Friday, November 30, 2012

Dear Chris Brown 2

Dear Chris Brown (again),

In case my last letter didn't work for you, let me try again.

You're hanging out, tweeting, when someone says, "You're a worthless piece of shit."

Naturally, your response is to wonder, "Whoa, what's up with her?"

But then it kicks in: oh, right.

You're probably frustrated.  People keep bringing up your felonious past when you'd rather put it behind you.  It's aggravating.  You feel harassed and misunderstood.

Chris, these aren't simply haters.  They're not antis who jump on you just because you're a public figure.  As I reminded you earlier, it's normal and reasonable for people to talk about your history and to find it relevant.

So, here it is: someone calls you a worthless piece of shit.

You resent the insult, but you know why she said it.

If you don't want to hear it, you can block her.  If you think that she's harassing you, you could contact Twitter and push them to deal with it.  If you're upset, you can employ any of the techniques recommended in anger management.  (I assume that you've been through anger management therapy, or therapy in general.  I also sincerely, not sarcastically, recommend that you go back for more.)  If you want to reply to the insult, you can suggest that her remarks are inappropriate by tweeting back something like, "Hey, I'm just trying to talk to my fans, here."  If you want to address the more general point that you want people to stop bringing up your criminal past, you can say, "I've done some terrible things, and I'm sorry for them, but I deal with that every day.  I'm working towards being a better person.  #secondchances."  That's not 140 characters, but you get the idea.

If you want to trade insults, I'd recommend strongly against it for a dozen different reasons, but you could reply in a tit-for-tat fashion.  She calls you a worthless piece of shit, you call her a untalented jackass, and so on.  Point out that you're more wealthy and famous than she is, something like that.  "Who are you?  #questionfromaGrammywinner"

You skipped all of those routes and went straight for crude, sexual misogyny.

If you want us to believe that your abusive behavior is in the past, that it's all behind you now, that you're not that person anymore, you have to stop being that person.  People have a problem with you because you have a problem with anger management, misogyny, and domestic abuse, and when they bring it up, you react with more of the same.

If you're angry that people treat you like someone who abuses women, stop acting abusive towards women. Work on how you respond to women.  Work on how you respond when you get angry.  Your responses are all out of proportion to the situation.  Your responses are grossly misogynistic.  This is a problem.  You have a problem.  Don't be surprised when someone points it out.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Bill O'Reilly and Keith Ablow

Dear Bill O'Reilly and Keith Ablow,

You sat down together on national television to talk about the popularity of Psy's "Gangnam Style" video.  It's hit a landmark number of views on YouTube, and you wanted to figure out why.

If I squint, it seemed like you started to touch on a conversation about the nature of pop music and whether or not the escapist qualities of the Internet and pop culture are harmful.

But in essence, all I really got was five minutes of nonsensical racism.

A few choice moments:
The most popular music apparently is that without intelligible words to some extent. 
So it means nothing but it's got a nice upbeat to it. 
The meaning is that it has no meaning. 
Elvis Presley could sing, he had a good voice, his songs had words.
You don't understand Hangul.  That doesn't mean that the entire language is without meaning.  Psy isn't babbling nonsensically in made-up words.  He's speaking his native language.  The song itself has meaning; you just don't understand it.

Is there a larger discussion to be had about the massive popularity of a song in a language that much of its audience doesn't speak?  Yes.  Did you really have that conversation?  No.

You emphasized the point that "Gangnam Style" is popular on (and largely because of) the Internet, but you didn't think about the fact that people can look up translations of the lyrics?

Look, here's an article from a place you're probably familiar with:
Gangnam is a wealthy neighborhood in the South Korean city of Seoul where young people go to party. In the song, Psy describes the kind of guy he is and the kind of girl he wants, painting caricatures of the ostentatious culture of people who hang out in Gangnam. 
As The Atlantic pointed out in an in-depth article last month, behind the flashy costumes and killer dance moves in Psy's video, there's a subtle commentary on class in South Korea. 
It roughly means something like 'Your man has Gangnam Style.' 'Oppa,' which literally means 'older brother,' is an affectionate term girls use to address older guy friends or a boyfriend. It can also be used as a first-person pronoun, as PSY does here — in this case, he's telling a woman that he has Gangnam style.
Look at that, The Atlantic did an in-depth article!  It's almost as if there's some sort of substance to this song that might be relevant to the video!  As if Psy isn't merely babbling out meaningless nonsense!  Wait, this song has lyrics?  Fascinating!

