Sunday, June 9, 2013

Dear Blizzard

Dear Blizzard,

A new forum thread popped up today on the subject of favorite lore characters.  Posters were invited to name a favorite lore character of each playable race.

The thread was only four pages long when I saw it, with only 24 forms filled out, but I thought that you might find the results interesting.

The most popular choices?
Pandaren - Chen Stormstout (6 votes), Taran Zhu (4 votes)
Dwarf - Moira Bronzebeard (10 votes)
Orc - Thrall (5 votes), Varok Saurfang (6 votes)
Undead - Sylvanas Windrunner (11 votes)
Troll - Vol'jin (8 votes), Zul'jin (6 votes)
Blood Elf - Kael'thas Sunstrider (8 votes), Lor'themar Theron (9 votes)
Tauren - Cairne Bloodhoof (13 votes)
Human - Anduin Lothar (3 votes), Anduin Wrynn (3 votes)
Night Elf - Illidan Stormrage (8 votes)
Worgen - Darius Crowley (8 votes)
Draenei - Akama (4 votes), Miskha (5 votes), Velen (5 votes)
Goblin - Boss Mida (4 votes), Grizzle Gearslip (4 votes), Sassy Hardwrench (5 votes)
Gnome - Mekkatorque (2 votes), Thermaplugg (2 votes)
As you can see, in some categories one major lore figure dominated; in others, the votes were split in all directions.  Most people love Cairne Bloodhoof, you'll notice, but when it comes to humans, they like Anduin Lother, Anduin Wrynn, Arthas Menethil, Jaina, Thassarian, Uther, and more.

Looking over that list, seeing that Mekkatorque and Thermaplugg were the most popular gnomes with only 2 votes apiece, you'd guess that there are so many popular gnomes that there must be loads of other gnomes being named.

You'd be wrong.

The original poster forgot to include the Pandaren at first, and some of the posters replying directly to that post also left off Pandaren from their lists.  As a result, of 24 posts, 5 skipped Pandaren.

Some people didn't exactly forget about categories, they simply couldn't think of anyone to vote for.  They wrote in answers like "?" or left the space blank.  That should concern you.  Are players so ill-informed and so apathetic that they don't care about lore figures?  Or are your writers failing to create interesting, memorable characters?

The good news: everyone named a dwarf.  I didn't come across one person who skipped the "dwarf" category.  Orcs, too, are doing well; only one person didn't name at least one favorite orc.

How many times did someone enter a joke response ("seriously?") or skip the category altogether?
0 - dwarf
1 - orc
2 - undead, troll
3 - blood elf, tauren, human
4 - night elf
5 - worgen
7 - draenei
8 - goblin
12 - gnome
Yes, that's right.  Out of 24 questionnaires, 12 people gave either a joke answer or no answer at all on the question of "favorite gnome."  One person's favorite gnome is a forum poster, not a lore figure; if you discount that reply, only 11 out of 24 people listed a favorite gnome.

Eleven out of twenty-four.

That is not a good statistic.

Both of the people who named Thermaplugg spelled his name wrong.

Overall, the Horde looks good.  For orcs, undead, trolls, blood elves, and tauren, most posters seem pretty enthusiastic or at least can name a favorite character.  For the Alliance, it's not so great; around the worgen and draenei categories, things start to fall apart.  Goblins aren't doing very well, but that's understandable, since they've only been playable since the last expansion and don't have the rich history some of the older races enjoy.  Unfortunately, I can't use that excuse for gnomes.

Gnomes are considered a joke race, but they aren't even a very popular joke.  If your plan was to make them a laughingstock, I'd have expected you to make more memorable, funny characters.  Instead, there's nothing.  Where you could create smart, creative, inventive, witty characters, there's only an apathetic void.  You don't seem to care, and that lack of caring comes across very clearly.

On the first page of the thread alone, only four people could list a favorite gnome.  Of those four, not everyone could remember the gnome's actual name.  The other replies?
The dead ones 
Your writing team needs help.

With love,
Frank Lee

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dear "Elementary"

Dear "Elementary,"

A friend and I watched several episodes of your show last night at  Five episodes, I think.  I tell you this up front so that if you want to say, "Hey, five episodes from our whole body of work is nothing!  You don't know a thing about our show!" then you can step away now.

If you're still here, let's continue.

Something bothered me early on, and I kept watching with the hope that it had been an inconsistency.  But, no, it was consistent throughout the episodes: the Watson character is called "Miss Watson," not "Dr. Watson."

There have been many, many incarnations of the Sherlock Holmes characters over the years, several of them very popular and mainstream, but this is the first time to my knowledge that we've had a female Watson on regular prime-time television.  What you're doing is kind of a big deal, and I suspect that you're aware of it.

