Things I do believe

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  • I believe in the power of logic, reason and evidence to explain the world in which we find ourselves.
  • I believe we have to deal with what ‘is’ first, over what ‘ought’ to be.
  • I believe faith to be harmful, whether it be religion, ideology or anything else. Believing without evidence to support what you believe is fundamentally flawed – even dangerous.
  • I believe atheism to be the only honest position on the question of god/supernaturalism.
  • I believe freedom of expression is one of the paramount human rights and that it includes ‘icky speech’.
  • I believe you have the right to be offended.
  • I believe I have the right to offend you.
  • I believe you’re responsible for your own intake.
  • I am a ruthless egalitarian. I believe everyone should be treated equally regardless of race, gender, sexuality etc, only modified by their differing needs and the empirical facts of the situation.
  • I believe in education for its own sake.
  • I believe in art for its own sake.
  • No matter how poorly you regard my work and art, I believe I’m worse. It makes me try harder.
  • I try not to, but I loathe hypocrisy. If someone’s a hypocrite it at least shows that they’re trying to be a good person, even if they’re failing. This is why I rage so much at people who say they’re for social justice, but whom display their own prejudices. They disappoint me and break my heart.
  • I believe misandry is a thing, because misogyny is a thing.
  • I believe a little flirtation is harmless fun.
  • I believe *ism to be wrong, whether it flows to or from marginalised groups. Prejudice is prejudice.
  • I believe if you’re against something, you shouldn’t do it yourself.
  • I believe complementary and alternative medicine is absolute bollocks.
  • I believe I look fly in hats.
  • I believe the best way to create an equal and fair society is to treat people equally and fairly. Without exception.
  • I believe you’re allowed to ‘slip’, when you’re angry.
  • I’m an ideological left-anarchist, but a pragmatic socialist. I believe in individual rights, but when you group individuals together the best guarantee of those rights is to consider the group.
  • I believe there’s almost always another option to violence.
  • I am a naturalist, a materialist.
  • I believe the ‘best’, most objective moral system is a combination of Utilitarianism and Epicureanism. Pleasure has value.
  • I would believe in democracy more if the electorate were better informed and the system were more representative.
  • I believe in fidelity and honour, though it’s not for everyone.
  • I believe respect must be earned.
  • A care about people. I have a deep sense of empathy, I get embarrassed for others. When that quality of empathy is ignored or denied I feel it as a personal attack upon a part of my essential identity as a human being.
  • I believe in being ‘decent’. In the sense of morally upright, respectable, kind and obliging. I put myself out for others often. I pay more than I should. I give people time. I am very forgiving. I am unforgiving of myself in this respect and I expect the same from others. I get upset when they fall short.
  • I believe in a ‘hands off’ approach. Let people find their own way and motivation and they’ll do their best.
  • I believe everyone deserves a second, and a third, chance.
  • I believe the crux of human existence to be a struggle between altruism and selfishness.
  • I believe in the power and importance of consent and the principle of ‘Ask and tell’.
  • Do what thou wilt, so long as it harm none.
  • I believe Scotch whisky is superior to Irish whiskey.
  • I believe curry is one of mankind’s greatest inventions.
  • I believe in taxation to support important social, educational and material infrastructure from which we all benefit.
  • I believe in universal healthcare, free at the point of use. The right to life is the most basic right of all.
  • I believe in abortion, up until the onset of consciousness.
  • I form friendships quickly and easily, and often deeply. I may consider you a friend even if you don’t consider me a friend and I consider myself obligated to that friendship.
  • I believe in treating people as individuals.
  • I believe almost everyone is interesting.
  • I try not to judge, I try to understand. I sometimes fail.
  • I like most people. You have to be an absolute cunt for me not to get on with you.
  • I believe sexy fun times and sexy fun art are harmless, positive even.
  • I believe prostitution should be legalised – and regulated
  • I believe drugs should be legalised – and regulated.
  • I believe escapism is important.
  • I believe you can find someone attractive and still appreciate them as a human being as well.
  • I believe the internet should be free.
  • I consider The Singularity to be a likely outcome for the human race.
  • I believe games and the act of play to be more important than they’re normally considered to be.
  • I believe you can entertain an idea without accepting it.
  • I believe humour is important.
  • I believe satire is a powerful way to undermine something you hate.
  • I believe in crediting people with intelligence. I hate patronising or talking down to people.
  • I believe in taking the long term view.
  • I believe the human race has to get off this rock.
  • I believe in greater human unity over greater balkanisation.
  • I believe in free will.
  • I believe stories can be powerful, but not overriding.
  • I believe cats are better than dogs.
  • I believe Flash Gordon and Big Trouble in Little China to be the greatest films ever made.
  • I believe love is an unlimited resource.
  • I believe you’ve gotten the wrong end of the stick.
  • I believe creativity should be unfettered.
  • I believe 2000AD is the best comic ever made.
  • I believe fantasy is distinct from reality.
  • I believe it’s not butter.
  • I believe I can convince you of the things I believe, given enough time.

