For those in positions of power — whatever those positions may be — there is nothing quite so scary as realizing you don’t know why things are happening. So, maybe that’s why it’s so common to find people in those positions turning a staggeringly blind eye to what’s happening. There are all kinds of examples of this, whose commonalities tempt me to try extracting a general rule from them: perhaps just something as simple as “when the margins stop communicating, centralization is all that’s left”? Arguably there is no such thing as a centre until the stuff outside it starts to remove itself: the centre is a conceptual strategy, for dealing with the breakdown of a system. The centre is invented. In star formation, something analogous happens: vast clouds of hydrogen cool down until the only force acting on them is gravity, and then begin to fall inward to a point where (one day) temperature and pressure will get so unstoppably high that nuclear fusion will begin. But the star is never the whole cloud — most of the cloud escapes, or stays where it is, only hollowed-out. Invisible. Unsuspected. A celestial dropout, from the processes that create solar systems.
Or, perhaps more properly, something that must be excluded from a description of those processes. In a way, then: a threat to that description, which only covers the behaviour of a small portion of the original cloud’s extent, and can’t account for the overwhelming majority of its bulk.
But everything’s fine, so long as you don’t have to look at it.
The point of this post is comics — to be specific, this disgusting little tidbit of comics news — but we’ll just take a minute to get there, if you can hang on that long. We’ll go as fast as we can, though: from astronomy we’ll take an immediate big jump down, to Canadian politics, and then jump down even further next time. So…
In my country, one of the things that’s happened over the last quarter-century is that people have gotten harder to poll, and their conversations harder to track. It used to be easy to get someone to respond to a survey on the phone; hell, it used to be easy to get someone on the phone, even if they ended up refusing to participate in the survey! But now all that stuff is flying away, so it’s harder to know what’s going on. And conventional news organizations don’t help with that, either; even if they might’ve raised their investigative game otherwise (and it’s by no means certain that they would’ve), the process of corporate consolidation in the late twentieth century has left them fantastically underprepared to do so. Put that together with the recent avalanche of politicization, the gushing river of spin-doctoring, and the concentration of power in news organizations as they gather more money and guard more gates, defend more turf, and it isn’t hard to see that the free traffic of information in the cold cloud of society is on a runaway track of inhibition. The centre is invented, as the interactional density between an ever-shrinking number particles goes WAY UP, to compensate for the total volume of interaction that’s being steadily lost. Newspeople live in a bubble no less than politicians do, and in fact it’s usually the same bubble: they only talk to one another, not to anybody else. Pollsters can’t get people on the phone, so their crystal balls are getting cloudier. Collapse begins, as the centre invents itself by learning to look on itself. And it learns to look elsewhere less. And in a nutshell, that’s why the loathsome party currently serving as my government is already doomed to go down in flames; because in our last election, something completely unexpected happened, something no one but the people on the ground that the central powers no longer reach ever saw coming…and so the central powers still cannot explain it, a fact perhaps not all that surprising since they’re basically trying everything they can to avoid having to explain it. Narrative, narrative, all is narrative; but this narrative has already fallen completely out of touch with reality, so that “all” is getting kinda tautological. That narrative explains and describes itself, but that’s as far as it goes; it can’t explain and does not describe what happened in the last election. So everybody who thinks they’re mighty clever now, and in the driver’s seat at long last, is doomed because they don’t understand they’re actually in the passenger seat — and that the car has only by coincidence taken them where they wanted to go. Sure, their strategies are all brilliant, inside the narrative they’ve successfully constructed…
But the narrative itself isn’t any good, and works only about as long as the people outside it can be persuaded to keep on humouring the storytellers. Hence the thing I try very hard to hold in my head from the link up above, the realization that nothing changes for me except how good I feel about myself, if I just stop identifying with the powers of government, and start thinking of myself as a member of an unruly mob instead. Because the mob, you see, doesn’t have the responsibility to govern itself. It doesn’t have to make sure the people in power fully understand and approve its motives and methods, before having those motives and adopting those methods. Nothing the mob does has to “make sense” to the people in power; making sense is a tax the government of the central powers isn’t entitled to collect, from the mob. Public reaction: spin it all you like, but in the end it isn’t anything you could call a negotiated settlement. It happens, and it comes without warning, and it won’t go along with you if you can’t go along with it. After all, it isn’t on the mob to calculate its own reactions in advance! That isn’t the mob’s problem to solve.
