A small step for inclusivity
November 19, 2012 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Two years ago, Rachel McCarthy James' (RMJ) Deeply Problematic, "a feminist blog that seeks to examine and analyze the treatment of problematized bodies in society and the media", ran a series of posts examining Jeph Jacques webcomic Questionable Content looking at the women in QC, their bodies, their sexuality and identity and finally, the way Jacques normalised disability in it. Largely positive, RMJ did put a caveat on the lack of out trans characters in the comic. Today that lack was addressed as relatively new character Claire came out as trans.

Questionable Content is a slice of live comic set in Northampton, MA, revolving around the lives of various twentysomething hipsters and their relationships. It's popular enough that Jacques can make his living from it, has a large female following due to its strong, inclusive, largely female cast. Including a trans person was something Jeph Jacques had been wanting to do for years, but wanted to do right, according to the notes for the comic.

Claire Augustus was introduced in the comic a 120 or so strips ago as one of the interns in the university library the main character Marten works at.

The real question now is how Tumblr will take this development.
posted by MartinWisse (113 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well I think the tumblr nailed it.
posted by efalk at 2:05 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hee, hee, I love Spike.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:11 PM on November 19, 2012


You might have noticed that immediately after this strip, there was a hiatus, followed by a couple weeks of guest strips. Wanna know why?

Because the social justice crowd on Tumblr decided that strip was fatphobic and body shaming, and proceeded to hound Jeph Jacques online and in person until, within 24 hours, they'd driven him to cash in two years of sobriety for a drinking binge that concluded with him stabbing a hole in his drawing hand.

Way to go, internets!
posted by kafziel at 2:13 PM on November 19, 2012 [43 favorites]


"You deny your meat privilege" is an amazing line.
posted by boo_radley at 2:17 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was just about to say just about the same thing (but more subtly) kafziel, but I think the unreasonable voices were claiming that introverted gamer and "fattie" Marigold Farmer (I LOVE that name) looked TOO good in the bikini and should have had more folds and stretch marks in order to be realistic. Sigh.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:17 PM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm always surprised when I read one of Jeph's strips from, say, only a year ago. The guy constantly pushes himself to improve and nurture his work. This, I think, carries over into his portrayal of his characters. He seems to be the type of guy who realizes that he is at a disadvantage when it comes to writing characters whose lives differ from his. Other artists would use that as an excuse to "stick to what they know". Jeph seems to use that as an excuse to work harder at making his comic more inclusive and filled with more depth. Questionable Content is a fantastic work in progress, one of my absolute favorite webcomics (if not my favorite), and it's written by a dude who, by all appearances, seems to strive towards all the positive aspects of the word "dude". If you aren't reading QT, I recommend it wholeheartedly. No need to read the back catalogue. Just jump right in and start reading, the strip very much allows for that.
posted by sendai sleep master at 2:17 PM on November 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


I love this comic, and I will fight ANYONE that says a bad word about it. WITH KNIVES. AND NINJAS.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:18 PM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Actually, kafziel, he didn't stab himself in the drawing hand. He explicitly said so in the notes on the filler strip he posted the day after it happened. It's also debatable how much influence the Tumblr folks had on the incident, despite what the people on the forums said, though it does seem likely that they were a factor.
posted by asnider at 2:18 PM on November 19, 2012


also it was specifically not his drawing hand, so way to drama bomb that non-situation, kafziel.
(i am kidding, don't stab hands)
posted by boo_radley at 2:18 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


JINX
posted by boo_radley at 2:19 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hey this looks like a decent webcomic, I'll give it a go, thanks for the post.
posted by Sternmeyer at 2:20 PM on November 19, 2012


In case anyone wants to pick up this storyline from the beginning, this is the strip where the new character is introduced.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:21 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


You're correct, my mistake. He was driven to substance abuse and self-harm to his non-drawing hand in the name of inclusivity.
posted by kafziel at 2:22 PM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I was going to note that Jacques' own mental health struggles and recent self-harm incident (sorry, there is probably a much better way to put this, I am not entirely sure what it is - he describes it briefly here at the bottom of the page) add some context/texture to the discussion of how he deals with disability issues - but on preview I see some people talking about that already.

I've been reading QC for a few years - I was home sick one day and caught up on the entire archive, and have been keeping up ever since. I think it has really progressed a lot since its early "lol I'm a hipster" days. It drives me crazy a lot of the time, but I have gotten really attached to the characters and have to know what happens to them.
posted by naoko at 2:23 PM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I tots sent Jeph an overly excited thank you email when I read today's comic.
posted by Leucistic Cuttlefish at 2:24 PM on November 19, 2012


I've been an on-off QC reader for a few years and I took it for granted that there are these characters of various sexualities and genders and idiosyncrasies and whatever it's all lighthearted. Now, after reading those blog posts, I realize just how much incredible, deep, well-thought stuff is going on in that comic.

I never heard the whole story about Jeph's recent binge. I knew there was some Twitter drama... but seriously, people were pissed off over that comic?? A comic that, while not perfect, probably dares go way further to address fat-phobia than any other webcomic, and does a way better job than, say, television shows or movies or whatever? I feel sick.
posted by sixohsix at 2:26 PM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


QC has seen better days - I miss the times of genuine conflict between characters, and also Roomba chariot combat - but that was the stupidest damn thing for the Internet to get angry about.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 2:27 PM on November 19, 2012


And look at what the strip looked like when he started! (Yes, that's the same Marten character who is in the current strip. There is an obvious tendency for cartoonists to evolve their styles in the early years and then hold it when they get looking right (check out early Peanuts, BC, Doonesbury, Garfield, even Dilbert... almost unrecognizable), but Jeph is still constantly improving and fine-tuning his drawing more than anybody in webcomics.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:29 PM on November 19, 2012


Damn, I should have thought about posting this mefi piece myself :)

QC is definitely one of the better things out there in webcomic land. And JJ is a good guy. (I was lucky enough to meet him at Comicon San Diego a few years ago. Which is why there's a framed, signed QC print on the wall above my desk. /fanboy)
posted by cstross at 2:30 PM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Thanks for this. I have been nibbling around the edge of webcomics for the last year or so, but it seems like all the worst aspects of internet misogyny are at full strength in the webcomics sphere.

Every time I find a new one I'm like, "Let's play Spot The Misogyny! How long before it - woop, there it is." (One of my former favorites recently trotted out a really unpleasant Nice Guy storyline. Ugh.)

Knowing that QC is so awesome, I will be following it closely from now on. Insta-fan!
posted by ErikaB at 2:33 PM on November 19, 2012


... but seriously, people were pissed off over that comic??

There is a pretty significant and loud subset of ostensibly social-justice oriented social media users (Twitter and tumblr, mostly) who seem to delight at finding new and shiny perceived injustices to absolutely lose their shit over and subsequently call a HACK THE PLANET or whatever.
posted by griphus at 2:34 PM on November 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


The moment I saw the cartoon this morning I wanted to put it up here, but I thought it would be a bit too sparse on its own; luckily I found these essays, which were rather good.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:34 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are there any photos of the hand-stabbing incident?
posted by Greg Nog at 2:41 PM on November 19, 2012


Are there any photos of the hand-stabbing incident?

Sort of.
posted by asnider at 2:42 PM on November 19, 2012


@griphus > There is a pretty significant and loud subset of ostensibly social-justice oriented social media users (Twitter and tumblr, mostly) who seem to delight at finding new and shiny perceived injustices to absolutely lose their shit over.