Then you bring out this lovely line:
This is a little fat guy from Pyongyang or someplace, Seoul.
Maybe you're not familiar with world history.  Or even with national history.  But assigning just any Asian person to just any Asian country is racist.  Further, assigning someone from South Korea to North Korea is culturally insensitive.  They're very different countries, as someone who earns a living commenting on politics might need to know.
There are like sixteen guys named Sy on Long Island that I could tell you about, they don't look like him.
Now you're mocking his stage name?  Laughing over the fact that people of Asian ethnicity don't look like people of Italian ethnicity?  "Ha ha, he has a stage name, ha ha, he's Asian, ha ha!"  Fantastic political commentary, there.

You spend some time talking about Elvis Presley.  You end up arguing that Elvis Presley, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Justin Bieber are real musicians with real music, while "Gangnam Style" is utter nonsense and Psy makes meaningless music.  As if the popularity of "Gangnam Style" marks some historic turn where pop culture deteriorates from talent and substance to nothingness.

This kind of pop music: interesting, meaningful
That kind of pop music: nonsensical, meaningless, potentially harmful and dangerous to civilization as we know it

This kind of pop musician: talented, can sing, can dance
That kind of pop musician: no talent whatsoever

This kind of pop music: in English
That kind of pop music: in Hangul

This kind of pop musician: white, American/English/Canadian
That kind of pop musician: Korean

You spent five minutes saying racist things during a discussion predicating on the idea that "Gangnam Style" is a song without meaning.  Are you also upset that Shakira randomly lapses into garbled babble-speak as well?  Are you also worried about the sanity of those deluded opera-goers who are so fond of meaningless babble-music?

It's not in English!  I don't immediately understand what it means!  Therefore it is devoid of all substance!

It's not in English!  Therefore it is nonsense!

I don't understand it!  Therefore no one else does, either!

The two of you are not the center of the universe.  A wonderful and vibrant world exists beyond you.  Some people speak Hangul.  Some people like Korean pop music.  Some people know how to look things up on the Internet.

If you want to talk about pop music as escapism and whether or not Facebook is bad for society, have that discussion.  Leave the racism out of it.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Chris Brown

This post contains discussion of misogyny, sexual violence, sexual humiliation, and death threats.

Dear Chris Brown,

Here's something a fan of yours said recently:
Rihanna forgave him, they made up if they can get over it so can everyone else who it does NOT concern!!!!!!!!
Here's something similar from you:
"Just ask Rihanna if she mad??????"
This idea appears to be popular among you and your fans.  It seems as if you and Team Breezy want to believe that the problem, if one exists, is between two people: Chris Brown and Rihanna.  Therefore, the argument seems to go, if Chris Brown and Rihanna say there's no problem, there's no problem, and everyone else should stay out of it.

No.  See, you're a felon.  In a court of law, you were deemed guilty of committing a felony.  It wasn't a civil case, Rihanna v. Chris Brown.  It was People v. Christopher Brown.  The people of the state of California are the ones legally involved here, but since California is a state in the larger country, I think that the entire nation has some interest in the situation.

You didn't break Rihanna's laws.  You broke California's laws.

It's okay for Californians to be upset with you.  They follow those laws.  They vote people into office to write those laws.  They pay taxes to fund the upholding and enforcing of those laws.  The rest of the country has a vested interest in how every state's justice system works.  You committed a felony.  It's normal and reasonable for people to be unhappy with you over it.

It's not as simple as you having a fight with your girlfriend.  It's more serious than that, and we're treating it as such.

Is Rihanna mad?  I have no idea how she feels about it, and it's really none of my business anyway.  Are the people of the state of California and the larger United States of America mad?  Well, they certainly have every right and reason to be.

Let's move on to the specific incident to which the tweets above relate.  Here's the conversation as I see it:
Chris Brown: I look old as fuck! I'm only 23... 
Jenny Johnson: I know! Being a worthless piece of shit can really age a person. 
Chris Brown: take them teeth out when u Sucking my dick HOE.
Jenny Johnson: It's "HO" not "HOE" you ignorant fuck.
Chris Brown: I should fart while ur giving me top. "Seize the day" #CarpeDiem
Jenny Johnson: Your mom must be so proud of you.
Chris Brown: see.. I don't even have to tell u what u already know. Thanks HO! #bushpig
Jenny Johnson: [link to this article] #SuckIt
Chris Brown: mom says hello... She told me not to shart in ur mouth, wanted me to shit right on the retina, ....#pinkeye
Jenny Johnson: YOU FLIRT!!!
Chris Brown: Let me leave this bitch alone... It's good to know my worth by listening to a bitch that is worthless! #iwin #bushpigswag
Jenny Johnson: Okay. I'm done. All I got from that exchange with Chris Brown is that he wants to shit and fart on me.
Chris Brown: Further proved my point of how immature society is. #CarpeDiem
Chris Brown: To teambreezy... Know that I'm not upset. Just felt like entertaining the ignorance. These bitches crazy..
Chris Brown: Back to life...
Jenny Johnson: I have zero respect for a person who seems unapologetic for the terrible crime he committed and shows no signs of changing.
Chris Brown: Just ask Rihanna if she mad??????
I hardly know where to begin.