Therefore, it is also a big deal that you've taken away the title of "Dr." and instead issued the title of "Miss."

Calling her "Dr." would put her on par with all of the other Watsons.  It would make reference to her education and canonical profession.  It is a title with social cachet.

Calling her "Ms." would strip away her education and canonical profession, would emphasize her femininity, yet would also be perceived by the audience as quasi-feminist.

Calling her "Miss" strips away her education and canonical profession while emphasizing that she's a single woman.  It also implies youthfulness.  You're communicating to your audience that she's feminine and available.

Is this a nod to the patriarchy?  A sort of: I know that you're uncomfortable with us casting Dr. Watson as a woman, but we'll make it more palatable to you by emphasizing her femininity and sexual availability over her canonical credentials!

Is this a nod to feminists?  A sort of: That's right, we cast Dr. Watson as a woman!  And so that no one can mistake what a woman she is, we'll call her "Miss" so that she's gendered female at all times!

Here's how two of your audience members perceived it last night: You took a terrific step forward in casting Dr. Watson as a woman, and then you took a step right back again by taking away her title.  It's a real disappointment for me, one of those nagging problems which make me uneasy as I watch your show.

I thought to myself, before I sat down to write this, that I should be fair.  I should stop and do my research and investigate why the character is titled "Miss."  Likely it's some interesting back story, something integral to the character's history.  But, no, I'm not going to do my research, because it doesn't matter to me what your rationalization is.  You created her history how it pleased you, and you could have written it any which way you liked.  You could have written a back story which leads us to "Dr. Watson," but you chose a back story which leaves us with "Miss Watson," and that was a deliberate choice on your part.

It's like pointing out a problem with World of Warcraft and being told, "But that's the lore!" as if that's the end of the conversation.  The lore is not some sacred, authentic, historical text; it's whatever the writers say that it is.  You wrote a character and you gave her a history and you labeled her "Miss Watson."  You could have written her any number of other ways and given us "Dr. Watson."  Maybe you're proud of her history, maybe it makes terrific story-telling, maybe you're trying to build an intensely compelling character and I'm missing out on something great.  Maybe.  What is definite, though, is that you wrote [what is perceived as] a risky, groundbreaking role and instead of giving us a female Dr. Watson, you gave us Miss Watson.

I would rather have a female Dr. Watson from episode to episode than Miss Watson's compelling back story which hasn't come up in any of the episodes I've seen.  I think that the weight of hearing Sherlock (and everyone else) say "Dr. Watson" onscreen every episode would be an interesting, important, cultural step forward.  This was a chance for that, and you've robbed us of it.

I wonder if you'll tackle the Strange Case of Miss Jekyll and Miss Hyde next.

With love,
Frank Lee

Friday, April 19, 2013

Dear Tyrese Gibson

Gross fat hatred ahead.

Dear Tyrese Gibson-

All Hip Hop asked you a question recently.  It was a fairly simple question:
What kind of responsibility do you feel as an entertainer, you have to inspire people to live healthier lifestyles?
You could have said all kinds of things.  You could have said anything.  "No responsibility whatsoever."  "I've always encouraged people to eat the best they can and stay active.  I take my own workouts seriously and I'm grateful for my good health."  "Being in the public eye, being highly visible and even something of a role model, I take that responsibility seriously.  That's why I encourage citizens of the USA to write to Congress and push for a stronger health care including attention to mental health and reproductive rights."  "You know, everyone should aim for the basics.  Eat your vegetables, brush your teeth, see a doctor."  "What I really want to talk about is the latest NBC line-up.  'Parks and Rec' is killing it!"  You could have said pretty much anything.  It was a fairly open-ended question.

Here's what you said:
No two situations are the same. If you are fat and nasty and you don’t like the way you look, do something about it. It’s simple.
When you take a shower and you put your fat, nasty body in the shower and by the time you get out, the mirrors are all steamed up so you don’t look at what you did to yourself. That may sound offensive or insensitive but ultimately, you are big as hell because you have earned that sh*t. You worked your a** off to eat everything in sight to get big as hell.
If you got a problem with the way you look, then you need to do something about it. Excuses sound best to the people that’s making them up.
Wow, that was really gross.