Yeah, but there are far more obvious and disgusting sources of socially-unjust things to attack. Why attack a guy who actually tries (and mostly succeeds) really hard to produce something with good social morals/ethics/what-have-you? Because trolling I guess. Hence: I feel sick.
posted by sixohsix at 2:46 PM on November 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


When I saw the "Marigold bikini" strip I was not surprised (foreshadowed here) but I was also reminded of this moment in the "Faye/Sven" relationship and when I went back to look at it, it surprised me (yes, Faye was skinnier than now, in spite of the "Fat Bottomed Girls" gag, but that was where his style was then). I saw him get a lot of criticism for character design in webcomic forums during this 'in progress' time and personally didn't think it was as bad as some people said back then. (Hey, it's a COMIC STRIP, people!) But he obviously took it very seriously.

But he is not only working very hard on his art, he's doing it in public, broadcasting his drawing sessions on Livestream almost every night (he usually starts near Midnight his time and has the strip up 2-3 hours later). HI JEPH! I'm someothercraig in Livestream chat.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:52 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because trolling I guess

From my experience with that crowd, it seems more like misguided and narcissistic behavior from people who really, really want to be Part of Something (sometimes because they have been marginalized for being who they are) and going way the hell overboard. IMO they're the same sort of person that gets way, way too into proselytizing Ayn Rand or Jesus at an age where that sort of myopia is dangerous to them and others around them and to their cause. The road to hell etc. etc.
posted by griphus at 2:54 PM on November 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


I always try to send out a quick note to artists I like who are having difficulty, telling them how my life is better for their work.

I did so here.

I hope he heals fully and quickly.
posted by poe at 2:55 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


> Why attack a guy who actually tries (and mostly succeeds) really hard to produce something with good social morals/ethics/what-have-you? Because trolling I guess. Hence: I feel sick.

Or you see him as being totally on your side, so the the smaller infractions of what you have decided is "your side" (you know, without submitting a proper memo to the person in question before hand) triggers a bigger reaction since they "should have known!" and "I thought you were so in touch, but apparently you aren't, so everything else you've done is just pandering."

Then the wagons are circled, people who have no introduction to the persons work get handed an angry, out of context version, along with a pitch fork and a pre-lit torch.
posted by mrzarquon at 2:57 PM on November 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


You're correct, my mistake. He was driven to substance abuse and self-harm to his non-drawing hand in the name of inclusivity.

I'm sorry, I thought he was responsible for his own sobriety.
posted by liketitanic at 3:03 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'M JUST PLAIN SORRY!.....for everything.
posted by sendai sleep master at 3:09 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


muskrat muskrat muskrat muskrat
posted by fleetmouse at 3:12 PM on November 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


I don't think "They drove him to drink!" or "Falling off the wagon was totally on him!" are particularly accurate or constructive ways to look at the situation or substance abuse/dependency in general.
posted by griphus at 3:12 PM on November 19, 2012 [13 favorites]


The moral is: If you are an artist, do not try to create with an eye towards pleasing social justice mongers on the internet. Or anyone else. It will only lead to misery.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 3:13 PM on November 19, 2012 [6 favorites]


Nobody "drives" someone to stab his own hand. I am not discounting his psychic pain, but I think it verges on hysterical to say that he was driven to substance abuse as if Pinterest held him down and poured whiskey down his throat with a funnel. Especially since, near as I can tell, he is not representing it that way.
posted by liketitanic at 3:15 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why attack a guy who actually tries (and mostly succeeds) really hard to produce something with good social morals/ethics/what-have-you?

Only sue people who have money. That is, someone who is a real violator of social justice ideology probably doesn't care what yipping internet puppies say about them. The QC author does care, so he is easy to hurt, and thus is a nice target if you are into moralizing for all the wrong reasons.
posted by Theodore Sign at 3:19 PM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Maybe it's just me, but isn't it good enough to have a quality webcomic that's sensitive to gender and sexuality issues without feeling like you have to check all the boxes and have a complete set?

A year from now, someone will complain that there isn't a paraplegic purple duck in the comic, shortly followed by complaints that the new duck character wears PANTS and is part of the patriarchal conspiracy.
posted by delfin at 3:21 PM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


Maybe it's just me, but isn't it good enough to have a quality webcomic that's sensitive to gender and sexuality issues without feeling like you have to check all the boxes and have a complete set?

I think so, but Jeph has apparently been wanting to introduce a trans character for a long time, so I don't think he's simply trying to "check all the boxes."
posted by asnider at 3:28 PM on November 19, 2012


Apropos of nothing, I thought I would mention that several of the QC characters are in a metal band called Deathmøle.

But wait! Jeph works so damn hard that he can actually will his fiction into reality with the sheer strength of his mind bullets! Deathmøle has produced several recordings.

More of Jeph's (more serious) music here (slightly confusingly, also called Deathmøle).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:33 PM on November 19, 2012


Yeah yeah, it is easy to ridicule the effort, but you have to think about where that leaves you. It's well and good to point out that this extreme and that extreme are rotten, but how does that support the body of work which is good? Ultimately what message does that carry into the world?
posted by deo rei at 3:35 PM on November 19, 2012


Maybe it's just me, but isn't it good enough to have a quality webcomic that's sensitive to gender and sexuality issues without feeling like you have to check all the boxes and have a complete set?

Jeph uses his characters to explore the issues he's interested in. Introducing new characters to explore issues is part of why QC is such a great comic. There's no box ticking going on. Just an author that acknowledges that, hey, there's variety in the world.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:37 PM on November 19, 2012


There's no box ticking going on.

I feel like that was a comment on RMJ's pissant caveat, not on Jeph's motives.

Nothing but respect for JJ.
posted by Aquaman at 3:46 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


So, Questionable Content is ok and all, but it leaves me kind of cold. The art is ok, but not great (it'd be impossible to tell the characters apart if it wasn't for the hairstyles and body shapes), and the story is... bland and kind of soap opera-like. I don't hate it or anything, it just doesn't do much for me.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:56 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I feel like that was a comment on RMJ's pissant caveat, not on Jeph's motives.

Ah. Yes, that totally makes sense. Sorry, delfin. I, too, think RMJ is being ridiculous.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:58 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been reading QC for a very long time, long enough that looking at those early strips produced a very strong "holy crap" moment. I've been moved along so cleanly by jeph's artistic development that I didn't remember how different the early artwork was from today's strip. Hell, the artwork 2 years ago was hugely different.

I get some of Deeply Problematic's criticism, but seriously? You're going to fault a straight man for writing a webcomic that featured, in the beginning anyway, things mostly from a straight male perspective? Or complain that the material is generally queer-positive, but not in the way you'd prefer it to be queer-positive? This guy seems to be doing his best to get outside of his own skin and his own head in producing his comic. And he doesn't owe you (or me) a set of preferred gender and sex interactions, a specific level of artistic detail, or anything else. Plus, surprise!, couples say shit to one another in private that they'd never, ever say in public, and might not even believe. Take those details out and the comic as art, rather than as a statement designed to please everyone, suffers.
posted by 1adam12 at 4:20 PM on November 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


I didn't know of this till now, but I'm a dyke who used to live in NoHo (so unusual, I know!), and I look forward to getting to know the characters. Thanks!
posted by rtha at 4:29 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Heh. I'm doing my master's thesis on trans issues, and this morning I woke to find texts from four different people telling me that QC had introduced a trans character.