Apparently Jenny Johnson is a professional comedian.  She's tweeted you before, but this is the first time that you've responded.

I expect that by now, you've realized that although you'd like to put your felonious behavior behind you, some people insist on bringing it up and acting as though it's relevant.  (It is.)  I imagine that sometimes you get frustrated at their comments, reminders, and digs.  How you respond when you become angry, and particularly how you respond to women when you become angry, is very relevant to the actual felony you committed.  Abuse and domestic violence are part of larger patterns of behavior.  While you'd like us to think that your violence with Rihanna was an isolated incident, that's simply not how human psychology works.

So, instead of following these handy steps or perhaps reporting harassment to Twitter, when someone called you a "worthless piece of shit," you replied with nasty sexual aggression and misogyny.

Here are the insults she threw at you:
worthless piece of shit
ignorant fuck
Your mom must be so proud of you.
You replied by talking about her sucking your dick, talking about her being toothless/removing her teeth in order to service you sexually, talking about her sucking your dick again, talking about shitting in her mouth, talking about shitting on her eye, calling her worthless, calling her immature, calling her ignorant, calling her a whore twice, and calling her a bitch three times.

Do you see the theme of woman-hating sexual violence here?

When a woman angers you, you use specifically misogynistic slurs.  You try to put her in her place by describing her servicing you sexually.  You try to shame and humiliate her by talking about voiding your bowels in her face.  Your replies hammer home the message: Your gender is all that matters.  You're a woman, therefore I'll use you for my sexual fulfillment.  I'll humiliate and degrade you while you pleasure me.  You're a whore and a bitch.  It's an outpouring of sexualized misogyny.

You said all of this knowing that you were in a public place.  Knowing that your words were easily recorded and spread.  Knowing that your fans were avidly listening.

You claim that you weren't upset.  No?  If this is you merely being entertaining, how do you respond to people when you're really angry?

The public has a vested interest in monitoring your behavior.  Society needs to know that your abusive violence is in the past.  The way you replied to Jenny Johnson tells me that you need help.

Please.  Get some help.

With love,
Frank Lee

P.S. To the media outlets asking which side we're on, this is not an issue of, "Ooohhh, mint or strawberry, which one do you prefer?"  This is an issue of someone insulting a celebrated felon and pointing out his criminal past, and being replied to with sexualized misogyny (from Chris Brown) and death threats (from his fans).  Am I on the side of "truth and insults" or "misogyny and death threats?"  That's the question you're asking?  Please take a long, hard look at yourself and shape up.

P.P.S. Team Breezy, I am trying my best not to get into it with you, but death threats go way too far.  Threats of any kind go way too far.  Please learn to express your anger more maturely, instead of jumping into threats of death and sexual violence.  Maybe your idol will learn something from you.

Dear Blizzard

Dear Blizzard,

I was visiting your on-line store the other day when I saw this item for sale:
World of Warcraft® Penny Arcade 3-Ring Binder 
BradyGames and Penny Arcade have created a collectible, special edition, 2 sided (Horde & Alliance) World of Warcraft binder, featuring World of Warcraft in the classic Penny Arcade style! BradyGames is constantly adding exclusive, online-only binder update content to With this binder comes a registration code allowing you easy access to the files, which you can save to your computer, print in color or black-and-white, and insert into your binder. 
Fans of World of Warcraft and should be sure to pick up this collectible binder while supplies last!
For half of a moment, I actually tried to tell myself that it couldn't be that Penny Arcade.  That you must mean some other Penny Arcade.

Surely you wouldn't have merchandise from that Penny Arcade on your website.  Official, trademarked merchandise on the Blizzard store?

I genuinely hope that you'll reconsider.  It's only one item, so it should be easy to remove.

Don't want to take the item down?  Perhaps you could follow an example set by others and donate the proceeds to Men Can Stop Rape.

If you're wondering why women and feminist allies have trouble with WOW, consider that you're trying to sell Penny Arcade merchandise to them.

For more reading on Penny Arcade:

One two three four five six seven eight nine ten eleven twelve thirteen fourteen and counting.