Let's see that again in slow-motion.
No two situations are the same.
This seems like a bizarre opening to the rest of your answer.  It's true and it makes sense.  It's insightful, given the subject matter.  You're right, no two situations are the same.  No two people are the same, no two bodies are the same, no two bodies operate under exactly the same conditions or work exactly the same way.  Everyone's body is different, everyone's life is different, and that's why we come in all sorts of shapes and sizes.  Great answer!  Why, oh why, couldn't you have made that point and stopped there?
If you are fat and nasty
Fat and nasty.  I would like to believe that you use this phrase the way you might call a vase, for example, "glass and dusty."  It's a glass vase, and it's dusty, and those are entirely separate facts, and one of those facts is pretty temporary.  "Hand me that dusty glass vase over there," you might say, to differentiate it from the ones we've already tidied up.  (You know, in some world where you and I are cleaning out an old flower shop together.)  But, no, given the overall context of your remarks, it sounds like you're using "fat and nasty" the way some people use "fat and lazy."  The two adjectives come together into one overall idea.  "Get your fat, lazy butt off of that couch."  If someone's fat, he's also, automatically, lazy.  The phrase drops easily, thoughtlessly, from people's lips.  "Get your big, lazy butt over here and give me a hand."  Similarly, you're putting "fat" and "nasty" together as if they're naturally related, as if they have some sort of synonymous core.  "Get your nasty fat ass off of that couch."  If someone's fat, he's also, automatically, nasty.

Not nasty as in mean or cruel.  Not as in "Ms. Jackson if you're nasty."  No, you mean dirty and gross and filthy.  Fat people are dirty and gross and filthy, automatically, because they're fat, and "fat" and "gross" go together like peanut butter and jelly.  I'm sorry, does my food reference bother you?  Let me rephrase.  "Fat" and "gross" go together like gym socks and old sweat.
and you don’t like the way you look, do something about it. It’s simple.
If I don't like the way I look, I should do something about it.  Sure, on some levels, that's a workable idea.  If I don't like the way I look, maybe I could try a new haircut.  Maybe I could buy some new clothes.  Maybe I could arrange for more flattering lighting in my home.  Maybe I could try some new make-up tips.  I could try more vitamins or more sleep.

Note that even then, those ideas aren't necessarily "simple" to implement.  Can I afford new clothes?  Is it feasible for me to get more sleep given my current schedule?  Not necessarily, and that's a reality for many people.

But you weren't talking about people with bad haircuts and poor sleeping habits.  You were talking about fat people.  (Fat people!  Nasty people!  Ew, gross!)  You were saying, "If you're fat, and you don't like looking so fat, because you realize how disgusting you are, do something about it.  HOW EASY IS THAT, AM I RIGHT?!  COMMON SENSE, EVERYBODY!"

"If you're fat, do something about it" means "if you're fat, stop being fat."

If you have the miracle pill to turn fat people into slender people, you'd better sweep off the front porch, because I expect pharmaceutical companies to come knocking on your door.  Here's the thing, Tyrese.  (Sorry, I'm fat and therefore nasty; I'll call you Mr. Gibson.)  There is no magical formula which will blink away the fat.  It's not "diet and exercise."  It's not surgery.  It's not a pill.  It's not common sense.  It's not bullying and shaming.  It's not abuse and anti-soda legislation and "oh noes obesity crisis" panicked hand-wringing.

People cannot "stop being fat" any more than you can stop being tall.  Have you tried not to be so tall?  Have you tried drugs?  Have you tried exercise?  Have you tried hypnosis, perhaps?  You haven't, and I suspect that it wouldn't even occur to you to try it, because you accept your height as a matter of course.  It's natural!  It's genetic!  It can't be changed!

Interestingly enough, it isn't only genetics which affects your height.  Things like nutrition, for example, make a big difference.  The height of people in North Korea versus that of people in South Korea is testament to how the food you eat can affect stature.  Take genetics, add in early environmental factors like access to food and the quality of that food, and height varies from one individual to another!

Let's change one letter in that sentence.

Take genetics, add in early environmental factors like access to food and the quality of that food, and weight varies from one individual to another!

There are all sorts of other factors playing into weight, of course.  Your health affects your weight.  The pills you take can have an effect.  Your socio-economic situation also affects your access to food, as does geography.  There's a terrific post from Melissa McEwan at Shakesville which covers this topic in more detail.

Now, would you suggest that I go about changing my genetics?  My socio-economic situation?  If I've gained weight because of the medication I'm taking, and my doctor is unable to prescribe anything else, should I stop taking it and compromise my health?  According to your remark on how simple all of this is, surely you have easy answers.  You've been petitioning Congress regarding corn syrup and government subsidies, I assume.
When you take a shower and you put your fat, nasty body in the shower and by the time you get out, the mirrors are all steamed up so you don’t look at what you did to yourself.
I'll never tire of hearing you call fat bodies "nasty" as if there's no other way for a fat body to be.  As if "fat" itself is a terrible insult and "nasty" is just added on for emphasis.

Do all fat people take long, hot showers?

Do thin people not take long, hot showers?

Do fat people get out of the shower and hurry to dry off and get away before the mirror clears?