I've always been really pleased with the way QC approaches women, their bodies, non-normative sexuality, and robots, so yay. Rock on, Jeph.
posted by a hat out of hell at 4:32 PM on November 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


a hat out of hell: "I've always been really pleased with the way QC approaches women, their bodies, non-normative sexuality, and robots, so yay."

One of these things may not be like the others.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 4:39 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of these things may not be like the others.

Yes. Only the last one is capable of becoming THE THUMBLORD.

Context? I gots yer context right here.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:43 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


"I've always been really pleased with the way QC approaches women, their bodies, non-normative sexuality, and robots, so yay."

One of these things may not be like the others.


I think Jeph Jaques seems like a good guy doing good work, but I definitely like the strip better when it focuses on relationship comedy than when it moves over to the AI stuff.
posted by COBRA! at 4:45 PM on November 19, 2012


If you think that a person can't be pushed to substance abuse because people are saying horrifying things to them, I envy your charmed life.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:46 PM on November 19, 2012 [22 favorites]


God, I was so happy I hit the window this morning and will be getting QC volume 3 with a custom sketch / signature. I have #2 with a sketch as well. At this point, QC is probably my favorite serialized entertainment.

The Claire revelation was interesting, particularly given that there was almost a "moment" between them in the comic right before it. It's clear that Jeph used the interns to mix things up a good bit, and that's fun. The gender and body image stuff seems to me to be a question of the comic going out of its way to have assertive, strong female characters. Which is a positive thing in a comic, but I don't identify with QC so much because of politics but because it has such strong character development. And LOL butts.

For anybody who is just discovering this comic through this FPP and goes and does an archive crawl (and my god is it worth an archive crawl, spend the whole upcoming long weekend if you have to), watch out - there are doozies at #500 and #1800.
posted by graymouser at 4:48 PM on November 19, 2012


I don't really like web comics, I don't like the format (teeny little snippets of story at a time makes thylacinthine SMASH) - I would far, FAR prefer to buy it in a nice book that I can read in bed; but I have squinted at QC a few times and I like it well enough....

but! It is a wonder that anyone produces anything at all, anywhere, if there are people hovering over your work complaining about it not being inclusive enough of whatever their personal cause/issue is and harassing you until you do. Do people do this to people who write books?
posted by thylacinthine at 5:05 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love QC and am so excited about this most recent character revelation. I'm deeply invested in queer and/or trans characters being in my media whenever possible, and have been known to argue endlessly about the discourse of gender in X or the kyriarchical representation of Y in Z. However, that Deeply Problematic series of posts was an absolute tiresome, joyless slog to read. Is engaging writing somehow oppressive?
posted by verbyournouns at 5:09 PM on November 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think the trouble with tumblr is that it combines the worst aspects of the echo chamber and the generic-newspaper-comments-section - everyone can see all the cruel and offensive sludge that everyone else posts while also each developing their own cheering section and vocabulary. It's a platform that has really generated some of the most racist, stalky, misogynist crap I've ever seen while also generating the most classically left wing "trashing" and orthodoxy. There's some amazing stuff on there, but I would never, ever want a tumblr of my own - sometimes just seeing how cruelly people turn on each other gives me powerful flashbacks to bad, abusive things that happened in my childhood.

I used to think that the people at the core of the scandal of the week deserved it, because honestly, some of them have been total, self-centered racist or misogynist jerks. But then I realized over time that there always has to be some kind of scapegoat scandal going on, that it's not about someone genuinely being terrible, that it's simply a coincidence that some of the people who are at the center of these things are terrible. I've seen so many willful misreadings in the service of orthodoxy. And there's a sort of invective arms-race, where over the course of a year or so it's become customary to respond to the smallest kind of accidental thoughtlessness about ableism or some other concern that many people who grow up privileged in mainstream society learn about quite late...to respond to what are very clearly innocent mistakes with incredibly violent language, "I hope you die, I really do; you're a piece of shit", that sort of thing. It just becomes hard to read after a while.

If this JJ character really was the center of some kind of tumblr shitstorm, I would not be totally surprised if it helped him fall back into bad old habits and brought up bad old painful stuff.

I've also noticed that almost everyone on the left on tumblr speaks exclusively from their point of marginalization - so for example, queer women speak exclusively about being queer women and being marginalized for that, but rarely speak about themselves as complicit in oppression in terms of race, class, etc. Oh, people occasionally pay lip service to the concept, but very few people actually think deeply about the psychology of whiteness or maleness or straightness or whatever, or speak honestly about those standpoints as they have lived them. So of course, the minute there's someone who can be vigorously critiqued, the minute the "bad" can be externalized onto someone else for not being body positive enough or whatever, then it's pile-on time. It's frustrating to me because I feel like serious introspection about ourselves as oppressors, how we grew up, what we assume, what we learn - that's very important. And doing that thinking without orthodoxy, without "oh, I caught you out, unlike me you are a terrible person"...that can't really happen on tumblr.
posted by Frowner at 5:34 PM on November 19, 2012 [30 favorites]


Could there be a better example of "Perfect is the enemy of good"?
posted by Maxson at 5:35 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Tumblr hosts people who think trans* people are privileged because sexual reassignment surgery is a real thing and surgery to turn people into animals or fictional creatures doesn't. It's... ew.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:37 PM on November 19, 2012 [5 favorites]


It's pretty nifty that Jacques now has an out trans character. I read a bunch of the strip several years ago, but haven't followed it. I don't remember if transphobia had anything to do with that, but it might've. This encourages me to get back into it. Thanks for pointing it out!
posted by jiawen at 5:57 PM on November 19, 2012


I feel like that was a comment on RMJ's pissant caveat, not on Jeph's motives.

In that case, I agree!

I would far, FAR prefer to buy it in a nice book that I can read in bed; but I have squinted at QC a few times and I like it well enough....

QC is available in book form.
posted by asnider at 6:47 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


proceeded to hound Jeph Jacques online and in person

Are there any links online about this? I've only been able to find the post that seemed to set it all off. Were people coming to his house or something? That's pretty fucked up.
posted by Greg Nog at 6:50 PM on November 19, 2012


I think Jeph Jaques seems like a good guy doing good work, but I definitely like the strip better when it focuses on relationship comedy than when it moves over to the AI stuff.

Oh man, I love the AI stuff, particularly this strip. I just love the sentiments expressed in it, and my reaction to the speech is pretty much the same as Momo's.

Then again, I also love this strip, so maybe my judgment isn't the best.
posted by Katrel at 7:05 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was introduced to QC via an AskMe thread, and have been enjoying it ever since - it sometimes goes where other webcomics never go.

And it doesn't just address mental disabilities - it has a sideways perception of physical disabilities as well.
posted by arzakh at 7:35 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh, I read this strip years ago and lost track and forgot about it since then. I don't really like the way that the artwork has changed in the newer ones, the older ones had a much cleaner style.
posted by octothorpe at 7:41 PM on November 19, 2012


delfin: "Maybe it's just me, but isn't it good enough to have a quality webcomic that's sensitive to gender and sexuality issues without feeling like you have to check all the boxes and have a complete set?

A year from now, someone will complain that there isn't a paraplegic purple duck in the comic, shortly followed by complaints that the new duck character wears PANTS and is part of the patriarchal conspiracy.
"

You know, it's people like you that tie pants into traditional gender roles, that ruin pants for everyone.