With love,
Frank Lee

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dear Justin Timberlake (Part 2)

For this letter to make sense, please read the first one here.

Dear Justin Timberlake (again),


Wait, I get it now.

I read your apology letter and was disgusted because the apology didn't fit the situation being apologized for.

I failed to take into account that you probably thought that it did.

I did my reading and research to find out what was going on, and what I found warranted a much more serious, thoughtful apology than you delivered.  I was frustrated to find that your open letter seemed more interested in defending than apologizing.

Now it's all clicked, and I realize that you may have come across as defensive because you felt defensive.  You may have written such a weak apology because you didn't feel very apologetic.

You don't understand what our problem is.

You don't understand why we're so disgusted by that video or that it was used as a joke at a celebrity's European wedding festivities.

You don't get it.

Wow.  I'm sorry, I assumed that it would be obvious.  Isn't it obvious?  Or maybe you do get it; maybe you just feel defensive at having to explain yourself.  Maybe you want to enjoy your happy moment of newly wedded bliss without being disturbed by petty complaints about some video some "knucklehead" friend of yours made.  Maybe you're just resentful that word reached the press and the public and ruined your good time.

Maybe you saw the video and understand the complaints, but just don't see it as that big of a deal.  So some homeless people were mocked.  So your friends sat around and had a good laugh at the idea of you voluntarily associating with people down on their luck.  What's the problem?  God, you can't even tell a joke anymore without the PC police making a huge deal of everything.

Your letter took 12 paragraphs to say "I'm sorry" and even then wasn't very convincing, given all of the ways you found to explain that it wasn't that bad to begin with.  We got quotations from your grandfather and some "everyone's equal" down-home Tennessee wisdom, but your harshest words against the video were, "I agree with the overall consensus."  Scathing!

About that Tennesse wisdom:
As a matter of fact, growing up in Tennessee, I was always taught that we as people, no matter what your race, sex, or stature may be, are equal.
You can't honestly believe that Tennessee is some egalitarian wonderland where everyone's treated equally.  There's no racism in Tennessee?  There's no sexism in Tennessee?  (Hey, good news, Aunt B.!)

Maybe you do honestly believe that everyone in Tennessee is treated exactly the same.  That everyone there has all of the same experiences and opportunities in life as you.

And maybe you really do believe that such a cruel, disgusting video was an innocent joke, unfortunately misunderstood.

That says a lot about you.

The world has been kind to you, Justin.

Please learn to be kind in return.

With love,
Frank Lee

Dear Justin Timberlake

This post contains discussion of classism, transphobia, mockery of homeless people, mockery of people who appear to be mentally ill and/or intoxicated and/or addicted, and gross amounts of thoughtless privilege on display.  It also contains references to rape culture.

Dear Justin Timberlake,

Congratulations on your marriage.  I hope for your happiness.

I'm about a month late on this topic, because I've been debating with myself over whether or not to speak up.  Back in October, Liss pointed readers to an article about this:
The blind was all about the “wedding gift” some friends made for a recently married couple. The “gift” was a “funny” video in which homeless people talked on camera about how they were super-sad to miss the celebrity couple’s big, fancy wedding. Because the “joke” is that homeless people are SO funny, what with their homelessness and not knowing where their next meal will come from, and the joke is that of course the celebrity couple would invite some homeless people to their wedding.
Terrible.  That is cruel and mean-spirited and absolutely disgusting.

As word of the video spread, you responded in an open letter on your website.

Let's take a read.
As it pertains to this silly, unsavory video that was made as a joke and not in any way in mockery:
Not a mockery?  I don't understand what it was, then.  How does the video work as a joke if it isn't mocking the people onscreen?  What's the joke?
My friends are good people.
Good people make fun of those in need?

Your friends may be more complex than you realize.  Perhaps this gets to the nature of what "goodness" is and how we exhibit it.  If you only ever see Bob act like a decent guy, you think of Bob as a decent guy.  Then you find out that Bob has done some shitty, cruel things.  You can either go with the response of, "Wow, there are aspects of Bob's personality and character that I never knew!  Let me reevaluate how well I know this guy!"  Or you can go with the response of, "But the Bob I know donates money to AIDS research!  He's a wonderful person!  Donating money is a good thing, so Bob is a good person, and I allow for no complexities in my fellow human beings!"

You'll see this sort of response a lot when someone's being accused of being a rapist or murderer.  "Not Bob!  Impossible!  Bob pets dogs!"  "Bob?!  No way!  Bob's always nice to me!"  This is how a lot of sexual predators get by in life.  They do good things in public and horrible things in private, and when the horrible stuff comes to light, everyone says, "But he's always been so great to my kids!" or "But he volunteers for the church!" and he continues on his merry, awful way and his victims are called liars.  That's why the blanket statement of "he's a good person" really, really needs to be discarded as a defense.

