this, usually with a half-affectionate eyeroll. “Oh, yes. How cheesy. Still, the kiddies are there, and what more can you expect, eh?”

Better. We can expect better.

And before you dismiss me as holding a wholly unromantic soul, let me assure you that quite the contrary is the case. To coin a glam rock phrase, I believe in a thing called love. But the show isn’t serving it, or honouring it. It’s betraying it.

If the narrative of the story is to be believed, stakes are set up when Danny’s inhibitor chip might be turned on. Switched off, we are told, he remains at least in part himself, switched on, he will be the unrepentant killing machine we’ve come to expect a Cyberman to be. The show outright says this, with promises of neck-snapping to come and all.

Except, of course, the chip comes on, Danny gains the insight he apparently needed (though “evil cloud is evil and might need to be destroyed”  doesn’t seem like a BIG logical leap for the Doctor to make, even if he is a little leery of Mistress engendered double bluffs) but he still loves Clara too much to ever hurt her.

How sweet.

Except, what does that say for the rest of humanity? The power of love, as a storytelling device, is best used (when used) as an instance of narrative grace. Sometimes, if you’re very lucky, the universe is kind to the good, and love is the best in all of us. True love is an instance of an assumed higher platonic good, and steps taken in it are taken in respect of a fundamentally moral goal. Thanks to our ideas about courtly and romantic love, love itself is usually presented as a form of divine providence (even in non-religious texts) a force to whose purity the world will occasionally respond. The narrative – particularly the “heroic” narrative – usually emphasises this by confining itself it a single set of true lovers, who represent, unique among them, the truth of true love.

Except, this isn’t the presentation of true love in the story as presented. Oh no – Danny and Clara’s love is explicitly presented as an achievement. There love is strong enough to defy the order of nature, not because of the nature of love, but because of the nature of the lovers. And we know this, because we’ve seen – both implicitly and explicitly – true lovers fall victim to the Cybermen before and not come out on top. Vast SWATHES of humanity have fallen to the Cybermen. The episode itself presents literally millions of the recently dead, whose love does not save them (whatever it may be, existing as it surely, statistically, must among the multitude). Remember Age of Steel the Cybermen episode in which they truly debuted? Remember when JACKIE TYLER got turned into an emotionless robot? Remember Army of Ghosts?

Love isn’t enough. Like Winston in Room 101, your love, as strong as it maybe, isn’t enough to save you. That’s what makes the Cybermen scary, at least conceptually, the thing that brings them up alongside the Dalek’s as Doctor Who’s big monster. The Cybermen take humans and take away their humanity.

Except, all this time, it turns out that this wasn’t the case: every poor bastard who has become a Cyberman soldier thus far hasn’t just loved hard enough. They haven’t been invested in their human emotions as much as Danny and Clara have. More fool them.

The episode takes an instance of grace, and turns it into a character accomplishment. It may not mean to, but that’s the inescapable conclusion of the events as presented in the episode. Everyone remains a robot except for Danny (and the Brig, who I’ll come to in a minute).

That is, in and of itself, a horrible message, because it takes an ineffable human experience, the experience of being in love, and reduces it to something quantifiable. It takes the immeasurable, measures it, and finds most of humanity wanting. It promises miracles, but only for those who are “special” enough. It moves to sort the wheat from the chaff.

AND YET — AND YET – that might, might, might in some conceivable universe be okay, or at least interesting. If this were a love story that spanned all of time and space and was the entire theme and substance of the show, if it was devoted to the idea that some love maybe is more special than other kinds and devoted all its energies into examining that question it might, in sufficiently skilled hands, reach a point where that’s not wholly dismissive of one of the primary human experiences. But Doctor Who, you haven’t earned it. I say this as someone who, generally, has good feelings about the Doctor/Clara romance, who thinks the season brought out by far the best in Clara, a character who I never clicked with until this season, who liked Danny and even liked them together. That’s still  a cheque your body can’t cash.

Falling on the power of love is hackneyed and cliched. But we’ve gone beyond that at this point. We’ve traveled into the territory where instead of cheaply cashing in on human emotion, the show is outright betraying it with facility. It’s romantic objectivism – insufficient love is dragging us down.