Do thin people deliberately linger and hang out until the mirror clears so they can finally get a good, long look at their thin bodies?  Do thin people become impatient and wipe the mirror clean and then stand there, posing and primping, adoring themselves at length?  What in the world do in-between people do?

Don't most people just shower and dry off and either get dressed or continue the grooming process or start texting or hurry on to free up the bathroom for other people or toss on a robe to let the dog out or something?

Mr. Gibson, are you aware that some people don't have access to hot water at all, or don't have access to reliably hot water long enough to take luxurious, steam-up-the-mirror showers?  Are you aware that poor people and fat people overlap pretty heavily on demographic Venn diagrams in the USA?  A lot of fat people are poor, and a lot of poor people are fat, and it is not because "fat" and "poor" are both synonyms for "lazy."
That may sound offensive or insensitive
And nonsensical.  Don't forget nonsensical!
but ultimately, you are big as hell because you have earned that sh*t.
Mr. Gibson, you're tall because you have earned that shit!  You earned your height!  Your height is a result of genetic and dietary and environmental factors beyond your control, but it's yours!  Don't ever let anyone take that away from you!

I can't even with this sentence.
You worked your a** off to eat everything in sight to get big as hell.
Do you remember earlier in this post where I talked about how people gain weight as a result of all sorts of factors?  Health issues, genetics, medications, and so on?  You might want to go read Melissa McEwan's post I linked to earlier.

Here's the thing about eating and "overeating."  A lot of people binge.  Sometimes it's a reaction to stress.  A coping mechanism.  A response to abuse.  A bad habit.  There are many reasons for it.  Remember that thing we discussed earlier about how no two people are the same and no two bodies are the same?  Some people overeat and are slender.  Some people overeat and are fat.  Some people overeat and are somewhere in between.  Some people who eat "everything in sight" are skinny.

Some people eat what their bodies need, and are fat.

Some people eat less than their bodies need, and are fat.

Bodies!  How do they work?!
If you got a problem with the way you look, then you need to do something about it. Excuses sound best to the people that’s making them up.
You hear people talking about how difficult it is for them to lose weight and keep it off, and you hear excuses.  I hear you talking about how disgusting and lazy fat people are, and I hear stereotypes and nonsense and unscientific bullshit lacking in empathy.  I hear someone who's dismissive and thoughtless and lacking in basic human decency.

I don't have a problem with the way I look.  I have a problem with the way you sound and the hurtful garbage you're spouting and the damage you're doing to everyone who hears you and everyone they spread your nonsense to.

Here's your response to criticism of your remarks.
"I look online now my words get twisted about plus size women? It's unreal out here," he wrote. "Why would I? Really? Never mind... God Bless you!"
Oh, you were misquoted?  Misunderstood?  All Hip Hop manufactured your words out of thin air?
"I'm not apologizing for what I said I'm apologizing for the bad choice of wording and execution of my point around obesity," Gibson continued.
Ah, no.  It seems that you were quoted accurately, and you said exactly what All Hip Hop claims that you said.  And you refuse to apologize for what you said.  You stand by your point; you just wish that you'd dressed it up in prettier packaging.  That sounds a lot like, "No, I firmly believe that fat people are nasty and should compromise their health and destroy their well-being in the pursuit of impossible thinness, I just should have used the word 'repulsive' instead of 'nasty.'  It sounds better!"
Y'all seen my documentary, I was brought in this world from a plus size mother and my sisters are plus size as well . . .
Your mother and your sisters are fat.  You call fat people "nasty" and shame them for being lazy and accuse them of hiding from the reality of their gross, deplorable bodies.  You describe being fat as a horrible, shameful thing which fat people bring upon themselves through their own reprehensible actions.  This is how you think of the people in your life?  How do you talk about people you don't love?
I am concerned always!
Did you just publicly label yourself as a concern troll?

Concerned?  No one needs your concern.  Your compassion and your empathy would be nice.  Your support, your voice as an ally, your effort for the cause of HAES.
"We always associate addictions to cocaine, Heroin, and or alcoholic abuse . . . Food is the No. 1 addiction in America."
It's best when people have a healthy attitude towards food.  It's something the human body requires.  We cannot quit food and maintain a healthy lifestyle; we cannot abstain from it and survive.  If I'm a drug addict, and I abstain from drugs, ultimately I should be much healthier, right?  If I stop eating, I will die.  This is not a great comparison, Mr. Gibson.

If you want people to have healthy attitudes towards food, please, lead the way!  Push for more kinds of food to be more widely available.  Fight against food deserts.  Fight for better pay for workers so that people can afford fresh, vitamin-rich ingredients.  Maybe with better pay, more people can work fewer hours and have time to cook at home.  Go for it!  What about employer-subsidized daycare or more after school programs so that parents can spend more time shopping and cooking?  You seem to care so much about this subject, surely you have some great ideas of your own!
"This is what happens when you decide to not just be an artist or an actor but use your heart," he opined. "It creates controversy and unwanted energy."
Poor, suffering Mr. Gibson.  You used your heart, and the world replied with negative energy.