Besides, you totally missed the point. The point is that the duck is PURPLE! That means the author is misusing his comic drawing powers to push the monarchist perspective to his audience. C'mon, wake up, hypothetical sheeple! MONARCHIST!
posted by Samizdata at 8:08 PM on November 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


I love Jeph's approach to robots and AI. It's intelligent and interesting (when not just being played for comedy by Pint Size), and clearly well thought-out, too.

The Momo character has some very moving moments, and the AI of Hanners' dad's space station is also a well-presented character with depth and complexity.

Best of all, all the robots and AIs are just naturally there, as part of the cast and the story and the world, not some extraneous jammed-in-for-the-sake-of-having-robots characters.

I did the archive crawl about a year ago. It's well worth the time investment. I look forward to QC's ongoing development more than any other webcomic out there.

Don't let the haters get you down, JJ!
posted by Aquaman at 8:49 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Never mix with folk who use words like 'problematized'. That's my rule.
posted by quarsan at 9:26 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


QC fan here. :)

So *that's* what happened to JJ? OMFG some people are just downright cruel. I hope karma bites those haters in the ass.
posted by luckynerd at 9:35 PM on November 19, 2012


luckynerd: "I hope karma bites those haters in the ass."

So we're just assuming they have asses now? Ableist.
posted by Bugbread at 10:13 PM on November 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


so, I just did a quick romp through tumblr to try and figure out what happened and write a coherent narrative, with links, but then I realized I'd be linking to tumblr. So, no. You can find it if you look for the right tags ("questionable content" to start).
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:25 PM on November 19, 2012


The Questionable Content tag seems to be mostly made of:

A) People applauding Jeph for having a character come out as trans*

B) People complaining about other people hating on him for doing this

But there’s, like, five posts at worst where people are angry about the comic, and those are people who seemed to already hate QC. Contrary to everyone’s fears and jokes about social justice blogs, the response seems to be overwhelmingly positive. So, I’m not sure what Group B is talking about, unless they’re misreading a lot of these posts?
posted by ShawnStruck at 11:19 PM on November 19, 2012


I think most of the hate came out about the issues prior to the latest strip and a lot of people were pre-empting the haters this time around.

But as I mentioned previously, Jeph livestreams the drawing of most of his daily comics, and he's doing it now!
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:13 AM on November 20, 2012


I've been reading QC for years it has ups and downs (ie, plots I like, plots I like less) but I read it daily, and it's the only web comic I keep up with religiously. I was wondering what was up with Jeph's hand, and the truth seems worse than I realised.

Now, if you don't mind me, I have comics to study to see if I can pick whether there are earlier hints about Claire (who I assume is M2F, but what do I know?).
posted by Mezentian at 12:33 AM on November 20, 2012


I feel like that was a comment on RMJ's pissant caveat, not on Jeph's motives.

Ah. Yes, that totally makes sense. Sorry, delfin. I, too, think RMJ is being ridiculous.
Have you two actually read those essays I linked to? Because these are far from "pissant".
posted by MartinWisse at 12:34 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


MartinWisse: "Have you two actually read those essays I linked to? Because these are far from 'pissant'."

I agree. And some of the comments here seem to be going overboard in the pushback against social justice extremism.
posted by jiawen at 1:17 AM on November 20, 2012


I've read QC pretty much every day since it started. I've loved it more and less over time, through strong runs, through joke-free and even almost-plot-free runs, and through strips that are more or less LOL SHE HAS A DILDO BECAUSE LESBIANS HAVE DILDOS, DILDOS LOL. Still keep coming back, though. Like any long-term relationship, you take the bad times along with the good.

With that in mind, I've read some of the blogs linked in the article and I honestly can't see where the Social Justice Warrior Extremist Pissants Rage is coming from. What I've read is pretty even-handed; Jeph seems to be praised more than he is chided. I've come away from them with more respect for Jeph than I previously had - I honestly hadn't noticed a lot of what he was doing with this stuff.

Is it just that people have a problem with criticism / analysis from the social justice POV full stop, or... what? Genuine question. I just thought they were interesting reads.
posted by ominous_paws at 2:13 AM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Have you two actually read those essays I linked to? Because these are far from "pissant".

MartinWisse
, I read them and found them interesting, I just disagree with them on a number of points.

On reflection, I think I was being overly defensive. Her arguments on the trans issues are moderate and well reasoned, but I think there are problems in assuming that an author's characters reflect the opinions of the authors.

Frankly, if the QC characters all conversed like gender studies theorists, rather than being imperfect but fully realised individuals whose opinions and outlooks grew and evolved over time, I would find QC less enjoyable.

I'm really looking forward to seeing what Jeph does with the character of Claire.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:40 AM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Which were sort of my thoughts as well. RMJ's criticism comes from a particular place and point of view and do not take into consideration storytelling. She isn't saying that Jacques should do x instead of y, rather that if x did y, that would be more inclusive.

Most of her criticisms are rather minor, frex noting that Dora had a tendency to tease Faye with her weight or noticing that Hanners is sometimes less than accepting of her OCD tendencies or whatever.

In general there will probably always be some tension between the demands of telling a story and being inclusive. It's no good making plaster saints out of your characters, but that still leaves a helluva lot of room for improvement.
posted by MartinWisse at 4:07 AM on November 20, 2012


Y'know, I think the best part of it all is Marten's reaction - "huh. Okay, cool, thanks for telling me" and "however much you feel comfortable sharing, no pressure" and "how open or closed should I be with everyone else". It's a perfect mix of "I respect that this is important to you and support you" and "it hasn't really affected how I see you as a person anyway, you're still you and this doesn't change that for me".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:03 AM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm really doubtful about there being a causal link between Jeph hurting his hand and criticism of his last strip before the incident. The only references I can find to such a scenario are in this thread on MetaFilter and a similar allegation by somebody on Tumblr. I didn't turn up the original criticisms on Tumblr, but I did find a couple responses to them. Apparently some fans thought the Marigold character wasn't fat enough to be self-conscious about her weight, and therefore Jeph should have drawn her bigger and/or given her stretch marks, with other fans pointing out that you don't have to be really overweight to feel self-conscious about it. This really seems like typical fan nitpicking, not a major blowout or 'social justice warriors on the rampage'. There's no indication from Jeph's comments that whatever emotional problems he's having are related to the strip. There's also no indication that his injury was the result of intentional self-harm (as a couple people here seem to be assuming).

Jeph's strips in the last couple weeks before the incident seem rather disjointed and in a few cases the drawing style seems uneven. This could suggest that he'd been having trouble focusing on his work for a while. In the recent strips since he came back to work he seems more like his usual self.

I don't think we should giving this allegation by one fan on Tumblr in the course of an argument with another fan a whole lot of credence.
posted by nangar at 7:06 AM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


True, the fan nagging may not have been the sole source. But I'm pretty sure that whatever pre-existing demons Jeph may have had, the fan nagging certainly didn't help.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:08 AM on November 20, 2012


Is it just that people have a problem with criticism / analysis from the social justice POV full stop, or... what? Genuine question. I just thought they were interesting reads.

See, this is why I think tumblr is a bad system rather than an aggregate of bad ideologies, and I think it's something that isn't immediately obvious if you don't spend time on tumblr.

For the purposes of this argument, I'm going to focus on left/radical/critical people on tumblr - people who are not consciously and intentionally supportive of white supremacy, misogyny, etc. There are plenty of intentionally racist, transphobic etc assholes on tumblr, but I don't care about their opinions or communities.

I'm also going to steer away from talking about specific tumblrs because that is just a mess, and because I consider it a structural problem.

