Experienced Points: 50 Shades of The Dark Knight

By Shamus
on May 26, 2015
Filed under:
Column

My column this week is a little talk about what Batman: Arkham Asylum and 50 Shades of Grey have in common and no that’s not a joke.

Really, this is just my swipe at the long-standing trend of condemning art because you think OTHER people are too stupid to enjoy it responsibly. “This art promotes [longstanding social ill]!” Now, the response to my sort of article is usually, “It’s just criticism! Don’t be such a butthurt fanboy! If games are art then they deserve criticism like all other forms of art!”

But we’re talking about really different sorts of criticism here:

1. The violence in Batman is disgusting, brutal, and over-the-top. It made me uncomfortable and I’d never let a kid play it.

This is a perfectly valid artistic critique. I disagree with it strongly, but that just makes for interesting conversations. It’s an appraisal of the art. We have these kind of conversations here once in a while. “This made me uncomfortable” is a perfectly valid response to something.

2. Playing Batman reminded me that violence is a real problem and we should watch out for signs of violent behavior in our kids.

This is sometimes a little annoying when you want to read about a videogame and instead someone uses the game as a launching point for a cause that’s important to them, but this is a natural response to art. This is basically a more personalized extension of #1.

3. Batman promotes violence and sends a message that we should solve our problems by hitting people.

THIS. This is the one I have a problem with. It’s less a criticism of Batman and more an attempt to judge the audience more than the game. It frames the game as a social ill and assumes that fans of the game have no capacity to discern fact from fiction. It’s preachy, sanctimonious, and seems to be based on the idea that we should fix society by condemning certain types of art. Or that art must be designed to not cause stupid people to act out.

It makes you sound like this:

Hey, what are the odds — five Ayn Rand fans on the same train!  Must be going to a convention.

Oh, won’t somebody think of the stupid people?

I’m not going to say that you should NEVER do #3, but if you’re going to go that way then you ought to realize the kind of fight you’re about to start. You’re about to call everyone else an idiot. You need to either put lots of gentle disclaimers around the whole thing, or you need to brace yourself for an ugly, prolonged, politically-charged fight. If you pull a #3 and then play the victim as if you were just doing criticism #1 and were unfairly attacked by fans, then you are engaging in some serious debate shenanigans.

The dynamic goes something like this:

A critic claims the game promotes violence. A fan reads it and feels that the criticism is based on the wrong assumption that fans are stupid sheep. The fan, being your typical internet person, lashes out with insults. But since there are thousands of fans and only one critic, the critic feels like they are facing a lynch mob. They can’t reason with an angry mob, so the conversation ends and both sides feel the other is just THE WORST sort of person.

This is bad enough, but then those same fans will often turn around and become critics themselves, sneering at some other thing that doesn’t appeal to them. So with the column I’m hoping to drive home the point what we all have our 50 Shades of Guilty Pleasure, and that we could stand to be a little less judgemental of other fandoms.

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  1. ehlijen says:

    Good points. I occasionally catch myself doing this very thing, thankfully sometimes before I blurt it out. I think the disjointed nature of post it and leave it to be read ‘debate’ might have something to do with that?
    I find debates devolve more quickly the less direct contact the sides have and the more participants there are. Not that it doesn’t happen face to face, just less often? Or do I just not see it happen as often?

    Also, this typo made laugh. It reminded me of our times playing Og. Good times :)
    “Oh, won’t somebody thing of the stupid people?”

  2. TheLetterF says:

    I don’t play the Batman Arkham games because of the violence.

    Not because I’m opposed to violence, one of my favorite games is Metal Gear Revengeance.

    Not because I’m not a fan of Batman, he is by far my favorite Superhero (The Dark Knight Returns, The Killing Joke, The Long Halloween, amirite Mumbles?).

    Not because I think they’re poorly designed, they are perfectly crafted and wonderful to play, with visceral combat and interesting puzzles to figure out.

    It’s because it’s a violence-focused Batman game. I don’t feel like Batman when I enter a room with the intention of beating eight guys into the ground. I don’t feel like Batman when the game encourages you to punch as many people as possible to reach a top score.

    I don’t feel like I’m playing a Batman game, I feel like I’m playing a Punisher game with Batman characters.

    To me, Batman is about solving mysteries and being a stealthy ninja. While you do that in the game, it’s in between mook fight #142 and #143. Punch this guy TWENTY TIMES TO REACH MAXIMUM CARNAGE, Batman.

    The more you punch, the more justice you deal out, which is simply not Batman to me, and I can’t bring myself to play any of the games for more than an hour or two.

    Read a Batman comic, and see how many people Batman beats up. Five, maybe six. Watch a Batman movie, see how many people Batman beats up. Ten, maybe twenty. Play a Batman game and see how many people Batman beats up in the first 30 minutes in these 12+ hour games.

    I’m not saying they’re bad games, or that they have bad mechanics, or that if you like them you should feel bad, only that my idea of Batman is not anywhere close to the Batman portrayed in these. It’s too violent for a Batman game, not because Batman isn’t violent, but because Batman restrains himself. He doesn’t beat up every thug he comes across. When I can play a game where that kind of behaviour is encouraged, I’ll play it.

    Until then, Revengeance. A game about swording people, where the main character likes swording people, and the main gameplay mechanic is swording people.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      Thats one read of Batman but the Batman I grew up with in the 90’s and much of the 00’s did seem rather driven to punish, even to maim when a criminal really pissed him off. Maybe he wasn’t like that in the Animated series so much but in the comics, different situation.

      But, as has been discussed frequently, Batman has been interpreted a bunch of different ways. The Arkham Batman fits. I am sorry he’s not your Batman though.

    • Humanoid says:

      I think the Carmen Sandiego games are the template of what I’d like to see in a Batman game, wherein they get called to a crime scene then have to investigate, deducing (with the help of Robin) who the villain is this time, and then having to track them down and arrest them. All the investigations would be procedurally generated, of course, and obviously the tone would have to be all 60s Batman. Do that and it’d be the first Batman game I’d have played since the NES game (when I didn’t know any better).

      Now my template for 50 Shades, on the other hand, would be Batman and Robin’s relationship…

      Disclaimer: It’s pretty obvious by this point I know nothing about either franchise, or the thematic material either is based on, so yeah.

      • TheLetterF says:

        I would play the crap out of a mystery solving Batman game like that. People forget that Batman is foremost the “world’s greatest detective”, not the world’s best facepuncher.

    • DeadlyYellow says:

      Oddly enough…. I don’t remember that many mook fights. I remember set-piece fights against swarms of enemies, and the puzzle-approach battles against armed mooks– the former going for the feel of the Nolan Batman, and the latter feeling more akin to the one from the books I’ve read. But it never approached the level of slog for me.

      Nor did I feel it was means to dispense justice. Yes they are criminals, but in Asylum and City they were already in prison. Most just pose as simple obstacles to overcome with little trouble or mild annoyance, which to me certainly feels like the idea of Batman.

  3. Daemian Lucifer says:

    If anyone thinks batman is promoting vigilantism,they should watch the first season of arrow.Compared to oliver queen in that,bruce is all rainbows and fluffy clouds.

  4. Alan says:

    I will absolutely defend criticism of form 3 (“Batman promotes violence and sends a message that we should solve our problems by hitting people.”).

    First, there is a huge gulf between, “I think this work promotes a bad message” and “I think this work should be suppressed.” One can criticize a work’s message without becoming a would-be censor. Such criticism can be valuable to people who want to know more before handing their money over.

    Second, art sends messages, intentional or not. Those messages effect how people think. That’s the nature of art. Rejecting criticism of a message is to reject the power of art. Sure, it’s unlikely that Murder Hoboes III: The Murderinating will directly lead to a major uptick in dragon killing. But it is another voice reinforcing the very popular idea that dragons are inherently evil. If one finds that message damaging, criticizing it is important. The mere act of reading criticism of a message can help lessen it; encouraging critical thinking about messages helps everyone to actively consider the ideas that we all passively absorb from our various societies.

    Often messages of form 3 in no way, shape, or form are calling for suppression, nor are they claiming that other people are too gullible to be exposed to the media in question. But fans perceive any criticism as a call for suppression. The critics of form 3 often are being unfairly attacked. A fear based in reality of real would-be censors has turned into a paranoia that any criticism is an existential threat to gaming.

    (Edited to replace a more specific example with a made up one. The previous example was distracting from my point.)

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Well if we are going to focus on batman,then no it definitely does not send the message that we should solve our problems with violence.The message batman sends is that violence breeds violence,and that the escalation will continue until either one side is completely eradicated,or the collateral damage goes sky high.

      • Alan says:

        I focused on Batman because it’s where Shamus started. I took a stab at rewriting it to a sillier example because the specific message is irrelevant to my point. (It is ironic that I failed to clearly convey my message. :-)

        The back and forth on what a particular work’s message is, the question of authorial intent versus audience perception, evaluation in the culture and environment the work was created and consumed in, and the like are an important part of criticism! Just not my point at the moment. :-)

      • That is literally in direct opposition to the actual message of Batman…

    • Benjamin Hilton says:

      I think the main problem with number three is that it is hard to promote discussion. When critiquing it’s a very fine line between starting a dialogue, and starting a fight.

      Even if the people on the other side agree with you, if you come out swinging they will reflexively get defensive. It is very difficult to put forward argument three without seeming like your taking a swing, intentional or not.

    • Otters34 says:

      “Second, art sends messages, intentional or not. Those messages effect how people think.”

      Like Spec Ops: The Line unintentionally encouraging the view that brutality in war is the result of damaged people on the ground going off their heads, not the result of the entire method and ethos of how and why wars are fought.

      Though the unspoken knowledge that Adams and Lugo are following you partly out of plausible deniability was a nice touch. They’re still better men than Walker, but not by much.

      • Alan says:

        For me the “player culpability in video game glorification of war crimes” stood out, but you’ve opened my mind to another reading. That’s part of what I love about type 3 criticism, the study of the different messages and even the disagreements can be both fun and enlightening.

        • Otters34 says:

          I can’t claim to have thought of that myself, it was mentioned in another comment thread a few years back, when Mr. Young and Taliesin were doing their duo-critique.

      • Thomas says:

        I think that’s a better direction than the typical #3 argument though, because it’s treating Spec Ops as a valid text and then engaging conversation at the same level that Spec Ops was trying to engage in conversation.

        That’s less “oh look what this terrible media does to people” and more “this is what the media made me think about, but here is my response which disagrees with it”

        It’s both much easier to have that kind of conversation and it’s actually, in some ways, super respectful to the work. I think the Spec Ops writers would love to know that they played a part in promoting that kind of conversation.

        • Otters34 says:

          I think it fits style #2, since what stories don’t say is just as telling as what they do, especially if they delve into a topic a critic has personal interest or expertise in. Like how Legion from Mass Effect 2 was VERY striking and appealing to Mr. Young because its character was a direct defiance of the standard sci-fi Killer Robot That Doesn’t Understand Love cliche, while still being very detached and impersonal and robot-y.

    • Syal says:

      The key word is “promotes”. If you say “the Batman game has a theme of violence solving problems,” that’s one thing. You can talk about a piece’s themes without upsetting people. But saying something “promotes” or “encourages” these things implies that its audience will take that away from the work, either by creative design or because the audience is easily persuaded. If the audience is anyone but children it’s really insulting. It’s not about the work anymore, it’s about the people around the work.

      As for censorship; imagine someone points to a group of people and says “these people are shaping how the country moves forward.” Isn’t there an implicit statement that you should be doing something with regard to it? Otherwise, why would they tell you?

      • I’m not sure I follow your last point. It’s undeniable that politicians shape the direction of society but that statement is not a message that politicians should be destroyed or have their powers limited from where they currently are. You can ALSO make those statements after the first one but it’s not implicit. The same is true for media criticism that talks about the messages in text and how it normalises* that as a response to the setting it is portrayed in.

        * I agree (with Shamus’s position) that #3 is problematic but think there is a nuance between “promotes”/”sends a message” and “reinforces”/”normalises”. When you promote some act you encourage it. When you normalise it you say this is a valid response (not the right response, not the only response, but this is one response that some may consider appropriate) unless there is existing education that makes it clear there is not.

        Which maps back to that “you’re saying someone is stupid” vs “no, I’m saying that everyone picks up messages from the media they consume” fight that we all realise isn’t productive. When the level of general education in an area is lower (eg sex education, or SRE as it is called in my homeland) then there is less burden on making the assertion that “this media is problematic as it normalises negative messages without sufficient education that means people would not believe it/take it as only being a response appropriate in fiction”. We are far more educated about the state monopoly on violence and how fictional accounts of violence should not be replicated in the real world/do not solve problems so media that contains problematic violence is less of a concern than media problematic sex.

        • Syal says:

          I was thinking more along the lines of “youths” or “immigrants” (obviously politicians shape the world, that’s explicitly the job).

          But if someone tells me “politicians are shaping the way the world works”, I expect there to be a follow-up of “so make sure you vote for the right one”, or “so make sure they hear you”, or even “so stay out of their way”. It’s always a call to action of some kind, and so is “this game promotes message x” or “this game reinforces message x”.

          “They’re doing something that affects society” carries an implicit “what are you doing?” If you say “I’m not calling to censor this,” then what are you calling to do?

          (…that may or may not be any clearer.)

          • It’s not a call to censor, it’s media criticism (y’know, the role the person giving criticism of a medium is doing – often in an academic backwater that only feeds into media creation 10-20 years down the line if any of the ideas posited gain any widespread traction and offer a possible alternative way of arranging fiction).

            That’s why media critics write their criticism – it’s because that’s what they do, their passion for the humanities is in rolling ideas round to see if they are interesting. Why do so many games tell to stories of a small group (cishet white 18-35 men) of the population rather than any other avatar? Is this meaningful? Is this just inertia of remix culture and so a gentle nudge of awareness raising (which would originate in the customer base/corporate focus testing or explorative creations from indie auteurs) would mean creators decided to make stories about other protagonists? Something to mull over for a decade or two, maybe by then there’ll be enough Tomb Raider style examples to look at how non-standard protagonists can get widespread traction. It’s not about taking action or a call to arms, it’s about mining knowledge. That tiny speck of additional information humanity didn’t know before it was written about, discussed, and rejected or accepted into what we consider informative.

            Talk about media, because that respects it as an important part of culture. Talk about themes, messages, how it can be read. Creator-critics hone their skills by doing just this. “Do I want my creations to have those messages in?” Make intentional what you wish to be said, try to minimise the things you do not intend to say with your creation. Everything is problematic, an open discussion on this can make media that comes after it better. But this has nothing to do with censorship, artists are free to create whatever they want.

            “It ultimately boils down to the same misunderstanding of the humanities as what undermines the initial conspiracy theories. A misunderstanding of humanity scholars as trying to exert some kind of power over the industry, rather than these scholars off to the side more interested in understanding and documenting culture than changing it in any direct fashion. […] Knowledge for knowledge’s sake.” [source]

            • Syal says:

              Criticism is inherently a reaction to something, and critics should make a point to state the reason they think it’s worth reacting to. It could be something as simple as “This promotes message x, I think it’s interesting we keep seeing this”, but if they don’t give their reason for bringing it up the audience will make one up for them. You say our critic’s’s got passion for the humanities, I say they’re a journalist who wishes they were a politician, and based on what they’ve said so far who knows who’s right.

              • Alan says:

                Defending the status quo from criticism is every bit as political as the criticism itself.

                As for what critics are calling for, I appreciate the concern about censorship. There are critics who want censorship. But we won. The risk of censorship of video games is about as dangerous as the risk of censorship of hip hop or movies with sex scenes: negligible. Just don’t buy your music, movies, or video games at Wal-Mart.

                Myself, if I criticize something I’m generally calling for people to be mindful of it. We all accept many ideas our culture promotes without much thought because we’re human. I’m calling on developers to make things more to my liking, which is just basic free market feedback. I’m calling on people who agree with me to also provide developers with feedback. I’m calling on people who agree with me to not purchase/consume things that I think are harmful, which is also free market feedback.

                • Syal says:

                  I’m not personally concerned about censorship, I’m bothered that people give an opinion without giving their reasons and then say ‘That isn’t what I said’ afterward when people say they’re calling for something. It’s one of those nonsense miscommunication arguments that’s easily solved if people would put a little more effort into what they say and how they say it.

                  I also equate boycotts with censorship. They’re both a group of people who are saying that something is amoral and that you the viewer should prevent it from succeeding, with the difference being the amount of peer pressure the boycotting group can create. From an argument’s perspective a call to not purchase/consume something is close enough to a call to censorship to not really bother separating.