People were mean to you.  Why?  Because you were cruel to fat people.  Why?  Because you accepted media narratives and "conventional wisdom" and lazy stereotypes at face value.  If you pay attention to people's experiences and listen to their stories and observe the world around you, you might pick up some new information.  I didn't have to spend much time on Shapely Prose before I noticed the common theme of "shocking new weight-loss study confirms that fat people are awful" almost always coincides with "funding comes from pharmaceutical company with new weight-loss drug on the shelves."  The "diet and exercise, it's common sense" and "calories in, calories out, it's just that easy!" myths are everywhere you turn, but does that make them right?  No, but it does help to justify our fat-hating attitudes.  Anything which makes our existing biases even more palatable is always welcomed with open arms and a lack of critical thought.

Don't just be an artist.  Don't just be an actor.  Be a son and a brother, and make the world a kinder place, not a more judgmental one.  Congratulations, you have a platform.  Use it well.
What kind of responsibility do you feel as an entertainer, you have to inspire people to live healthier lifestyles?
The next time someone asks you that question, maybe you can say something like, "No two situations are the same.  Healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes.  It's really about doing what's best for you in your situation.  A lot of people equate health with size, but there are fat triathletes, you know?  Health is really about taking care of yourself the best way you can, and I do feel a responsibility to promote that idea, which is why I was up there on Capitol Hill testifying before Congress about that corn syrup bill.  It really meant a lot to me to have so much support from my fans over that."

I would love to hear you promote HAES.

Or you could continue to conflate "fat" with "nasty," continue to assume that it makes sense to respond to a question about health with an answer about fat people as if "healthy" and "fat" are naturally opposing terms, alienate fans, and promote harmful narratives which destroy people's lives.

It's up to you.

With love,
Frank Lee

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dear Banksy

Dear Banksy,

Here's what people say about your artwork:
What they have in common is a coy playfulness — a desire to goad viewers into rethinking their surroundings, to acknowledge the absurdities of closely held preconceptions.
Here's what you say:
“ a town where they honor their heroes by writing their names on the pavement to be walked on by fat people and peed on by dogs.”
Here's what people say about you:
Banksy’s sole intent is for his works to be notoriously controversial. He wants his works to affect people emotionally, and force them to challenge social norms. In a world where everyone prefers to keep to themselves and are afraid to speak out against authority, Banksy doesn’t. He uses street art as a medium to channel his thoughts and opinions on heavier social and political subjects, and completes them in heavy populated areas where they can be seen by thousands of people. Some might say Banksy is an outlaw for the people, a sort of 21st century Robin Hood in a way and they wouldn’t be far off. To sum up, Banksy is similar to a political activist, but he uses his subversive art to protest society, rally people, and get them to question the world around them.
Here's what you say:
“I love the way capitalism finds a place—even for its enemies. It’s definitely boom time in the discontent industry. I mean how many cakes does Michael Moore get through?”
Fat jokes are not new.  They're not subversive or thought-provoking.  I don't know if your goal truly is to get people to "question the world around them" or not, because it certainly seems as though you aren't questioning harmful cultural stereotypes and assumptions about fat people.  No, it sounds as if you're buying right into them and, indeed, furthering and promoting them.

While you're making thoughtful, edgy socio-political statements in your artwork, please reconsider the thoughtless, stale, lazy way you talk about fat people.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Americans for Prosperity

Dear Americans for Prosperity,

While I watched videos on YouTube the other day, one of your ads popped up.  Not having the sense to push the "skip ad" button, I watched it the entire way through.  Then I did a double-take and searched for your ad on-line so I could take another look and make sure that you'd actually been as gross and racist as I thought you'd been.

As it turns out, you had been!  You were just that gross and racist, indeed.

To refresh your memory, here's the audio, which is voiced by what sounds like an unhappy white woman.  I'll describe the relevant visuals in a moment:
A broken system failing Arkansas families and hardworking taxpayers.  Now some politicians in Little Rock want to put 89,000 more people onto its rolls and depend on Washington for funding. But what happens when Washington stops paying?  Thousands of Arkansans with less access to quality care.  More control handed to the federal government.  Call your representative or senator.  Tell them to vote against Medicaid private expansion.  It's wrong for Arkansas.  We deserve better.
The racism comes in two parts.  First, the casting.  When I watch your ad, none of the actors seem to be people of color.  I see a bunch of white people.  Where are the people of color?  As this is an ad relating to Arkansas state politics, you might be interested to note that black people, for example, make up over 15% of the state's population, compared to 13% of the population of the country as a whole.  If you're addressing Arkansans, and if you're trying to cast actors who represent Arkansans, then include a variety of the kinds of people who make up the state.  The Arkansas I know and live in is not lily-white.  "White people" and "Arkansans" are not synonymous.