A tumblr pile-on is not structurally the same as a metafilter or blogular pile-on, both because it becomes much more widespread much more quickly and because it comes in repeatedly over the dash for days. It's like a blog scandal times a thousand.

Incorrect information gets disseminated much faster than amongst blogs and is harder to fix even when people make a good-faith effort. So on several occasions I've seen things along the lines of "so and so is a transphobe" or "so-and-so said [UNACCEPTABLE THING]" based on a total misreading/misquoting, and those things pop up as tumblr "common knowledge" months later.

Because tumblr is an exceedingly speedy platform that is best with images, gifs, short quotes and maybe ~100 word chunks of text, disagreements lose all complexity very fast.

Because ideological disagreements on tumblr are "performed" in an incredibly public way, there's a huge impulse to both orthodoxy and cruelty - it's important to denounce bad behavior in the correct way so that your imperfect critique doesn't get reblogged with further call-outs appended. And there's very little room for figuring things out via dialogue over time - there's no room to go from being crabbily resistant to changing your mind - an intellectual process that I've gone through quite a lot on the internet thanks to some awesome people.

Tumblr is designed to create small, tight communities within the whole. These small, tight communities sometimes tend to function like cliques. People very quickly assume that language and ideas that are commonplace to them are the baseline for "being a decent human being". For example, hey, I actually am non-cis-gendered and I actually do political activism about trans stuff, and it took me quite a while to notice and figure out the tumblr convention of typing "trans*" rather than "trans" (it is to include all non-cis/non-binary folks). I've seen a bunch of people on tumblr declare firmly that if you don't type "trans*" it's because you are a fucked-up asshole who "has a problem with trans people", and that really makes me wonder what would have happened if I did have a tumblr and, as a non-binary non-cis person had typed "trans". It also seems like a really weird convention that my parents, for example, who have made amazing strides in accepting trans people, should fall into the "have a problem with trans people" class when they have actually done much better than I expected on this whole matter merely because they don't use tumblr.

Once you've made political mistake on tumblr, there is the perpetual potential for it to be all over tumblr with people wishing you all kinds of ill. There's no place for - as I've often done on metafilter and my other blogular homes - typing something out, reading some responses, thinking "hey, what I said was silly and wrong" and popping back in to say "hey what I said was silly and wrong, you guys are actually correct".

The knowledge that any mistake (or "mistake") can be instantly all over the place creates a climate of "We Are Always Watching". As someone who has been in radical activist circles since my late teens, I'm pretty familiar with this and how it's toxic.

Also, as I said above, most people speak only from their standpoint as marginalized people, as if I were to talk only about myself as a gender non-conforming, queer fat person AFAB and ignore my whiteness, college education, citizenship privilege, etc. As a result, the dynamic is always "you said this wrong thing, I called you a useless piece of shit and told you I thought you should get cancer and die in agony [I'm not kidding about this kind of invective, either] and now you feel bad? How dare you feel bad? That just shows that you are a terrible person whose politics are even worse than I thought." I find this really...I don't know, cruel and problematic. When I see it unfold, it puts me straight back into childhood abuse scenarios where I'd make a mistake, get yelled at and then get yelled at even more for getting upset. I really dislike the "be a good little soldier and accept the violent language of criticism as part of your 'accountability'" mindset on the left, and I've seen it play out many times in many scenes.

If I were to use tumblr-language about it, I would say that, yes, I find it intensely triggering to watch some of these call-outs unfold, to the point where it produces anxiety attacks and, on one memorable occasion, an actual nightmare about tumblr. I add that I only read tumblrs and do not tumbl myself, so none of this has ever been directed at me or even anyone I know in real life.

This has very little to do with the content of tumblr. (I don't like that whole "social justice" term - some radicals on tumblr don't call themselves SJ, the whole thing just turns into a pointless argument really quickly.) There are many, many people with amazing, thoughtful, radical politics on tumblr - I've learned an incredible amount there. The problem with tumblr is its gestalt, not any one person's actions. (Except, like, the racist stalky ones.)
posted by Frowner at 7:15 AM on November 20, 2012 [24 favorites]


To lighten the mood a bit - I've actually kind of wanted to try to get up a game of speed beer ever since reading about it. (And the epilogue single-panel strip is adorable.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:34 AM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Huh. As a non-comic-reader I can't really comment on the quality of plot. But I live with a comic-reader so see a lot of them in passing, or by being shown links. Something about QC always rubs me the wrong way. Like it's trying not to be a body-drawin' comic, but it is and can't admit it. Or something. Hard to pin down what it is. I mean, hit random a few times and see how long it takes to get a panel visually arranged around breasts with a shirt cupping the undersides, y'know? Which is fine, I get that people like to draw pretty imagined bodies, no crime there. But it seems to spend a lot of energy trying to convince us that's not motivating it. I don't know. Something sets me off about it every time I see it.
posted by ead at 7:54 AM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


As a result, the dynamic is always "you said this wrong thing, I called you a useless piece of shit and told you I thought you should get cancer and die in agony [I'm not kidding about this kind of invective, either] and now you feel bad? How dare you feel bad? That just shows that you are a terrible person whose politics are even worse than I thought." I find this really...I don't know, cruel and problematic.

It reminds me a bit of Livejournal's early years to be honest and I think it's not just the technology being used, as the people using it. I get the impression that like LJ did ten-fifteen years ago, Tumblr skews very young: teenagers, early twentysomething year olds discovering their own voices, not yet having had their stridency abraded away by years of online argument.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:51 AM on November 20, 2012


But it seems to spend a lot of energy trying to convince us that's not motivating it.

I dunno, if QC was really just JJ's jerk-off fantasies, it'd be a lot simpler for him to just draw sexy ladies than to craft a well-written comic that happens to have a lot of female characters -- many of whom wear shirts and have breasts. It'd probably earn him a lot more money, too.

I could be wrong, but I think you're reading something into the comic that isn't actually present.
posted by asnider at 9:19 AM on November 20, 2012


The knowledge that any mistake (or "mistake") can be instantly all over the place creates a climate of "We Are Always Watching". As someone who has been in radical activist circles since my late teens, I'm pretty familiar with this and how it's toxic.


To be honest, that's kind of the tone I got off the Deeply Problematic posts as well. They didn't read as deliberately trying to round up a posse, but they did read very much as having a detailed set of criteria that went beyond basic egalitarianism to a tone of 'I'm a teacher marking your homework, and the task I've set you is to give a representation of every group that interests me in exactly the manner I require'.

I expect the answer to that would be, 'Requiring non-normative people to be portrayed respectfully is a reasonable requirement,' and that, I would certainly agree with. But there's an air of being ... I don't know, hawkeyed about who and how you include to the exclusion of an interest in it as a work of art, as if it were a large corporation with quotas to fill rather than a work of fiction that will always exclude more than it includes because nobody can write a book or a comic about everything and everyone.

Social justice has been growing on the Internet for years, and for the most part it's a very good thing. Hooray for social justice. But when it comes to reviews and cultural commentary, it can often feel as if the interest in whether a work conforms to a set of criteria is the only thing many commenters are interested in ... and as if they don't have much awareness, or else willingness to accept, that those criteria have evolved in a rather tight-knit community and have become, in the process, quite elaborate, and probably difficult for every work of art to fulfil all of. Or at least, it would make for a flattened and rather exhausting cultural landscape if every work of art included everything on the list. Yes, it's flatter if we only ever see straight white men in fiction, of course, but...