                  • Joe Informatico says:

                    No, censorship is an authority with the power to restrict free expression using that power, by either preventing the source from expressing itself, or by preventing individuals from purchasing or participating in the expression. This is almost always a case of a government exercising its authority, but a corporate monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel of publishers/distributors/etc. who control most or all of a content medium and agree not to publish or distribute certain forms of expression are a type of de facto censor.

                    Contrarily, a boycott is a call for individual actors who are otherwise free to decide how they wish to spend their own money or personal time to not patronize or participate in certain expressions, and not always for reasons related to the expression. E.g. I can choose to boycott a product or service for reasons completely unrelated to the product or service itself, but because I find the person who profits from the product to be odious. In any event, my choosing not to purchase or participate in something I boycott does not prevent anyone else from choosing to participate in or purchase the product. Ergo, not censorship.

                    • Syal says:

                      Power to restrict free expression comes from influence. Most of the people who are accused of ‘calling for censorship’ have no influence, and the people saying it know it. A call for censorship without influence becomes a boycott, and a call for a boycott with enough influence becomes censorship. It’s a matter of scale, and I don’t care about scale so there’s no point separating the two.

                    • Alan says:

                      Syal,

                      A boycott is a review. Like many reviews it urges the potential customer to action, or, I suppose, to inaction. It examines the costs and the benefits, including indirect costs and externalized costs, and concludes that the price is too high and that people will be happier not purchasing. It says that the market can do better and withholds money until something better appears. It is literally the free market at work.

                      Rejecting boycotts, telling people that it’s would-be censorship (which, assuming one is anti-censorship, is a call to not engage), telling people they should not look to reviews, that they should not make informed decisions, that people should make purchases they don’t want to.

                    • Syal says:

                      And then it spreads that message to people, and they spread it to people they think should hear it, and those people spread it out indiscriminately, and it eventually gets to the thugs who do the hate speech and cause the problems, and those people use it as a tool to oppress people around them. (And then everybody blames the first guy because obviously his message is responsible for the actions of the thugs.)

                      The effort you guys are putting into separating these concepts tells me you don’t actually think the ‘calling for censorship’ argument is a strawman argument. It is. It’s such a strawman that I’m expecting someone to sweep in and write up ‘The Censorship Manifesto’ here pretty soon. Like I said, I’m not worried about it. You shouldn’t be either.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Boycott and censorship have nothing to do with the power and influence you have.If you manage to convince a billion people to boycott something,its still not censorship,because you are still allowing for that something to exist,and for other 5 billion to have access to that something.But if you prevent just one person who wants that something from getting that something,thats censorship.

                      Its a simple distinction of “change their mind”=boycott,”prevent them to do something they want to”=censorship.

                      Considering that that something isnt illegal or harms someone,that is.

                    • Abnaxis says:

                      “Boycott” versus “censorship” is a fuzzier line than people are making it out as. There’s certainly a distinction between explicit restriction of speech versus restriction by mass appeal, but when the channels available to make your case for or against boycotting are controlled through central authorities like media companies or high-profile personalities, then end results can be the same.

                      If (say) the cable companies enact restrictions that say you cannot advertise a product that contains violence, regardless of the contents of the advertisement, they aren’t technically censoring. they’re not preventing any product from being made. But they’re still deciding what get made indirectly, leveraging their own centralized power with little opportunity for recourse.

                      Calls for boycott can work the same way. If you rub some ideologue with a lot of followers the wrong way, they can leverage their influence to make your life difficult as an artist. Even though the people do the work, they don’t always hold the reigns and they certainly don’t always control the framing. The soapbox is often owned by a small segment of people, and critics command an institution just like religious leaders or politicians do.

      • Viktor says:

        Sales of duct tape and rope increased after 50 Shades got big. Hate speech towards muslims spiked after American Sniper came out. Good art speaks to people, and I don’t think it’s an insult to say that people listen. I know that I take time to think about what the movie/game/whatever I just consumed says, and if it pushes it’s point of view well I will be moved somewhat by it, same as any other argument I hear. A decent artist should therefore cognizant of what messages their art sends, and try to avoid messages that will end up hurting people. Sorry Shamus, but I think you are completely wrong here.

        • Shamus says:

          Duct tape and rope does not mean people are entering into abusive relationships.

          American Sniper is a little different because it’s presented as a true story about a real fight that’s going on right now, where human beings are really killing each other. Yeah, that topic is a time bomb. That’s VERY different from “fictional superhero that lets me escape from reality”.

          Sure, art impacts people. By the “this promotes” message mistakes portrayal for promotion, and ignores the fact that many people that consume lowbrow content are perfectly aware of how dangerous the “real thing” would be. It’s a blunt attack in a controversial and nuanced discussion.

          I’m not sure where you think I’m wrong. Are you saying that being sanctimonious and judgmental is a good idea for building a better society, or the best way to change people’s minds?

          • Viktor says:

            “Sure, art impacts people. By the “this promotes” message mistakes portrayal for promotion, and ignores the fact that many people that consume lowbrow content are perfectly aware of how dangerous the “real thing” would be. It’s a blunt attack in a controversial and nuanced discussion.”

            Portrayal without condemnation is promotion, though. J K Rowling gave us an anti-authority hero, and now her readers are more likely to be anti-authority. Even though you could say that several of her plot points show that Harry is wrong, we’re supposed to consider him the hero, so now much of a generation takes after him. Yes, readers know the stories aren’t true, but that doesn’t keep the story from mattering and influencing people.

            I’m not saying stories with badthink messages should be banned, all I’m saying is that people need to be aware of what they consume and creators shouldn’t include a rapist hero and then hide behind “well it’s just a movie” when someone criticizes them for it. 1984 was just a book, but it influenced people. Worse media can do the same.

            • Trix2000 says:

              “Portrayal without condemnation is promotion”

              To me, this sounds more like a “correlation vs causation”-sounding thing. But it’s not without some merit.

              “I’m not saying stories with badthink messages should be banned, all I’m saying is that people need to be aware of what they consume and creators shouldn’t include a rapist hero and then hide behind “well it’s just a movie” when someone criticizes them for it.”

              But what else should they do? Change it? Because that’d effectively be censorship too.

              We can’t both allow any questionable content AND afterwards tell creators they shouldn’t have done it at all.

              • Alan says:

                Sure we can! Freedom of speech is not freedom from getting criticized for being an awful person. That criticism, that call for someone to change, is itself speech.

                There is absolutely no conflict between “The Westboro Baptists should have the right to picket a soldier’s funeral” and “The Westboro Baptists are wrong on damn near everything and should shut the hell up.”

            • MichaelGC says:

              Portrayal without condemnation is promotion

              For that to follow we have to assume there is no possibility of condemnation/criticism arising in the mind of the consumer. To caricature it slightly, it treats the ethical aspect of a piece of art as a one-way street: all responsibility for the rightness or wrongness is placed on the artist, as the consumer – for whatever reason; important to note that no reason has been given and no one has yet been called “stupid!” – must be unable to contribute, if there is a default position which they are unable to affect.

              Maybe this is an accepted interpretation of how art works – I genuinely don’t have a clue either way – but it would appear to sit rather uncomfortably alongside other interpretation-ey things like ‘death of the artist’ and whatnot.

            • Dreadjaws says:

              “Portrayal without condemnation is promotion”

              That sounds a lot like “If you’re not on my side then you’re on their side”. I’m sorry, but if you see the world in black and white that way, you’re precisely the kind of people who this article criticizes for good reason.

              Hell, I think the title “50 shades of gray” applies here better than Shamus initially thought. You can’t just assume a particular intent based exclusively on the first thing that comes to your mind. I mean, do you really think that when someone writes a rapist hero they’re promoting rape, when the most likely explanation is that they’re simply going for shock value (i.e., their intent is neither to promote nor condemn, they’re just interested in garnering publicity)?

              Also, you’ve never even read Harry Potter, have you?

            • Wide And Nerdy says:

              Being anti authority is not such a bad thing. Harry tended to respect good authority and challenge bad authority. Its alarming that you think this is bad. More alarming than escapist fiction.

              And this is another problem with this sort of thing. Its like if I criticized a romantic comedy because the heroine didn’t kill her romantic rivals, thus showing a clear anti-murder bias.

          • Alan says:

            Portrayal without attached criticism is promotion. Not in a “X is awesome” sense, but in the more subtle “X is just how the world is” sense. When people are resigned to how the world is, they become passive supporters of it. And for people who do think X is awesome, they see a message that what they’re doing is common and acceptable.

            Of course, what constitutes criticism is very open to interpretation.

            If you’ve got 8 minutes or so to burn, PBS Ideas Channel may be more eloquent than I. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzqQgAJd6Xo (And if you have better uses for your time, I’m completely sympathetic. :-)

            • krellen says:

              I wrote a bunch of stuff but decided not to get so personal with it, so let me just say that this idea, and the idea presented in that video, hurts me, but I am explicitly not asking you to stop promoting it.

            • Chris says:

              All art is subject to interpretation. There are countless instances in which the audience’s take on a book/painting/movie/etc is in fact opposed to the creator(s) own views of their artwork. Criticism is an entirely different element from art, and artists of every kind may embrace/use/avoid/condemn it, but criticism has no link at all with promotion.

              As an example, take the television show “The Wire”. The creators drew from their lives to tell a story. The show doesn’t pull any punches. Drug dealers are portrayed as human and sympathetic – but the show isn’t promoting drugs or the people who deal them. Police are shown to be both heroic and abhorrent – so the show isn’t promoting the police. Schools are shown to be filled with compassionate teachers and limited funding that ultimately harms the children in them – but the show isn’t actually promoting anything there either.
              All those five television-seasons do is shine a spotlight on real life in a locale – as written by writers, portrayed by actors, and it is left to the audience whether the material has any impact on their lives. Because that is the point of art, to show you something outside of your experience and encourage you to decide what effect, if any, it has upon you – and with how you engage the world around you.

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              What happened to neutrality?You are able to just present something without giving it praise or condemning it,you know.Its usually reserved for biographical stuff and news(or at least what used to be news back in the day when such a concept was a thing),but you can use neutrality as an art style in a fictional story as well.

              Unless you are saying that waiting for godot is giving praise to idle standing.

              • Alan says:

                Neutral speech never existed. The act of selecting of who we wrote biographies about, which stories we covered, the depth of coverage provided, and which aspects were focused on were all subjective decisions. That’s not a bad thing; there is too much to talk about and we need to make decisions about what to focus on. But pretending that our filtering decisions are neutral means we’re not really thinking about them. All too often that means reinforcing the status quo, for good or ill, because what is pervasive feels “neutral.”

                I meant “promote” in the sense of “to encourage the growth of,” as in “overuse of antibiotics promotes drug resistant bacteria.”

                • Wide And Nerdy says:

                  My problem with “everything is political” is that it gives people who like to make everything political an excuse.

                  To suppress criticism would be to suppress speech but I’d also like to be able to get through a day without hearing that the latest great video game is “problematic”. Seriously, I can’t think of a single video game lately that doesn’t have some kind of politically charged criticism. Even here where Shamus is pretty strict about that stuff

                  And I do not seek this stuff out. I avoid the places that I know are dedicated to that sort of thing but it bleeds into every gaming community. People here like to say it doesn’t have power but I cannot enjoy a game these days without being reminded of the grousing over the latest controversy regarding it, especially since a lot of it boils down to a handful of recurring complaints. And the thing is, I just know that these people are thinking “good, I want to undermine the fun of these games because I do not like them.”

                  We need better separation between the spheres, I don’t want to suppress speech but I want to be able to participate in a community that is free of this that isn’t also a troll pit, and that doesn’t seem to exist. Sometimes I just want to enjoy my games.

                  • Shamus says:

                    This is compounded by the fact that:
                    A) Most people are TERRIBLE at making persuasive political arguments. Writing something divisive that delights your team and enrages the other team is EASY. Making something that the opposition can respect is hard.
                    B) Even a good article will engender ugly responses. Jackasses will say horrible things in the comments, other people will respond in kind, and the whole thing goes to hell.

                    Which means I really hate when gaming sites get political, even when I agree with the position they espouse. They might say something I agree with, but in an ugly, self-rightous way that makes me cringe. And then the community is polarized and the discussion bleeds over into everything else. Suddenly unrelated comment threads have this undercurrent of, “You can’t trust this site, they have an agenda” whenever someone reads something they don’t like.

                    Want to be a good political writer? Read what the opposition says. No, I don’t mean read the strawmen quotes your side cherry-picks. I mean go to THEIR site, on THEIR home turf, and read what THEY say about YOU.

                    Does that make you crazy? Enrage you? Then you are not ready to have a civil discussion about politics. More importantly, you are not equipped to build an argument that will persuade. You’ll just be doing the talk radio thing: Throwing red meat to the faithful. It’s childish and it’s actually super-harmful to your cause.

                    There is a place for political discussion about games. But it should not be undertaken by people who don’t know what they’re doing, and shoved in the face of those who aren’t interested. That will always lead to disaster.

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      Does that make you crazy? Enrage you? Then you are not ready to have a civil discussion about politics.

                      Thats not quite true.It is possible to have a civil discussion even about stuff that drives you crazy and enrages you.You just need (a lot of) self control in order to present your side without mindless shouting and in order to simply walk away if you realize that you cannot express yourself coherently anymore.

                      Best example of this:Watch Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly when they talk to each other.Its clear how frustrating each of them makes the other,but they manage to just talk like good friends and walk away from one another without descending into mindless rage,even though it is clear in the end that they still havent resolved anything.

                  • Wide And Nerdy says:

                    Clarification on my above post. ” . . . I just know that SOME of these people are thinking that. . . “

            • Nidokoenig says:

              The jumping off point for this video is a pair of videos that depicted sexual assault without commentary and caused an uproar about how unacceptable this is. The video then seems to make the argument that mere depiction without commentary normalises what’s depicted. This is like showing an apple floating off into space and using it as a jumping off point to discuss the immutable laws of gravity.

              There are many acts which are normal in the sense that that shit happens every day. The problem is that those acts are done by a minority of serial offenders outside of the perception of the majority. Depicting assault, rape, hate crimes, and a myriad of other things are, by themselves, enough to produce revulsion in the majority and cause them to speak out, in their own authentic voice. This is precisely why the damsel in distress trope is so efficient.

              The idea that it has to be commentated and countered at the time of viewing shows a lack of faith in people to produce their own commentary on things they’re seeing at worst and an unhealthy desire to exercise control of the narrative and slant at worst, the latter of which is the red rag that starts the stampede.

              The idea that GTA, 50 Shades or Hatred have somehow failed if they don’t make clear the situations they depict aren’t ideal is a bit silly when a huge chunk of discussion about them centres on precisely that. No work exists in a vacuum and that applies just as much after its creation as during it. Sometimes you just get the Lego and have to build the castle yourself, that’s not wrong.

          • Mistwraithe says:

            Shamus’s point seems to be that many people (hopefully the majority) can watch or play a movie/videogame which promotes (to some degree) violence without the likelihood of them personally acting violently being at all affected. I certainly agree with that.

            However it is a spectrum and at the other end of the spectrum there are inevitably some people (hopefully very few) who would react to that same movie/videogame by becoming more violent.

            So there is a potential problem here which is worth discussing. Age guidelines are an attempt to partially address the problem by recognising that younger people (ie children) are more impressionable. Whether anything else should be done to address the problem really depends on the numbers for any particular movie/video game.

            Take a completely contrived and extreme example of a very violent videogame which was extremely interesting and thought provoking (albeit probably shocking) for 90% of people, and made the other 10% of players commit acts of assault or murder. I would without hesitation say that this fictional game should be banned, tough luck to the 90% who could have handled it.

            Fortunately there is no such game. But there are some games which are edging dangerously close to it such as Hatred.

            To state that we shouldn’t be allowed to have the debate because it might offend the 90% who are not impressionable seems foolish to me.

        • Syal says:

          Were the people who started making hate speech about Muslims already making hate speech about other people?

    • Ivan says:

      I can agree with your first two points but not your third. I fail to see what the point of “your” criticism is at all if you’re not calling for supervision or claiming that there are people out there who are too foolish to understand that maybe it’s not acceptable to behave this way in real life.

      You’re not criticizing anything at all and the mere idea that (X work of art promotes violence) is enough to set me off. This isn’t insecure fanboys lashing out at any criticism at all, I Have to agree with Shamus that unless you elaborate your point people are going to assume the worst and you are going to set people off for no good reason. I mean hell, video games are constantly being attacked by this very statement on the news and other popular media outlets, and their conclusion is very often censorship. Even Harry Potter books could scarcely come out without groups organizing to get as many of them as they could off the shelves because they “promote witchcraft”.

      If you want to try to make point 3, then you have to make it expressly clear that you are also promoting censorship.