Next, your ad begins commentary on the big, bad, federal government.  At this point, you switch from photography and footage of human beings to computer-generated images.  The image you choose is a monolithic, advancing army of faceless, tall, slender, black men.

Let's examine this.  You didn't simply choose stock imagery of the federal government.  No, you wanted to evoke the idea of an enemy, some evil human entity coming to steal and misuse our money.  Yet you didn't continue to use photography and footage of actual human beings, as you had throughout the rest of the commercial until that point.  That might have been too humanizing.  So you went with computer-generated images of faceless, shadowy figures.

No, not shadowy figures.  They're literally black.  Black men.  Tall, slender black men to represent the federal government, advancing, monolithic.  Threatening.  Scary.  Black men are coming to steal our money, to abuse the system.

Let's be clear: this is racist, and I firmly believe that it's meant to be racist.  We see hard-working, suffering white people just trying to get by, and then we see a threatening army of President Obamas marching forward, bent on destruction.  This is not a coincidence, this is a dog whistle.  It's racist, and it's disgusting.

I've been hesitant about how I identify myself on this blog, but fuck it: I'm a white Arkansan, and your racist bullshit doesn't work on me.  The title of your ad is that "Arkansans Deserve Better," and yes, you're right.  Arkansans deserve better.  Better than this racist garbage, better than your divisive tactics, better than your nasty dog whistles.

Come back to me when you can promote your message without erasing all of the people of color in this state and without relying on your audience's ingrained racism.

Americans for Prosperity?  My goal for a prosperous USA necessitates racial equality and racial diversity.

With love,
Frank Lee

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Dear "Community"

Note for gendered slur in quotation and the mentions of rape, rape culture, racism, abuse, and apologia:
If we don't treat him like such a dick, well, he'll probably still be one 98% of the time, but the 2% he's tolerable, it might be worth it.  -Jeff Winger, "Community" (episode 4.7, "Economics of Marine Biology")
Dear "Community",

In a recent episode, you had your show's hero espouse two ideas:

1.) Nasty, bigoted people are nasty and bigoted because we expect them to be and treat them poorly.

2.) If someone's tolerable 2% of the time, it makes up for the 98% he's terrible.

The first is ridiculous, and I frankly don't feel like entertaining it.

The second immediately raised my hackles, though, so let's discuss!

The character under discussion was Pierce Hawthorne, a one-man bigot parade who says cruel, hateful things about every marginalized population he can think of, wears blackface, and never met a stereotype he didn't like.  I wouldn't call him a gendered slur, as Jeff does, but I would call him a lot of other things.

The premise, then, is that even if someone is a bigoted oppression machine a majority of the time, if he's marginally tolerable once in a while, it's "worth it."  We should put up with someone's vile, oppressive antics because he's occasionally tolerable.  The joy of someone acting like a decent human being 2% of the time is so significant that we should gloss over and accept the 98% of the time he's a harmful jackass who belittles, mocks, and insults everyone around him.

Yeah, I'm going to have to disagree.

There are a lot of people who would agree, however.  This is a familiar, beloved concept to them.  They're the ones who say, "Well, sure, he did something absolutely atrocious, but he's a great guy!  You can't hold it against him!"

The ones who say, when a friend makes a video mocking homeless people, trans people, and addicts, "My friends are good people," as if that makes everything okay again, because how can anyone be disgusted by his actions and demand an apology and think that there's anything wrong when he's a friend, a good person, someone we certainly can't accuse of being hurtful and ask to re-examine his behavior.

The ones who say, when someone's accused of rape, "But he's on our side!  It can't really be that serious!  He's one of us!"  Because if you're a whistle-blower, that automatically cancels out any harm you might cause elsewhere.

The ones who say, when someone's accused of rape and molestation and sexual assault, "But he's a role model!  He helps underprivileged kids!  He started a foundation!"  Because if you've ever helped kids, that automatically outweighs any harm you can do to those same kids or any others.

The ones who weigh "rape" against "important cinema" and decide that movies win.

The ones who weigh "felony assault" against "music I can dance to" and decide that music wins.

The ones who weigh "gang rape" against "promising football career" and decides that football wins.

I could go on, but I'd go on forever.  It's everywhere, it's all around us.  Sure, your boss made some inappropriate jokes during the meeting, but he's a great guy, you can't hold it against him.  Sure, your brother-in-law made some insensitive comments at dinner, but he's a good guy, he didn't mean it.  We have to let it go, we have to understand, we have to accept, we have to forgive, because if anyone is funny or inventive or entertaining or meets the bare minimum of human decency once in a lifetime, that good outweighs the harm of sexual assault, of a rape joke, of a history of racist comments.

