Tommy Ingram's Eclectic Variety Show

How these curiosities would be quite forgot, did not such idle fellows as I am put them down.

Category: The Outside World

The plot thickens…

So remember STGRB? Guess what the latest is on them: they’ve come out in defence of Victoria Foyt’s cartoonishly racist self-published book Revealing Eden, on the grounds that it is unfair to call the author racist, when she has clearly stated she is not. Seriously.

This is a book that includes, among other things, white women forced (forced, I tell you) to wear blackface, black men called “coals” and described as bestial, and a society that is dystopian largely because black people are in charge and white people are an oppressed minority.

I guess I lied by omission. Bad reviewing practices won’t necessarily lead us to Lost Highway. They might just end up here.

The sad thing in all this is that I can actually see where the author is coming from. Reversing the roles so white people are oppressed, with the intention of showing white people what it feels like, is one of those ideas that seems really deep, man, when you’re a twelve-year-old white kid with no experience of the real world. But by the time you’re grown up enough to sustain the effort required to write a novel, you should be grown up enough to realize that you don’t write about important social issues you know nothing about. To quote from another review that’s been controversial lately (though for the life of me I can’t see why), the novelist has a “moral obligation to be intelligent”.

Another thing that everyone should probably keep in mind: you do not need to read something all the way through to review it. A detailed review benefits from a complete knowledge of the work at hand, but the simple question of “should I read it? yes/no” can be answered if you’ve only been through half of it. When I read Lord Foul’s Bane, I finished it out of some sense of masochism, but by the halfway point there was nothing the author could have done that would have redeemed the book. You don’t need to drink all the milk to know it’s rotten, you don’t need to listen to an entire Liszt piano concerto to know that it’s not worth the effort, and you certainly do not need anything more than the back cover blurb of Revealing Eden to know that it is inept racist trash.

ETA: When I wrote this I had heard about, but not seen, the promotional videos for the book (available on its Facebook page). I don’t recommend you watch them—they’re not funny, just faintly sad, like an episode of Seinfeld. But the idea that someone thought this was absolutely a good way to promote a novel is in itself worth a laugh. Maybe just look at the preview stills to get an idea of what you’re in for without actually watching the things.

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A Nature Walk

The Lebowski Gambit, part 4: The Video Guy II: Electric Boogaloo

Previously…

The video guy redeems himself very slightly by making an interesting point at the beginning of this video.[0:51] He argues that, in a speech about banning certain video games, Hillary Clinton implicitly denies their inherent value by pointing to superficial instrumental values: they can be educational, improve hand-eye coordination, &c. He then argues that Anita Sarkeesian does the same thing.[1:05]

The substance of his point deserves more discussion than I will give it here. I will tentatively allow that this might be what Clinton is up to, but it is unlikely that Sarkeesian—a pop culture critic, whose job it is to believe that pop culture has some inherent importance—is trying to diminish the importance of video games in this way. Indeed, Clinton is trying to ban certain games. Sarkeesian is trying to explore them critically. That difference in context counts for a lot. Read the rest of this entry »

The Lebowski Gambit, part 3: The Video Guy

Previously…

The video guy’s hatchet job of Sarkeesian is in two parts, here and here. Part 1 begins with a childish rhetorical move, and such moves characterize much of its runtime. I will not respond directly to these, as they are beneath contempt.

I had intended to link to specific parts of the video, but my usual method for that (adding ?t=XmXs to the URL) is not working for these videos. This means I have to paraphrase inline, resulting in a lot more “he said she said” than I’d like. I will cite statements from the videos by putting the time at which the statement begins in square brackets like so: [2:30]. Read the rest of this entry »

The Lebowski Gambit part 2: Whiny Guys on The Escapist

Previously…

Well, that was some mighty long groundwork-laying, wasn’t it? I promise I’ll get to the point very soon, but there’s just one more bit of background you might need.

Who is Anita Sarkeesian?

Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist who has created two popular video series on Youtube (Feminist Frequency and Tropes vs. Women) and is working on a third (Tropes vs. Women in Video Games). I watched a couple of her videos when they started appearing in the news recently. They’re not my thing, but they’re well made and have pretty sound analysis (though as always there are things here and there I disagree with). The only complaint you can reasonably make about them is that they’re too basic and never really go beyond the 101 level. However, 101-level stuff often needs restating, and she’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. She’s just trying to provide a feminist voice in a venue where you still don’t have to go far to find neo-Nazis.

When Sarkeesian announced her new series on video games and set up a Kickstarter page to fund it, harassing, misogynistic comments started flowing in. There were death threats, there were rape threats, there were unspeakable things said. Anyone who has spent any time reading feminists on the Internet (as I do now and then) knows that this is fairly common, although it doesn’t usually happen on this scale and this publically. When the story got picked up and amplified, donations to her Kickstarter went through the roof, and as I understand it now her project is quite well-funded. So, bad things happened, but it came to a happy ending, right?

Well, not exactly. You see, the Escapist thread I happened across seemed to be accusing Sarkeesian of being a scam artist. There were very few dissenting voices, and even they made a few concessions to the OP. Among the people who most need to hear Sarkeesian’s message, some really shocking ideas about her are in common currency. My intention here is to mount a defence of Sarkeesian against these people.