Your friends may be funny, helpful, dog-petters around you.  That does not make them good people.  That makes them friendly around Justin Timberlake.  They're also (at least one of them) completely shitty and cruel around homeless people.  In my book, that's incompatible with the label "good people."
This was clearly a lapse in judgment which I'm sure no one who is reading this is exempt from.
Yes, we're all given to lapses in judgment from time to time.  I often regret doing or saying (or not doing, not saying) something.  We fuck up, we make mistakes, we're human.  But coming up with the video idea, getting a camera and going out to interview the people featured, conducting the interviews, editing the video and adding a soundtrack, and then sharing the video, involves a lot of time and effort.  It involves a certain amount of time in consideration of the video and its various aspects.  Deciding that I can speed up and get through a traffic light in time, only to cause an accident, is a lapse in judgment.  What's under discussion here is much more serious.
I don't believe it was made to be insensitive.
No?  How so?  What do you think that it was, then?  The point was to mock homeless people in need of help.  It's a joke, but not mockery and not insensitive?  Was it sensitive, then?  Sensitive to their needs?  Sensitive to their plight?  Sensitive to their need to be treated with dignity and respect?
More so, I think it was made as a joke on me not having that many friends attending my own wedding (which IS kind of funny if you think about it).
Up until this point, I find it difficult to understand precisely what you think is going on.  Here is where communication breaks down entirely and I wonder if you think that we don't know who you are.

Hi.  You're Justin Timberlake.

People love you wherever you go.  People collaborate with you on a song or work with you on a set and immediately cannot get over how awesome you are.  You seem to have some ridiculous amount of personal charm which turns other Hollywood professionals into starry-eyed fans.  It happens in every corner of the entertainment industry you brush up against.  It has happened throughout your career.

You have no trouble making friends.

With that said, maybe you don't consider those people to be "friends."  Maybe you appreciate the interest and intentions of all of those other people, but when you think of true friendship, you think of someone who's been there for you, someone you can open up to, someone you've really been through something with.

The other members of *NSYNC, perhaps?  No, not them; you didn't invite any of them to your wedding.

All right, maybe your definition of friendship is something more intense, something more personal.  Your true friends are the people you've really connected with, really bonded with, people who know you inside and out.  The only people you'd consider inviting to your wedding are members of an elite inner circle, people who know you as no one else ever can.

Those people know you very, very well, then, I'd imagine.

They'd know what you like.  They'd know your sense of humor.  They'd know what makes you laugh and what crosses the line.

And they made this video for your special day.
I think we can all agree that it was distasteful, even though that was not its intention.
Its intention was to make you laugh.  Its intention was to be funny.  Its intention was to entertain with some good-times humor.  The intention was to mock poor people, homeless people, people who need help.  Because homeless people, people with addictions, people with mental illnesses, and trans people are funny.  At least, it's hilarious to think of them being so deluded as to consider themselves welcome in your sphere.  Hilarious to think of them being welcome at your wedding or associated with you.  Hilarious to think of them even knowing you!  So, so funny.  As if you would ever know someone like that!  As if, wait.  As I recall, Chris Kirkpatrick lived out of his car for a while.  Wait, that can't be right!  That would make it seem as if homeless people are actual people, like anyone else.  Almost like you!  With things in common with you!  Aw, now the joke's ruined.
Once again, in the world that we live in where everyone thinks that they know everything, I want to be very clear... I am NOT defending the video. I agree with the overall consensus.
For someone who's being "very clear," you're not being entirely clear.  You agree with the overall consensus?  Would you care to explain what you believe the overall consensus to be?  So far, you've described the video as:
something that has even shed any kind of dark light on what was and will always be one of the most special weeks of my life.
this silly, unsavory video that was made as a joke and not in any way in mockery 
a lapse in judgment 
I don't believe it was made to be insensitive. More so, I think it was made as a joke on me 
I think we can all agree that it was distasteful, even though that was not its intention.
It's a silly, unsavory joke.  In poor taste, accidentally.  Unintentionally insensitive.  Not a mockery.

A well-intentioned joke that accidentally turned out to be in poor taste.  If it mocks anyone, it mocks you, really.  Poor, friendless Justin Timberlake, the real victim in all of this.  How cruel of us to misunderstand.
I want to say that, on behalf of my friends, family, and associative knuckleheads
Aw, those knuckleheads.  Always goofing around, mocking homeless trans people!
I am deeply sorry to anyone who was offended by the video.
There we go!  "I am deeply sorry."  It only took you 12 paragraphs to get there!

