Month: March 2015

The Eggs At The Buffet

If you’ve been paying attention to comics culture lately, you will have noticed two furors breaking out over the last 72 hours.

For those who tune into this blog and notice that, aside from occasional jokes, etc, I usually use this blog to comment on furore of one kind or another (and yes, it has turned out that way), that’s a function of having a professional space to review and comment, and this, personal space which has become increasingly used for venting.

Sorry, but them’s, as they say, the breaks.

Anyway, the recent problems can be pretty easily summarised:

1) A known comics professional said he was tired of a “vocal minority” being appeased in the form of costume redesigns for female characters; and

2) A variant cover to Batgirl was released referencing her sexual assault at the hands of the Joker in The Killing Joke, was objected to, and was withdrawn by its artist and the company, amid cries that the artist and the company were “capitulating to [eugh] SJWs”.

I’m not going to comment on the merits of either position in detail, but to be clear on a few dot points:

  • The creators of the “example” costume redesigns listed have come out and said they were come up with by the professionals for their own reasons – in some cases, clearly, those reasons were to combat sexist costuming, but that’s not precisely the same as pressure; and
  • The variant cover in question did not reflect or comment upon the issue inside, was against the wishes of the core creative team who were pushing for a particular direction, and was, to say the least very problematic.

That being said, I don’t want to talk too much about the specifics: there have been better thought-pieces. I want to talk about the tone of the objections, which are the same objections that form the backbone of the GamerGate crisis facing gaming, and a proliferation of other sexist complaints. To boil it down in a nutshell, the myth is this:

“Minorities are taking X away from us!”

It’s not often phrased precisely that way, but it comes close enough ever time to be clear. The objection to giving people what they’re looking for (like, say, representation), is that, by the objector’s argument, that means a missed opportunity to give something more to the objector.

This fundamentally misunderstands the nature of any commercial enterprise as it exists in the modern world AND fundamentally misunderstands the culture of privilege surrounding white, heterosexual, cisgender males between 18 – 45, the most powerful and wealthiest demographic.

I’m going to dig into this using one of my favourite metaphors: food.

The Objector sees himself (and lets not lie, statistically, it’s VERY likely to be himself), as a paying customer at a buffet. It’s not all you can eat, he needs to pay for each item/trip, but he’s not under any time pressure and can be at the buffet as long as he wants.

Our guy refuses to eat eggs. He claims sometimes claims to be allergic, or to object to the practices of the egg industry, but this is cover for the fact that eggs aren’t to his taste. We know this, because he’s been known to eat cake containing a little bit of egg, even when he knows it’s there, because he likes the cake so much. He won’t eat eggs on their own though, because he doesn’t like them. They’re not “for” him.

People often talk about the benefits of eggs, how good they are for you, but because he doesn’t like them, he tries to find all kinds of reasons why eggs are pernicious (I know about the actual problems too much egg consumption might cause, this is a metaphor, folks [yolks? haha] {these asides are why things like this don’t make it to the other blog}), but ultimately it’s because he doesn’t like how eggs taste, make him feel, and he’d rather eat the other things that the buffet has to offer.

Every time the buffet adds a plate of eggs, the Objector objects. Because he’s looking at that part of the buffet at any given moment – all he sees is that there are more eggs, and that the eggs are “filling” a spot at the buffet where something he likes could go.

But here’s the trick: NOTHING has been subtracted. There has only been the addition of a plate to the buffet. The portion to which he has access hasn’t diminished at all. It’s only the percentage which caters to his tastes – and his alone – which has been altered.

This is often referred to as “the slice of the pie”, but I don’t want to mix my food metaphors (eggs and pie?! Is this a quiche?!), so let’s keep calling it a percentage. This is the key point where the category error creeps in, and it’s the thinking that underlines all these problems.

“Wait a minute!” cries the Objector, turning to camera and breaking the Fourth Wall. “If my percentage has decreased, then what I actually get has decreased, because surely there are only so many plates that can be served at the buffet!”

Well, here’s the thing, Objector. The beauty (and the monstrosity) of capitalism is that the producers of product want all the money. Products are sold to us at inflated prices for many reasons, but one of these reasons is so that in addition to a profit, there are funds available to source the ingredients for the meals at the buffet and the staff to prepare them. In other words, as long as the buffet is making money from a product, they will find a way to make more of the product. That’s called expansion, and although there are a bunch of market forces which pressure it one way or another, it remains a fundamental truth. If there is demand, and the product is profitable, the maker of that product will make more of it to service the demand. For our hypothetical buffet, they buy more tables so they can keep selling more of the food being bought. And bigger kitchens. Eventually a bigger building. Then a chain of buildings across the land. And so on, and so on.

