Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Moral Panic at the Disco

Goodness, but does the media love a juicy moral panic.

This week over at Granny Herald, Karl Du Fresne decided that, without a trace of irony in his opening salvo, he knew what was responsible for the recent shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colorado.

Deriding "the usual anguished self-examination in the American media", Du Fresne proceeded into his own anguished self-examination, claiming in the most disingenuous, irresponsible and downright rude way possible that an unhealthy attachment to fantasy stories was the culprit for this tragedy.

That's right, if you're a geek, if you're in a fandom: beware. Every single one of you has a violent sociopath lurking beneath the surface because of your inability to connect with the real world.

As a geek, as a co-habitor of many fandoms, as a fantasy and science fiction writer, and as a person who is part of a large and varied culture of fantasy literature and entertainment within New Zealand, Mr Du Fresne I bite my thumb at you.

This argument between realism and genre is not new. Frankly it's boring and intellectually dishonest. There is no right or wrong way to do culture. There's no spectrum of good or bad. It's not even a generational thing any more, people of all ages engage in pop culture. All culture is valid. It can be rigorously critiqued and shook down if it contains problematic themes, but it is still valid. No one has a right to call for the extinction of said part of culture just because it contains problematic aspects.

For many makers of pop culture, being a consumer and creator are intricately entwined. We were often fans first. We create what we know and love, expanding, rewriting, retelling, bettering. It may well be impossible to find a SFF purveyor who doesn't create for the love of it. Because we know our lore and history so well it's very easy to spot and out the fakers; we will finger those who are out to exploit us.

We are also self policing. Du Fresne mocked raging Batman fans who made threats to reviewers after perceived bad critiques of the movie. Yes, fandoms and genre communities suffer from many problems--for example, sexual harrasment at conventions is a big current topic of conversation. Quite rightly, bad behaviour within a community deserves censure, and it will be enacted even if culture "purists" choose not to see and misrepresent it.

And misrepresent bad behaviour Du Fresne does. Somehow he made the huge leap that upset fan trolls can easily turn into violent sociopaths:
If fans can be so emotionally attached to Batman that they respond to mildly critical reviews with rabid threats and vicious abuse, is it any wonder Holmes should be so obsessed he chose the screening of the film to play out his own lethal, overheated fantasy?
It would be hypocritical to deny there are problems within pop culture communities. Sexual harassment and violent threats against women makers and fans, sexism, homophobia, ableism and racism are all intersectional problems we deal with. However, these problems are not unique to nerdom. Violence is not unique to pop culture communities. People commit violence because they are people, with all their intricacies this entails.

This is where moral panic falls apart. People want an easy explanation so they can dehumanize criminals--they don't want to see themselves in them. But violence isn't easily attributable to just one thing. The human condition is too entwined in history (world, country, local, family), socialization, education, politics, health, economics, consumerism, individualism, collectivism, familial expectations, religion, race, gender, sex and sexuality, art, culture, law.

Popular culture is easy to blame because of fear, dislike, and that sense of cultural hierarchy, as Michael Moore and Marilyn Manson discuss in this clip from "Bowling For Columbine" with regards to the Columbine shooting*. And instead of blaming pop culture, Du Fresne and his media cohorts should take a long hard look themselves for the part they play in glorifying violence and propagating harmful stereotypes and themes.

And lets talk about that harm, specifically with regards to New Zealand pop culture and makers. In this same article Du Fresne manages to segue into derision of Peter Jackson, saying his movies "degenerate into ridiculous extravaganzas in which any trace of nuance or subtlety is buried under layers of furious action and special effects." It doesn't matter what you think of Jackson, his business practises, or his art, Jackson's contribution to modern pop culture makes him somewhat of a geek overlord--he has helped open up the New Zealand film and fantasy industry to the world and into a new era.

I'm not saying Jackson is the be all and end all of New Zealand SFF. No matter how tiny my contribution is, I'm still part of that community. I know many other wonderful authors who play a bigger part, who work hard for the recognition they deserve. Our community has a wonderful, if small, history. We play into a larger overall pop culture conversation, but what we are is unique. We were fans first, we love what we do, or we wouldn't be here.

However, with sneering claims that we're "locked in a strange, perpetual adolescence" and what we do is "absurd", Du Fresne perpetuates the cultural hierarchy: the idea that certain art is not worthy of respect and therefore not worthy of the money it makes. This perpetuates the trickle down into the ridiculous western cultural concept that certain artists don't deserve to make a living off their art because it is "easy"** to do, which further trickles down into making it morally acceptable to steal that art. That is, pirating.

In my wider view, what I see is "If they make it, they will come"--there's no finite cultural dollar, and there is a niche for everyone. People are perfectly capable of enjoying Shakespeare and Batman, Mozart and Black Sabbath, the gothic classic and sparkly vampires at the same time. Du Fresne and his ilk are quintessentially cultural snobs, with the belief that there is only a small piece of the cultural pie available. They do a disservice to the New Zealand SFF community who already struggle for recognition on a global stage. Anyone else lower on his subjective cultural totem pole is mentally unstable, possibly sociopathic.

What a load of sneering, ableist, elitist, classist poppycock. To that I say good day, sir.

 * Did Du Fresne, or any other media commentator, stop to consider the historical impact the violence, politics, social factors, and economics discussed in "Bowling For Columbine" had on Aurora, considering it is literally blocks from Littleton?

** Bullshit. I've been at this more than two years now and I'm still to make my first pro-sale. I don't find this easy at all. And it's not because I "suck" like drive-by commenters have insinuated. It's a myriad of factors, including my time dedication, bettering my work, and uncontrollables ("right place-right time", themes, networking, gender etc) within the industry.

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