Whatever the people around you deem good enough to hit that 2% tolerable bar cancels out bad behavior.  Renders it null and void.  They'll tell you that you're wrong to be angry, you're wrong to be disgusted, you're wrong to hold his crimes against him, because he's a good guy the rest of the time!  He contributes important things to the cause!  He makes great art!  He's funny!  He's entertaining!  Don't you know that he gives to charity?!


No, I will not put up with the 98% to bask in the 2%.  No, I will not excuse rape and sexual assault because I love a good football game.  No, I will not excuse nasty, harmful jokes and bigoted comments because the rest of the jokes are hilarious.

We all fuck up in one way or another.  We all say and do hurtful things over the course of time.  It's okay to point out those things.  It's good to hold us responsible.  You're not doing anyone any favors by excusing foul behavior; you're just ensuring that it'll keep happening.  It's when we point this stuff out and examine it and push each other to do better next time that we become better people.  If we make excuses and cover it up and say "it's okay because he means well," what's going to stop him from doing it again?  What's going to stop everyone else from learning that it's okay to make racist jokes if you're generally a friendly person, and it's okay to make rape jokes if you're popular, and it's okay to rape someone if you're good at something people deem valuable?

There's no magical calculator that deducts 15 points for sexual assault, awards 20 points for donating to Greenpeace, and decides that you come out ahead.

When you reward someone for that 2% and say that it makes the 98% "worth it," you're telling everyone who's harmed by the 98% that their lasting pain is meaningless and your fleeting enjoyment is everything.  You're telling them that Pierce Hawthorne is special and important, and the hurt he causes is outweighed by the positive contributions he makes, and the harm he does to them is just the price they have to pay so that the rest of us can enjoy the star in our midst.

It all boils down to: Look, I know that he beats you, but he does a lot of important stuff otherwise, okay?  So shut up and take it, because his genius is worth more than your pain, and if we start holding him responsible for his actions we might not get any more great stuff out of him, and things might get unpleasant.  You're just going to have to take one for the team.

Here's a radical notion.  How about we hold people responsible for their behavior?  How about we put away our magical calculators and admit that the bad things people do cause genuine hurt that isn't washed away by their occasional decency?  How about we admit, as a society, that one individual is capable of both good things and bad things?  "But he's such a good guy" is not a defense.  It only means that he, like everyone else, is a complex human being capable of multiple behaviors.  It only means that he acted like a good guy around you.  It only means that he treated you well, not that he treats everyone well.  It only means that you ignored the evidence and waved away the testimony because it made you uncomfortable, and there's nothing people with privilege hate more than being made to feel uncomfortable.

Jeff Winger: Pierce may be an atrocious douche 98% of the time, but 2% of the time, he makes me feel all sunny and warm inside!
Me: Not to change the subject or anything, but did you hear about the rape-joke dickwolves nonsense?
Jeff Winger: But those guys founded a charity!
Me: Not to change the subject or anything, but did you hear about those college guys who raped that woman?
Jeff Winger: But they were athletes!  Their team was doing so well!  We had a shot at the championship this year!

I don't care about how warm and sunny Jeff Winger feels; I care about the people who feel like crap every time Pierce spews his vile stereotypes.  I don't care about the charity because the charity is not the point under discussion; I care about the perpetuation of rape culture.  I don't care about a team's win-loss record, I care about the woman who's just been raped.

I wish that were the sitcom lesson-of-the-week.

I wish that were everyone's reality.

With love,
Frank Lee

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Dear Warm Bodies

Note for misogynist slurs.

Dear Warm Bodies,

I have a great deal to say to you about your movie, but I will try to confine my remarks to specific feminist issues.

While I wanted to enjoy your film, I came away with three glaring problems.

1.) The word "bitch."  It was completely unnecessary.  It was jarring and hateful.  I assume that it was meant to be played as a funny, "human" moment of male bonding when M said, "Bitches, man," but it went too far.  Of course I would prefer if you wouldn't employ such a gross misogynist theme in your film in the first place, but at the very least you could have used "women" or "chicks."

I repeat for emphasis: you didn't have to include the line at all, in any form.

2.) The kidnapping.  From the trailer, I assumed that R was helping Julie to fit in and escape.  I had no idea that he kidnapped her and kept her in a horrifying situation against her will because he thought that she was pretty.  Had I known, I wouldn't have watched the movie at all, so congratulations on that misleading marketing.