Sorry to anyone who was offended, you say?  What about an apology to the people in the video?  To the specific people taken advantage of for your crowds' amusement?  To the general kinds of people mocked?  Any apologies for them?  Anything to say to the trans community?  To people in poverty, people in need, people on the streets?
Again, it was something that I was not made aware of.
You seem to be aware of it now.  When were you made aware of it?  I guess that you were too busy to join in the wedding festivities, so when it was shown to everyone else, you weren't around?  I mean, according to the linked article, "Mr. Huchel made [the] video to be used and exhibited privately at Justin Timberlake’s wedding as a private joke without Mr. Timberlake’s knowledge," but I can't tell if the "without Mr. Timberlake's knowledge" pertains to the "made" or the "used and exhibited."  Either way, it seems odd that he'd go to that much work to make the video without ever showing it to you.  It's like a wedding gift for everyone at the wedding but the actual couple.  It makes me wonder what sort of dynamic is at play here, that a friend of yours would make a video for your wedding that he thought your wedding party would find hilarious but wasn't worth showing to you.  Odd.
But, I do understand the reaction and, by association, I am holding myself accountable.
How?  In what way?  What does this mean?  What's happening here?  You're going to give yourself a stern talking-to?  You're going to take time out for somber reflection on your choice of friends?  You're going to donate to homeless shelters?  You're going to educate yourself on poverty and addiction?  You're going to say to yourself, "Justin Timberlake, I hold you responsible for this silly, well-intentioned joke which accidentally turned out to be in poor taste!" and then go golfing?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts.
It's your website.  You have the opportunity to post anything you want to post on it.
It really is a blessing to be able to speak directly to my true fans so that you can know exactly where I stand.
True fans?  You and I have a long, long talk coming about how you treat your fans, and I probably shouldn't get into that here, but calling on your "true fans" only serves as a "prove it to me" statement.  You're seeking to differentiate "true fans" from the other fans, as if your true fans will be loyal and stand by your side and accept whatever you say without question, while anyone who dares to read your "apology" and call bullshit can't possibly be a true fan.  That is a lousy thing to do to your fans.  They're allowed to love and support you and still think that this is a shitty moment and a terrible apology.
You can bet your ass that I'm having my friend do at least 100 hours of community service... Boom.
Wait, I thought that you were holding yourself accountable.  Should I expect to see you out there doing 100 hours of community service, too?

With love,
Frank Lee

Friday, November 23, 2012

Dear Blizzard

This post contains discussion of rape jokes, rape threats, and sexual assault in a fictional universe.

Dear Blizzard,

Rape jokes.

You peppered Pandaland with rape jokes.

First it's Mina Mudclaw, "the farmer's daughter," who is kidnapped and raped:
Those virmen... they make me do horrible, horrible, silly things. All involving carrots. I couldn't tell you how many carrots they threw at me.
Let's not waste any more time. Get me out of here!
Dad... I never want to see another carrot again.
Then there's Zhao-Jin.
Throw these prisoners in the cages. Let the men have their way with them.
Oh, wait.  Those aren't rape jokes at all.  One is a rape threat.  The other is a description of rape.

You don't exist in a bubble.  Someone who works at Blizzard is aware, on some level, of the gaming community's hostility to women gamers.  And aware of the WOW community's hostility to women players.  And aware of the ongoing social discourse over rape jokes.  And aware of how common rape and molestation and sexual assault are in real life, including the lives of gamers.

World of Warcraft does not exist on its own.  These are not real characters in real situations.  You make them up.  They can say and do whatever you want them to say and do.  Mina Mudclaw literally could say anything, anything at all.  She can thank the hero, she can insult her kidnappers, she can insult the hero, she can talk about how awful being kidnapped is or why the sky is blue or what cheese tastes like.  Of all of the possible topics in the world, you chose rape.

WOW has always had a mixture of dark and light, humor and drama, dangerous evil and pop culture references.  Zhao-Jin, I take it, is supposed to be a bad guy.  He does bad stuff.  He says bad things.  Clearly, you're trying to communicate that he's wicked.  But there are a lot of ways to do that.  Again, Zhao-Jin is not an autonomous being with a will of his own.  You choose which words are in-game and on-screen. His dialogue could include any number of nasty messages, but you went with rape.