Man, it is hard to say this without sounding like I'm crying 'Political correctness gone maaaaaad!!!' But I think that we respond to art most perceptively when we have more than a checklist, and some of this criticism feels like it doesn't have a lot more.
posted by Kit W at 10:03 AM on November 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Perhaps, perhaps. I'm sure there's depth to it too; just know when I see it I get the same awkward cringey feeling as seeing, say, an xkcd comic.
posted by ead at 10:05 AM on November 20, 2012


I've been reading QC for years now, and while I gain and lose interest in other webcomics, this one has kept it. It's a fine line to walk between Serious Real Humanity Things and LOL BUTTS and/or ROBOTS and Jeph Jacques walks it wonderfully.

I love how, in the QC universe, Marten's response is that it is not a Big Thing. "Okay. Anything I should do?" That's how I'd like the world to operate - I am probably not wording this very well - I'd love it if these big important sex/gender/identity/orientation things were only big and important on a personal level, because they'd be so completely accepted in the wider world that it's not something anyone would think to make a fuss about. There's a whole raft of legislation and narrow-mindedness and all kinds of other things that have to be dealt with, but I'm heartened by the thought that the world is tilting that way, even slowly.

I'll leave you with the one QC strip that makes me giggle like a kid hopped-up on pixy stix every time I see it: "Here, put this on your head."
posted by cmyk at 11:02 AM on November 20, 2012


cmyk, if you haven't seen the 3-strip sequence that starts here you should.

go

observe

observe the little hats

posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:07 AM on November 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


YESSSS. I SEE THE HATS.
posted by cmyk at 11:12 AM on November 20, 2012


I've been reading QC for years now, and while I gain and lose interest in other webcomics, this one has kept it. It's a fine line to walk between Serious Real Humanity Things and LOL BUTTS and/or ROBOTS and Jeph Jacques walks it wonderfully.

I'm the same way. I started reading QC, god, it must have been about 7 years ago now. I started at the beginning of the archive and read until I was caught up (which was actually kind of frustrating at first; there were already two years of archives when I started reading and it took me the better part of a week to read them all -- once I was caught up I only had one new strip per day to look forward to!). I've been a regular reader ever since. No other web comic has kept my interest/loyalty for remotely this long and I think it's exactly because Jeph is able to so skillfully walk the line you've mentioned that I still read QC on a daily basis.
posted by asnider at 11:17 AM on November 20, 2012 [2 favorites]



Man, it is hard to say this without sounding like I'm crying 'Political correctness gone maaaaaad!!!' But I think that we respond to art most perceptively when we have more than a checklist, and some of this criticism feels like it doesn't have a lot more.


One of the reasons I'm trying to trend away from tumblr is precisely that most activists/radicals/sj types/whatever are smart, subtle and compassionate people in personal or small group conversation. (On those occasions when I have said or done something problematic through carelessness and ignorance and have needed to apologize and make amends, I've been astonished by the generosity and courtesy that people have extended to me - generosity and courtesy that they were not obligated to provide and that I would never in a million years have requested or expected. I mean, I am not innocent in this - I have called out and been called out.) People who would never say or even think "get cancer and die you useless c--t" to someone they knew in complex way - even if they felt that person was flawed! - will break it out on tumblr. Deindividuation, etc etc.

And I think the same goes for a complex reading of art. White people writing characters of color, men writing women, cis folks writing trans* folks - that's serious business, where the people who do it are going to make some mistakes even if they do it very well, and where the writers do really need to be thoughtful, humble and cautious. (In my old copy of The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For, Bechdel reflects on some of her struggles to write realistic, respectful, fully-formed characters of color and disabled characters - and talks about her failures, too. It was a bit reassuring to me to see this career trajectory of effort, with successes and failures acknowledged as such and with a visible learning curve.)

I'm absolutely against the idea that the artist is "irresponsible", that the world of art is "free" from politics. I think it's 100% suitable to suggest that trans characters should be written into a story - out trans characters are written into the world! Especially in a young left queer-friendly geeky social circle! That's precisely where you'd expect to find them! And I think it's really difficult to talk about that without seeming proscriptive.

Of course, now I'm reading something on tumblr about some immense white supremacist student creep who is apparently trying to bring white supremacist activists informally onto a college campus to harass white and POC GLBTQ students while also referencing an early-nineties racist shooting that took place on campus, so mere matters of language seem pretty trivial. (This is all Bard College at Simon's Rock, apparently.)

One thing tumblr is good at, I have to say, is spreading the word about white supremacist, misogynist and transphobic violence that doesn't get talked about in any other medium.

So anyway, take my complaints about tumblr with a large grain of salt, I guess.
posted by Frowner at 11:50 AM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


And more about Claire. One of the most interesting things about the evolution of Questionable Content is the evolution of the character Marten, from somebody who'd make a blog named "yellingaboutmusic.blogspot.com" to the pillar of cool around which all the other characters-ranging-from-quirky-to-crazy orbit. Just don't wear the little hat.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:33 PM on November 20, 2012


(In my old copy of The Indelible Alison Bechdel: Confessions, Comix, and Miscellaneous Dykes to Watch Out For, Bechdel reflects on some of her struggles to write realistic, respectful, fully-formed characters of color and disabled characters - and talks about her failures, too.


Count me in as another fan. Something else she talks about, though, which I think some of the more rigid readings miss, is the intense difficulty and importance of balancing the need to be educational or inclusive with the need to avoid being preachy or heavy-handed. She comments favourably on a strip included in The Indelible Alison Bechdel, for instance (p198, a poster for the New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, about what to do if someone queerbashes you):

The educational message of this strip doesn't hit you over the head quite as bluntly as it did in the pro-choice, AIDS and breast cancer strips earlier in this chapter.

Rather than sounding like they're reading from cue cards, the characters convey the required information fairly naturally in their conversation. I think there's an emotional resonance here, too, that the earlier pieces lack. Maybe that's because I've never personally had AIDS, breast cancer or an abortion. But I have gotten slugged in the eye on the street.


And I think a big part of why her messages come across as well as they do is precisely because she is so concerned to avoid heavy-handedness, to have characters act 'naturally', to treat fiction primarily as fiction rather than as an arena for inclusion. (An idea that, based on reading her introductions to things, I suspect would rather alarm her.) We're enlarged by her work because she puts the need for quality first; she writes as a writer with a political conscience rather than a political conscience that writes.

I don't know. As a general issue, I tend to care more about fiction being good than it being inclusive, and can see over-anxious inclusiveness as something that can mar quality (not that I'm calling QC over-anxious); I'd rather see campaigning directed towards the real world first and foremost. But I guess, like it's difficult to say 'Seeing more trans characters in settings where you'd expect to see trans people would be good' without sounding proscriptive, it's likewise difficult to say 'But including a trans character just for the sake of gender variety tends to lead to worse storytelling (and worse storytelling doesn't serve its message well either)' without sounding like Richard Littlejohn. I'll take your word if you take mine. :-)
posted by Kit W at 12:39 PM on November 20, 2012


It leads to the kind of gruesome 'inclusiveness' that sees tv shows with an Asian character (s/he will be good at academic things and be a moral compass OR be into martial arts and "Eastern Philosophy"); a Black character (who is "edgy", and probably has some kind of criminal background); a woman (damaged, yet strong); random male characters (has "woman problems"; is sensitive and flawed but strong; is a father figure)(I didn't start out on purpose making fun of L&O:SVU, but that's where I ended up).