And the mob doesn’t even have to help.
Albeit slowly, I think I am getting better at remembering that.
So jump down now, all the way from politics to comics…a long drop. Past Wikileaks and the Arab Spring, past student protests and UK riots, past Occupy, past SOPA/PIPA, past indefinite detention even of people not named Bradley Manning, past everything that actually matters in the grand scheme, all the way down to superhero comics, and Gary Friedrich. But of course it isn’t just Gary Friedrich we’re talking about, is it? Up higher, way up higher, the list of the things we just dropped down through is being kept out of all central narratives, is especially resisted as an alter-narrative…but when you live by the narrative and die by the narrative, you think narrative is the one and only Killer App of society when really it isn’t, so you miss something important. Because you and I, we don’t really need to narratize the mob’s resistance to narrative, do we? Heck, we don’t even have to help to narratize it one way or the other…because we don’t need to say that all these things are the same thing to actually be living with the very tenor of the times, and we know you can’t stop shit happening just by leaving no room for it in your storyline, just like you can’t make it happen by including it in your storyline. So, down near the lowly stratum of comics, I am not saying all these things are the same thing, at all…
But shit’s still happening. And it’s still scary for the powerful. And so they keep ignoring that it’s happening, indeed so very hard do they ignore it that they overcorrect absurdly in the other direction, and make it happen even more, and faster. So, how long have corporate comics been abusing their talent, the very talent that keeps their doors open? They’ve been doing that forever. And, how long have comics fans been turning a blind eye to it themselves? Forever, forever. So it’s a pretty sweet deal corporate comics has going there. Apathy works in their favour, so they’re golden, untouchable.
So they just had to push the limits, didn’t they? There are just so many creators in comics that you can push around with impunity, there really are. Even the people like me, who know their names, can’t be stirred to protest very much. It’s a very wide field, for a corporate abuser, and it’s game on all the time, with almost every comics creator. Almost every one!
Just, not the ones they’ve gone right out of their way to screw with, one after the other and coming close on one another’s heels, in this most remarkable year of 2011. Start with trying to ruthlessly beat down the claim of Jerry Siegel to Superman, the claim not merely of justice for once, but of LAW, TOO…and Brother DC, that does not look too good on you. You’ve pulled a lot of shit in your time, but this shit really smells especially like shit, you know? Then we go right over to Marvel, and they do the same thing, to exactly the same sort of immortal creator that they ought to feel some goddamn gratitude to. I’ve told all my non-comics friends, for years, that it was soon going to start to come down…I never imagined anything like this, though. Who could’ve imagined this? That Marvel would’ve put their hand right on the flame this way? Big-budget blockbusters doing boffo box-office, and it is just now that they decide they can risk a scandal, now when one of the most extraordinarily beloved comics creators of all time not only has scads of his work coming again before the eyes of the public, but also great handsome biographical tomes, too, demonstrating his impeccable Good Guy credentials and describing in great detail his battle with the corporate forces of evil…so yes, the little guy who invented all the stuff the Hollywood movies are made from, yes, YES, now is definitely the time to get tough with his legacy. I mean, what better time could there be?
‘Cause…hey, it’s all legal, right?
So what could happen?
Well, the mob could happen, I guess. But, maybe it won’t? I mean, we’ve still got some of that apathy stuff lying around, right?