There are several things still in-game that I've asked you to reconsider: the "male blood elves are gay/women" jokes, the gnome-punting jokes, Garrosh calling Sylvanas a bitch, the lynching imagery, and more.  I keep contacting you because I believe that you can improve the gaming experience.  I believe that if I keep reaching out, someday you'll hear me.  I'm not alone; there are feminists in every corner of the WOW community, from the raiders to the PVPers to the casuals.  (And definitely among the RPers!  High-five!)

Blizzard reps have said repeatedly that the best kind of feedback is calm, brief, and detailed.  I understand the people who go on angry rants because they're fed up.  I understand the people who don't bother with details because they insist that Blizzard has heard it all before and knows exactly what's wrong but just won't fix it.  I shouldn't have to go into a short but detailed explanation of rape culture, and how rape and violence in our media differ, and the effect rape jokes have on the gaming community, etc.  Do you honestly not know all of this by now?  Am I supposed to believe that the feminization of Tyrande and the inclusion of rape jokes and the way your community treats female gamers and the fact that one of your early lead developers goes by the name Tigole Bitties is all a wild coincidence?

WOW is a game.  People play it for fun.  We get to hang out in a fantasy world and escape into Azeroth for a few hours.  I don't want my real-world problems to follow me in.  If I go in-game, I don't want the in-game mail to remind me to call my mother.  I don't want the in-game auction house to remind me about my overdue bills.  I don't want my in-game mount to remind me to check the oil on my real-life car.  That would be a drag, a downer, when I'm trying to relax and have a good time in this fantasy world you've built.

Surely you understand that.  Then can you also understand that I also don't want to be reminded of misogyny and rape culture?  That I don't want to be reminded of how easily and often people treat rape and sexual assault as jokes?  That I don't want to be reminded of being raped, or of my best friend being assaulted, or of that terrible, terrible story about that girl I saw on the news last night?

I like to believe that you're operating in good faith. I like to believe that you wouldn't do these things if you understood their impact.  Yet you've heard specific feedback from your players.  If that weren't enough (and why wasn't it?), the gaming community overall discusses general gaming issues and WOW-specific issues all of the time.  Your reps seem like fairly Net-savvy people, and I've noticed them claim to visit WOW fan sites and discussion forums.  You hear gamers talk about these problems.  What do you do with that feedback?  Do you discuss it and give it real consideration?  Do you laugh it off as misguided?  Do you become defensive and resentful that it's all in good fun and no one understands you?

I've said it before and I'll request it again: if you can't figure out what you're doing wrong, please hire feminist consultants.  There are plenty of smart, feminist gamers out there who would be very happy to participate.

There are some problems in WOW that would take a major overhaul of certain aspects of the game to fix.  The joyful co-opting of native themes, for example.  But the two examples I began with are simple matters of quest text and NPC dialogue, which should be easier to adjust.

You made a change in the Pandaland beta when an NPC had sexist dialogue.  You made the right move, then.  I hope that you'll do the right thing, now.

With love,
Frank Lee

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Dear Parks and Recreation

Dear "Parks and Recreation,"

I'd like to thank you for how good you are to Leslie Knope.

She's smart and she's funny and she cares too much.  She's generous and passionate and feminist.  She's dedicated and hard-working and genuine.  She's a terrific, terrific character.

She's flawed.  She makes mistakes in every episode.  She messes up and she's mean to Jerry (Gary) and have you seen the inside of her house?  She's awkward.

You let her be awkward and real without making every joke at her expense.  You're good to her.  Her meeting with Joe Biden is probably my favorite example.  You let Leslie Knope meet Joe Biden!  You gave her that moment, and you let her meet him in true Leslie style: she's awkward, she cares too much, she doesn't come across as suave or sophisticated or cool.  Joe Biden isn't entirely sure what to make of her.

But you know what I would have seen in other shows?  Leslie accidentally blurting out something grossly inappropriate (absurdly sexual, possibly racist) or being misheard.  Leslie spilling coffee on Joe Biden or pouring ink on him.  Leslie spilling something on herself or having food on her face.  Leslie falling over.  Leslie ruining the moment.  Because many shows seem to find it funniest when the woman almost, almost gets her moment but doesn't, really, in the end, because ha ha ha isn't it great how things never ever work out for her?

Leslie got her moment.

Sometimes, things work out for her.

Thank you for that.

With love,
Frank Lee

Related reading.

Dear Modern Family

Dear "Modern Family,"

Hi, here I am again.  I've written to you before, although not from this blog.  I watch your show fairly regularly, and while I enjoy many aspects of it, there are parts of it which give me pause, and other parts of it which bother me so much that I have to speak up once in a while.

Recently, you aired an episode with Matthew Broderick as a gay man who sort of dates Phil for an evening. Matthew Broderick is wonderfully charismatic, so I was pleased to see him.