3.) The nurse.  Nora says that she wants to be a nurse; she says that she wants to heal people and find cures.  Healing people and finding cures?  Doesn't that sound more like the description of a doctor or scientist than of a nurse? Imagine that line coming from a man: it wouldn't make any sense.  It was a gross, disorienting moment.

I wanted to enjoy your film.  I really did.  I had hoped that it would be fresh and funny, but there's nothing new or interesting in the same tired, ancient, sexist themes.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear "Parks and Recreation"

Dear "Parks and Recreation,"

Thank you for a great new episode!  It was smart and funny and fresh, and I really enjoyed a lot of different things about it.

One of the parts I found most interesting was the April-Andy storyline about April trying to rely on Leslie but learning to stand on her own.  It was a great moment of character development for her.

Here's the thing.  On any other show, it would've been reprehensible.  There would have been much more emphasis on Andy's manipulative behavior.  April would have struggled more (you know how women are, with their insecurities!), and Andy would have been highlighted as the strong, loving man who knows she has it in her and goes behind her back to set her up for failure but takes the credit when she pulls through.  It would have been really, very gross, with "men know best!" written all over it.

It felt different in the context of "Parks and Rec" because you've created interesting, complex, progressive characters.  It felt different because you portrayed Andy as supportive.  It felt different because when we see smart, strong women being smart and strong in every episode of your show, we don't have to police every nuance of the show to wonder what you really meant.

Thank you for letting Andy be a supportive partner, and not the manly hero of April's life.

With love,
Frank Lee

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Dear Gamers

Dear Gamers,

I saw a post today on the World of Warcraft forums from a player who had "outed" herself in real life as a gamer.  I didn't think much about it; the social stigma against gaming, whether or not exists, and how various gamers deal with it, is a topic which comes up fairly often on the forums.

And then the replies rolled in.

Here are my favorite two from the first page:
Careful, this kind of "coming out" may lead to more discrimination than the other one!
LOLS! (true though.) 
There is less stigma to being gay than there is to playing WoW. Gamers are just not normal.
The best part of that is how the poster backs off of the statement with a "lol" and then comes around again with a "true though."

Let's see.  Gamers face more discrimination than gay people, you say?  Let's look at that from the perspective of the USA, where the majority of WOW-US general forumgoers reside.

Can gamers legally marry each other in all 50 states?

Do gamers face discrimination in housing?

Can gamers legally adopt in all 50 states?  Do legal barriers prevent gamers from fostering children?

Can two gamer kids attend school functions together without facing resistance from the administration?  Can gamer kids wear gaming-related T-shirts to school without facing resistance from the administration?

How often are young gamers thrown out of their own homes by their own parents simply for liking videogames?

Do gamers have trouble getting appropriate healthcare?  Do gamers have trouble securing appropriate identification and government documentation?  For how many years were gamers barred from serving in the Armed Forces?

Job discrimination, murder rates, assault rates, legal barriers, institutional discrimination, the list goes on.  You can talk about the social stigma against gamers as much as you like, but please don't play "contrast and compare" and "who has it worse" with the gay community, or people of color, or women, or other marginalized populations.

Gamers who feel that they're facing prejudice and bigotry can, if need be, put down the controller, step away from the keyboard, or stop rolling the dice.  Trying to change or deny one's sexual orientation and sexual identity aren't comparable.

With love,
Frank Lee

Friday, February 1, 2013

Dear Tide

Dear Tide,

Here's some of the dialogue from your new commercial:
Woman: It was our first date and he took me to a restaurant and there was this waitress there and I got very jealous because she was pretty so I threw salsa on him.
Here's what we see actually happening onscreen:
Man and woman seated at a restaurant table beside a nondescript wall.  Waitress walks past without acknowledging their presence.  The man watches waitress to the point of turning around in his seat so that he can track her as she continues past them.
"I got very jealous because she was pretty" means that this woman is so insecure that the mere existence of an attractive woman in the vicinity drives her to violence.

"I was pissed off and resentful because he was ogling other women in front of me in ludicrous, obvious, cartoonish fashion" is a little bit different.

You're openly rewriting one scenario (a woman's angry response to a man's wanton rudeness) into another (an irrational, hysterical woman's overreaction to her own insecure impulses, with the man's behavior a complete non-issue) to make the scene more misogynist.

Here's what your commercial says to me: women are so petty and so nasty that the very presence of another woman will throw her into a violent rage.  The man, meanwhile, is completely innocent and has nothing to do with anything.  Sure, maybe he took a little look, but what do you expect?  He's gotta keep his options open, am I right?

Do I recommend throwing salsa on people?  No.

Do I recommend using Tide Stain Savers?  No, not if they're being marketed like this.

Please reconsider your marketing strategy, and I'll reconsider my laundry needs.

With love,
Frank Lee