So obviously what we should do is rush right out and create another great controversy with Alan Moore. Tell you what, let’s do something that pisses people off about Watchmen, that’ll generate lots of press! Hey, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, you know? Oh, and also we should really make sure to demonize him a little, make it plain he’s a fuck-up and a hypocrite and ha! ha! Alan Moore, what a joke he is! And while we’re at it, let’s treat our readership just like they’re sheep. Like, really obnoxiously. Really put the arm on them: “if you’re mad about this, the terrorists win”, something in the general area of that formula. That’s been a really successful formula in the past, so definitely lay that one on thick. Oh, make sure to put Jerry Siegel’s widow through the wringer a bit, as well? And call out the trolls to say Jack Kirby was a big crybaby…maybe a socialist…and if we can somehow contrive to do all this in the year that Gene Colan and Jerry Robinson die, you know…
Hey, it’s a foolproof plan!
And now…Gary Friedrich. Is he one of the most beloved comics creators of all time? Nope. Creator of many beloved characters? Hmm…maybe Ghost Rider. Does he have a good argument, that holds water, about the work-for-hire thing? Well, if you mean “as good as Jerry Siegel’s” or “as good as Jack Kirby’s”, then…yeah, that’s another big “nope”.
But just as the smaller fry in the comics world have a better work environment today because of all the Siegels and Kirbys who went before them, so too has Gary Friedrich’s dispute with Big Two Comics happened to benefit from the general atmosphere of disgust that’s very recently risen from the corporate treatment of those other two men. In other words: the waters are already plenty roiled. The camel’s pretty well overloaded, look at its knees shake. Wow, look at all this wet dynamite in here, is this sketchy or what?
Hey…you know what we should do?
We should drop the fucking HAMMER on that Gary Friedrich guy. Really send a message. After all, what could possibly go wrong? He’s a well-known unsavoury type, no one really cares about him but his friends and family, and we can always say he started with us first…
And I think reasonable people will buy that explanation of events, don’t you?
Because obviously it is impossible that anything is happening in the world, that we don’t already know all about.
Oh, you know Bloggers…I really do want to bloody their nose now, eh? I mean they just won’t stop, will they? And now it’s a protest, now it’s a boycott. Before, it was just a gross taste in my mouth, but now it’s a roaring in my ears. And the thing is…
They haven’t accounted for that. To lose me as a reader of their comics, well to be honest they were all for that, they didn’t want my business anyway. They made that quite clear. Though of course they did want me seeing their movies, right? But I’m sure they felt that they could survive the loss of a little ol’ outlier rage-monkey like me. I mean, to lose me, to lose ME…to lose me at all, you know, when I am THE target audience for those movies…that’s a problem even if I don’t really matter, because it’s a problem they didn’t see coming, and so it speaks to them not really being the driver of this car. But, as long as the car keeps generally rolling in the direction they like, they can always wave it all off. Maybe they didn’t see it coming, but it was really a “known unknown” kind of thing, collateral damage…not too worrying, to lose me, even if it was technically counter to the plan. So in a way, this was accounted for: breakage, spillage. People stop caring about comics, sometimes. It happens. It’s expected.
But I think what is probably quite unexpected, and something no one accounted for — not even me! — is that NOW I HATE THEM. Now I want to speak ill of them, now I want the value of all those copyrights they hold to go down. Bloody their noses?
Do you all know just how easy it would be, to bloody their noses?
It’d be ridiculously easy. Just don’t go see the Avengers movie on the opening weekend. If this is easy for you to do, then wait ’til another weekend passes after that. Just that. Only that. That simple little thing. I’m not saying it’ll fix the problem; but I am saying that they won’t know what the fuck just hit them, and man if they deserve nothing else, they at least deserve that. So go ahead, give ‘em a little shot. Just a little one. Just a tiny one. Then, if that feels good…
Do it again. Look for a spot, and then give ‘em a quick jab there. Scare the fuckers a little. “Oh no, what’s going on, this isn’t in the script!” You could also, if you wanted to, talk smack about them: join the anti-comics blogosphere, and be a real mean person, spare no one, hate on the books and hate on the movies and hate on the brand loyalties. And don’t worry about thinking it through too much, if you don’t want to. Don’t worry about providing explanations, to anyone who may wonder just what your problem is. After all, it is not your responsibility to explain to them what your problem is, is it?
Figuring that out is their job.
Make ‘em do it, for once.
And you’ll be surprised how much better that makes you feel.
Anyway I’ll feel better.