Human Interface Device

bubblesI’m having a hard time formulating this as one essay. I’m just pulling some of the thoughts that have been flitting around my head like moths drawn to fire all week. This is going to be kind of a scattershot approach to discussing these issues, but it’s the best I can do right now.

I’m sorry. I wish I could offer better.

I don’t know where to start. I want to talk about PAX, the dickwolves controversy, privilege, transphobia, misogyny… I want to talk about us, about how we treat each other, about the dividing boundaries we draw between ourselves that allow us to be cruel, to be dismissive, to be inhumane… I want to talk about empathy.

It’s kind of a big topic. It’s kind of the topic of how to be a human who can coexist with other human beings. I have no right to speak on this with any sort of authority. No one does. But, at the same time, we need to say something, everyone who can see the boundaries needs to trace over them for others to see, even if we perhaps disagree on the precise placement of those boundaries.


1. Comedy

For instance, here’s something many people will disagree with me on: I don’t believe that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with making a rape joke. However, it’s a narrow path to walk, utilizing humor that invokes rape without trivializing it or making some of your audience feel unsafe. It’s not easy. And anyone who isn’t willing to face that challenge head-on should probably not bother telling such jokes, because odds are they’re just being a dick, just making someone’s day worse – someone who has already had too many bad days.

Humor is always a narrow path. It’s always precarious balancing between mocking some facet of the iniquity of our society and mocking those who are victimized by it, and often that decision is made by the audience instead of the comic. Dave Chappelle found this out the hard way. Jokes mocking the institutions of racism, the ludicrous stereotypes we paint over our fellow human beings, the ways we ignore and dismiss, were interpreted by certain audiences as being jokes making fun of those who are affected by these institutions, these stereotypes, this dismissal. He was forced to reevaluate his act when he found himself drawing entirely the wrong laughter from entirely the wrong fans.

This is probably why feminists have a reputation for having no sense of humor. Inviting people to laugh with you, all too often, is read as an invitation for them to laugh at you.

If this is the case, why would we laugh at potentially hurtful humor at all? Why not leave racism and sexism and rape and torture and child abuse and whatever horrible thing we do to each other out of our jokes completely? Well… Jokes are more than entertainment. Jokes are important. Jokes are frequently a sign that something somewhere is going wrong, and all we can do is point and laugh. We learn from them. Sometimes they can change the world. For the better or for the worse. It is a terrible responsibility, sometimes…

I had hoped, as a broadcaster, to be merely ludicrous, but this is a hard world to be ludicrous in, with so many human beings so reluctant to laugh, so incapable of thought, so eager to believe and snarl and hate. So many people wanted to believe me!


2. Privilege

Whenever someone is called out as having said something hurtful or biased, a certain segment of the world views this as censorship. Asking someone to apologize for saying something, to perhaps consider retracting it and replacing it with something else in future editions, isn’t censorship. The term applies solely to those in a position of power forcing others to withhold or retract statements. There is, however, the related phenomenon of silencing, where people in a position of social power exert pressure to keep those in a weaker position from speaking their minds. This is, curiously, not something which those who call out people for saying hurtful things are generally accused of – likely because even acknowledging the phenomenon would undermine the privileged position of those who cry censorship.

Privilege is an important concept. It’s a way to put words to the biases that we know are inherent to our society and culture, a single word that encapsulates the idea that we do not all start with the same advantages and disadvantages. It is also a dangerous concept in the wrong hands: As with any concept that aids people in drawing dividing lines, aids in defining an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, it can create two sides in a war of words that can have only one victor. It can become a path to judging someone by their background instead of their character.

Everyone has problems. Everyone. And though their problems may seem petty to you, they’re still problems for them. Many of those who seem to declare that their experience must not be devalued are quick to, seemingly, devalue the experience of others. Perhaps the worries of an artist that they can’t freely express themselves seem petty to those who fear for their physical safety, but an artist who cannot express herself has her very identity threatened. It may not, indeed, be as severe a problem, but it is a real one and one which demands some empathy from those who wish others to be empathetic to their own problems.

I just… I want everybody to be able to view each other as human beings. And I know we’re so fucking far from that happening, so far that we need to address gender, address privilege, address bias and sexuality and race and identity and all of these little identifiable pieces of the personalities that we have gathered, because we live in a society that isn’t yet ready to take all of these as they come, at face value, without hate or reservation. But I also know that, if we’re ever going to cross the finish line, if we’re ever going to actually realize a truly equal society where everyone is just another human being, each with their own quirks of personality and identity, we will need to set aside this rhetoric. We will need to erase these boundaries. We will need to burst our bubbles and be ourselves instead of groups banded together by face-mask identities.

Someday. But not yet.

e pluribus unum

I’m pretty sure I could get a lot of mileage out of the Looney Tunes canon over the course of this essay series. I’ll try to think of something more specifically appropriate next time though.

At this point, the ‘Girlfriend Mode’ debate has well and truly made the rounds. You’re probably all pretty sick of it now, which is too bad because I’m totally not (yet) so I’m going to talk about it now. I’d actually feel fine letting it go as another empty controversy, except that my own viewpoint has been changed somewhat from participating in conversations about it, and I’d like to discuss that.

I could say a lot about how that happened but I won’t. Suffice it to say most of it emerged from a lengthy discussion on the Idle Thumbs forum. To proceed here, though, I’d like to first explain my initial mind-set regarding ‘girlfriend mode,’ along with a brief recap of the controversy for those of you not familiar with the issue.

Around the middle of last month, a Gearbox developer being interviewed about the upcoming Borderlands 2 shared information about a skill tree less focused on twitch aim skills and easier to play for someone without fps gaming experience. The actual name of this skill tree was ‘Best Friends Forever,’ but in describing it the developer said “I want to make, for the lack of a better term, the girlfriend skill tree.”

Oh god now everyone’s going to expect ALL of the images to be from cartoons. I need to make sure the next one is a photo or something.

Well. People were offended, let’s put it that way. At first I had a hard time seeing this as anything other than a kneejerk reaction– perhaps because I have friends who are trying to ease their less-skilled girlfriends into the game as we speak my viewpoint was biased but, nevertheless, I failed to see how the term was offensive to women. It was, I presume, a heterosexual unmarried man speaking about his significant other, ‘girlfriend’ seemed, to me, the only appropriate term for him to use– that is, without resorting to awkward neologisms such as ‘significant other.’ Read More