Thursday, June 20, 2013

Asshole Art

There's a great article this week on the Gameological Society's website by Bob Mackey about whether to support art made by people who hold views that you strongly disagree with. Mackey discusses a Kickstarter campaign by Doug TenNapel, the creator of Earthworm Jim, to fund a sequel to one of his games.  The problem: TenNapel is also very homophobic, as expressed in the dumbest possible terms in a comment thread on his webcomic. Granted, TenNapel has the right to be a homophobic asshole, but if you disagree with him, should you be supporting him monetarily? Or is it wrong to declare that every artist subscribe to your ideological views? In TenNapel's case, his art isn't about his beliefs, at least not directly, and he's not a huge supporter of anti-gay organizations. He's a jerk. Whatever. As opposed to, say, Chic-Fil-A, who use their profits to directly support suppression of gay rights.

At the same time, rapper Action Bronson's latest project Saab Stories, which was just released, has the most offensive cover art I've seen in a long, long time.  The second I saw it, I thought "Fuck that dude, I'm never supporting anything he ever does ever." I'm done, seriously. His persona sucks.

I do think it is important to expose yourself to viewpoints you might not agree with, and to listen to people who have political or religious views other than your own. I don't think it is healthy for our society if liberals just read Mother Jones and the Nation and listen to Democracy Now! and conservatives just watch Fox and listen to Glenn Beck. However, I wouldn't expect a conservative to listen to Democracy Now!, and I am sure as hell not going to waste my time listening to Beck. I read the Economist, which skews further right than my views, and I think a conservative would do well to read the New York Times or NPR news, which skews slightly left. I have friends who have religious and political views I disagree with. I still value their friendship. We just don't talk about certain subjects.   Your views on gays or abortion or the size of government don't make you a good or bad person, necessarily. Misguided and wrong, perhaps, but bad, no.

And like all good Americans raised on 1984, I don't want the government to control what I read or hear. I don't like the idea of things being suppressed or censored by the government. But. However. Here's the thing. Not all ideas are worth expressing. Not all ideas are worth defending. Not all ideas deserve air time. Not all ideas need to be put out there. If you are advocating oppressing and denying rights to an entire group of people, then go fuck yourself. Your ideas are not just bad, they are harmful, and I'm not going to support you. Feel free to express yourself, but don't be surprised when you experience a harsh backlash from people who find your views abhorrent. Freedom of expression doesn't mean freedom from consequences, and it doesn't mean you get to be a dick with zero repercussions. Put it this way: if you publicly state how much you love popping ecstasy or smoking weed, you can be sure that there will consequences. Bye-bye any job with an organization that has a strict anti-drug policy, which includes a lot of corporate jobs and government jobs. It might be hard to get a gig working with kids. You might get asked to leave the nonprofit board you are on. There are consequences.

Whenever people get upset about rape jokes or songs about wife-beating, the other side raises the specter of censorship. I agree that I don't want the government to tell me what I can or cannot hear, and I think that the hysteria around offensive media is often out of proportion and misplaced. Much of the hysteria about violent video games came from people who had never played the games and were exaggerating or misunderstanding what was going on in them - like calling the brief soft-core sex scenes in Mass Effect a "Sex Simulator," ignoring that the game was built around deep campaigns and that the brief sex scenes were only achieved when you had built relationships with your crew members. Or that the game was intended for adults.  I want politicians to protect kids by making sure they have access to education, healthcare, and food, that their parents have access to decent jobs, and that their communities are safe and they aren't treated like de facto criminals.

Still, I get annoyed by how the conversation always turns to defending peoples right to say terrible, terrible things, as if the threat of censorship outweighed all other concerns. Reducing the amount of rapes in this country and the world is more important than a comedian's right to joke about it like it's no big deal. The huge and terrible impact of domestic violence is more important than a rapper's right to rap about beating up his girlfriend. Dude can still rap about it, but the rest of us have the right and duty to call shenanigans. I love Ice Cube, but "Black Korea" is a despicable song, and the line about kicking a pregnant woman in the tummy was way out of line.

I also don't necessarily want to get into a situation where anytime someone says something un-PC they are automatically branded a heathen and castigated. One thing I found really irritating about the white liberals I went to university with was their glee at pointing out how racist/sexist/agist/transphobic/anti-vegetarian their fellow white liberals were. It was very much a purer and holier than thou attitude that I didn't find helpful at all. It made any conversation impossible, and I think more than anything it gave those who held "un-PC" viewpoints power. It made them feel righteous and let their ideas fester unchallenged. So much of the vitriolic talk radio is couched in the guise of "telling it like it is," saying the stuff the liberal media doesn't want you to hear. If we engaged more with these conversations instead of making so much stuff taboo, maybe we could defuse some of the more toxic ideas. Or maybe we'd be giving assholes way more air time than they deserve.

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