Added to this, we can’t ignore that this was done in the cheapest way possible. Last of the Time Lords which ALSO had the Master undone by the power of the human spirit and wish fulfillment, which has traditionally met my lowest of the low standards for episodes, at least bothered with the technobabble of the Archangel network. And at least they made the achievement of the human spirit a coming together of the whole of the human race, not the love of one man for one woman elevated above the whole of humanity.

And then there’s the Brig. And look, the Brigadier is a great character. He’s an important character. It’s important to say goodbye to him. But we did that. We did that with the Eleventh Doctor taking a telephone call about his death, a moment that floored him, that reminded him of the best things that he could lose, of the inexorability of the end, the memory of a man who gave him enough strength and dignity to stop running. That’s an amazing legacy to convey on a character. And then, to go one better, the gave us Kate Lethbridge-Stewart and they gave the character a future.

I have no doubt that the Brigadier loved his daughter. And maybe he was itching for a chance to do one more sniper killing for his old pacifist friend. But in the context of the episode, he’s someone we’ve never met. And yet, the brainwashing, indeed, the mechanical brain rewiring, doesn’t pause him for a moment as he leaps into the sky like the Rocketeer. Is he still alive? Will we get SuperBrig the Cyborg cameos? Has the noble death of a good man been reduced to Robocop?

Also, remember what the inhibitor chip is for anybody? It’s not just to bring you under control, it’s because the pain of being cyberised is so intense so as to drive you mad, and is everlasting. With everything they can do, they can’t stop the pain. They can just bring you to a point where it doesn’t matter to you anymore. Except, what are inhibitor chips even for now? Apparently sufficiently motivated Cybermen have been able to feel things all along, meaning that by all rights they should’ve collapsed into gibbering hallucinatory pain. Unless they’re resisting that, unmentioned, as well.

I’ve thus far ignored the fact that the Doctor didn’t do anything (literally, go through the episode step by step, unless you count turning on the inhibitor chip that doesn’t work he does nothing – even Indy has a better record in Raiders), because, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, that’s okay, in some stories. But fundamentally, for a finale of this kind, we’re owed a plan.

We’re owed a plan not because the heroic narrative calls for the display of power (and the Doctor’s power has always been cleverness) but we’re owed a plan because love is fragile sometimes, as well as beautiful. It’s rare, and it can be hard, and it can be snuffed out at a moment’s notice – by careless words, mistimed actions, incautious strangers, or (yes, Danny Pink) a swerving car on the high street. This risk, this fragility, doesn’t rob it of it’s beauty – it enhances it. It’s important because an amoral universe has every opportunity to snuff out love, but sometimes, if people work really hard, because it matters to them, but also because they’re clever and they try (and not just let the universe take care of it for them) they get to keep it anyway. Love is worth fighting for. It doesn’t do the fighting for you. It might make you stronger, but it makes you do the fighting all the same. And rightly so.

That’s the emotional reality. And it’s the emotional realities that ground the fantasy of a fantasy show, that make it real. That make it mean something. I don’t ask that Doctor Who practice hard science (heaven forfend), and I give it a by, most of the time, on wonkiness of internal logic (although I’ll argue that to be a good episode, that internal logic needs to hold up – the beauty of the concept of the show is its premise contains enough flexibility to allow that internal logic to have any number of bizarre elements as long as they’re built up correctly, but I digress). But I do ask it to have some kernel of emotional truth, some clarity amongst the noise of the beeping whizzbang and the exploding aeroplanes, to make us care a little. Make us care about the emotional stakes, and you and Santa can hunt xenomorphs all you want.

This was lazy. But it wasn’t just lazy. It was stupid and ugly and sad. I have liked a lot of Season 8, but this, this one stung. It made me angry, but mainly it just leaves me cold, just after letting me warm up for a season. Damn it, Doctor Who. You better bring the A-Game at Christmas. I expect better. We all should.

Hanging Up My Commissar’s Hat (Inasmuch As They Wear Them)

When I first chose the name, I chose it flippantly.