Racism, Feminism, Eroticism & Porntellectualism.

HERE‘s a link to a really interesting podcast by We Are Respectable Negroes (WARN) which is a prolonged interview with Nica Noelle. It ranges about a lot of interesting issues about the interface between erotic and mainstream culture and issues of feminism, stereotyping, shaming and race which are all topics that interest me as a writer and a game designer of some small notoriety within my niche.

This blog is about atheism and reason but also about the application of rational thought to contentious subjects. So I think it best fits here.

I have come to know Nica Noelle via my friend and colleague Satine Phoenix who is working on the art for Machinations of the Space Princess. Nica is a porn actress, former stripper and current director who is trying to take porn in a different direction with plots, stories, emotions and integrity. What you might call ‘visual erotica’ as opposed to porn per se. She is “beautiful, charming, devastatingly intelligent” and well worth following on Twitter so long as you can stand the occasional naked selfie along with self-deprecation, dog pictures and intelligent meanderings.

This is going to be a long blog post as there’s lots to talk about from this podcast, which lasts over an hour. So it’s going to be a long read. No apologies, but I’ll try to break it up with the occasional picture and I’ll reference the point on the podcast timeline I’m talking about as I go along. I found the whole thing quite thought provoking and drew parallels to culture-wars in nerd culture, games, the trials and tribulations of erotica writers and so forth. I hope you find it as thought provoking and if you can carve out the time, listen and read along with me:

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keyhole-742659[4.00] Chauncey brings up the fact that going into interviews and appearances, most of the time anyone who works in the sex industry at any level – pornography or otherwise – is usually facing judgement and stereotyping. Immediately the interviewee is placed on the assumed defensive because of the prurient interest or agenda of the interviewer. Nica’s fascination with the sex industry mirrors my own fascination with it. People have such mixed feelings about it, it has such a powerful effect on people, there are such contradictions and paradoxes in people’s consumption/condemnation/views on it.

The stereotype which they talk about [5:50] is that of the ‘broken toys’, that something must have gone wrong, that someone must be damaged to get engaged in the industry. As Nica points out this may have once been more true – though never universally true – but it’s becoming less true over time. Like everything else – it seems – porn and erotica are going somewhat mainstream and people don’t have to be broken or fucked up to get involved. It is gaining some small amount of acceptance.

I’ve known people involved in the sex industry in some manner or another for getting on for 15 years and yes, a lot of them are damaged and as Nica points out, being damaged in some way allows some people to break boundaries in a way those with more conventional backgrounds may not. In my experience though many get involved as a way of defining and controlling the sexual aspect of themselves that they didn’t have in their past. Commodifying and selling their sexuality brings it back under their control. Agency, as Chauncey puts it. There’s weight to what Nica says as well though, owning your stigma gives you power and identity – something that’s also very true of the nerd/geek culture. This is what you identify as, it becomes you. You are a ‘Star Wars fan’, or ‘A stripper’ or ‘A porn diva’.

[9:50] The idea of a ‘porn intellectual’ seems funny or amusing and I suppose, in a way, it is. We’re used to seeing people approach erotica and pornography from the view of literary or cultural analysis, from a feminist perspective particularly but an actual ‘porn intellectual’ seems somehow comedic. It isn’t and it shouldn’t be. It’s a medium – and a powerful one – that deserves genuine academic study that doesn’t come from axe-grinding or distancing but from a genuine desire to understand, analyse and improve. The argument that ‘it’s just porn’ is the same as ‘its just a game’ or ‘they’re just comics’. One shouldn’t lose sight of the fun aspects or the purpose, but an intellectual examination of any medium can throw up useful ideas and methodologies to improve that form.

masks_by_morgan[10:40] Chauncey talks about his experience with meeting the porn star Sierra. He overheard a conversation she was having about having both a ‘porn me’ and a ‘real me’. This is, perhaps, something that people might not have been able to identify with particularly in the past but now we all have an ‘internet persona’ and a ‘real life persona’ to some extent. Is this distancing oneself from what one does? Not necessarily. Porn is a performance as is writing, painting etc even at a remove. Our performance personalities are part of our work – an important part. Meeting an author, artist or game designer can often be a surreal experience because we form a mental image of that person before we meet them, via their work. The ‘real them’ can be completely at odds. The horror writer might be a quietly-spoken butterball of a person, all affection and gentleness in person, despite the image their work creates. I know that I come across very differently in person.