I want artists to tell their own story. If your story isn't being told, you should tell it, or commission an artist to tell it. That's a cool thing to do! Intimidating or emotionally blackmailing other artists to produce propaganda for your interests is kind of creepy.
posted by thylacinthine at 1:51 PM on November 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


As a general issue, I tend to care more about fiction being good than it being inclusive, and can see over-anxious inclusiveness as something that can mar quality (not that I'm calling QC over-anxious)

I do think that seeing yourself in media is really, really important for marginalized people - if only because that's had a transformative effect for me (via tumblr, honestly).

I think the hardest things to write as a non-marginalized writer are happy stories, utopias, that are inclusive, respectful, not just centering privileged people/people like yourself. You can tell a truthful story about how racism pervades your scene and hurts the people you care about; you can tell a truthful story about your own fuck-ups - that's stuff that is present and the plots practically write themselves. Stories where there really is a happy scene where there is relatively little racist, misogyny, etc - those are hard to write because those scenes are rare. In a sense, "realistic" stories about diverse groups have to be full of conflict and challenge and pain, even if everyone in the group is a kind and thoughtful person. And that's a downer, eh? I think Alison Bechdel actually talks about this a little in an interview somewhere - that she has never encountered a community like the one she depicts in DTWOF.

I want artists to tell their own story. If your story isn't being told, you should tell it, or commission an artist to tell it. That's a cool thing to do! Intimidating or emotionally blackmailing other artists to produce propaganda for your interests is kind of creepy.

See, I'm just going to disagree here. For one thing, many marginalized people don't have the time or the resources to produce, like, a whole graphic novel. Much less a movie or a symphony or whatever. Or to commission one! Why should all the movies be about the Important Struggles Of White Men merely because white men have the money to make the movies? What does it do to people when they can't see themselves reflected in the dominant artforms of their time or who see themselves only as grotesque cariacatures? (I think, actually, that there have been plenty of writers of color - in particular - who've talked about this!)

And honestly, as a white person I see art that reflects my racial experiences all the time without having to produce it my own self - I would even argue that I actually do not need whiteness affirmed any more, could we have some stories about people of color pls?

I also feel that if there's going to be any positive community, we need to see ourselves in our art as a community - that's why DTWOF is so great. I mean, I know tons of trans women - one of my best friends in all the world is a trans woman! - and no story about my community is complete if trans women are written out of it.

Also, if you are writing from life (which many of us are, even if we're setting it amongst the sulphuric wastes of a gas giant on the other side of the known universe) and you're writing stories that center on white straight dudes (or white middle class queer people!) as the measure of all things, that reflects how you are not noticing your world. I'd say that my world is, in technical terms, pretty white - but I see and talk to people of color every day, my whole world is contoured by race, my neighborhood would be depopulated if all the POC took a day at the beach together. No story about my lifeworld would be real or complex if it were exclusively white.

I don't think it's as simple as "the artist should do what he wants" because artists are smart and intentional people and in general they're pulled in many directions when creating. (Disclosure: I write some fiction myself and come from a long line of people who publish the occasional short story.) Writers are always thinking critically about what they're writing. What they write reflects their understanding of the world, even if it does not mean literally replicating their neighborhoods or upbringings or whatever.

I mean, it's a tough question, a tough line to walk.

I guess one recommendation I would have is this: notice the realities of the world you live in and let them inform your work. In my own political work, I feel like I've at times tipped over into tokenizing people (not on purpose!) because I did not take the effort to think of them as full, complete human beings or respect their complex being - I just dropped them or their words or ideas into an event or article because I felt like I needed to. But the solution was not to exclude them, the solution was to see the world with more patience, more subtlety, more respect for its fullness and being - so that I could create writing or an event that reflects the way of the world instead of flattening it.
posted by Frowner at 2:12 PM on November 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


Man, it is hard to say this without sounding like I'm crying 'Political correctness gone maaaaaad!!!' But I think that we respond to art most perceptively when we have more than a checklist, and some of this criticism feels like it doesn't have a lot more.

Let's not forget that before political correctness was rightwing arsehole code for "won't let me use the N-word" it was used by leftist types in general in a tongue in cheek way to indicate that somebody was being slightly too doctrinaire about something. I think the original critiques have merit, but that doesn't mean they're right in everything or that other considerations don't matter.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:15 PM on November 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


If I were to use tumblr-language about it, I would say that, yes, I find it intensely triggering to watch some of these call-outs unfold, to the point where it produces anxiety attacks and, on one memorable occasion, an actual nightmare about tumblr. I add that I only read tumblrs and do not tumbl myself, so none of this has ever been directed at me or even anyone I know in real life.

Just so you know, the concept of triggers and being triggered and the like is something that is far beyond tumblr, and for someone who actually has PTSD, comes off as a bit demeaning.
posted by ShawnStruck at 4:07 PM on November 20, 2012


In my own political work, I feel like I've at times tipped over into tokenizing people (not on purpose!) because I did not take the effort to think of them as full, complete human beings or respect their complex being - I just dropped them or their words or ideas into an event or article because I felt like I needed to. But the solution was not to exclude them, the solution was to see the world with more patience, more subtlety, more respect for its fullness and being - so that I could create writing or an event that reflects the way of the world instead of flattening it.

And yet, by your own admission, sometimes you fell short of this patience, and tokenized people - or maybe you tipped the other way, into excluding something because you were focused on a different point. You kept trying, but you didn't always make it, because you are a human being and human beings are not perfect. But you keep trying even though you don't always hit on 100% of the time.

I suspect that your readers assumed this was true of you, though. And my wish is that people could just assume the same is true of all artists.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:23 PM on November 20, 2012


ShawnStruck: "Just so you know, the concept of triggers and being triggered and the like is something that is far beyond tumblr, and for someone who actually has PTSD, comes off as a bit demeaning."

ShawnStruck: I think you misinterpreted Frowner. He/she wasn't saying that "trigger" was a tumblr concept, but that the word "trigger" is used differently in tumblr, and Frowner was using it in the tumblr sense, not the non-tumblr sense.

And, yes, the tumblr meaning for "trigger" (essentially "something that might make you mad") sucks, because it steals a useful word. I don't think it's demeaning; tumblrists are not looking down on people who are actually triggered and relive traumatic events. But it removes / makes ambiguous a useful word, which sucks.
posted by Bugbread at 4:58 PM on November 20, 2012


Just so you know, the concept of triggers and being triggered and the like is something that is far beyond tumblr, and for someone who actually has PTSD, comes off as a bit demeaning.

Oh, no - totally the opposite! Actually I was trying to say that people on tumblr talk about being triggered by reading and watching things and that's a real thing, even though in non-tumblr world people often use different language to describe it. ( I feel like I know people in the flesh who are genuinely "triggered" by stuff but don't have access to or choose not to use that language to describe it. ) I was trying to convey that the anxiety attacks and the nightmare that I had were actually pretty awful, not that they were trivial - I felt really, really terrible and messed up from those things because they brought back some very bad times with incredible force. (Obviously, this is not on a par with PTSD from sexual assault or war or some other really grave thing, but I hope you believe me when I say that it still was very bad.)

It was more "I have this experience as a person who does not tumbl and generally doesn't use language common to tumblr, but if I wanted to convey the reality of the experience in tumblr terms I would use this language".

I think "trigger warning" gets thrown around a little bit on tumblr, but mostly in a "if this is so triggering, why not put it under the cut instead of phrasing it like 'Trigger warning terrible violent thing/one space/terrible violent thing" way.