It will come as no surprise to many that I was/am leery of an online identity which gave too much information about my real life. We life in an age of easy, readily targeted harassment, malice and fraud, and conversely, a real-world which doesn’t necessarily allow the freedom of expression that online space (for all its pitfalls) can and does provide.

So, reaching out for something punchy, something memorable, I seized on that. It became the title for this blog, a Twitter handle, and various other ways and means as I moved more permanently and publicly onto social media. It would play. It provided branding. I initially accompanied it with the stylised Soviet era propaganda posters that formed part of the back material of Superman: Red Son. It was a joke, based on satirising an oppressively high-handed approach to pop culture, an appeal to authority that did not, and could not, ever possibly exist.

All in good fun, perhaps, but unfortunately, in recent days more than ever, it has become all too apparent that some people do believe in that appeal to authority. They do believe in a hierarchy in which their opinions genuinely hold more weight, based on some kind of ill-defined power dynamic.

This is the language of the “fake geek girl” conspirator, the language of GamerGate which demands issues of social justice be removed, the language that suggests that cosplay is ruining fandom, that things were always better before they were popular, and that there is a core experiential narrative to being a fan of something.

Suffice to say, I do not believe this, and never have. What I said in jest, too many try to say with conviction. And though I have never received a complaint, or a comment (people talk about my Alistair Cookie Twitter avatar a lot though), I am conscious, and continually more conscious as I see it, of the implicit gatekeeping language in the assumed title.

I would hope that anyone who has spoken to me, or read things I have written (in so far as I am not howling at the wilderness) would understand this about me on first touching base, but be that as it may, I don’t want to be a participant in a shaming or exclusionary culture, even in the service of a joke, even in the most minor of ways. “It is all in good fun” is often used by the worst offenders as an excuse, and even if it is true, it doesn’t excuse even unintentionally promoting geek culture, pop culture, or indeed, any culture, as a space where there can be an assumed “better-than-thou” attitude. When locked in a culture war (and let’s not pretend we aren’t) every little casualty matters.

Beyond that, for example, the violence and the virulence of the reaction to the term “gamer” being suggested as obsolete has struck a chord that has always bothered me: the deep division of identity politics based around something as fundamentally inessential (if, obviously, capable of sustaining passionate interest and support) as the things you like or do not like to play, watch, read or enjoy. The human experience is so diverse, and so rich, that even where the assumption of an identity is in part by means of reclamation (like “geek”, a word with which, in all honesty, I have never been entirely comfortable despite this noble intention), to try and use it as a tribal marker is ultimately as much about who is not amongst your number than a point of shared enjoyment. I’m just not comfortable with that anymore, or at least as not as comfortable as I used to be. If you wear that kind of label with pride, in order to make yourself part of a tribe, then it makes you accountable, to an extent, for the actions of that tribe. And this tribe, for all the wonderful things it brings, has some toxic issues. For me, at least, I’d rather try and connect with people about liking things, than assume some form of kinship with the people who try and make that experience as uncomfortable as possible for them.

It may well be that no-one cares but me, but still, feeling as I do, I felt it was time for a change. For some things which will be too difficult to changeover, the title will remain, but I am removing it as a label effective immediately.

For those who suddenly do not recognise the name of the person speaking to them, I hope this explains why.

Thank You

The last post I wrote on here was addressed to geek culture at large (and GamerGate in the specific). It was a declaration of which FUCKING SIDE I AM ON (which should be the side of anyone with a shred of conscience and decency). But the forces of evil (and make no mistake, that’s not hyperbole, if you’re marching under the same banner as someone threatening to start shooting bystanders because women promulgate well-reasoned analysis of video games that is the team you have joined) have continued making my own little corner of the world an ugly place.

And the world is ugly enough.

But I’m not talking to them any more. This isn’t about them. I’m not talking about me either.