With a porn star, camgirl or whatever else the experience is reversed. We may be intimately aware of their physicality but the ‘real them’ that we must adjust to is their real personality and mind and that – I think – can be even more jarring, possibly because it takes work to figure someone out and trust for them to let their guard down. Certainly I know that once you get past that shell adult workers are some of the most genuine and bullshit-free people it has ever been my pleasure to know. Perhaps this is because those who survive and thrive there or have the strength to get ‘out’ when they want to have to be resilient and genuine and to ‘own their shit’ to work there in the first place.

The other side is that the construction of an ‘alter-ego’  [12:20] allows one to disassociate one’s ‘true self’ from what you do. That’s an aspect of shame or in better-case-scenarios modesty. Its a reason for pen names in erotica (or even in Science Fiction! Look at Ian M Banks Vs Ian Banks) and for ‘porn names’. I’m not entirely sure that’s healthy though I can understand the desire to shield yourself from the condemnation and judgement of others in any way you can. It can be harsh.

[15:10] It’s interesting to hear Nica talk about how devastating the tube sites and piracy have been to the adult industry and it’s interesting to compare that with how it has impacted other industries. Porn is disposable. People pirate or free-view porn with fewer – if any – moral quandries than they would about anything else. Porn is shameful, using porn is shameful, buying porn is something you have to justify and explain to yourself – and potentially your partner. The porn industries have a public image as being exploitative and ‘evil’ which makes it easier to justify ‘stealing’ from them. A subscription to a porn-site on your account is something that will make you red faced. If you can get your smut hassle free and without having to break anonymity in any way you’re going to take the path of least resistance. So this means porn is particularly hard hit by piracy in a way music, books etc are not.

Nica’s mode for tackling this, consciously or unconsciously is to tap into fandom and, in a way, the distributed patronage model. This chimes with the zeitgeist formed from Kickstarter/IndieGoGo and Amanda Palmer’s TED talk. The quotable Nica here is: “People like to be fans of things” and they do! If you have a strong personality, a strong product, if you do things in a way that stands out in some fashion you will attract fans and the 1,000 True Fan model – while not new any more – still seems to be the way things are going.

Nica puts a lot of effort into engaging with and talking to her fans. She spends a lot of time on Social Media, she reveals her true self, she is almost endlessly nice to people and available. She is a living defiance of so many of the stereotypes about adult workers. She’s doing well on the back of that and on the back of taking a risk in having a product that differs from what else is available by going emotional and romantic, by having story rather than – necessarily – going full on hardcore.

What is frustrating, terribly frustrating to me, is that Nica could go so much further if the tools were available for her to do so. Since crowdfunding took off I’ve been looking at it and thinking that it could be an incredible boon for the adult industry in the wake of the problems it is having with piracy. People do seem to form strong attachments to particular studios, particular porn stars, particular directors in much the same way as they do in the mainstream for particular writers (look at Warren Ellis or Alan Moore for examples from the comics/literary world) and they will go out of their way to support people they care about.

400censorshipUnfortunately for adult work it is often banned from these crowdfunding sites, even IndieGoGo which has an otherwise much more liberal political slant than Kickstarter does. There is – as yet – no platform I’m aware of that provides the necessary crowdfunding tools for adult workers in that it has security, accessibility, credibility and a high enough profile for it to work. Just imagine, though, if the money to make adult films and pay those involved could be raised from the fans, freeing those involved much more to choose who they work with, what they do and to meet the expressed needs and desires of their fans. Exploitation would no longer stick, financing would be in place with no up-front risk and there would be the capacity for Nica and others like her to experiment and push the boundaries more.

Part of the reason this hasn’t happened yet is the desire of these sites to maintain a ‘positive brand image’ but part of it is also the shaming and shunning of sex in our culture. Even with erotica we had this – and campaigned against it at Bannedwriters. Payment services, credit card processing, all of them seem to deem it acceptable to slap on extra surcharges and additional hoops to jump through if you’re doing something ‘naughty’, supposedly on the basis of increased risk to them. Are you more likely to return a sex toy or an adult video? I don’t know. We’d have to study that. Our reticence to argue and expose our peccadilloes allows the companies, meanwhile, to screw adult workers, writers and content providers over.

[26:00] The idea of ‘being yourself with the volume turned up’ resonated and I think that’s true for creators and performers across the spectrum. Interesting that the idea apparently came from wrestling!

[26:30] Nica and Chauncey go into a bit more detail about the different eroticism of The Random Encounter versus the Emotional Context and how each have their own appeal. Nice produces material with emotional context while most other pornographers seem to produce mechanical fucking but, as they both point out even a random encounter has some connection, even if its pure animal lust, which is most often missing from adult material. The nuances that make it work. There’s a fallacy, I think, that men are purely visual/physical and don’t crave intimacy in the way that a woman does and while that main contain a kernel of truth men absolutely do crave intimacy it’s just that acknowledging that is ‘unmanly’ and a ‘sign of weakness’ and – thus – to be avoided. That isn’t to say the purely physical or lusty can’t be great, but it doesn’t meet EVERY need. Many men who hire prostitutes do so as much for female company and conversation as physical relief and the same is often true of women who hire male escorts.