      • Alan says:

        The discussion itself can be important as it takes messages we often absorb without thought and challenges them. And the information and consideration can be valuable not because I want to stop you from choosing to consume it, but because I want to not consume it. Perhaps also I want to convince you to not consume it; in a world of pervasive advertising I hardly feel like a censor in doing so and more than someone who says Murder Hoboes III is bad because the camera renders it unplayable is trying to censor MH3 Asking critics to treat the fans of things they criticize with kid gloves because the fans will interpret it as a call for censorship seems more insulting to those fans than anything I’ve suggested.

        It’s not that “those people over there are gullible and easily swayed.” It that everyone, myself included, is swayed by the culture that surrounds us. If we want to change who we are, we should try to change our culture. And our culture is (in part) the accumulation of all of our art. So encouraging people to consume different art and to make different art is going to be part of that.

        As for poor video games, while you weren’t paying attention We Won. The mainstream media has too many fans of video games. Sure, the appearance of a war is going to linger for a while because it gets ratings, especially with the increasingly old audience for traditional news media. No one is coming to take our games away. For the foreseeable future video games are safe. If someone calls for censorship, absolutely criticize them! But this is not an existential battle for video game freedom.

        • Shamus says:

          “It that everyone, myself included, is swayed by the culture that surrounds us.”

          This is just the sort of thing I was talking about when I said you have to make a #3 type of argument very carefully. You have to make sure to include yourself as a human being, make sure to include yourself as a member of the culture you’re criticizing, and make it clear you’re not suggesting that people who enjoy this art are automatically villains.

          The problem is that for every reasonable person saying, “We should be careful what messages we expose ourselves to” (perfectly reasonable) there is someone else saying, “THOSE feral gamers and THEIR videogames are turning THEM into awful people!” And the language used is often very similar. And the latter tends to piss people off a lot. And so people are already primed for a fight when the topic comes up.

          Also, it’s important to leave room for the guy who says, “Yeah, this game has me gunning down Brown People for hours. But I don’t have anything against Brown People, I recognize the game for what it is, I really enjoy this gameplay, and I’d like to enjoy it without being called a Nazi. Thanks.”

          • Shamus says:

            I should add:

            Naturally, even when you make a compassionate, empathetic, intelligent critique on something, you’ll still get angry ankle-biting assholes showing up and telling you that you’re ruining their culture. Sometimes they’re just people that have been pissed off by too much condemnation. And sometimes they’re just jerks.

            • Wide And Nerdy says:

              I think thats worth keeping in mind when you’re dealing with anyone in these types of discussions. If you get a strong backlash against a calmly worded reasonable point, consider the possibility that people have encountered some variation of your point before, perhaps not as carefully worded, and thus it already carries some baggage for them. I had a reaction like that elsewhere in this comment section.

            • Benjamin Hilton says:

              So to sum up: The reasonable people in each group get mad at the jerks on the other side, and everyone gets drawn in until you can’t tell either position has reasonable people.

        • Ivan says:

          After my first post I thought about it some more and realized that 100% of my problem is with the use of the word “promotes”. I absolutely agree that any sort of media we consume should be analyzed and criticized and that culture won’t change unless we openly talk about these things. I don’t encourage censorship in any form, not of art, and not of art critics.

          I do believe though that by saying “X promotes Y” you are not simply saying “let’s discuss Y” what your saying is that “X has an agenda and it wants to see Y happen for reals”. Promoting means that X is actively supporting or actively trying to achieve something. Promoting violence is saying that violence is cool and you should have more of it in your real life. If however you were to say that “X glorifies Y” it would be a completely different story. Glorifying violence is like the game saying “hey, violence is cool, lets do violence together”. If you want to talk about games or anything glorifying violence and how that’s bad then I’ll be right there to support you, but if you want to talk about games promoting violence then what I’ll hear is “games are actually trying to make people more violent in their real lives”. Maybe I’m completely wrong for hearing that, maybe I’m just too used to games being demonized by the popular media. Maybe the word “promoting” has just become a sort of Taboo word for video games, and I can absolutely understand not wanting to respect Taboos, they’re far more harmful than they’re worth. But then again, the dictionary supports my definition of the word “promote” so even if there are Taboos you don’t have to be aware of them and the culture surrounding them to come to the same conclusion I have.

          • Alan says:

            I, as hypothetical critic, am not saying, “Let’s talk about Y.” I’m saying “X contributes to the growth of Y.”

            As for the word “promotes,” I’ll think on it, but it seems an apt word. One of its definitons is literally “to contribute to the growth…of”[1] and is regularly used that way professionally.[2][3] But if I’m failing to communicate my intent, maybe it has to go. For what it’s worth, if you run into it in other social criticism, this is the likely intended meaning.

            [1] http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/promote
            [2] “This ease of getting antibiotics coupled with poor sanitation promotes bacteria growth….” http://health.usnews.com/health-news/news/articles/2012/06/21/rare-drug-resistant-bacteria-spotted-in-us-hospital
            [3] “the protein transformation that promotes cancer progression” http://healthnews.uc.edu/news/?/26179/

            • Ivan says:

              Ah I wasn’t aware of that use, and saying something like “video games contribute to the growth of (say) a culture of violence” does sound much more reasonable than the way I’m used to using the word. It definitely sounds like it’s used this way most often in an academic setting so maybe my expectations were part of the problem. Then again, where video games are concerned your audience is not necessarily going to have an academic background.

          • Zukhramm says:

            “Promote”, doesn’t have to imply intentional promotion. Also, there’s a huge difference for me when this is coming from people who actually write about games and not from other media or rogue lawyers looking to ban things.

      • Ivan says:

        I forgot a “not”…

        “If you want to try to make point 3, then you have to make it expressly clear that you are not also promoting censorship.”

    • Zak McKracken says:

      The problem with number 3 is this: Whoever makes that statement assumes they understand “the message” and that there is only one message, and that anybody who does not consciously understand it probably gets it subconsciously and may start acting it out eventually.

      There is a huge difference between saying “This game says X to me, which makes me uncomfortable/seems complete bonkers/is a terrible thing to say”, and going “This means X, therefore it is bad”.

      The thing with art and art-like expressions (because not all games are art, or at least artful) is that they mean different things to different people. If you criticise a game because of its message, you must recognize that this message will look completely different for people of different ages, walks of life, political, economical, social, cultural… backgrounds. If a critic fails to do that, the criticism is invalid.

    • I think you meant that those messages AFFECT how people think. Freudian slip, there?

      Shamus has phrased Form 3 in a very benign way here. The actual wording of Form 3 should be more along the lines of:

      “Batman teaches people to solve their problems with violence”.

      And it’s usually placed as an intro to an article with one of the following explicit calls to action:

      1. Don’t let your kids play this game. If you do, you’re a terrible person and should be picked up by CPS for child abuse.
      2. Tell the industry that it’s not okay to make this kind of game.
      3. Tell your retailer to take this game off their shelves.
      4. Things like this are contributing to the moral degeneracy of the culture.

      So, yeah, it is POSSIBLE that you could say the one without any of those calls to action, but in my experience it almost never happens that people who actually believe that art can drive people’s actions (even in so sloppy a way as “promoting” certain things) are okay with that kind of art simply existing.

      Art also doesn’t “send a message”. A message is concretes distilled into an abstraction for ready communication. Art is actually the opposite of this–it’s abstractions turned into selective concretes so that the reader/viewer/whatever can experience them directly, first-hand. It is so powerful precisely because understanding the art means carrying out this process of concretization for oneself–not being told a conclusion, but recreating the conclusion yourself from the material you’re given.

  5. Zukhramm says:

    I don’t see it. I don’t see how #3 makes any implications about fans’ ability to discern fact from fiction. If someone has that opinion, they should be allowed to say it, and if people decide to misinterpret it and attack them for it, it’s not their fault for not putting a large enough number of disclaimers around their words.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      I disagree.

      If you don’t recognize that something you say is just an interpretation of the thing you’re talking about, and that probably everyone who likes that thing has a completely different interpretation of it, you are implicitly telling people what they are thinking.

      I will never ever watch or read 50 shades, and I don’t comprehend why anyone would. I do think what I know about the plot sends a terrible message, but Shamus is entirely correct in stating that the people who do like the book very probably read it in a different way — what they see in the book is not the same thing that I hate about it. And there is no way to decide whose interpretation is “correct”: It is to you whatever it appears to you.

      • Zukhramm says:

        I don’t know where I said people shouldn’t recognize that thwir interpretations are interpretations.

        • Zak McKracken says:

          I took this to mean exactly that:
          “if people decide to misinterpret it and attack them for it, it’s not their fault for not putting a large enough number of disclaimers around their words.”
          (and now realize I got wrong whose fault “their” meant…)

          I think most “controversies” about games (and not just games) could be avoided or at least tuned down a few notches if people accepted that what they think “the message” is, is not what other think it is. If I say things like “playing T in Counterstrike teaches kids to be terrorists”, then I’m stating opinion as if it was a fact.
          I am also implying that this statement was true, independent of whether someone else is taking something entirely different away from the game. So, whenever I interpret something, I need to make clear that it’s an interpretation, as an insurance against having misinterpreted it, in order to avoid sounding like I’m telling people what they should think, and also in order to avoid sounding as if I truly believed that there was only one valid way of perception.

          … all of which would make me sound something between patronizing, preachy and completely stupid, which you should try to avoid when criticizing something that other people love to do.

          That doesn’t really require loads of disclaimers (I hate fine print). A simple “it makes me feel as if” or “I don’t like that the game makes me do X” will do it.
          That’s actually a good habit in any controversial debate: Throwing in a “I think” or “in my view” every once so often can work wonders with the audience, in addition to making the speaker aware that they, too, only see a slice of reality.

  6. Grimwear says:

    I realize that Shamus is focussing on the “50 Shades of Grey promotes unhealthy relationships” critics and I agree with him on that but the problem I feel is that with the Batman games, Batman Violence is a videogame version of real violence (as in punches and kicks are not confused with some other thing). The relevant critique that I find is not that 50 shades portrays an abusive relationship (which it does) but rather that it calls itself a BDSM relationship and thereby associates BDSM relationships as abusive relationships. I know it’s not really the aspect that he focuses on in the article but I don’t feel right comparing Batman to 50 Shades. It would be like if Batman ran around playing Red Rover with criminals. Are you running around hitting bad guys? Maybe but it’s all in good fun with both parties agreeing not vigilantism. And the danger is that people who don’t really know what Red Rover is start calling that vigilantism and thereby give Red Rover a bad name. I like to believe the anger towards 50 shades comes more from people seeing something they enjoy called something that it clearly isn’t as opposed to them calling people who may fantasize about that stuff idiots who don’t know how to differentiate between real and imaginary.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I think its justified here because people having a BDSM relationship are acting it out to fantasize about the real thing. So the book makes it a “real” abusive relationship because people into BDSM aren’t picking up a book like this to fantasize about other fictional people roleplaying a BDSM scenario. That’s weaksauce. They want to fantasize about the real thing so the book presents the “real” thing, with all the trappings of escapist fantasy (rich hunky billionaire who somehow can leave his company unmanaged for long stretches for long fantasy scenarios)

      • Akri says:

        First, BDSM is not about abuse fantasy. It can be that, but there are so many other things involved that saying “people having a BDSM relationship are acting it out to fantasize about the real thing” is generally going to be false.

        Second, people in BDSM relationships aren’t the main audience for these books. There are people who read the books and then decide to try a BDSM relationship (hopefully doing some research beforehand and not just trying to replicate scenes from the books) but there is not a lot of love for these books from existing BDSM practitioners. If anything people who are into BDSM criticize the books heavily for conflating BDSM and abuse, and for simply being wrong about so many aspects of the lifestyle.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          Ok to be more clear.

          People in BDSM relationships or who have fantasy of this kind of abuse have limits, safe words and such. But they do that so that they can play out scenarios that they can pretend do not have limits. When they’re reading a book, they don’t want to read about a couple pretended or set boundaries or was safe and responsible anymore than people watching an action movie want to see a movie about a protagonist being safe and carefully observing all the traffic laws. We like stories about breaking the rules and engaging in dangerous and risky behavior.

    • Zak McKracken says:

      Doesn’t that come down to very similar things?

      In both cases, the wrong thing to do is to assume that you have understood the one true meaning of something, and then base everything else on that.

      Then, independent of this problem, there are valid ways of criticizing both Arkham Asylum and 50 shades, because I’m certain they both have flaws. 50 shades very probably misrepresents BDSM, and AA very probably misrepresents a bunch of other things … both of which are fine to a point, but only to a point:

      If one thing is misrepresented in the overwhelming majority of available media on the topic, that’s when I start to become upset. In the 80’s all gays in movies were either comic relief characters or were acting incredibly … gay-ish, or both. That did a lot of real, actual damage, and while most individual occurrences could have been justified, the whole thing was unambiguously sending a message. This sort of thing actually does make for a good argument against some of the respective works.

      • Nidokoenig says:

        I’ll take being visible and mocked over hidden and hated any day. Even if it’s a horrible stereotype, the flamboyant gay stereotype made us visible and known to the general population in a non-threatening way, and things got consistently better alongside those depictions, running from the 50s-60s to the present. It made us a topic of conversation and gave straight people some context that eased coming out, and we wouldn’t have gotten such widespread and casual exposure if there were tight rules and expectations about how we could be portrayed. Besides which, someone has to say something wrong before they can be corrected, we can’t expect everyone to know everything about us from the off because we just don’t have the numbers for it.

        Besides which, it’s difficult to represent a character as gay without using stereotypes or explicitly bringing up trouser furniture preferences. Chewbacca could be gay, we don’t know because there’s never been a reason to reveal that information.

        50 shades doesn’t have to be perfect to create visibility, and there’s enough chatter about how imperfect it is for people to be aware of that even if they don’t work it out for themselves. It’s starts a conversation that adults should be more open about.

        • Zak McKracken says:

          That was … incredibly insightful. Thanks.
          My opinion comes from people I know who absolutely hate being put into that corner. But then you’re right: What movies did in the 80s was probably the only “safe” way they knew of bringing up the topic without triggering much worse reactions. Never thought about it that way.

      • Zak McKracken says:

        Since Nido mostly invalidated my example:
        If 50 shades was the only thing that dealt with BDSM I would agree that it’s important not to misrepresent the important bits. But it’s not.

        I think we have to live with the fact that works of fiction will always misrepresent or simplify some aspects of real life which may be very important to one person or another. There’s just no way to get around that, and I have my favourite “they got it completely wrong, this is crap!” movies, too. There are a lot of “the world according to movies” lists out there, which are hilarious to read.

        However: Whenever something is misrepresented in a movie, it might be for a number of reasons:
        1: The writers didn’t care because it was not central to the issue, so it just came out whichever way
        2: They needed to skew reality a bit so the important bits of the story worked
        3: They wanted to consciously show something that wasn’t as everyone expected it to be
        4: They have a skewed view of the world which carried over into the product
        5: They have an agenda and twisted the story in order to demonstrate to the audience that X is a good/bad thing

        1-3 are minor quibbles. These things will happen. The more of them a work accumulates the worse its quality, but every piece will have some.
        4 and 5 are for me valid points to reject a piece. However, they are rather hard to prove, because everyone’s view of the world is skewed to some degree in some direction, and 5 only really applies if the writer changed the laws of physics in order to prove a point that is objectively false.
        4, as I said is always present, and I think must be tolerated to some extent, but there is of course a limit (which again is a matter of personal opinion).

        What this means: If you allege a piece to be guilty of 4 or 5 you can’t just state it, you must show plausibly that the writers deliberately did something in order to drive the audience to a certain false conclusion rather than present something in ambiguous terms. => What Chris does. You can’t say “this game encourages violence” without explaining why you think it does so. The same goes for 50 shades (which I know next to nothing about) — does it misrepresent things in order to make the story more interesting, or because maybe the author had no idea, or because the thing is actually set up to lure unsuspecting women into abusive relationships? Whoever wants to claim the latter also has to bring the supporting evidence to the discussion.

        … and that’s what I understood Shamus’ column is trying to tell us.

        • Richard says:

          50 Shades definitely describes an extremely abusive relationship.

          In itself, that is not a bad thing. There are many excellent works about murder, genocide and other things that we can agree are despicable.

          The problem I have with 50 Shades is that the author’s “voice” is strongly approving of the abuse, and is saying that said abuse is what should happen in the real world.

          It’s not “Look at this despicable fictional person”, or “These characters are in a bad situation” or another form of “This is a poor way to behave”.
          It’s not a caricature or exaggeration, like in many computer games (eg Batman)
          It’s not even a resigned “This is how things are sometimes”.

          The authorial voice is “This is how things should be and I wish they were!”

          Now that might be at least partially due to ineptitude. I don’t consider this to be a well-written book, and it’s possible that the author was simply unable to project their real voice.