This is a thank you note. This is a thank you to all the women who stand up, when very real threats give them every reason to stop. This is a thank you to female creators, who strive to bring something different, to make the tapestry of experience in unwelcoming subcultures a little richer and a little brighter. This is a thank you to female critics, who make every creator better by giving them something else to think about. This is a thank you to female fans, who do brave things – like being themselves, like wearing their hearts on their (sometimes hand-sewn) sleeves – for no other reason than they truly, truly love something that they’ve experienced or created. And then are called frauds for it. And then go back out there and do it again anyway.

To those who have opted out, who have fled hobbies, who have made an assessment of their safety or their wellbeing and determined it is too risky to speak out, I thank you for what you were able to give, for weathering the storm as best you could, for your bravery, and for being kindred spirits and the silent mass that will bring the change we need to see. It takes more courage than I think I’ve ever had to display, and I hope, someday the situation is such you feel you can return.

Thanks to those non-obvious creators, game writers who the general public hasn’t heard of (I’d feel remiss if I didn’t mention the Bioware writers pit, who have offered me as many hours of entertainment as any creator I can readily think of), but also editors, artists, composers, cinematic designers, illustrators and animators, RPG makers who give us so much without us necessarily realising or noticing it. Most of the things I love couldn’t be made without you.

Thanks to pseudonymous authors and creators who give us the benefit of your perspective – you know who you are, even if we don’t – you are the tutelary spirits of a better world, and we owe you a debt.

Most importantly of all (on a personal level) thank you to my female friends, both online and in person, who bear up under a monstrous onslaught with grace, humour and fortitude. You’ve helped me see things in different ways, and genuinely made me a better person, and I’m damn sure I’m not the only one. The world keeps trying to beat you down, and you keep getting back up.

Everyone’s been talking about how deplorable the situation is lately (and rightly so), but when the backwards and the reactionary and the downright malicious are arrayed against you: in politics, in pop culture, in medicine, in rights and basic human decency, you shine like fucking champions. We should be so lucky to catch a little of that light.

Please Grow Up

This post started as a post in support of Anita Sarkeesian. Everyone’s kept up to date with Anita Sarkeesian, right? The disgusting, brutal abuse which she has suffered, for the sole reason that she documented and sought to draw to the public’s attention, certain issues with the presentation of women in video games? It’s nothing new, of course: Anita’s Feminist Frequency and its series on Tropes vs Women In Video Games has been going for a while, and has attracted negative attention from certain elements of the community (e.g. assholes) since they began.

It started that way, but it became about all kinds of things, because the internet this week made me SO tired. Naked celebrities. Dragon Age romances. #GamerGate.

Why am I making a blog post about this stuff? Who cares about another nobody’s opinion on all these hot-button topics in our subculture, right?

WRONG. 

I mean, you’re not obligated to care about my opinion, honestly. Nobody is. But because I post in the pop-cultural space the people who I will, perhaps uncharitably, call “the bad guys” keep trying to turn me into an ally. Because, unlike many of my friends, I am not a woman, or gay, or transgender. Because I am, in fact, a member of that most privileged of all demographics – the white, heterosexual, upper-middle class, professional, cisgender male – I am not met with hate speech, or threats. I am not even met with imprecations, really. I am met with appeals.

I am approached by the worst kind of anti-feminists and exclusivity advocates who choose to cloak their reproaches in the language of rationality. “Don’t be fooled,” the haters cry. “Don’t be seduced. Nothing’s really wrong. How can it be, when you love so much that has come before? We are being misrepresented! We just want to keep things at their best!”

I’m making this post as a statement of policy, to which I will direct all such enquiries.

YOU ARE IN THE WRONG, GEEK CULTURE. YOU ARE IN THE WRONG, GAMING CULTURE. YOU ARE IN THE WRONG, COMICS CULTURE.

I’m not saying any person talking to me is wrong in any particular specific. I’m not even saying that I won’t engage in debate on a bunch of topics, because I will, I’m an easy mark like that.

What I’m saying is that if you believe the status quo (or, even worse, some halcyon imagined past) is not in need of drastic reform, we are arrayed against one another.

Alea iacta est. 

Please stop trying to recruit me for the team.