[27:20] This section talks about how porn people are funny. About how they’re hilarious and always joking around. This seems frivolous but I think it’s a hugely important point. We all know about the porn parodies and their (often) silly names which are funny, but not necessarily that sexy. Certainly from my experience in writing ‘adult’ game material it is much easier to sell the idea if you sell it as comedy. Humour is another distancing tactic, like euphemism or persona-creation that somehow makes it more acceptable to talk about sex (or death, or drugs, or cancer or whatever else makes people uncomfortable). This is a shame. I know I was terribly frustrated working on some of the stuff I did for Mongoose because I wanted to examine the material in a more serious vein but there just wasn’t the option. The later work suffered because it ended up confused between ‘Lol’ and ‘Hmm’.

[33:00] Nica and Chauncey start to talk about the impact of pornography for couples but also on teens and kids growing up today where porn is much more accessible and only a Google search away from satisfying your curiosity. I think it’s a bit arse-backwards to say porn creates fetishes and behaviours when it is more about fulfilling people’s desire to see certain things and exaggeration of those already extant desires. It’s hard to convince people they need a product they don’t want, it takes a lot of effort and the only example I can think of, off hand, is the invention of halitosis as a term by Listerine and the promulgation of the paranoia over it that they brought about. In other words, people are turned on by cumshots so they seek pornography that includes it, rather than pornography creating the desire to see cumshots. There are all sorts of complex psychological and evolutionary reasons why such a thing might turn us on despite seeming counter intuitive and for that I’ll refer you to the excellent book A Billion Wicked Thoughts.

[35:00] They touch on the idea of exploitation and the exploitation of women in porn when talking about the hardcore ‘gonzo’ material. This is where I part ways with Nica a little in that I still see such material as being non-exploitative because its fantasy and because everyone involved is paid and consenting and that there are people, men and women, who genuinely enjoy such acts. The lack of connection and meaningful power-exchange makes this material less engaging, interesting and causes it to part ways with such behaviour between consenting adults in real life and that’s where there’s a ‘problem’ with it but really this stuff is scratching a similar itch to BDSM.

I’m glad that Nica goes on to point out the shaming that goes on. That women aren’t supposed to enjoy certain kinds of sex and that this pressure most often comes from other women, telling them that they’re being exploited and used for something that they have agency over. I agree with Nica that such judgement is a way to oppress women and to try and enforce a party line. Certainly for me, growing up, it was a revelatory experience in and of itself that I – as a man – could be desired and pursued rather than the other way around and that a woman might want and desire sex rather than it being some sort of ghastly male imposition. This seems, to me, to be an extension of that.

[37:00] ‘Different strokes for different folks’ is something that needs to be understood across all entertainment genres. Something weird happens in education that you don’t normally see elsewhere, say in food. If someone doesn’t like the taste of coriander or (in my case) courgette then they happily go about their lives pushing it to the side of their plate or avoiding it altogether. When it comes to entertainment though, whether it be porn, games, books, comics, whatever else they seem to want to dictate their personal taste upon others and to justify their dislike beyond ‘this isn’t for me’ by turning it into some moral or social issue.

Historically one found this behaviour on the right-hand side of the political spectrum, generally stemming from religious beliefs. A personal distaste (or shame) would dictate that someone would condemn something on religious or moral grounds. This still goes on but increasingly one sees it from the political left as well. A personal distaste for something will be dressed up in the clothing of feminism, sexuality or other activism in order to justify that personal distaste and to portray the thing being targeted as societally harmful. Whatever side of the political spectrum this comes from it is harmful and shaming and needs to step back and think a little more.

tumblr_mairczhrc01rf10qjo1_500[38:00] Inevitably the discussion gets around to 50 Shades of Grey and how BDSM and erotica has abruptly and suddenly (yet again) popped up into the mainstream. Is 50 Shades giving women ‘permission’ to explore their kinkier or more submissive side? That goes back to the shaming culture that surrounds women who enjoy sex, particularly politically incorrect sex and the necessity of having a means to bypass or avoid the judgement of others. 50 Shades is, of course, awfully written and portrays the BDSM community in an appalling light and a manner in which it has reacted to very badly. This happens to every subculture that gets dragged into the mainstream glare whether it’s punk rock, roleplayers, comic fans or Trekkers and its going to be no different for kinksters. Awful or not, it does raise consciousness and does get people to experiment and explore which – in my opinion – is a net plus. Even if it creates some weird ideas in some people.