          However, I suspect that the real issue with 50 Shades is probably:

          6. The writer(s) have no idea whatsoever about the subject, yet think they have a full understanding and so do not research it.

          • Zak McKracken says:

            Yeah, 6 is an important one :)

            On whether 50 shades really says what you say it does to the majority of the audience, I could not say, nor will I force myself to endure it in order to answer the question. If it does, then I agree that this is very valid and serious criticism, but showing that it does is not as easy as saying “I read it, and it does” but would require some more deconstruction. And even then, a large part of the audience may feel different about it, in which case the argument would become difficult. If most people do not get what you think the message is, then can there still definitely said to be a message?

            Case in point: Starship troopers. Most people I saw the movie with thought it was a cool action movie and that the good guys had won. I left the cinema thinking that the bad guys had won, but the director hadn’t really understood the story. A while later I learned that this was close to the tone in the book: It was supposed to be subtle, and the director actually did a good job of transporting that onto film. There is still debate around this, though.
            … but then, if most of the audience goes away thinking that fascism is cool, is there anything objective left to say about the movie’s message? I’m beginning to think that 50 shades may be a similar thing, except I’m very willing to believe that it’s not because the author overestimated the audience’s abilities but rather just never managed to set the tone right, so different parts of the audience fill in different ideas about what everything means in order to make sense of it.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    What you said is all well and good.But the point still stands that 50 shades is not a good book even when you disregard the message.In arkham asylum and city,the characters are 3 dimensional,you can easily understand their emotions and motivations.In 50 shades,the characters are 1 dimensional projections of 2 dimensional cardboard cutouts.

    • Thomas says:

      The character in the Batman games are 2 dimensional at best. They have one super obvious character motivation, and then possibly a second complexity to that motivation.

      That’s not a criticism of the games, but just to put it back in perspective. They’re great games and I think the love of them makes people want to argue they’re deep in every direction, but the characters are definitely not more fleshed out than any pulp airport novel. We’re not talking Anna Karenina or To Kill a Mockingbird here.

      Which is fine because comicbook characters are often more archetypes than fleshed out people. It was what the games were going for.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      How is your subjective opinion of the relative quality of the two works in any way relevant to the argument at hand?

  8. Chauzuvoy says:

    I respectfully disagree. I think there’s a difference between “Shoot Guy 3000 is going to make our kids into murderers” and “Shoot Guy 3000 promotes/glorifies violence.” The first does come from a very insulting self-righteous place where everyone else is a moron, but the second version is about what sort of ideas are present in the game. It’s a much stronger statement than “The violence in Shoot Guy 3000 made me uncomfortable” and more focused on the game than “Shoot Guy 3000 reminded me about violence in the real world,” but it’s not saying that the audience is dumb or that the presence of those ideas in the game are directly responsible for violent actions in reality.

    Chris’ video about politics and games talks about how (to paraphrase), because games (or other art) are cultural artifacts, then intentionally or not they reflect cultural/political values and ideas. Because game design or painting or whatever art form are acts of selective inclusion, it’s worthwhile to look at the effect of each inclusion on the whole and what sort of message it sends by their inclusion. Having a thematic or cultural critique of a game doesn’t necessarily imply that the audience is bad people for liking it. As you said, they’re likely getting something else out of it, or just not dealing with it on that level. But if you enjoy Civilization as a deep strategy game, and don’t care about the representation of history, that doesn’t make the uncomfortable political or cultural messages of it irrelevant or valueless, just like liking something that contains uncomfortable or unsavory political or cultural ideas doesn’t make you a bad person or mean that you believe those ideas.

    Of course, this being the internet (or perhaps, this being humanity) you do have self-righteous moral guardians who do use that sort of thematic criticism to build up their sense of moral superiority over the audience. I’m not saying that it isn’t used in that way, just that it’s possible to make strong statements about the thematic or political content underpinning a game or book or whatever without implying that the people who like it are “part of the problem” or “contributing to societal decline” or whatever the current buzzword is for “stupid meanie jerks who should just pay attention to me!”

  9. Bloodsquirrel says:

    50 Shades of Gray is porn, pure and simple. That it isn’t more of a realistic representation of real relationships than Giant Boner Sex IV: The Porkening shouldn’t surprise anyone.

    • Deoxy says:

      Ah, but it’s porn FOR WOMEN, so it’s OK.

      Yes, that’s completely ridiculous, but it’s also absolutely the norm in our society today, on a great many topics.

      Go to Wal-mart and look for porn. You won’t find it. Now look for “romance novels”, and you’ll find them not even hidden from kids view – a great many of those are just porn for women. Women’s magazines are the same.

      Lying to the court is bad… unless you are a woman in family court, where false accusations of abuse are a DAILY occurrence (a fact which no one involves even bothers to deny), and they are essentially NEVER prosecuted.

      I could go on. Double-standards are alive and well, it’s just that most of them point the other way these days. (Same thing for racism in the US, actually.)

      • Shamus says:

        Woah! Look, this is ALREADY a super-touchy subject. Can we not casually throw sexism AND racism into the mix?

        One flamewar at a time, thanks.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Blah blah politician in power yadda yadda opposing party.There,the holy trifecta is complete.

        • Deoxy says:

          Your place, your rules… and I love your place, so I’ll do my best to abide by them.

          However, I definitely did not bring up sexism – that’s been a recurring theme in the comments DAYS before I even read this column.

      • Chris says:

        Porn movies for guys are more plentiful and did in fact exist in theaters at one point, back in the 70s. Now you can use the internet to stream an uncountable amount directly into your computer, often at cheaper prices per movie than the cost of a theater ticket. And if the movie does well, it might encourage Hollywood that porn sells, and they’ll make some for guys too.

        Romance novels exist in Walmart. Maxim exists in gas stations. That likely has more to do with what-sells-best-where, because if Walmart could make money on it, then it would be on shelves.

        Women lie in court and use our system against men. Women also still get paid less than men. Ours is an imperfect universe. Not taking a stance on it, I agree that men should have more rights when facing off against a woman in court then they often do, especially in regards to access to their children. But it is an odd change of topic from porn, I have to admit.

        • Deoxy says:

          Women also still get paid less than men.

          Assuming you mean “for the same job”, that’s simply not true, and has been demonstrably not true for at least a decade. In fact, a few years ago, young (under 30) childless women were shown to be making MORE than men for the same job… which was, of course, celebrated as a good thing, when it’s just as bad as the opposite.

          Women DO get paid less, as a group. They also put in fewer hours at work, as a group. They also put in fewer hours at work per employed (that is, leave out the stay at home, etc). They also work in significantly less dangerous fields, as a group. They also take significantly more years off from their careers, as a group.

          This is a huge discussion, and I will respect Shamus’ rules as best I can by stopping here, but the core claim being made by that statement is factually unsupported, which is to say FALSE.

          • Abnaxis says:

            Alright, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be deleted or not. If it’s not going to, though, I just can’t let it stand.

            What you are espousing here, is the sort of bullshit statistical sophistry that make people not trust statistics, even though conclusions drawn from a properly posited and tested hypothesis, using proper scientific heuristics, should be more trustworthy than any other source of information.

            Specifically, you are cherry-picking a sub-sample consisting of one of least-disadvantaged minorities of women (women lose about 5 cents on the dollar per child) versus a highly-disadvantaged minority of men (having a family actually increases men’s earnings). You then draw the false conclusion that this means both sexes are equal in the workplace, even though your sub-sample is only a small non-representative proportion of the population at large. You are taking a statistic that clearly and unambiguously shows a primary source of prejudice against both sexes, and misapplying it to conclude that the inequality doesn’t exist.

            You’re right, we’ve known for years (decades, actually) that women who don’t want to be spinsters make less than men and work fewer hours, because they’re expected to be homemakers whether they have a career or not. We have also known for decades that men who are considered providers for their family are seen by employers as more dependable, receive more economic opportunity, and are paid more. That’s the problem.

            • Shamus says:

              I hate this argument because EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. blunders into it like they have never ever seen this exchange before. Has Chris never seen someone challenge the idea of “women make less than men”? Has Deoxy never seen the “your numbers are bogus and my numbers are science” retort? Does Abnaxis think that retort won’t just get turned around with, “No, YOUR numbers are bogus!”

              We’ve all been around on this merry-go-around hundreds of times. If you’re having this argument, then you’ve SEEN this argument. You know how it ends. You think you’re going to get a different result this time?

              This is also why moderation gets a little tricky sometimes. I knew as soon as I saw Chris’ comment that it was going to set someone off. But I don’t want to kill an entire comment because of one off-handed remark. But if I’m going to let that stand, then it’s only fair that I let Deoxy reply. But if I allow that then I need to let people rebut him. And so on. And then politics. And then I have to ride this merry-go-around with the rest of you masochists.

              Sorry for the rant. Needless to say, this discussion is closed.

              • Abnaxis says:

                I understand your frustration. Frankly, I would’ve preferred if the comments from Chris-down, including mine, were nixxed. But I get that you can’t do that out-of-hand without “you’re suppressing people you don’t agree with!” accusations flying around, or tossing out benign commentary with the inflammatory.

                I promise I read Deoxy’s comment. I left it for a day, came back, counted to ten…but if it isn’t going to be deleted, I couldn’t let it stand for the rest of internet time without an answer. There are already too many places on the internet for one side to make an argument that is never substantively questioned, no matter what your political flavor is.

                For the record, I actually would be interested in the retort, because the pure arithmetic of Deoxy’s argument isn’t actually bogus. Maybe I haven’t spent enough time on social media, but I haven’t actually seen the argument from that angle. People usually just blithely shout numbers at each other, gathered from different sources which may or may not be biased.

                I didn’t really expect it to get that far though, for exactly the reasons you describe.

                • Deoxy says:

                  For Shamus’ sake, I will make this as brief and emotionless as I can, since you expressed interest in actual discussion (rare on this topic – thank you):

                  Specifically, you are cherry-picking a sub-sample consisting of one of least-disadvantaged minorities of women (women lose about 5 cents on the dollar per child) versus a highly-disadvantaged minority of men (having a family actually increases men’s earnings).

                  Of course I am – that is the absolute closest thing we have to a “control group”. I do not contest the facts underlying your parenthetical points, but I would say you have cause and effect backwards.

                  You’re right, we’ve known for years (decades, actually) that women who don’t want to be spinsters make less than men and work fewer hours, because they’re expected to be homemakers whether they have a career or not. We have also known for decades that men who are considered providers for their family are seen by employers as more dependable, receive more economic opportunity, and are paid more. That’s the problem.

                  Again, I don’t contest the basics here, except to point out that men with families are not “seen by employers as more dependable” – statistically, they are more dependable and put in more hours. As women (as a group) prioritize care for their children, men (as a group) prioritize providing resources (money) for their children. This leads to significant disparities in who takes time off from work when and for what.

                  An utterly dispassionate, sexless employer (say, an alien) that paid entirely by merit (including productivity and reliability) would end up paying men more than women, statistically speaking, especially the “provider” men, as those are the workers who put in the most hours and are the most reliable (as a group, of course – every individual is individual), as they have the highest incentive/internal desire to increase their financial status. That is, they provide the employer with the most value, so they are paid the most.

                  This is basic economics. Rail against biology, if you like, but don’t blame the employers for entirely rational behaviour.

                  Even NOW and other such groups have admitted publicly (though quietly) that personal choices and disparity in work hours, etc, leave AT MOST $.05 on the dollar unexplained. (Don’t take my word for it – really, go look it up.)

                  Go look at the breakdown of risk of death and injury in the workplace and see how THAT breaks down – that seems to be something much more worthy of anger at unequal treatment than less than 5 cents on the dollar (and if the closest thing we have to a control group is any indication, it may well be that the disparity goes the other way, here, as well).

                  Maybe I haven’t spent enough time on social media, but I haven’t actually seen the argument from that angle.

                  At the risk of sounding insulting and/or condescending, this is the ONLY angle I’ve seen it discussed from in any serious discussion.

                  The raw facts, that women are paid less than men, aren’t in dispute at all, and that’s if you leave out how many women (compared to men) don’t work at all – that’s a whole different discussion, as some women do it by necessity (if you have 3 children and no particularly high-value skills, working outside the home makes no financial sense), but a significant number of women do so by choice, a choice a great many men would LOVE to have.

                  OK, I almost erased that last bit, as it might be a little off-topic and/or preachy, but I will leave it to illustrate just one of the many MANY ways the comparison between men and women in the workplace is inherently difficult. Men and women have different pressures and expectations AND different desires and priorities, broadly speaking. To pick only one side as the one that is being mistreated is essentially begging the question.

                  • Abnaxis says:

                    I was going to do my best to scrub any of my opinion from this post, but we’re already on the third page of blog posts anyway so I’m going to go ahead an be a little subjective in what I say. Instead, I’ll start with the substantive stuff, then give a nice big warning before I veer into my opinion so you can skip it since you didn’t solicit me for my logic as I did you ;)

                    At the risk of sounding insulting and/or condescending, this is the ONLY angle I’ve seen it discussed from in any serious discussion.

                    What I usually see, is people presenting the data cut up in different ways, and the audience is left to intuit the logic they are using to reach their conclusions as self evident. It’s like the underpants gnomes–you show me “Step 1: UNDERPANTS” (childless men versus childless women show a much smaller earning gap), you put a big “Step 2: ????” in between, and then you jump to “Step 3: PROFIT” (The gender gap is primarily attributable to differences in performance between the sexes) without laying out the rules linking the predicate and conclusion.

                    Problem is, people are TERRIBLE at making justifiable conclusions from statistics based on intuition. That middle step is important, which brings me to my point about hasty generalizations…

                    Of course I am – that is the absolute closest thing we have to a “control group”.

                    This is very, very, very bad, and very, very, very wrong. “Control” versus “treatment” is an analytical trick used for tightly controlled experiments, where subjects are meticulously sampled and subjected to a tightly controlled set of stimuli, all while working very hard to ensure that any confounding effect outside of the treatment of interest is not screwing with your analysis. It is absolutely, objectively, 100% wrong to apply that paradigm to observational data like the surveys we are both citing.

                    You can see a plain example of why this is the case from the data for men. Childless men work more hours, are more inclined to take calculated risks, and are more dependable than men who have children, but men with children make more money. Clearly, there are societal forces at work beyond the value of labor workers deliver to employers, but your interpretation relies on an underlying assumption that all such confounding variable have been controlled out. They haven’t been–childless men take a penalty to earnings which overshadows their greater productivity as workers, and this creates a downward bias on the gap between childless men and childless women that doesn’t exist in the population your are generalizing to.

                    If you want to make conclusions about a group of people using observational data, you MUST use a representative sample of the group you are studying–i.e., you can’t make a generalization to all people like “the gender gap would disappear if all women worked more hours instead of just childless women working more hours,” based on a subset that only includes childless people as a “control”. If you don’t, any measurements you take will be biased and any conclusions you make will be fallacious.

                    I do not contest the facts underlying your parenthetical points, but I would say you have cause and effect backwards.

                    I’ll admit my language inappropriately implied causation when I shouldn’t have, and didn’t mean to. Mea culpa.

                    Looking at the issue from a standpoint of “this is causing gender stratification” is not only stretching the available data beyond what it can justify (causation can generally only be proven through controlled experiments, which are difficult to do regarding social constructs without running afoul of some serious ethical issues), it’s also putting the cart well before the horse. The first step in solving any problem–whether it’s an engineering problem or a societal problem–is determining the presence and extent of the problem itself. I don’t need causation to show that there is a problem–if a house burns down, I don’t need to know how the fire started to assess the damage, I only need to diagnose the cause when I’m interested in preventing similar fires in the future.

                    Forgive me if I am putting word in your mouth, but the presence/absence of a problem is what we are debating–I hold that the United States has significant gender discrimination issues regarding women in the workplace, while you hold that the current environment is not unreasonably discriminatory towards women, especially within the context of gender discrimination against men in other institutions.

                    So, without any implication as to what is who’s fault, I would make the following assertions based on what we know*: Women overwhelmingly feel like the obligated party for taking care of domestic issues; regardless of occupational status, if they don’t take care of the household no one will. As a group, women would rather not have to bear this responsibility alone, but feel like they have to. Women with children make less than those without, while the opposite is true (albeit to a lesser degree) for men, making the correlation between productivity and earnings is flipped between the sexes. There is a high stigma attached to anyone from both sexes if they voluntarily abstain from having children–and the stigma is more severe for women than it is for men, though lately the stigma has been dropping quite precipitously (it’s still big, though). Finally, both men or women who dedicate their time to domestic issues don’t make money doing housework, don’t acquire occupational prestige, have less influence on the economy and corporate culture at large, and command less social capital as a group.