There's a whole separate issue of the medicalization of the contemporary subject - how no one considers themselves neurotypical, we all use therapeutic language, there are all kinds of norming assumptions embedded in advice, etc etc - but that's to my mind more an effect of the awfulness of contemporary capitalism than anything else.

I'm absolutely not criticizing the use of "trigger" or "trigger warning" or wanting to trivialize PTSD!
posted by Frowner at 5:47 PM on November 20, 2012


plump pulchritude

Yuck. Just yuck. I stopped reading when I read that. Then tried to read it again and got to the part about the disproportionate focus on their breasts. Yuck again. Yeah, in my experience people who are gung-ho about fat chicks aren't really gung-ho about fat chicks as much as they like tits. Yuck.

I am reminded why I stopped reading comics that aren't done by queer women or Neil Gaiman.
posted by thelastcamel at 4:29 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's actually fairly inevitable that, in writing, you'll end up tokenizing characters somehow. Thankfully this usually means stereotyping them into an established narrative role, like Dumb Hero or Dashing Rebel--but it often happens that those stereotypes drift into the ones people have to deal with in real life. That's usually where the political incorrectness gets you. If you have a l33t h4x0r character and forget to include some other ethnic markers, readers will tend to assume they're Asian or Indian.

Including ethnic markers is often a good idea. They're good for characterization. But if you don't spend a lot of verbiage on them--lots of stories simply aren't about that kind of thing--then it will require quite a lot of skill to use three adjectives and a noun for characterization rather than a different kind of tokenism. If you succeed, most readers will still miss it, because the Sufficiently Attentive Reader is a rare and fickle breed.

So, I think it's fine to ask for more diverse characters, irrespective of your political motivation for doing so. It drives better writing. It isn't unique in that respect, though, and I find it weird when someone tries to fault a writer for lack of ethnic markers (and/or characterization there-from) when the story is using some other set of symbols for its characterization.

Questionable Content is not such a story, though. It gets a lot of content from the more socially questionable attributes of its characters. For this story, asking "Why isn't there a trans character?" is much like asking, of a superhero team, "Why isn't there a Badass Normal?" Including such a character may well improve the story, irrespective of the political merit for doing so.

Writers, unlike eg. film producers, are under a lot of pressure to leave out any detail that isn't relevant to the narrative, because if they put it in, they are making the reader spend time and attention on it. Exceptions granted for interactive media, where you only have to read that part if you click on it or something. Otherwise, asking a writer to include something politically advantageous is asking them to do something that isn't their job. I mean, unless they're a politics writer.

In sum, conditional expressions are hard.
posted by LogicalDash at 6:09 AM on November 21, 2012


thelastcamel: "Yuck. Just yuck."

I must have glossed over that. Which link was that phrase in?
posted by boo_radley at 8:29 AM on November 21, 2012


The "plump pulchritude" phrase comes from the Deeply Problematic essay on how QC portrays women's bodies. It doesn't come from the actual comic. Although, even if it did, I don't understand what is so objectionable about it. It simply means "plump beauty" but is phrased in a way that creates alliteration. Am I missing something?

The part about the focus on breasts is fair, but I think RMJ overplays just how often those moments crop up. However, I am a hetero male who tends to be attracted to women with larger breasts (as least in terms of initial, physical attraction), so maybe I'm seeing this issue through a bit of a cloudy lens.
posted by asnider at 11:06 AM on November 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's as simple as "the artist should do what he wants" because artists are smart and intentional people and in general they're pulled in many directions when creating.

I'd say it's not that 'the artist should do what s/he wants', but that 'the artist should do what s/he can - and can create a decent work of art in doing.' Artists may be intentional, but they're not omniflexible: intentions aren't always enough to make you good at portraying people who are entirely unlike yourself. Your imagination is kind of like your libido: you can control how you act on it, but you don't get much say about what does and doesn't set it afire, even if you wish you did. Like most people can't fall in love with someone 'suitable' if they're just not feeling it, I think artists can sometimes just not feel it for a story that they would, on moral or political grounds, actually like to be able to create.

And in that case, there's pretty much no point putting pressure on them to include this or that group. If you can't do something, you can't, and sometimes you can't get your imagination to perform up to standard on certain topics.

Take Bechdel. Yes, she tries hard to include genderqueer people. But how much story time does she spend on heterosexual women? Not a lot ... and she's more or less said straight out that she found them difficult to draw in her early days because she couldn't identify with them. Not because she doesn't think they're important, but because she just doesn't work that way ... which is her right.

What you feel you should produce and what you actually can produce are - particularly if you really care about quality - two completely different things.
posted by Kit W at 12:28 PM on November 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


So anyway, take my complaints about tumblr with a large grain of salt, I guess.

It did make me wonder what you'd think of Requires only that You Hate, the most visible and loudest blog criticising nerd culture/literature for its inclusiveness and lack thereof.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:01 PM on November 21, 2012


It did make me wonder what you'd think of Requires only that You Hate, the most visible and loudest blog criticising nerd culture/literature for its inclusiveness and lack thereof.

I actually adore Requires Only That You Hate. I think it gets a needlessly bad rap (or at least, I only ever seem to hear it held up as a bad example) and I've really enjoyed acrackedmoon's book recommendations when she recs. (She's a really subtle and clever reader.) It's true that the "you are a useless stupid asshole" language is a bit similar sometimes, but the blog functions in a far less intimate way than tumblr tends to, and the criticisms tend to be leveled at people who have definitely chosen to be in the public eye by writing novels. Also, the stuff that really flips me the hell out on tumblr is when people are very obviously just confused or new to the ideas under discussion and they phrase something wrong or ask a question that they probably should have googled - or when it's equivocal, like someone asks a question rather than googling but the topic is a complicated and evolving one so google actually isn't that helpful - and people respond with the invective and the shaming and the cliquey infighting and so on. Also, I think that because it's a blog and isn't updated multiple times per day, ROTYH allows for dealing with ideas at length, which as someone who tends to write on and on and on myself I find politically helpful.
posted by Frowner at 2:09 PM on November 21, 2012


Man, I thought I was angry all the time, but that Requires Hate person needs to chill out.
posted by Mezentian at 2:29 PM on November 21, 2012


Requires Hate gets some kinda ironic internet props for producing the falsest line of the season: "Shock and offence are not feelings people cultivate."
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:28 PM on November 21, 2012


I dunno man, I don't see Shock and Offence being cultivated around here so much as I see Contempt for Imaginary People who Cultivate Shock and Offence. IMO the OH LOOK HERE COMES THE OUTRAGE INDUSTRY seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to hurt feelings when anyone has the termity to wonder if a beloved property might not be entirely flawless.
posted by ominous_paws at 2:48 AM on November 22, 2012


There are multiple sites, including Requires, that exist to post Outrage Of The Day, which is a neat demonstration of precisely how to cultivate shock and outrage. I suppose it's refreshingly bipartisan---there are loads of sites that will post daily updates on the latest outrage by Christians, feminists, Zionists, atheists, geeks, or whatever other group annoys you---but lord, it's dumb-making.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:29 AM on November 22, 2012


Huh, reading through the strip from the beginning and just realized that it's set in Northhampton (and now see that's noted in this FPP too but I didn't notice it before). Half my family lives there so I'm up there at least a couple of times a year. My Raven Books t-shirt is one of my favorite shirts. The strip makes a lot more sense knowing that it's set there.
posted by octothorpe at 5:28 AM on December 1, 2012


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