[39:00] I self-identify as being sexually dominant (don’t laugh) and briefly flirted with the BDSM scene for a while back in the day, in secret, ashamed of myself and terrified of both my own desires and of being ‘found out’. I still identify that way even if I’m not a ‘practising dom’ in much the same way as Stephen Fry used to identify himself as a celibate homosexual. I still find erotica and pornography along these themes the most intriguing in every sense, including artistry and what Nica says at this point about your sexual proclivity and identity not having to carry over into the rest of your life almost made me applaud the computer.

There are way, way, way too many doms (and dommes) who confuse being sexually dominant with being a jerk or a bully. That domination requires one to be an arsehole. That the power exchange is one-sided. That’s simplistic, stupid and ruins people for the BDSM scene much as it did me. Equally on the other side there are plenty of submissives who think that they have to be meek and useless all the time, to have no spine or desire of their own whatsoever, to defer on everything. There are those subs who forget that there’s no small amount of joy in ‘resistance’ before surrender – for all parties concerned and again, equally, this can be massively off-putting. Reconciling a respect and concern for women with the desire to dominate and control a partner sexually was – and is – incredibly shaming and difficult to process. Especially when people are telling you constantly how monstrous it is to have these desires and that, even as pure fantasy, they are somehow dangerous.

[45:00] Back to 50 Shades again and again about how the writing is awful. Nica and Remittance Girl seriously need to be friends and trade notes as they’re both intellectuals in similar arenas striving to better the craft.

Picture_1[46:00] The discussion gets into race in pornography and honestly this is something that has always really confused me and made my brain itch. I think that’s because I don’t have quite the same cultural cues and history as Americans do. That’s not to say race isn’t a big issue in the UK its just not as big an issue and not as woven into the warp and weft of British society as it is in America. Americans are seriously fucked up about race and this has one of its most open expressions in pornography to a degree that you don’t see elsewhere, perhaps because porn is already seen as problematic and shameful and so racial issues on top of that don’t seem like a big deal.

Part of me sees this issue as just another aspect of taste and fantasy. There are evolutionary reasons for us to be drawn to (and repulsed by) the different and the exotic and there are racial archetypes and cultural trends as well as physical aspects that do tie in – however loosely – to things that attract us. There’s nothing inherently wrong in being attracted to black women, Caucasian women, Hispanic women, Asian women, South Asian women or Arab women (or men) though you may find some of these itches harder to scratch than others, again for cultural reasons.

On the other hand, as Nica points out, often the person is there – at least in the adult film – to be nothing but ‘the black guy’ or ‘the Japanese schoolgirl’ and that is their entire and total character. At the same time I wonder why minority actors and actresses go along with it and that’s where I think it gets even more complicated, especially with African Americans and especially with African American men. The ‘thug’ stereotype seems, to me, to be as much a defensive stereotype, one of pride and masculinity, of threat and power as it is an offensive stereotype. The rapper, the pimp, the gang banger, these are shitty, two-dimensional things but they can be a source of strength. If you scare and threaten someone you have power of some sort over them that you may not, otherwise, have. The other stereotype being the super-hung black, the ‘mule’ (Is twoo is twoo!) which is simultaneously insulting but also affirming of dangerous, powerful masculine agency.

The dynamic in the states is such that many people are threatened by these black stereotypes and cultures and are simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by it. There’s an element of humiliation and despoiling in the interracial pornography, especially when it’s a black man (or men) and a white woman. Its a weird, charged mix and one that porn doesn’t shy away from while in other media this is pretty much unacceptable.

It is still a fantasy though and as Nica talks about there are those actresses who refuse to work with black men in movies, but who date black men in their ‘real lives’. They cannot, then, really be called racist but they know (or at least believe) that such a performance might damage their prospects or change their image with their fans. Equally those who make the films are exploiting a fantasy and a fetish that pre-exists.

Its the kind of problem that really bakes your noodle and needs discussion, discussion which doesn’t happen enough. My visceral reaction is disgust and its definitely ‘problematic’ but at the same time it is still fantasy, at a remove from reality, as much as BDSM fantasies are removed from ‘patriarchy’. To me, I think, after consideration it acts to illuminate just how messed up Americans are about race in the wider culture.

[48:00] As a grumbling old left-anarchist I think that a lot of these problems of white, male, middle class dominance are down to economics rather than race and that makes me realise why, in part, what passes for the American Left is so vitriolic and why it turns to blaming privilege in terms of race/gender etc so much. The argument on socialism versus capitalism is 99% lost in the US. It is not really part of the political conversation. The inability of immigrant and racial minority groups to climb the social ladder to the middle classes and nouveau riche on anything like an equal basis cannot be down to economic failure because freemarket, laissez-faire capitalism and trickle-down economics go virtually unquestioned in the American political conversation. If you work from that assumption then the issue must be down to black indolence (if you’re a conservative) or entrenched racism (if you’re white) and nothing to do with money at all.