I’m not saying you’re all, necessarily, bad people – though some of you clearly, obviously are, I’m sorry to tell you. Being wrong about some things doesn’t make you bad. I’m frequently wrong (though I’m not wrong about this).

YOU ARE NOT AS ENTITLED AS YOU THINK YOU ARE.

I don’t care if bullies pantsed you in front of your confirmation class. I don’t care if you felt isolated and your only retreat was into science fiction. I don’t care if you’ve been gaming since Galaga.

You are not entitled to reserve a space for people who are “just like you”. You are not entitled to feel abandoned, because some people are asking for basic extensions of human decency. You are not entitled to hurt people, even if you yourself have, at some point in your life, been hurt. Guess what? We’ve ALL been hurt, but some people get the added difficulty of being hurt and having less support, less allies, less places to turn, just because of certain elements of how they were born.

Someone tried to tell me today, with a straight face, that gaming wasn’t “for” women, that it never would be, and that attempts to trying to make it so were flawed and wrong, because women had other spaces to be and men deserved a space that could be “for them”, in a way that clearly took “for them” right over the edge of “to the detriment of anybody else”.

Like so many elements of geek culture, the argument ultimately came down to that old saw, that bugaboo that so many geeks seem afraid of:

“Secretly, everyone hates me. They fail to see what I deserve.” 

Secretly, everyone hates me – so they’re going to take things I like away from me. Secretly, everyone hates me – so they’re going to try and be involved in a space I thought was designed only for my benefit. Secretly, everyone hates me-  so why shouldn’t I be suspicious when they seem to love the things I love. Secretly, everyone hates me – so why shouldn’t I see women as enemies trying to deny me what I want.

Secretly, everyone hates me – so why shouldn’t I hate them?

They fail to see what I deserve – I’ve had a hard life, so I deserve a space where everything comes easily to me. They fail to see what I deserve – some kind of sexual reward for being a nice person, as I see myself in my own head. They fail to see what I deserve – a community of like minds in every respect, because I was once lonely. They fail to see what I deserve – I’ve been a loyal consumer all this time, so everything should be targeted to me.

They fail to see what I deserve – I deserve the love of my culture, manifested as obedience to my whim, because I have loved it.

Do you know who sees love as obedience? Children. It’s children who cry and scream “You don’t love me” when a parent sends them to bed or takes away their toy or makes them share with the other kids. It’s children who throw tantrums when they don’t get what they want in the toy store, when another child gets more praise than them, when they’re expected to let someone else talk and breathe and be.

It’s infinitely more childish to behave this way than to pick up a console and pretend to fly a spaceship, roll some dice and fight imaginary elves, or escape for a while to a place where you can believe that people can fly. I will defend to the hilt that there’s nothing immature about that, but there is so much that is immature in the culture surrounding that.

A bunch of people freaked out this week when it was suggested that the term “gamer” needs to go away. The reason for getting rid of it is simple, it’s keeping people out. It is for keeping people outAnd all the counter-arguments, that it’s about loyalty, about self-identity, about bona fides, they’re disingenuous. It’s not about how loyal you are, that’s easy enough to establish without recourse to a tribal marker – it’s about establishing how other people aren’t loyal enough. That they haven’t “earned” it. They don’t deserve what you deserve, which is, by some accounts, everything.

Just stop it. You’re on the wrong side of history – but more than any of that: none of these people hate you. They’re just asking for a seat at the table which has given you succour. They’re just saying “you are hurting me, please stop.” You do understand that’s what it’s about, right? When someone says “this is a problem for me”, they’re saying “this thing, if it continues unabated, is actively going to make my life worse”. There’s no possible justification for that, in the world of entertainment, no reason to hurt someone else just to make yourself feel better. That’s bullying, that thing you’re supposed to hate, remember?

If you honestly, truly, think that your life has made you a victim, start having some sympathy for real victims. Start realising that, yes, mummy and daddy are going to pay attention to your other brothers and sisters, but that’s okay. You don’t need it all, and you’ll get a fair share, anyway. You might get less toys, but you’ll have more kids to play with.

Please grow up. Please just stop it. And if you’re not going to stop it, please stop asking me to join you. I’m over there with them.