More importantly, a twenty-minute, two part video was linked in the OP of that thread. The video is repulsive throughout and at some points so shockingly stupid I could hardly believe what I was hearing. But the video’s maker (hereafter referred to as “the video guy”) would claim to be a serious person, and I feel a certain amount of responsibility to deflate this claim definitively. As the actress said to the bishop, I have a feeling this is going to be a long one. Read the rest of this entry »

The Lebowski Gambit: or, A Matter of Opinion

Over the last few months I’ve written several times about people I’ve referred to as “lily-livered opinion-mongers”—the ones who turn up in the comment threads of negative reviews everywhere and demand that “but that’s just my opinion” be used as a hedge. I feel that it’s time for a long-form statement on the subject, clarifying what this phenomenon is and what’s wrong with it. This is something I’ve always wanted to write, but never gotten around to until just now. As a bonus, I am going to weigh in on the Anita Sarkeesian Kickstarter thing, although that’s going to be in part 2. —TMI

“That’s just your opinion”

The first order of business is to make it clear what I’m talking about. In the movie The Big Lebowski, The Dude and his friends, sitting in the bowling alley and shooting the shit, are interrupted by their arch-rival, Jesus Quintana. The following immortal exchange occurs:

Jesus: Liam and me, we’re gonna fuck you up.

Dude: Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, uh, your opinion, man.

What has happened here? Why is this exchange funny?

Jesus has advanced a proposition. Call it a hypothesis. No, even better, call it an opinion. He says that his team is going to beat the Dude in the bowling tournament.

The Dude responds. He does not agree. But neither does he offer a counter-proposition (“no, actually we will fuck you and Liam up”). Instead, he makes a statement that is epistemologically correct, but irrelevant. Of course it’s Jesus’s opinion. He wouldn’t say it if it wasn’t his opinion. The question is, is Jesus’s opinion right or not? The Dude has given us no reason to believe it is not.

This is all funny because it’s in a context—amateur bowling leagues—where there are objective and uncontroversial ways of determining whose opinion is justified. Compare scores of recent games. Factor in practice time. Or even just wait a week and see who wins. The Dude says “that’s just your opinion” when he could say “our averages for the past dozen games are higher than yours” or something like that.

Unfortunately, outside the artificial realm of sports you’re unlikely to encounter situations that are this cut and dry. That’s where “that’s just your opinion” starts to muddy the waters. It can be, and often is, not just a confused statement, but an attempt to shut down an argument by someone who doesn’t like where it’s going. Read the rest of this entry »

Goodreads bullies?

The latest Internet kerfuffle is about the website “Stop the GR Bullies“, which is apparently dedicated to trashing Goodreads reviewers who give negative reviews. The claim of the StGRB folks is that these reviews constitute “bullying” of the authors, and they respond quite harshly, in some cases posting names, addresses, and even information about where their target “bully” can be found at certain times of day.

This is interesting to me as a sometime amateur book reviewer (though not one who uses Goodreads, luckily). You see, from a quick glance over the StGRB site, most of the “bullies” they respond to have written reviews that are objectively quite tame, for amateur Internet critics. Seriously, I’m currently reading a collection of music criticism by Shaw, and the things he says about Brahms (in a newspaper, no less) are nastier than anything I’ve seen quoted on StGRB. I don’t think I’m a particularly vindictive reviewer, but if I had a Goodreads account, I might well be one of their targets. In my most recent book review, I said that Michael Moorcock “might be full of shit.” I called Paolo Bacigalupi racist and sexist, and George Dickie parochial and gibbering. I’m about to call Roger Scruton childish and repugnant. All this in reviews that I think are quite reasonable.

Compare those remarks with a few taken from StGRB. The first thing we should get out of the way, before we talk about the more sticky issues at work here, is that these reviews are not more strident than the average. Indeed, the StGRB about page shows that the (anonymous) folks behind it are nothing more than the standard-issue lily-livered opinion-mongers who turn up in the comment threads of negative reviews everywhere. The ones who expect you to use “but that’s just my opinion” as a hedge. Such people are usually mere intellectual cowards who never get anywhere—you’ll never see Shaw saying “but that’s just my opinion”—but these ones, as we’ll see below, are dangerous and scary. Read the rest of this entry »

Terry Pratchett begins legal process for assisted suicide

Terry Pratchett has received the forms he needs to legally commit assisted suicide in Switzerland.

This makes me sad. Best wishes to Sir Terry, whatever he decides to do.

RIP Roger Abbott

Air Farce actor Roger Abbott has died. I remember staying up late to see reruns of Royal Canadian Air Farce, and his performances were always a treat. He’ll be missed.

Intent: A Case Study

Ian Dury wrote that song in 1981, and almost immediately it was banned by the BBC. Who can imagine otherwise? The lyrics include the line, “I wibble when I piddle cause my middle is a riddle” and “I’m knobbled on the cobbles cause I hobble when I wobble”, not to mention the surprisingly catchy chorus of “I’m Spasticus, I’m Spasticus, I’m Spasticus Autisticus”.

I’m sure Dury never intended to be brazenly offensive like that, but intent isn’t magical. In fact, intent is irrelevant. Even if there are clues about his real intentions in the lyrics, the casual listener could easily miss them. It’s hard to come away from this song without being offended initially, and surely your gut reaction is all-important.

Isn’t it? Read the rest of this entry »