From my perspective as a European and a leftist, that is (almost but not entirely) bollocks.

[50:00] Nica has proven her point and increased diversity in pornographic representation not by attacking or trying to eliminate the things she doesn’t like but by creating the things that she does. She has ‘made good art‘.

african-metalheads-in-botswan-pics-3047-1304170176-22[56:00] Chauncey brings up V.M. Johnson and, obliquely, the problems and surprise that racial minorities can encounter in the kink scene. This echoes what one finds in the gaming, science fiction and fantasy scenes where the problem is not necessarily the people who are already part of that tribe but rather those around the atypical person who finds themselves liking, loving, adoring something that is seen as ‘white boy stuff’. Certainly the goth and metal scenes have very few members of racial minorities in them and that’s not so much to do with racism within those scenes but rather the pressures upon minority kids to conform to the community into which they’re born. Owning and identifying with their stigma in a way similar to that Nica described for porn stars.

[57:30] Quoting V Chauncey says – to paraphrase – “That’s the politics of it, but whatever gets you off”. This resonates with my with regard to fan/geek culture, despite being focused on race, in that the assumption is so often that if you like cheesecake art in your fantasy games or comics, if you like to rescue the princess in a computer game that this necessarily says something about your feelings towards women. Merely not condemning such material sufficiently for those who hate it is also grounds for you to be branded a misogynist or whatever else. Sexuality is far more primal and powerful and yet V can make the distinction, even when it comes to so bitter an issue as black slavery, that the one thing is fantasy, the other is reality and the two don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other.

[58:00] Alongside the brain-itch from out and out racial issues in porn there’s also issues that come up with playing into the idea of ‘Americas enemies’. Mexicans crossing the border being caught and sexually used and humiliated or Arab (or Arab) women being the target of gonzo porn in the wake of 9/11 (fascination/revulsion at play again). This is no different to how wrestling brings in a ‘heel’ who is Iraqi – or whatever – when there’s a war on.

[60:00] Nica again reiterates about not judging people for their personal kinks and desires, however dark you might think they are or how harmful you might think they are. As she says, people can be exploring these things in a safe environment. I have known more than one woman who, as a victim of rape, sought out rough sex and rape play as a way to play out, process, deal with and work through their issues after the fact. A way of having a safe harbour where control was there if needed. Where they were reclaiming their own sexual autonomy through exploring these things.

From [64:00] to the end is important and valuable, I think, for challenging people’s stereotypes about adult workers and certainly meshes with my experiences and friendships with people who have worked across the spectrum of adult entertainment.

I found this whole ‘cast interesting, intelligent and it provoked the thoughts I’ve set out above. I think its worth listening to and I think people like Nica are worth supporting. I hope you’ve found it – and my thoughts – the same way. I’m going to end with a link to the brilliant Alyssa Royse talking about sexual shame and how its a load of bullshit.

Videogames is it?

“Videogames make people violent!”

“What?” I replied, distracted from two fingers of the finest scotch by a pronouncement of such gobsmacking stupidity it took my breath away.

“Videogames! With all their shooting and exploding and so on. They’re desensitising people!”

He seemed to really be into what he was saying, spittle flying from his mouth, the thousand-yard-stare of the Priest or the Imam flaring from his eyes like a laser beam.

A sip of the scotch and I gave him my most withering of looks. “Apart from you of course…”

“What?” He spluttered.

“Well, obviously you’ve looked into these games for yourself. Otherwise you couldn’t make such a pronouncement. Yes?”

He nodded vigorously. “Filth! Depravity! Gore! Bloodshed! Crime and prostitution! It’s all fodder to these game makers!”

“Yet… you wouldn’t consider yourself to be a violent man?”

“Oh no, not at all.”

“But you’ve examined these games, played them, to come to your conclusion?”

“Um…”

“Right then, shut the fuck up. You know what makes people violent? Patronising arseholes who don’t rate anyone else as having the intelligence or testicular fortitude they do.”

I finished the scotch.
And glassed him.

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Dognative Cissonance

As is depressingly usual, the internet exploded with nerd-controversy yesterday. One more personal, one more public. Both, however, serve my purpose in the ongoing struggle to examine and make sense of some of these peculiar interactions between radical feminism, geekdom and other strands of activism and ‘social justice’ (scare quotes justified by the hypocrisy of so many who self-label as this).