                    That’s all the substantive stuff. My (admittedly subjective) conclusions:

                    The data shows we have a problem. Women face pressure (some biological, some sociological) to have offspring, pressure to forego career concerns when they have offspring, resent being put under those pressures, are penalized when they give in to that pressure. Men, on the other hand, also have the pressure from society and biology (to a lesser degree) to have children, but are rewarded with higher earnings for acquiescing. Regardless of the “why,” I don’t like living in a society where this is the case.

                    So, to your dispassionate alien overlords….this is the place where I make statements that will earn me enemies on BOTH sides of the debate:

                    See, most of the debates I have seen regarding social justice issues, especially lately, have been couched in terms of economic benefit to companies, employees, and taxpayers. I think this is because libertarian arguments largely rely on decently established economic principles to make their points, and liberal arguments do their damnedest to counteract them on the same grounds. So, you see all these numbers on return on investment for raising living conditions for the poor, investing in a robust public education system, etc, etc…

                    Now, I wouldn’t say those benefits are non-existent, but I would say that as a rule you will never get back as many dollars as you put in, if your aim is to increase social equality. A million dollars spent on a universal education system will never result in a million dollar increase in earnings, a million dollar budget for a welfare program will never result in a million dollar saving on cost of services for everyone else.

                    If your hypothetical alien existed, he wouldn’t stop at hiring practices for men versus women. After all, he could make a similar argument for segregated services. Black people spend less money than white people, so why should both races have equal access to services? It’s more economically efficient to allocate resources to each group of people according to their ability and willingness to pay for them, so you can maximize profits and minimize costs through specialization. By the same token, handicapped accessibility requirements would be out of the window. Do you know how much it costs for all those ramps and elevators–which have to be installed EVERYWHERE–yet only, what, 3-4% of the population actually needs them? That’s money down the toilet. Also, while we’re optimizing the enfeebled, let’s talk about euthanasia–do you know how many people there are that are consuming vastly more resources than they’re producing? Why keep them around?

                    The point I’m getting at, is that there are a lot of privileges our society affords us which we take for granted, that are inherently economically inefficient. This is why debates around these issues are so heated–you can only make optimize an inherently inefficient system so much before you start cutting into the inefficiencies people actually wanted.

                    The economy run by aliens would look utterly unrecognizable because we willingly inflict inefficiency on ourselves every day for feelsies. It feels better to not take grandma out back and shoot her as soon as she’s outlived her usefulness. I like living in a world where that does not happen, and fortunately enough people agree with me so that’s the world we have despite ballooning end-of-life medical costs.

                    If I have a daughter, I don’t want her to have to chose between work and home, I want her to have both available to her like I do. However we might hypothetically make that happen, it is going to make the market less efficient. That’s okay, the market is getting pretty damn efficient in other places these days. Hell, I have personally reduced the labor force by hundreds of jobs through automation that costs less and works better than it’s human precursors. I am A-OK burning some of that efficiency to make the world more equitable.

                    ((An aside for your the “men don’t have a choice either” aside, I would say that: First, I would rather there not be a stigma for men who would prefer to stay at home either, reducing that stigma isn’t mutually exclusive to promoting equality in the workplace, and from my experience the people who acknowledge injustices on both sides of the gender divide outnumber the people who only acknowledge one side. Second, in spite of what I just said, I would posit that there is a distinction between facing a stigma when you give up power, money, and prestige (anyone gives up these things when they forego a career) and facing a stigma (which childless women do) as a prerequisite for acquiring power, money, and prestige. So yeah, it’s unfair and I don’t want it to be unfair, but it’s low on my priority of injustices to solve. Heck, even if I were to focus solely on institutional injustice against men, let’s look at the criminal justice system and instances of workplace discrimination before we make it easier for men to commit career suicide, eh?))

                    *If you want citations I guess I could Google around, but I’m much worse at remembering where I read something versus what I read, and I don’t have access to JSTOR like I did when I read these studies…

                    • Deoxy says:

                      First, this:

                      *If you want citations I guess I could Google around, but I’m much worse at remembering where I read something versus what I read, and I don’t have access to JSTOR like I did when I read these studies…

                      I am the same: I internalize the knowledge without keeping the reference. This makes debates difficult to properly make references for, so I sympathize.

                      We have some points of disagreement (obviously), but there are many underlying points we seem to agree on. Thank you for taking the time to go through all of that. We really ought to take this to some other forum, because keeping it going here seems, well, inefficient (ha ha). Anyway, here’s a few points:

                      It is absolutely, objectively, 100% wrong to apply that paradigm to observational data like the surveys we are both citing.

                      And yet, it’s the best we have, and is the method we use in all kinds of situations, since we are unwilling to do actual controlled experiments for things like this (which is a good thing). I recognize that it is imperfect, hence “the closest thing” verbiage, but, well, it really is “the closest thing”. It is suggestive, but not remotely definitive (and I was careful to not use it definitely). How else would you suggest we definitely answer this question without actually taking people’s free will and doing social experiments on them?

                      Childless men work more hours, are more inclined to take calculated risks, and are more dependable than men who have children, but men with children make more money.

                      OK, here’s a point of contention that runs into the first bit I commented on above, but this does fly in the face of both my personal life experience and the life of experience of anyone I’ve ever talked to about this (that is to say, ALL the admittedly anecdotal data I can find) AND the society-wide hand-wringing over the men who aren’t marrying and thus aren’t really applying themselves.

                      A single man with no dependents can get by on very, VERY little, and a great many of them do. Yes, there are exceptions (and those exceptions are often of great importance, as many brilliant and inventive individuals are in that group, making an outsized impact on society), but we’re inherently talking about about averages and such.

                      If that’s what you’re basing things on, then there’s no point going further on this part until we both actually go find some references (see the first point above, again), because we’ll be talking past each other.

                      Forgive me if I am putting word in your mouth, but the presence/absence of a problem is what we are debating–I hold that the United States has significant gender discrimination issues regarding women in the workplace, while you hold that the current environment is not unreasonably discriminatory towards women, especially within the context of gender discrimination against men in other institutions.

                      I’d say it’s more “how much of a problem do we have compared to how little of a problem is humanly possible”. From a historical perspective, we’ve basically eliminated the problem – the level of sex bias in our society wouldn’t even register on the scale compared to the rest of human history. We’re arguing over which millimeter is the true location of the finish line after running 20 marathons. At some point, you spend less effort and do more good just letting it go.

                      While there are inherent reasons sexism and racism are truly different, which I’ll touch on in a bit, the old “the best way to stop being racist is to stop being racist” comment gets the idea across well – at some point, worrying about how equal things are only keeps you differentiating, which supports keeping things different.

                      Women overwhelmingly feel like the obligated party for taking care of domestic issues; regardless of occupational status, if they don’t take care of the household no one will. As a group, women would rather not have to bear this responsibility alone, but feel like they have to.

                      And here is one place we run into something that inherently and truly distinguishes racism from sexism. The primary differentiation of the races is culture, not genetics – I find African-American culture today to largely be toxic, violent, dangerous, selfish, and lots of other terrible stuff (as best I can tell, it was actually quite a bit better two-three generations ago), but I know a good many immigrants from Africa, and I have no problem with them. I have judged on the content of character, not the color of skin (some famous guy said something about that, right? Too bad those who claim his legacy hold the opposite position now).

                      But with the sexes, there are inherent differences that no amount of simply ignoring will make go away, and these affect a great many things. To the great frustration of the “it’s all social construct” crowd, the desires and preferences of men and women differ GREATLY. A tremendous number of women WANT to be the “party [] taking care of domestic issues” (no, not all, but either a bare majority or very, very close, with the variation being possibly explanable by age, generation, or some other things, and possible not, depending on who you listen to – again, we have no true control group, so we don’t really know). There is no way for this to be true and to allow women the freedom to do so (a good thing) without impacting the group as a whole in other areas.

                      On the flip side, men are more willing to engage in dangerous activities, including occupations, and there is no way this will not impact the entire group. People who engage in highly dangerous occupations should be more compensated, but because a significant chunk of men are willing to do them without tremendously greater compensation, other men who feel forced into those professions don’t get it, either.

                      Short of removing individual freedoms, these group-level distortions that impact individual lives cannot be removed. The result is that the largest group of men and the largest group of women generally have things close to what they want, and the smaller groups don’t. That’s not just how human society works, it’s how any group works – it’s a product of large numbers. The only attempts I know of to fix these kinds of problems have ended in large-body-count disasters (the Soviets, for instance).

                      If your hypothetical alien existed, he wouldn’t stop at hiring practices for men versus women. After all, he could make a similar argument for segregated services. Black people spend less money than white people, so why should both races have equal access to services?

                      Perhaps I didn’t communicate this well, but I wasn’t claiming that such a hypothetical alien would pay by the group – it would pay each individual what they deserved, but the net effect would be that some groups would have a higher average.

                      That same principle would apply on services… and does in the real world right now. Poor areas, regardless of the skin color, have fewer services, and since there are some racial correlations with poverty in this country (which I would argue correlate much better with culture than race), there are indeed already, today, for entirely non-racial reasons, racial discrepancies in access to services.

                      The point I’m getting at, is that there are a lot of privileges our society affords us which we take for granted, that are inherently economically inefficient. This is why debates around these issues are so heated–you can only make optimize an inherently inefficient system so much before you start cutting into the inefficiencies people actually wanted.

                      That it’s very well said – I agree with it without having said it nearly as well myself.

                      The point of disagreement is that last bit (what people want), but the part that gets argued about is the first bit (like most abortion debates, actually – the point of disagreement is whether it’s a person or not, not whether a woman can have a surgical procedure done on herself, but that last bit is what is argued about… making resolution essentially impossible).

                      See, most of the debates I have seen regarding social justice issues, especially lately, have been couched in terms of economic benefit to companies, employees, and taxpayers.

                      Including your own:

                      The data shows we have a problem. Women face pressure (some biological, some sociological) to have offspring, pressure to forego career concerns when they have offspring, resent being put under those pressures, are penalized when they give in to that pressure. Men, on the other hand, also have the pressure from society and biology (to a lesser degree) to have children, but are rewarded with higher earnings for acquiescing.

                      You are begging an enormous question here, in terms of what people want and what’s a proper reward. It’s OK (or less problematic) to pressure men to make money, but not OK (or much more problematic) to pressure women to have children. One of those things is vitally important to the continuation of the human race, you know? Yes, that’s an oversimplification, but I think it gets the point across – the thing you are complaining about, you do, because we all do, because that’s the best we’ve got.

                      Women used to be rewarded quite a bit more for homemaking, actually, though not with money, but social reward is much, MUCH harder to measure exactly. I saw a GREAT article about that, actually, but it could largely be summarized with one point: the status of the minivan. Hey, I found the article, YAY!

                      My mother reports that when she was a newlywed (she was married in 1959) you weren’t seen as fully a member of the adult world until you had kids. Nowadays to have kids means something closer to an expulsion from the adult world. People in the suburbs buy SUVs instead of minivans not because they need the four-wheel-drive capabilities, but because the SUVs lack the minivan’s close association with low-prestige activities like parenting, and instead provide the aura of high-prestige activities like whitewater kayaking. Why should kayaking be more prestigious than parenting? Because parenting isn’t prestigious in our society. If it were, childless people would drive minivans just to partake of the aura.

                      Read the whole thing, eh? But seriously, you yourself made the point about it being more than about money, but then it’s somehow OK that men get railroaded as much as women because men are paid for it? And then there’s this:

                      If I have a daughter, I don’t want her to have to chose between work and home, I want her to have both available to her like I do.

                      If you really have both in any significant sense, you are an incredibly rare and lucky person, male or female. The vast majority of people only get one (at best), and few really get to choose which – men work, women take care of children, that’s history and most of now, too, in the rest of the world.

                      And if you check places that are the farthest on the road we think we’re on, such as the Scandinavian countries (so often used as examples of this), you’ll find that the vast majority of the women there have the option to work AND DON’T (well, many of them do some part time work, which is what they want).

                      Also, if all you’re worried about is the money, well, look at who actually gets to spend it. Women spend the vast majority of the money in our society, and not remotely all of it is transferred willingly.

                      I guess the real issue I have with the stuff you say is not that it’s wrong (though I think some of it is), it’s that it is highly cherry-picked. There are great points on both sides, and the vast majority of people (male and female) don’t really get to do what they want. Picking just one side as the disadvantaged, that is always the victim, is ridiculous.

                      For one example of how obvious and one-sided a great deal of this is, look at the “women in college” stuff… for years, anything but a 50/50 split was evidence is bias against women, but now that it’s closer to 60/40 in FAVOR of women, well, look at those wonderful women, eh? And what’s wrong with all of those idiot men? And somehow, there’s still programs to get more women into college and complaints about the bias in favor of men.

                      Or, for a more egregious and ridiculous example, that quote from Hillary Clinton about how the real victims of war are women, since so many men get killed (!) and aren’t there to provide for them. Ah, here it is:

                      Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat. Women often have to flee from the only homes they have ever known. Women are often the refugees from conflict and sometimes, more frequently in today’s warfare, victims. Women are often left with the responsibility, alone, of raising the children.

                      OK, that’s quite a bit more extreme than what you’re doing, but I hope it gets the point across. Life treats men and women differently, there’s no way to remove that, and to only choose one side as the disadvantaged is simply BS.

                      The claims on payment in the workplace, in particular, though, have long struck me as among the most frivolous, both in scale (even if I grant all the contentious points, it’s just not that much money, as even NOW, etc, admits) and in provability (death rate and injury rate in the workplace has completely hard numbers attached to it, but nobody complains about that). And if things were the other way around (as they actually are for 20-somethings with no children, or see the college rates), it would be celebrated as a good thing, so the claims that it’s about “equality” are self-evidently BS (at the group level – that’s not an accusation against you, OK?).

              • Shamus says:

                Uh. I should clarify that I’m not mad at any of the participants. You’re all good. I’m just blowing off some steam because sometimes this job is frustrating and sometimes there is no right answer of how to moderate fairly.

                • MichaelGC says:

                  Well, the effort and thought you put in to it is very much appreciated! Time & time again I find myself stunned by the level of discourse around here – I guess I should stop being shocked at some point! But the extreme contrast with how these things normally go means the ability to surprise is retained and sustained, I think.

                  It might at times feel a bit like aspects of the sound-editing. You know: ‘if I do a good job here, no one’s going to notice.’ I don’t normally like to speak for others, but on this occasion, screw it: we definitely do notice! :D

      • Zak McKracken says:

        Don’t know where you get your references from but from where I’m sitting it seems 50 shades has been dumped on so hard by the entire internet (and then some) that I find your first sentence extremely difficult to follow, and “Logjamming VIII: Jam harder” just earns a shrug because guys are assumed to just be like that.

  10. Henson says:

    Oh boy. I think you may have opened the floodgates with this one.

    To be honest, I think there are people who are significantly affected by media messages, but there’s no way to tell who those people are in any particular instance, and it probably changes who those people are every time you look at a new piece of art – this time, it could be me, for all I know. Is it really fair for a critic to condemn ‘bad’ art on account of this unknown number of people when we haven’t balanced it against the unknown number of positives that come from enjoying ‘bad’ art?

    On the other hand, doesn’t the argument that ‘we’re not all sheep’ ignore the effectiveness of things like propaganda, or advertising?

    On the other hand, can we accurately discern what negative messages are within art when art is often so complex, with a thousand different themes and a thousand different interpretations?

    It’s a very thorny issue. I don’t like getting preached at, but sometimes a critic really is just seeing something that he thinks isn’t good for us all. Maybe the best thing we can do is let all the critics give all their cautionary critiques, so long as we take them all with a great many handfuls of salt.

    • Syal says:

      The thing about propaganda or advertising is, everything about it is designed to make the message more acceptable. And as far as I see it, if you say something promotes a specific message or action, you’re basically calling it propaganda. That’s the real issue; these #3 critics often don’t look at the work as a whole, they focus on this one point as if it’s all that’s there (especially in forums, especially in forums with character limits), which basically turns it into pure politics.

      • Chauzuvoy says:

        …”they focus on this one point as if it’s all that’s there (especially in forums, especially in forums with character limits), which basically turns it into pure politics.”

        This is I think a bigger part of the problem than people care to admit. Especially on twitter. Don’t get me started on twitter. But I think it’s in large part the result of the internet’s screwed-up communication structure. Ignoring the fact that ad-supported websites are going to go out of their way to grab controversy because controversy=clicks=money, the broader discourse tends to revolve around comments or articles that go viral. And the things that get quickly shared around aren’t sober analyses and measured think-pieces, for the same reason that ad-driven sites don’t tend to have many of those. Even people who act in good faith and aren’t artificially drumming up controversy for ad money are still at the mercy of an infrastructure that spreads around reductive and controversial ideas over more reasonable thoughts, regardless of how few people actually believe them.