However, I have two issues I'd like to discuss.

First, the "straight person cast as gay person" situation.  Overall, more gay characters onscreen is a good thing.  However, I'd like to see more gay actors cast.  This doesn't mean that I demand gay actors as gay characters and straight actors as straight characters and bi actors as bi characters.  What it means, really, is that I don't see enough out gay actors onscreen.  If I saw out gay actors all over the place, I wouldn't bother to keep track of who gets which role.  But when I don't see enough gay actors as it is, and then the role of a gay character pops up and another straight guy gets it, I wonder when Hollywood will get around to being inclusive.

(I'll take this moment to give a quick nod to Jesse Tyler Ferguson.  I loved you in "The Class!"  Congratulations on your engagement!)

Let's move on to the second problem.

What was up with that kiss?

I was disgusted by the Tom Hanks/Antonio Banderas kiss back in Philadelphia, and that was 19 years ago.  To clarify, I wasn't disgusted by the idea of the kiss.  I was disgusted that we couldn't see the kiss.  This back-of-the-head nonsense, where we assume that the characters are kissing but for all we know the actors are just checking each other's breath, is childish and ridiculous.  I'm baffled and disgusted that we're still pulling these moves in 2012.

I don't know if you played coy for the sake of the actors, for the sake of your audience, or for some other reason entirely, but if you were trying to avoid offending people, oops!  I'm peeved, irked, and riled up.  "Modern Family" is a popular, award-winning, prime-time major network show.  A lot of people watch it.  A lot of people pay attention to it.  You just had a big guest star in an attention-getting role, which means even more viewers and interest than usual.  And you dropped the ball.

Back in 1993, Philadelphia tried to convey positive, important, political and personal messages about gay people, their lives, their rights, homophobia, and AIDS.  And in that landmark movie, they dodged the kiss.  It communicated to me that even in a supposedly progressive, risk-taking movie, Tom Hanks and Antonio Banderas actually kissing onscreen would have been going too far.  After all, we can try to portray gay people, we can try to humanize gay people, but the sight of lips on lips: impossible.

Nineteen years later, showing the kiss is still going too far.

You disappoint me.  And you insult me.

We're moving into 2013 in a few weeks.  I hope that next year, I'll be able to write a happier letter.

With love,
Frank Lee

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Dear Cameron Diaz

"I think every woman does want to be objectified. There's a little part of you at all times that hopes to be somewhat objectified, and I think it's healthy."
-Cameron Diaz
Dear Cameron Diaz,

Let's jump right into this.
I think every woman does want to be objectified.
It's nice of you to begin with "I think," as if you're merely stating a humble opinion.  However, following it up with such a blanket statement encompassing "every woman" was a mistake.  You do not get to announce that the desire to be objectified is some universal experience which all women share.
There's a little part of you at all times that hopes to be somewhat objectified
You keep backing away (just a little part of you, just somewhat) and then going full tilt ("at all times," as if this is a constant, eternal, never-ending state).  At all times?  Women wish to be objectified while at work, while driving, while walking the dog, while shopping for new tires, while brushing their teeth, while cutting onions, while on the toilet.  AT ALL TIMES.  IT MUST HAPPEN UNCEASINGLY.
I think it's healthy
I don't.  You know what I think?  I think that it makes women sound needy.  Also shallow, vain, desperate for validation and approval, and so on.  Is that how you want people to think of you?  Is that how you think of women?  Is that a natural, healthy state you genuinely believe every woman enjoys?

Here's what you didn't say:
I think that most women enjoy feeling attractive. 
I think that many women appreciate getting some flirtatious sexual attention and sincere compliments, and I think that's normal.
Here's what you communicated to me:
The patriarchy has taught me to work to attract, and place value upon, the male gaze.  Instead of questioning that, I accept it wholeheartedly as a healthy feature of my womanhood. 
I think very little of myself and/or very little of other women. 
I don't know what "objectified" actually means. 
I, like all women, want to be treated like an object, not like a full human being.  That's healthy.  It would be unhealthy to hope to be treated like a human being at all times, the way that men do.
If you enjoy feeling attractive, good for you!  If you enjoy the flattery and compliments you receive from your friends and partners, great!  If you'd rather be viewed as an object, lacking in autonomy, not a person with your own ideas and personality and desires but a mere thing to be used and owned, you might want to consider why that is.  And you also might want to stop assuming that all other women feel just the same way.

A lot of women fight hard to be viewed as people, as not less-than.  When you say things like that, you make their work that much more difficult.

With love,
Frank Lee