The more personal issue was an eruptive argument about perception and wording. Several rather contentious comments on twitter went up surrounding a blog post ( http://www.xojane.com/issues/i-am-going-to-dropkick-the-next-dudebro-who-tells-me-coercive-sex-is-consenting-sex ) about coercion in sex. Some of the comments within/around/next to the article and in the responses to it (positive and negative) seemed to me to be blurring the lines between coercion, persuasion and persistence.

This observation earned me an immediate branding as a rape apologist (again, le sigh) and some totally uncompromising ‘NO!’ shouting as well as perpetuation of the myth that the article I wrote earlier this year was rape apologism rather than a polemic against concern-troll, de-facto censorship of certain topics in creative endeavours.

Was I saying coercion is good and fine? No. I was saying that perceptions differ between people and from situation to situation. One person’s coercion may be considered by another person to be persuasion or simply being persistent. Consent is negotiated and any romantic or sexual attraction and courtship is an extended exercise in persuasion to acquire consent. The establishment of the idea that one is attractive, a safe bet, a pleasure to fuck.

Shockingly, but unsurprisingly, it was also said that the only thing that matters is the perception of the person on one side. Predictably, the person who decides they’ve been coerced. The feelings of the other party are entirely irrelevant, just as my feelings about being called a rape apologist – or worse – are irrelevant. Yet reverse the positions and feelings are absolutely essential and any insult cannot be tolerated. The problem with feelings is that they’re inherently subjective.

The second incident of note was Tony Harris (artist on Ex Machina) blowing up in frustration on Facebook ( https://www.facebook.com/tony.harris.313/posts/4441714834591 ) about cosplay girls. The gist of it is he’s unconvinced that cosplay girls are genuine, that they distract and detract from the purpose of the cons and pull people away from traders and creators. I don’t agree, but I can see where he’s coming from. I follow several cosplayers such as Yayahan because I find their craft amazing and, hey, full disclosure, doesn’t hurt that they’re hot too. Tony blows off some steam and in minutes he’s plastered all across the internet as being a misogynist dick which doesn’t particularly strike me as true.

In both instances what really strikes me is how it mirrors what one sees in other areas of argument, or even in the same area of argument. Hypocrisy is rife.

I’m an atheist and so I argue a lot with the religious. Sometimes you get someone willing to actually debate but more often you encounter people who only seek to proselytise, not to listen or discuss. Quite often simply disagreeing with any point is enough to get you written off as being ‘in the sway of the devil’ or similar. Anything you say can, then, be discounted and ignored no matter what it is while the fanatic blithers away on their points without pausing to back them up.

So it seems to go with these feminist arguments. Disagree on the most minor point of order and you will be instantly branded a misogynist, rape apologist or worse. This happens regardless of what you actually think or say and from that point on anything you do or say can be ignored. This most insidiously makes itself shown in the concept of ‘privilege’ where simply because you are a member of one or more ‘bad’ categories anything you say can be discounted.

Male? White? Well, you’re shit out of luck. Nothing you say can have any weight or point and you’re denied even the basic and fundamental human trait of empathy. The irony – given the people dismissing you are often fighting against similar dismissal of people on the basis of gender, race, etc – seems weirdly lost on people.

The fuss about Tony Harris also has its mirror. The comments he has made about cosplay are mirrored less far away than the arguments above. The kind of things he says in his rant are exactly the same kin of things said by feminists and white knights about booth babes. It’s almost exactly identical. ‘They’re not real nerds’, ‘They’re just there to lure people in’, ‘It’s all about the sex, not the product’, ‘They’re distracting’. Convention goers to events like Pax have even said these sorts of things about cosplayers themselves! This makes their criticism of Harris’ views ironic (again) and hypocritical (again).

Another mirror is in the behaviour of these internet social justice warriors and the behaviour of trolls. Just as trolls share the lulz and don’t stop to consider what they’ve actually done. So it is with internet warriors who – after an engagement – do the same backslapping and lulz-sharing dance that trolls do. At least trolls are honest about what they do and why though. Something that almost makes them better.

The reactions to this aren’t particularly helpful either. The reaction to the echo-chamber views of extreme feminism seems to have been for Men’s Rights Activists to create their OWN echo chambers where they can pursue their own, equally outlandish ideas. Again irony comes in as feminists dismiss MRA concerns in exactly the same way their own concerns have been dismissed in the past by sexists.

Dialogue isn’t possible without the venn diagram circles overlapping but so few people are willing to debate and discuss in good faith and with an open mind that compromise or tolerance seems impossible. Those of us who just want to create without our every thought being second-guessed with the intensity an stupidity of an English class dissecting a poem get caught in the middle.

It appears to be impossible to please anyone since the demands being made of the creators are contradictory. A great example of this is in ‘racefail’ ( http://fanlore.org/wiki/RaceFail_’09 ) where there are simultaneously complaints that there are not enough racial minorities in genre fiction but, at the same time, existing non-minority creators are not allowed to write them because they get it wrong, or it’s insulting, or it’s cultural appropriation.