        Even if most critics accept that the people who play GTAV do it for the open world shenanigans and not because they’re sexist mole people training to conquer southern California, the “GTAV players are sexist” idea is still going to look more prevalent, because even if 99% of comments are saying “Yeah, they’re probably decent people,” that’s still 99% more comments and discussions than all the posts saying “GTAV players are not mole people” get.

        Likewise, even if most GTAV players accept that the game is often insensitive to women, and that saying so doesn’t mean a critic is calling for the game to be wiped from history and the developers hung, drawn, and quartered, the idea that dominates the discussion is still going to be “Feminists hate free speech.” Because the posts that say that are going to be more shared, more commented, more responded to, and generally go more viral than “Critics have reasonable criticism of GTAV.”

        With social media, assholes dominating conversations isn’t really an avoidable bug. It’s an inevitable feature of the design.

      • Ivan says:

        I want to add that propaganda and advertising is about controlling information. It’s about bombarding your audience with messages to paint your subject in whatever light you desire while doing your best to limit, eliminate, or discredit other points of view. It’s very hard to not be influenced by such a comprehensive approach because actually becoming properly informed is made as difficult as possible, so all that’s left for most people to do is to trust the authorities.

        The reason why Batman, or even Hatred isn’t going to turn anyone into murderers is because we live in a society that can openly talk about and discuss violence. There are plenty of authorities who tell us that this isn’t a great way to solve our problems and plenty of role-models to show that violence isn’t a good solution to our problems. Also I like to think that people are smart enough to understand the golden rule (do unto others and all that) without really having to be told about it.

  11. Blovsk says:

    My issue with 50 Shades is that it conflates rape and various kinds of abuse with BDSM and it doesn’t seem to acknowledge that what it represents is a bad thing and illegal. I know people who’ve been in relationships like that, and I worry that if someone in that situation sees the whole 50 Shades phenomenon they’ll be left with the impression that what’s happening to them is fine/romantic.

    That’s kind of where I think the comparison falls down. Concern about 50 Shades is largely for people in the victim’s position, concern about Batman seems to be about people in Batman’s position.

    Not saying it should be banned or anything but I think it should be condemned and people should be ready to point out the difference between what actually happens in the books and how the book presents those events.

    Tried not to post angry. Hope it didn’t come across wrong, feel free to chuck it if it’s not conducive to your site’s vibe.

    • Thomas says:

      I think you’re still making the argument there that the people who read 50 Shades dont understand those relationships are healthy. If you break it down, you’re essentially trying to argue that people would never misunderstand the actions of Batman as bad, because that’s a person doing things to other people.

      Whereas you’re saying that because the bad action is to let someone do something bad to yourself, people wouldn’t necessarily understand that action is bad in real life.

      I don’t really think that holds together. I think the crux of both the Batman games and 50 Shades is that everyone realises that the world of their settings are _created_ for the benefit of the protagonist.

      If anything, that’s actually a much better reality check in 50 Shades than in Batman. Outwardly 50 Shades is about letting someone take control of you, but because the setting was actually created to fulfill the desire of the protagonist (and the readers) it’s actually _part_ of the fantasy that really the protagonist/readers are in control of Christian Grey.

      And that’s a very innate thing to understand, because being “ravished” comes up as a really common female fantasy. But the reason why it’s a turn on is because inherently the women is actually in control of the situation (because it’s a fantasy), whereas in real life it’s scary and everyone knows it would be scary in real life (Because they’re not in control).

      Whereas I would argue in the Batman case, the fantasy is that the protagonist is in control _but that’s also the harmful idea_. The danger is that people might think they can control others.

      ————————————-
      Now in actually _neither_ is dangerous, because humans are perfectly capable of understanding the difference between fantasy and fiction. But I would argue that if one were to be easier to confuse it would definitely be the Batman example.

      • Syal says:

        The actual danger is not that abused people will suddenly believe they’ve got it made, but in taking away sympathetic ears by giving the wrong impression to people who have only experienced the book version of things.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          Anybody who is old enough to read this book and would seek it out is old enough to know the difference. Part of the thrill of this is that its wrong. A lack of awareness of the wrongness would actually undermine the enjoyment.

          • Blovsk says:

            (I’m not trying to be patronising here but it’s hard to put it differently) I take it you’ve never met anyone who’s been in an abusive relationship? These are real things that perfectly intelligent adults find themselves in, without necessarily being aware that what’s happening to them is illegal and abnormal and that they should get out of it. 50 Shades doesn’t cause that but it certainly doesn’t help.

            @Thomas, my argument is that 50 Shades essentially dismisses the experience of rape victims and victims of abuse by presenting those actions as a quasi-romantic BDSM thing. Aside from it misrepresenting BDSM. I don’t think you need to patronise the audience to think that it should somewhere acknowledge that there’s a difference between the consensual BDSM stuff and the rapes it presents rather than treating them all as part of the same continuum (and if the author can’t see the difference, I really worry). To strain the analogy, it’d be like having a Batman game where he punches innocent civilians as well as villains and the game treating you equally like a hero for both things.

            tl/dr 50 Shades is a Batman game where you get points for punching innocents in the face

            • Akri says:

              “my argument is that 50 Shades essentially dismisses the experience of rape victims and victims of abuse by presenting those actions as a quasi-romantic BDSM thing.”

              To make this even worse, the author has complained about people comparing events in the books to actual abuse they suffered by saying that those people can’t understand the difference between abuse and BDSM (note: a lot of the complaints about Christian being abusive are for things other than the BDSM). So the author has told her audience that the things Christian does are not dangerous or wrong.

              Which means that now a fan of the books could enter into an abusive BDSM relationship, and then when they start to feel uncomfortable because of the abuse, their abuser as well as fans of the books will tell them “you aren’t being abused, that’s just how BDSM works. Don’t you dare insult real victims by pretending this is the same thing.” (Yes, EL James said it was insulting to abuse victims for people to say the books reminded them of their own abuse). So then the abuse victims accepts that they’re the problem, not the abuser, and continues on with a dangerous and unhealthy relationship.

              I can find sources for the stuff EL James said later if anyone wants.
              I

              • Wide And Nerdy says:

                Then what are we supposed to do. BDSM fans probably do not want to read a story about a couple roleplaying and pretending and setting limits. That works for them I’m sure when they’re actually doing it but when you’re reading a story, thats one layer more removed so the abuse depicted needs to be more visceral to compensate.

                Would a disclaimer at the front of the book be enough for you?

                • Akri says:

                  “Then what are we supposed to do.”

                  Not tell abuse victims that they’re wrong for noticing similarities between what happens in these books and what they experienced. Acknowledge that yeah, if Christian Grey were a real person he’d be extremely dangerous, and that while it’s ok to fantasize about him we should be wary of people who behave like him in reality.

                  Again, the author has said people are wrong for noticing that events in the book are similar to actual abuse they actually suffered. I don’t think I’m being unreasonable for saying she shouldn’t do that. I’m not saying these books shouldn’t exist, or that the fantasy they portray needs to be changed. I’m saying the author shouldn’t present the fantasy as something which would be totally fine in reality.

                  Also, as I said elsewhere in the comments, BDSM is not simply pretend-abuse, nor are the core fans of 50 Shades BDSM practitioners. Most of the criticisms I’ve seen for 50 Shades have come from people within the BDSM community, as well as other female erotica authors who also write stories involving BDSM.

                  • Wide And Nerdy says:

                    Ok they’re not wrong for noticing similarities. Noted. So can the fans of 50 Shades get back to enjoying their book?

                    We can’t put rubber padding on all of society.

          • Daemian Lucifer says:

            No,thats not true.Majority of people dont understand how bdsm differs from abusive relationship already,because they never give it any more thought than “whips and chains”.Having that confirmed by someone “of authority” is a bad thing.

  12. kunedog says:

    I doubt most have a problem with #3 as long as it is accompanied by neither:

    a) a call for censorship, nor

    b) treated* as objective fact rather than merely the critic’s opinion, without scientific evidence (or in the face of contradictory scientific evidence).

    * especially by the press and distribution channels

    • Alan says:

      By what do you mean “treated as objective fact”? I have unfortunately seen complaints about any criticism (not just art) which doesn’t prefix every sentence with “My opinion is….” That one makes a flat statement (“Max Payne 3 sucks”) or even a flat statement about the world (“Max Payne 3 is the cause of all social strife”) without it being a claim of objective fact.

      (Of course, it is an objective fact that May Payne 3 sucks and is the cause of all social strife.)

      • Syal says:

        Max Payne 3 gave my dog cancer. I didn’t even have a dog before that; it gave me a dog, and then it gave my dog cancer.

      • kunedog says:

        I mean that disliking a game and sharing the reasons why is one thing (and something I seek out). But if a critic alleges media does real world harm, then [citation needed]. Otherwise the critic has to accept that he can be (rightly) dismissed as readily as we tend to dismiss Jack Thompson today.

        And no, explicitly labeling opinions as such isn’t necessary, but I’ve seen plenty of annoying language used to imply the opposite (e.g. saying that games must “grow up”, as if that’s always objectively better).

        • Alan says:

          A critic has no more obligation to provide citations that something is harmful than a defender has provide citations that it doesn’t. You don’t need to agree with them, any they’re not obligated to agree with you.

          • MichaelGC says:

            It’s more a practical matter. No one is obligated to provide citations, but if no one does then I’d be skeptical that much is going to be achieved (beyond the two “sides” each individually engaging in a rather solipsistic examination of their own beliefs).

            Which is fine – I’m personally aaaaall about the solipsistic examination of my own beliefs! :D However, if the two sides are actually going to engage, someone is going to need to cite something at some point. Given that, I’d just see it as polite – nothing more, just polite – for the side that originated the discussion (and made an actual/positive proposal or allegation) to start citing first.

          • kunedog says:

            A critic has no more obligation to provide citations that something is harmful than a defender has provide citations that it doesn’t.

            Good for the defender, then, because he’s not the one calling for some specific change. The part I bolded is pretty much the definition of “burden of proof,” and IMO critics do themselves no favors when they ignore it.

  13. The Rocketeer says:

    The violence in Arkham City- the only Arkham game I’d played- always struck me as a bit less graphic and realistic than the rest of its world seemed designed for. You run around and BAM!, POW!, ZONK! all the random thugs, while the world itself is somewhere between Tim Burton and Frank Miller levels of sick, disturbing, and depressing.

    Arkham City’s world was no fun; it had no sense of fun, I mean. There were no degrees of criminality among the rogue’s gallery; everyone was a cackling psycopathic killer. Of course, you expect villains like Killer Croc, Bane, and Zasz to be that way. But then Two-Face is just some murderous thug, despite his character being all about conflict and duality, and so is Penguin, even though he’s the only real “high-class” crook Arkham has. Riddler ensares civilians in Saw-style murdertraps. Joker can be written any which way, but he’s all-out psycho-clown in Arkham City. Mad Hatter is a horrifying serial rapist. Ras is set on genocide as usual, which is fair enough. Grundy and Clayface are just monsters. Everyone wants to torture and murder all of the people, all of the time.

    The one exception is Mr. Freeze, who’s kept the nuance of a character doing bad things for selfish, but relatable reasons. But here’s the last nail in Arkham City’s coffin for me: Calendar Man. They dug up on of the silliest one-shot villains from Batman’s zaniest era, one famous for illustrating how different Batman comics used to be compared to the (increasingly lamented) overbearingly dark, drab tone of the present, and turned him into a babbling, deranged serial murderer, a disfigured monster rocking back and forth in his cell wailing about months and hungering for another victim.

    Effing Calendar Man. Screw your tone, Rocksteady.

    • lucky7 says:

      This is actually my FAVORITE part about the Arkhamverse. It struck me as a terrifying place to be, and made the normal cops who still fought for the law seem all the much cooler (not to mention Batman).

      I remember when I first saw Arkham Asylum, I was…shocked. Here was Batman, BREAKING A DUDE’S LEG, but as time’s gone on…I like it. Grim and gritty feels like a breath of fresh air to me.

  14. Steve C says:

    “This promotes bad cosplay!” Is now my favorite condemnation. That line is so good I’m still in tears.

  15. Akri says:

    “The thing is, I’m willing to bet that most of the women who are into 50 Shades know full well that it would be foolish and dangerous to be in a relationship like this in the real world.”

    I’m not convinced that this is the case. When people have brought up the similarities between the relationship in the books and real-world abusive relationships, the overwhelming response is generally denial. Even the author denies it, claiming that people just assume BDSM equates to abuse. So I do think there’s a bit of a blind spot here for a large number of the fans.

    Plus media absolutely does promote certain ideas, and even smart people can fail to notice the effect it’s having on them. For a very simple example, how many people in America think that police have to read you your Miranda rights when you get arrested? Probably a lot, because that’s how it’s always shown in media. It’s not that everyone is dumb and think tv is a good source for accurate information on police procedure; it’s just that we don’t always carefully scrutinize and verify the information we take in.

    • Deoxy says:

      For a very simple example, how many people in America think that police have to read you your Miranda rights when you get arrested?

      There are very real penalties to the prosecution of someone you are arresting if you DON’T read them their Miranda rights, so yeah, pretty much, they do have to. Anything they get from that person before they read them their rights is far more easy to challenge and have struck from evidence, for instance.

      That’s not AT ALL to say that they system works properly all the time, of course, but yes, the police have strong incentives to read you your rights when they arrest you.

      (Or at least they did. Many such protections have been noticeably weakened in the last decade or so.)

      • Akri says:

        “There are very real penalties to the prosecution of someone you are arresting if you DON’T read them their Miranda rights, so yeah, pretty much, they do have to.”

        Nope. The Miranda Warning has to be read before interrogation, but cops are not required to read it upon arrest. However in media they always read the person their rights while arresting them, so a lot of people think that’s how it works in reality (myself included, before I actually bothered to look it up–so I am definitely not calling anyone stupid for making that mistake).

        A similar example is the idea that if you’re arrested you get “one phone call”. It’s a Hollywood myth (whether or not you get to use a phone, and if so how many calls you can make, varies depending on circumstance). But I bet if you ask random people on the street a decent number of them would say that you get one phone call when arrested.

        Media consumption affects how and what we think.

        • Deoxy says:

          Nope. The Miranda Warning has to be read before interrogation, but cops are not required to read it upon arrest.

          Stuff the police get (such as statements by the person being arrested) after arrest and before the person has been read their Miranda rights face a much higher likelihood of being thrown out as inadmissible in court than stuff they get afterwards. This was imposed by the Supreme Court on all prosecutions in the United States and does not vary by jurisdiction (in theory).

          Technically, you may be correct… except that when “interrogation” begins is not a hard line. If the police ask you your name, are they interrogating you? How about if you have a weapon on you? (That’s a “no”, as it involves the sacred “officer safety” exception…) How about when they demand to know where your drugs are? In short, the sooner they read you your rights, the better off they are in the courtroom.

          Policy of when exactly the rights are read does vary, and actual practice varies from policy, and how far any given prosecutor might push the line and get away with it varies by jurisdiction AND case to case, so yes, there’s unavoidable variance, but the principle still applies (though somewhat weakened in recent years, as I said).

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      This right here bugs me. You want to treat people like children their whole lives. Who is the non child in the room that can guide the rest of us?

      • Akri says:

        That’s an interesting conclusion to draw, given that all I did was acknowledge that a problem exists without saying what I think should be done to fix it.

        But just to clarify for you: what I think people need to do is simply be willing to look critically at the media they consume, as well as the ideas they’ve taken from media. And if someone says “this media here is problematic because it promotes X” we should give that claim some thought.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          Fair enough. I think I’m conflating you with others. A lot of the people I’ve argued this with in the past thought that people needed to be protected from themselves. But I think awareness is always a sufficient counter to any potential media programming.

        • Shamus says:

          How do you respond if someone says, “Yes, I see this depicts stuff that would be bad in the real world, but I’m an adult, I can tell the difference, and I enjoy the art anyway and I’m glad it exists”?

          • Akri says:

            “Okay, cool.”

            • Shamus says:

              Now we’re getting somewhere! Here is how I think the debate goes:

              Critic SAYS: “This art promotes violence.”

              Critic MEANS: “Over the course of an entire culture, the messages in this art might come to seem normal, when they are very harmful.”

              Fan HEARS: “This art makes people violent”.

              Fan SAYS in response: “It’s just a game!”

              Fan MEANS: “I’m well aware that this is a game and that these actions would be unhealthy if emulated in the real world, but I’m not an idiot and I know better and I’m simply enjoying this as escapist entertainment.”

              Critic HEARS: “Don’t criticize videogames!”