A little simplistic, but until such time as how capitalism works fundamentally changes, or we consume everything, the company will keep pumping out the buffet in order to make more money. That’s what companies do.

So far, so good, right? Pretty easy to establish that the Objector can eat whatever he likes, and ignore eggs, and people can still get their eggs and he can have his fill.

There’s two riders to this, though, that need to be addressed:

1) The buffet needs to be prepared ahead of time. Not in the grand scheme of things, of course, because the buffet is eternal and you have unlimited time to eat it (I mentioned that before), but because the meals have preparation time, and the restaurant needs to gauge, moment by moment, what the demand for a certain item will be before they start preparing it. Are people coming in for hearty winter soups? Do they just want a brownie and a cup of coffee? Hard to tell, because the restaurant needs to forecast for trends, which means that sometimes products go away uneaten, and, to that degree, prep-time is used up which could’ve been (hypothetically) used to make something else the Objector would eat.

But guess what? This issue is self-correctingCompanies don’t want to lose money incorrectly forecasting products no-one will buy! That’s against their whole “get all the money” ethos. All they need is a few dishes of chicken feet to go uneaten (I straight up love chicken feet, by the by, but they can be an acquired taste) and they’ll stop serving it. That’s what “vote with your dollar” means.

Here’s what that means (and this is a big one): There’s no point in crying about how the industry or company has “changed” or “betrayed” you, because it hasn’t changed at all. It wants what it has always wanted – the maximum number of people to buy its products, so it can get all the money. The company has changed nothing.

The customer base has changed. Then, the company responds to that customer base – the same way it has always done – and the customer base changes further. That’s not the company turning its back on you, that’s the world passing you by.

And that’s scary. It is. No-one likes the creeping fear that their perspective is becoming obsolete. But since, Objector, you often pride yourself on “objectivity” or “rationality” you should put your money where your mouth is and realise that your fear of no-longer being a tastemaker isn’t the company’s fault, or the artist’s fault, or even the world’s fault. It’s a natural thing, as inevitable as the seasons, to a degree. The world changes, and tastes change with it. To quote the Wisdom of the Ancient (Grandpa Simpson): “I used to be ‘with it’, but now what I’m ‘with’ isn’t it, and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you.”

2) There’s a silver lining to this cloud, Objector: you’ve still got VASTLY more power than the egg buying public of the world and you’ve had a damn good run up to this point. People just like you are admitting that, hey, they like eggs just fine. Maybe even better than some of the things you like – but anti-egg purists are still a coveted, powerful demographic, well catered for. There’s NO SIGN of the customer base pushing you out entirely, or even (and this brings us around again) the dishes being served to you diminishing. This is all about percentages, remember? It’s pretty rare that a product is taken away from you. It’s just the people who are demanding eggs and are willing to pay for them are going to get them, sooner or later.

In fact, the restaurant has doubled down on trying to serve the foods you specifically like in the hope of getting attendance back to where it was in the old days – but that technique has failed. They’ve tried it a bunch of times, but you never ended up buying appreciably more food, because, after all, there was only so much you could hold in your stomach at any one time. And there’s all these people out there clamouring for eggs!

Hegemony means that the manifestation of eggs at the buffet is slow – because sometimes the manager of the restaurant decides that he really hates eggs too, and he won’t serve them no matter how much money he might make! But that manager will, eventually, get fired when the board gets wise to the money that they’re losing. You can also try and forestall the process by threatening not to eat at the buffet until they stop serving eggs, but you need to think about that one carefully, because:

1) You better mean it. The restaurant is recording what’s happening, remember, and if the money coming in from you doesn’t actually decrease, they’ll learn that those threats were empty. Every time you come in and buy a plate of non-egg foods, they’ll politely listen to your egg complaints, nod and tell you that they’re sorry you feel that way, and then go right on serving eggs. Because they are after all the money.

2) If you do mean it, and you go through with it, you better hope that the money coming in from eggs doesn’t outstrip the money lost from your walk away. Because, again, they’re after all the money, and if it turns out that they can make it by turning themselves into the International House of Eggs, they’re going to do it. They only DON’T do it now, because they think they’ll make money serving a variety. That’s nothing new.

So, if you’re really certain that only a “vocal minority” wants eggs, there’s an easy way to prove it: stop going to the buffet.

Unless the real minority is you, Objector, the person who hates other people having what they want so much that they’ll become extremely vocal about how egg lovers are ruining the industry.

But that would be ludicrous, right?

Right?

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