              That’s pretty much the debate right there. Neither side really understands the other. One is trying to educate and comes off as sanctimonious, the other is simply trying to defend reasonable entertainment and they come off as angry and irrational. Now add in the fact that some critics really DO say that games directly cause violence (or whatever ill we’re talking about) and the fact that some fans really DO say that critics should keep their opinions to themselves, and that’s enough to keep us looping through the same stupid flame war over and over, forever.

              I think the point I made in my article would help a lot: Acknowledge that it’s possible to enjoy this art responsibly, and THEN do the cultural criticism. It certainly won’t fix the debate, but it might make the argument slightly less dysfunctional / explosive.

              • Akri says:

                You’re right that it’s probably better to clarify that it’s not wrong to enjoy the art in question. Though the contrarian in me thinks it should be up to the Other Guy to not assume I meant things in addition to what I actually said :P (The non-idiot in me, meanwhile, recognizes that your way is better).

                That being said, you’re also right that doing things that way doesn’t totally fix the debate. I’ve seen people clearly say “it’s totally cool to enjoy this thing even though it has bad elements” and get flamed for it, because they dared to suggest that the bad elements exist in the first place.

                I think a big part of it, from the Fan side, is that we really don’t like realizing that we’ve been enjoying something that contains problematic elements because it feels like a personal accusation. “That game you enjoy promotes violence” can make the Fan hear “you are violent”. The Fan then thinks “of course I’m not violent, I know violence is wrong, there’s no way I’m unknowing supporting something that promotes violence”. So a bit of introspection from the Fan side is also called for.

                • ThirteenthLetter says:

                  The problem is, the bad guys also say things like “it’s totally okay to enjoy this problematic thing!” right before they get games removed from stores or organize an Internet mob to get people who disagree with their evaluation fired. So even the disclaimers look like red flags now.

                  “I think a big part of it, from the Fan side, is that we really don’t like realizing that we’ve been enjoying something that contains problematic elements because it feels like a personal accusation.”

                  This… is maybe a bit shaky, because you’re assuming the conclusion of the discussion. “We really don’t like realizing X”… or, maybe, “we” (i.e., the people you’re talking to) still don’t agree with X in the first place.

    • Alex says:

      “I’m not convinced that this is the case. When people have brought up the similarities between the relationship in the books and real-world abusive relationships, the overwhelming response is generally denial. Even the author denies it, claiming that people just assume BDSM equates to abuse. So I do think there’s a bit of a blind spot here for a large number of the fans.”

      This is my view as well. I’d be a hypocrite if I said it wasn’t okay to like things in fiction that would be bad in reality, but there’s a big difference between a fantasy that you can enjoy despite it not being real (like blue-skinned alien babes) and a fantasy that a sane, decent person can only enjoy because it is not real (like GTA). That a lot of 50 Shades fans are unwilling to admit that a relationship with a man like Christian Grey should fall into the second category and not the first is troubling.

  16. Grudgeal says:

    As someone who has had someone very close to me go through a real-life abusive relationship with a domineering psychopath and having had absolutely nobody around me beaten up by a guy dressed like a bat:

    This is not a very good simile. I can sort of see where you’re coming from, but the problem, I think, is that if there’s anything modern media has done it’s to pretty much kill the “violence is glory” trope — our society has gotten gradually less gory, war-torn and violent even though we continue to make action films.

    Our treatment of domestic abuse? It’s also progressed, but I feel not nearly as much. It’s hard to put into words but I feel that Batman is able to provide catharsis without idealization: Batman may look cool punching dudes but we can see every day on the newspaper headlines just how terrible war and violence is in real life. By contrast works like Fifty Shades and Twilight romanticise abusive behaviour in a way that doesn’t have a counterweight: It may be cathartic, but it’s also promoting some very unhealthy attitudes that aren’t necessarily shouted down by the mainstream in the same way. I mean, our society is probably better at treating women than when the Brontés wrote Jane Eyrie and Wuthering Heights (which, despite being much better written, were essentially the Twilights of its day), but we’re still talking of a real-life issue we haven’t tackled in the same good way. Somehow.

    Ugh. Sorry I’m going to have to cool down a bit and try to make my argument sound better.

    • Thomas says:

      Um I’m a bit nervous talking around a topic which has affected you personally, especially as I don’t have personal experience of it (so you telling me I’m wrong here is a very valid answer and one I would absolutely accept), but would it be fair to say that domestic abuse is also a real indicator that we’re actually not good as a society at de-emphasising the idea of violence as a means of feeling powerful?

      Also, if this is something you just don’t want to talk about, that’s understandable too.

    • Joe Informatico says:

      Is it 50 Shades and Twilight that are promoting these attitudes? Or are these attitudes endemic to the culture at large and these books are just reflective of them? Could, perhaps, these books be part of a three-centuries-long literary tradition of escapist fantasies for women stuck in a culture sending them mixed messages?

      • Akri says:

        I don’t think it has to be one or the other. Culture certainly informs media, but media can also affect culture.

        A good example of the latter is the diamond engagement ring. In America the popularity of diamond rings started to decline with the Great Depression. To combat this De Beers launched an immensely successful ad campaign telling people that diamonds were a symbol of love, and if your engagement doesn’t involve a diamond ring then your love isn’t true. It worked, and diamond rings became an integral part of wedding tradition in the US.

        Now obviously there’s a difference between an ad campaign that specifically tries to convince people of certain ideas, and a story or game that simply presents certain ideas. But if people can be affected by an ad which they know is trying to manipulate them, then I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that we can be affected by other forms of media as well.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I’ve thought better of this. Comment withdrawn.

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      That has more to do with breeding familiarity with a person or entity.

      But even if it did have to do with other things like violence, studies show that excessive exposure to a brand can cause aversion or ambivalence. If that applies to violence then surely hyper violent video games are performing a public service.

  17. Deoxy says:

    You’re about to call everyone else an idiot.

    I don’t generally call everyone ELSE an idiot.

    I generally call EVERYONE an idiot. There’s a very important difference, there. Heh.

  18. RCN says:

    Well, I’d condemn “50 Shades of Gray” for being bad writing before anything else. Then again, I will often indulge in the worst sort of “comedies” even though I know they’re badly written with bad jokes ( any of the “SOMETHING Movies” really, though some are too much even for me and usually I’m more entertained by the acting and perfomances than the actual jokes). Everyone has their guilty pleasures alright.

    You’re spot on with the argument for games though. A happy medium of release for doing everything you shouldn’t for catharsis, without having to actually do the taking of lives and other certainly-bad-things that are too high a price, let alone deal with the consequences.

    I love strategy games over all genres, possibly. It is incredible the feeling of building something up, making a plan, and carrying it out. But I’d be terrified to have hundreds, or even millions of lives wasted just to put my strategical and tactical skills to the test.

  19. Tulgey Logger says:

    These points are well put. But as I read it I can’t help but remember that we live in a world where the TV show “24” has affected political discourse regarding the use of torture and the permissible treatment of prisoners of war. 24 clearly represents some bizarre situations which almost never come up in real life, and yet ostensible people who are almost certainly not any form of cattle, adults whose daily lives partly depend on being able to tell fiction from reality, have used it to inform their view of the world.

    Moreover, there are in fact people who will “get it” when it comes to some form of media and some who won’t. It’s documented; the example of Archie Bunker comes to mind. People who are verifiably not sheep nevertheless identified with a character meant to be a sendup of their views.

    Generally speaking, people don’t think it’s a good idea to go around in a costume subjecting criminals to unlawful violence, right? Well, until the costume is a police uniform. Then lots of people seem very interested in excusing, justifying, or even reveling in it.

    Sure, a Batman game is just some catharsis. But I also can’t believe that a culture that thinks producing and enjoying dehumanizing violence regularly doesn’t affect itself for the worse.

    For the record, I saw Mad Max this weekend, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I also kind of wish I didn’t, and I wonder whether I wouldn’t be better off if I were like the sibling of a friend who threw up when she witnessed the chainsaw murdering in Gears of War. What in my life have I accepted that I wouldn’t have if I were more like her?

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      The people’s views preceded the shows. The people who identified with Archie Bunker were already racist. The only way you won’t recognize him as a caricature if is you’re neck deep in your racism and a TV show isn’t going to change them and they’re probably lost causes. If anything, the caricature had to at least have shamed some racists and sexists or at least put them off out of recognition that they were being mocked. The people who used 24 to justify torture would have used something else. They didn’t watch 24 and suddenly think “huh, this torture thing is worth looking into” And its telling that they did always contrive the extreme situations to justify it, and painted Jack as a very morally dubious character.

      We’re talking about a man who murdered a drug dealer to help reestablish a cover, a man who shot an innocent middle aged woman in the thigh to get her husband to talk, anybody who watched the show and didn’t already have serious mental issues understood that something is not good just because Jack does it. They did a lot of things early on to signal to the audience that Jack has a very grey morality.

  20. Abnaxis says:

    There’s a question I wanted to ask in your article about Hatred after watching the Extra Credits video, but I was too late for the discussion by then. That’s OK, the question fits better here, anyway.

    That question is this–what if the “protagonist” in Hatred is your Batman? That is, what if the gameplay in Hatred is fulfilling all those things you want to do, but you’re also not stupid and you want to live in a civilized society?

    That’s the thing about sadism–being sadistic doesn’t mean you don’t know right from wrong. Contrary to popular opinion, it also doesn’t mean you are devoid of empathy–indeed, what the hell is the point of sadism if you can’t understand the pain you inflict?

    As a sadist, you know perfectly good and well that you’re broken as all hell. All psychologists will tell you is that you’re stuck with the urges and you need to learn how to cope with them. And maybe prescribe drugs that make you miserable and don’t help.

    You hate yourself, at least as much as everyone else around you would hate you if they knew. Not that you’re losing much anyway–it’s almost ever connect with anyone anyway, because even everyday conversations around the water cooler are virtually impossible to navigate because you can never relax. You have no good yardstick to know what “too far” is when it comes to joviality, other than puritanical commandments that nobody in real life actually lives by.

    Hatred is not my thing, but if it was I would be thankful for it. The Extra credits guys might kinda pinch their noses and say it’s titillation for “those people,” but what if it is? the pent up frustration exists with or without Hatred, and if some of that can be released as your own twisted version of Batman, isn’t that a good thing as long as no one gets hurt?

    • Shamus says:

      Er. I assume you mean, “Mr Hatred is doing for someone else what Batman does for Shamus”. Which, yeah. I’m assuming that’s the appeal. I still don’t get why someone wants to do those things, but I recognize the game won’t make them into a murderer and more than Batman will make me a vigilante.

      • Abnaxis says:

        I’m not sure what else I might have meant?

        I know that’s your own opinion on it, otherwise I would have brought it up as soon as I read the last XP. I only really noticed a trend in the comments, and especially in the EC video, of saying “The sickos will enjoy it, and we should discourage that.” The two main perspectives I was seeing were “this is horrible and caters to sickos but we should just boycott because Free Speech and Art” or “this is horrible and caters to sickos and doesn’t really need to be made.”

        Sorry if it’s thread-jacking a bit, I noticed the trend long after the conversation was pretty much over, and it still seems relevant here

    • Wide And Nerdy says:

      I have to say, that is an absolutely fascinating take on what its like to live as a sadist. I’ve also read recently that psychopaths don’t all (or even most) necessarily turn bad. You’ve given me something to read up on.

      EDIT: And now my fascination has ended. That was a scary five minutes.

      • Nixitur says:

        If I recall correctly, sadism and psychopathy have very little in common. Basically, psychopaths find it hard to feel any real empathy for others. And if you felt no empathy, then you possibly wouldn’t get such a, well, kick from hurting others as sadists do, I suppose.
        I have no expert knowledge on this subject, so take what I say with a generous helping of salt, but it’s a topic that I find really interesting.

        • Wide And Nerdy says:

          Makes sense. I was just lumping them together because I think we normally label these two groups based on what they do rather than the underlying psychological conditions that lead to that behavior. Hadn’t really occurred to me that some people are born with that but understand its wrong and refrain from it and perhaps worse hate themselves for being what they are.

          • Abnaxis says:

            I also think they’re lumped together because there’s a kind of logic to it, i.e. “How can you be experiencing empathy if you enjoy this?” It’s applying a sort of rationalization to something that is definitely not rational.

            To be fair, though, I think there’s an empathic disconnect that comes with sadism. There’s a sort of intuited line between taboo and normal, that I think comes from a mix of positive reinforcement from the environment, and a well-grounded sense of self-esteem. That line is really hard to make out.

            At least, that’s my experience.

      • Abnaxis says:

        Now I’m curious what you found to read up on that made for such an intense five minutes…

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      Hatred is way less sadistic than batman.In hatred you just kill people,often in a very quick and painless ways.In batman,you are breaking their bones,one by one,leaving them to live in agony.Hatred could be said to be misanthropic,but it is not sadistic,especially not when compared to arkham games.

      As for your portrayal of sadism,no psychologist will ever tell you to hate yourself because of what you are.Nor are there pills for sadism.Nor do pills that help with mental issues “making one miserable”.If you seek professional help about your pent up rage,for whatever reason you have it,you will receive help,you will not receive scolding and ways to hate yourself.

      • acronix says:

        Didn’t Hatred’s trailer put a lot of focus on one man begging to not be killed for a long while before the protagonist actually got to kill him?

        Isn’t Batman’s sadism lessened by the fact the game doesn’t bother with the aftermath of the beatings? You break bones and are pretty brutal, but you never see them afterwards. That’s just something that a player can assume based on how the real world works. Yet that’s not doesn’t have to be correct in Batman’s world. We have giant crocodile people, drugs that transform you into a giant and a man who can hide from anyone by jumping on top of strategically placed gargoyles. Why would we assume that the broken bones lead to a ‘life of agony’?

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          Didn’t Hatred’s trailer put a lot of focus on one man begging to not be killed for a long while before the protagonist actually got to kill him?

          If by a lot of focus,you mean 1 second (the longest any of the death scenes) out of 171 seconds of both trailers,then yes it did put a lot of focus on that.By comparison,takedowns in batman can last for several seconds when you get the slowmo of batman crunching someones arm or a leg.

          And Im not saying that batman,on its own,is a sadistic game,despite all the beatings.But compared to hatred which involves just rage fueled killing of faceless drones(to the protagonist of that game,who never bothers to even look at them twice,not to the player),batman is a very sadistic game.

      • Abnaxis says:

        I didn’t say psychologist would tell you to hate yourself. Everyone else will (including yourself), but psychologists won’t.

        What psychologists will tell you, is that you’re stuck with the sadism. There’s no cure, whether by pills or treatment, any more than there’s a cure for homosexuality (except, you know, there’s an actual reason for wanting to cure sadism).

        “Treatment” is basically a psychological version of palliative care–it’s making yourself comfortable and productive in the face of the inevitable. That’s where the mood-altering drugs come into play.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          No psychologist would tell you that you are stuck with sadism.Or worse,stuck with homosexuality.Because that would imply that there is something wrong with you.Furthermore,they will not treat you of it.They will help you find a way to channel it without harming someone(who doesnt want to be harmed),and how to come to terms that you shouldnt hate yourself despite what everyone else is saying.

          They may treat you if youve been depressed because of it(because others were telling you that you are wrong,and stuff like that).Well ok,maybe not directly,because its the job of a psychiatrist to treat depression,but they would refer you to one.

          • Abnaxis says:

            Poh-TAY-to, poh-TAH-to.

            Of course the psychologist isn’t going to bluntly tell you what your problem is*. That would be like an oncologist going to a patient and saying, “You’re going to die really soon, and it’s going to be horrible, painful, and dehumanizing.” What you say is true, in fact it’s probably line-and-verse from the APA handbook.

            If you get down to brass tacks however, the ultimate takeaway is that you’re stuck with the sadism and have to learn to deal with it (channeling, coping, trigger-avoidance, etc. etc…). Like I said, make yourself comfortable with the inevitable and learn to live with it.

            *Not that homosexuality is considered a problem any more, though it is most certainly something not-in-your-control

  21. LadyTL says:

    I feel Fifty Shades does promote unhealthy BDSM mostly because of the massive number of retailers who jumped on merchandising for it without any kind of insert or tag about how to properly, safely and respectfully use them. BDSM done wrong is painful and can be dangerous and harmful. Given the lack of research the public in general seems okay with as well as the prevalence of people doing stupid things when it comes to sex, without additional instruction or context the popularity of Fifty Shades is mixed at best if not damaging to BDSM culture and acceptance.

    I admit to feeling this way though as a long time practitioner of BDSM, who did do much research into all the elements as well as regularly going over every element of what is okay and not in detail with my partner.

    • Grimwear says:

      The question is that when the fundamental aspects of BDSM are thrown out the window like safety, respect, and consent is it still considered BDSM? A lot of people who practice would say no but to those who don’t know much about it aside from “O you get tied up and stuff”, they can’t tell the difference. And not only is that even worse for the BDSM community but then if things DO go wrong for newcomers brought on board from Fifty, the BDSM community who decry the fake BDSM from the books are left holding the bag and will inevitably be held responsible. This I feel is the reason behind the “Fifty promotes unhealthy relationships”. The BDSM community attempts to disassociate from the books but in trying to do so can’t without yelling about the fact that what’s represented is unhealthy. Not because they hate the fantasy but because this imagined BDSM fantasy isn’t BDSM and is damaging to BDSM and those who practice.

      • LadyTL says:

        Well without the respect and safety you still have the BSM parts of BDSM. Unfortunately those parts are the ones that really need more instructions for people because honestly you can really hurt someone even doing light things like tying them up a little with a tie. I can hate Fifty Shades in the same way I hate Twilight for being a bad example of dominance while still grudgingly accepting that it is letting a little bit of parts of bondage, sadism and masochism be more socially accepted.

    • Chris says:

      Most books labeled as Romance do not work as guides for “how to go about this in a safe and meaningful fashion”. Romance novelists have actually expressed surprise in how their sales will often go up the more horrible they make the male love interest. Theres that whole “but my love can change him” bullshit that girls have reinforced upon them by society at an early age that probably correlates to this.

      When you get right down to it, most relationships would probably benefit from more communication. The fact that discussing sex is so taboo hurts everyone.

  22. Rick says:

    I agree with your point, but there are a few things missing. Full disclosure, I haven’t read the books or watched the movies either.

    I don’t have a problem with the content etc (from what I’ve heard), just like I don’t have a problem with movies or games where the bad guy wins.

    My issue is that the 50 Shades franchise has been marketed (TV, print, internet) as sexy, romantic, and a guide for relationships and sex. There are official licensed accessory kits available in adult stores.

    That seems to send the message that the movie is meant to influence our behaviour to imitate it.

    That’d be like stores selling licensed Batman body armour and Hitman branded silenced pistols.

  23. Sabrdance (MatthewH) says:

    Taught a class on propaganda once. We looked at all the great Soviet propaganda (Eisenstein is basically the master of technique, here), plus the 1930s German and 1940s American work. Videos, posters, newsreels -the works.

    I was astonished by the extent to which college students didn’t see the propaganda. Some of them just didn’t feel their emotions being tugged (the Odessa Steps has been referenced so many times I guess it loses its punch), and to some extent I think that programming has rendered Triumph of the Will basically unwatchable -if the speeches were translated into English and the source wasn’t revealed, I wonder how many Americans would react so viscerally to them then, but as soon as they see Hitler they just stop listening. Great for anti-Hitlerism, not so great for detecting anyone else.

    But in Alexander Nevsky, the students just completely didn’t recognize the extent to which the Germans were dehumanized and the Russians turned into virtuous heroes, even as they had no difficulty talking about the Germans as the enemy and the Russians as the good guys. The anti-clericalism and anti-Catholicism of the movie didn’t register at all, nor did the pro-Orthodox backdrop. Now, remember the movie was banned between 1939 and 1941 -before being ordered back into theaters in response to the German invasion, and Eisenstein was suspected of being a closet reactionary because he included Orthodox iconography in his films (and Prokofiev actually was, at minimum anti-Stalinist if not a full blown anti-Communist).

    And with the American propaganda, about half thought it must be correct because it was American, and the other half thought it must be wrong because it was biased.

    Anyway, the American ability to not recognize propaganda when it slaps them in the face with a giant golden eagle with score by Prokofiev should not be underrated.

  24. Disc says:

    I could live with Nr. 3 as a statement by itself, but there rarely is a case where it isn’t married to character evaluation of the (entire) audience that enjoys or supports the art. Bring in some politics to it and you’ve got the recipe for a shitstorm ready. Out of the three, it’s also always the worst when coming out of the mouth of a person who acts and/or is treated like they’re in a position of unquestionable authority.

  25. Primogenitor says:

    Pedant alert: “I want to dislocate the shoulders of street thugs, even though that’s a really bad for me” – I think your missing an “idea” there, or you have an extra “a”.

  26. Zaxares says:

    I’m not sure if I should post this here since, really, it only BARELY touches on 50 Shades and what I want to say is more relevant to the original article. But, I don’t have an Escapist account, and I feel that the discussions here tend to be more civil and intelligent, so here goes. :)

    I think you may have the wrong impression of 50 Shades critics here, Shamus. Yes, we all agree that the relationship between Anastasia and Christian is extremely unhealthy and borderline abusive, but bear in mind that the BDSM subculture is still very much under a hush hush, “decent people don’t do that sort of thing” cloud when it comes to mainstream society. There are a lot of people who don’t have any knowledge or experience about what BDSM is about, and the only bits of knowledge they have comes from unrealistic portrayals like what they see in 50 Shades or in fetish porn.

    THAT’S what we’re concerned about. Because 50 Shades is the first BDSM pop culture offering to REALLY make it mainstream, we’re worried that a lot of people might read it/see it and get the wrong idea about us. It’s a bit like how homosexual men were portrayed in sitcoms and movies in the 80’s and 90’s; as flamboyant, over the top cliches that were usually shoved into a scene for cheap laughs. It’s now widely regarded as a shallow, offensive caricature, and rightly so. BDSM is a highly complex, individualized experience, and we don’t want our subculture to become the next easy source for hurtful humor.

    On a more serious note, we are also concerned that men who are violent/abusive towards their partners may start using “But I’m Dominant!” as an excuse for their behaviour. Being Dominant is NOT justification to be an asshole.

  27. Pyradox says:

    I don’t like the idea that we can’t judge media by its ideological content at all. If anything, the opposite is not only true, but it’s required. It’s not even mutually exclusive from enjoying something.

    This isn’t just about being with Jack Thompson or against him – that’s a false dichotomy, and the argument that if media could influence people we’d go around murdering each other at the drop of a hat is the worst kind of slippery slope fallacy.

    It isn’t about saying we should deny ourselves fun or catharsis because other people are stupid, it’s about recognizing that critical thinking, education and self-reflection, not intelligence are the best ways to avoid bad ideas. In fact smart people are much better than dumb people at holding onto bad ideas that they already have.

    You don’t start shooting people because that’s critical thinking easy mode – an obvious conflict with your fundamental preconceived notions about the sanctity of life and social responsibility – the list of people that uncritical is probably 0.

    But nobody’s filter is 100% perfect, and it’s not as simple as accepting or rejecting a single idea forever. Even when your mind does change it’s rarely the result of a single event – but a prolonged period of gathering evidence and opinions that shape your perceptions.

    In that respect media is undeniably a massive driving force behind our collective culture. We’re immersed in it 24/7 – opinions we agree with, ones we don’t – stuff we’ve never heard of bombard us on a constant basis. It’s a snake eating it’s own tail – look at the retro indie trends – all those people with fond memories of 8-bit games inspired to make their own. Look at all the people with fond minecraft memories putting crafting systems in their own games. That’s influence – that’s the media shaping how people think.

    You’re approaching this from the idea that bad media is supposed to take an attitude you already have and reverse it. But it’s not that straightforward – what about the times where you didn’t know much about a subject, but media informed you about it? How many times have you complained that a game got a factual detail of something wrong? How many people do you think end up with skewed ideas of how things work because of those errors?

    In fact, how many people do you think end up with skewed ideas about how other people work because of those errors? How often do we repeat rumours that sound plausible only to find out that the truth is completely different? We don’t hear rumours from data – we receive them through media.

    Think about how many scientists you’ve seen in movies or games. How many wore white lab coats? The vast majority of them? That’s weird because scientists in real life only wear lab coats in specific situations, and some never need to.

    Why is everyone’s default image of a scientist so far from reality? Even though I know better, it’s still the first thing I think of, because I’ve seen it everywhere.

    Culture is all-encompassing, and Media IS culture. If people can change your minds with words, they can do it with media.

    If nobody from the BDSM community ever told you otherwise, would 50 Shades really seem that misrepresentative?

    • Jarenth says:

      Or, as my summary / agreeing to your basic point: assuming all other people are ‘glassy-eyed sheep’ is a hurtful position that can have massive influence on people. But assuming that all other people are highly rational fact-checkers is equally dangerous.

      Sometimes I look back at Past Jarenth, the Jarenth from two or five or ten years ago, and I examine the things he thought he knew to be true. The beliefs that he held, and the sources that — with the benefit of hindsight — those beliefs can be attributed to. It’s often a chilling wake-up call. I used to be such a dipshit.

      What things do I believe now that I’ll be embarrassed by later? And in what ways will those things be connected to the media I consume, by the culture and the social contexts I choose to immerse myself in? I have no idea right now, but I’m almost positive the answer will not be ‘not at all’.

      • Pyradox says:

        Huh. That IS a lot less words than I used.

        Well summarised.

        • Christopher says:

          I think I see what you mean, but this doesn’t seem right. There’s a difference between a someone giving you a heads up that you got some facts wrong and a critic telling you that a piece of bondage porn or some action show is harmful because it’s “promoting” bad ideas, at least to me. If BDSM or… punching people, in these examples, are in any way relevant to your life, then you already know that the works aren’t even close to reality. And if they aren’t relevant, I don’t see the harm in people not knowing about something with zero impact on them. Works usually bend their world around the genre they’re in so that they can do what they think is fun or interesting (or erotic) most effectively. Pointing out that things aren’t really like that in reality and that the work of fiction is influencing people to think that it is, that just seems pointless to me. It really is what Shamus was talking about, thinking people are stupid and can’t see that it’s fiction for themselves, deciding on their own whether the portrayal of stuff in their entertainment is a problem for them.

          It’s no longer discussing the work in a way that’s actually about the work, the plot or the mechanics or whatever. Instead it’s about yourself, about everyone else, and about what you would like everyone else to be like and believe and know about and what this game “represents”. That does get on my nerves. Especially if it’s less an article and more a snarky retweet or reblogging(?) on tumblr. I understand that LadyTL or Zaxares are worried about being represented wrongly, but that’s not the kind of criticism I would be interested in if I was looking for articles on 50 Shades of Grey. I’m sorry if I’m misunderstanding your posts, but it’s not really about the book anymore, it’s wanting to better inform the public about the reality, norms and dangers of your lifestyle. A documentary instead of a porn book, or at least characters that aren’t fantasy. I don’t think that’s exactly criticism, it’s “I want another, completely different book on the subject that’s more true to life to become as popular as this”.

          I’m happy that on this blog specifically, while he obviously never puts his personality away, Shamus’ enjoyment of nitpicking plotholes and details are usually all about what the game is telling him. “This is stupid, and I’m gonna prove it” over “this is promoting bad messages, condemn it, my followers”.

          I could also use a summary. “I’m also frustrated with #3”, I suppose. I’ve certainly changed over the years too, so maybe I’ll look back and think this was a stupid post, but right now it’s what I feel like.

          • Mathias says:

            I don’t really agree there.

            First of all, I disagree that it isn’t in some way commenting on the work – In a lot of media academics you’ll see the idea that art is created in a reciprocal relationship with the culture that informs it. In other words, commenting on the culture surrounding a work (which is what you do when you talk about its ramifications, its messages, etc.) is still part of an overall critique on the work. Just because it isn’t explicitly about the work (its effectiveness/salience/its approach to depicting its material), it’s still part of engaging critically with the text.

            And generally speaking, while human beings are really good at segmenting fiction from reality (you’re not gonna be tempted to run out and buy a fake bat helmet and tights to punch criminals in the dead of night), we are (and this is scientifically documented) very receptive to internalising behavioral patterns. In other words, what you’re learning is a behavioral pattern -> aggression is a legitimate tool for reaching a particular goal.

            That doesn’t mean that stuff shouldn’t exist, it means that, yes, this particular work has some stuff in it that might not be entirely healthy for your mental state or your behavioral patterns. Acknowledging and being conscious of that is part of why criticism exists.

            • Jarenth says:

              Pipped to the post. :)

              No single artistic work exists in a vacuum. And discussing the larger socio-cultural impact of any given work is just as valid as discussing ‘just the work itself’. I’d honestly argue that that division doesn’t even really exist, but that’s neither here nor there.

              Also:

              If [things] are in any way relevant to your life, then you already know that the works aren’t even close to reality.

              This is fair. But what if they’re not? What about all the people for whom 50 Shades was their first introduction into the larger BDSM lifestyle? How are they supposed to know that the stuff 50 Shades represents is essentially the kink equivalent of American Cheese?

              The only way well-intentioned starters can learn these things is if experts talk about the comparison between fantasy and reality. The only way we can ensure people don’t actually pick up the wrong things from these fantasies is by openly discussing where the fantasies go wrong.

          • LadyTL says:

            Actually I am less interested in being represented wrongly (since for the most part I am in mainstream culture in a massive list of ways) then about the high potential of harm people can do with the Fifty Shades branded BDSM supplies. You can genuinely hurt people if you screw up even light bondage. Ties are a terrible beginner tool for exactly that reason which is what this stuff is aimed at. Never mind the people going to copy parts of the movie to “spice up” their sex life.

            Because the fact is people will copy “sexy” movies in their real lives particularly when they are popular and even more so when they come with a slew of marketed materials.

            • Christopher says:

              Sorry, I read your first post and got that point, but in my post I ended up combining you and Zaxares’ worries. My bad.

              I don’t like discussions of the culture surrounding a work, because they have yet to give me any enjoyment or made me appreciate a work more. It’s just so far removed from how I enjoy, say, video games. I can’t call it invalid exactly, because it’s such a different approach and comes from a place of academia I’ve never been in, but it’s usually completely uninteresting to me unless it’s about other games. But I don’t even like “art”, like in the purest sort of modern art gallery sense. Art school turned me off that completely. I’m not expecting to win anyone over with that one, mind, and it’s really a different thing from #3. It’s “This is actually a harmful work of fiction, pay attention” that gets me riled up, so I’m sorry for kind of derailing it into general criticism when it was about that in particular.

              In the specific case of well-intentioned starters, I don’t really see it as the critic’s role to give advice to BDSM newbies, to trust that fans find their one article or video on the internet and thus avoids dislocating someone’s arm. Wouldn’t you look up some kind of community site or forums, if you’re really interested? At the very least google “bondage stories” and see what else there is? I guess not, if you’re just buying a branded rope and going to town right after seeing the movie, but I don’t see how critics warning that it’s dangerous to follow through the fantasy in real life is the solution to casual observers looking for a quick thrill. Maybe if those retailers carrying BDSM stuff had some pamphlets or the book had some URLs in the back or something? I don’t know, but I doubt the answer is my twitter feed going “This erotic novel about a mean, dominant Scrooge McDuck is unrealistic”.

              Can’t really argue with behavioral pattern studies, because I haven’t heard about this before. Don’t have a bone to pick.

  28. Dreadjaws says:

    As usual, in an article talking about how we should analyze the situation instead of jumping to conclusions, people are refusing to analyze the situation and instead they’re jumping to conclusions.

    Shamus’ message is “Let’s try to avoid being jerks to one another” and people are somehow misunderstanding it as “You’re all a bunch of jerks”. It’s frankly amazing, entertaining and a bit scary.

    You’d believe by this point Shamus’ audience would realize he’s not a crusader for violence, censorship and discrimination, and if that’s the message you’re getting from his posts you should really give them a careful second read, but alas… people are still convinced their first impression is true, specially if that impression is negative.

  29. Ravens Cry says:

    I would say 50 Shades of Gray is more insidious by far than Batman ever could be.
    Batman is obviously fantasy, the guy fights a clown, a man crocodile thing, a shark man thing, a woman with control over plants, a guy in a suit with ice powers, all in tight leather/spandex/Kevlar and a cape cowl with magic tech and money.
    BDSM and bondage, on the other hand, are real things with real communities practitioners.
    Someone with no real life experiences with BDSM could read it and take it as a fictional account yes, but might easily think the practices presented reflect real BDSM practices. Someone entering into BDSM as a sub or dom with such conceptions could be a danger to themselves and others.
    I am not saying the women and men reading 50 Shades of Grey are stupid, but the book paints a very inaccurate picture of a community composed in the vast majority of people who just want a good time and have their own idea of a good time, just like any of us.
    Different strokes for different folks, literally!

    • Trevel says:

      We HAVE already had people who have, as far as I can tell, been abusing people while thinking that they were NOT abusing them, describing his relationship as “Like 50 shades of grey”.

      That’s kind of my worries around these issues: I don’t want people abusing/raping/whatnoting people without meaning to or otherwise unintentionally. Not that I want people abusing others intentionally, but I have more sympathy for people who inflict accidental harm than those who do so purposefully. (I imagine this distinction is not as important to their victims, mind).

      Something that rebrands “Abusive” as “BDSM” is dangerous in a way that Batman punching people isn’t.

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