An example closer to home is the insistence that rape is a huge, widespread and powerful issue but one that you’re absolutely not allowed to explore in fiction despite that. Somehow even writing about how bad it is or using it to reflect the harsh, wicked or evil nature of a society or a person is contributing to ‘rape culture’.

With these contradictions it is literally impossible to please these people and one will always be left open to a rhetorical broadside from some pretentious cunt with a bee up their arse about cause X, Y or Z.

If it doesn’t matter what we do or say? If we creators are not listened to. If our actual feelings and thoughts about topics are ignored in favour of what you THINK we do/say/feel then where is the motivation to listen to these critiques and the baseless lambasting of our work, politics or social views?

Whatever else it is, this kind of bullying definitely falls under ‘coercion’.

We need actual discussion, without the recrimination and with people actually willing to listen – particularly on the self-described ‘social justice’ side – to criticism without seeing it immediately as an attack or support for ‘Bad thing’. They need to deal with the cognitive dissonance that sees people supposedly against *isms being some of the most racist and sexist persons on the internet. Dissonance that lets someone simultaneously be outraged by mention of rape in fiction and at the same time threaten to rape my wife to ‘see how I like it’. The same dissonance that sees them supposedly campaign for women’s rights but spam me with anonymail saying things like ‘It figures a rapist would work with a whore’ or perpetuating lies and misconceptions in a way that would never be accepted the other way around.

Fat chance that such a debate can be had, but this door’s open if anyone wants to take the chance in good faith.

A Marked Lack of Self Awareness

“It does remain a puzzle why it has been so hard for Americans loudly to defend sexual rights even if they definitely enjoy having them,” says [Dagmar] Herzog. “This creates an echo chamber in which the bullies get to set the terms of debate.” (Talking about gay marriage, but it’s more broadly applicable).

So, this happened.

Then this happened.

One set of shrill and offensive trolls spammed, blogged, defaced, made wild accusations and horribly stereotyped the producers of a game. The same thing also happened later on to  this Tropes Versus Women project.

The difference? Well, the people who trolled Tentacle Bento off Kickstarter could spell and weren’t necessarily being deliberately offensive, though they certainly were doing so by talking about nonsense like ‘rape culture’ and calling people ‘creepy’ or ‘rape apologists’. Other than that the only real difference is that Tentacle Bento got knocked off Kickstarter and Tropes Versus Women certainly isn’t likely to, despite casting its own aspersions about game designers, writers and consumers which are insulting in their own way.

Little wonder, in this hot-button debate, that people who see (articulate) trolling succeeding in removing ‘offensive’ content, try it themselves. Not to mention that things like Tropes Versus Women are irresistible to trolls and almost guaranteed to get a reaction from the people there.

As to the projects themselves, ultimately both have benefited massively from the controversy which means neither set of trolls has actually done what they wanted to. They’ve just made things more inconvenient for people who like either project.

Let’s be clear here, both attempts to censor are equally offensive (and have proven equally pointless). One wraps itself up in pseudo-academia and unproven assertions about offence and one looks like straightforward trolling, but it’s not so simple in either case.

You’re all wrong.

Just let people get on and make things.

And for the love of Mike would someone religious do something as nonsensical as this so I can blog about that instead (Church of England doesn’t count, they’re pretty irrelevant).

Chance of Reason? Slim & Nun

By this point you’ve all seen this trailer. Right? You’ve heard all the fuss going around about it? The furore has, essentially, created a massive amount of publicity and all the bitching, whining, moaning, complaining and censorious attitudes on show have all but guaranteed that it’ll succeed and that a hardcore of people will buy it simply because other people are being pricks about it. Just as happened with Tentacle Bento.

Is it sexualised? Not particularly. There’s nothing sexual about the violence. The only ‘sexy’ thing is the outfits and it’s clearly channelling the ‘spirit’ of grindhouse cinema for the sequence.

Our Hitman, despite being elite, is shown as vulnerable and weakened. Wounded. In the fight he gets slapped around a bit, stabbed, cut, punched and very nearly shot. His opponents aren’t his equal but they’re capable.

Sex need not be sexist. Violence against women need not be misogyny and, after all, these ladies are out to kill him. Would it not be more suspect on a gender basis if female characters were extended special treatment? Immunity to fictional harm? That would be sexist, would it not? Would an eyelash be batted if the attacking gang had all been men? I doubt it.

From where do we get the assumption that this is necessarily a bad thing? Why is it that the people who choose to complain and fuss about this sort of thing have a harder time differentiating fantasy from reality than the people who enjoy it? Is there actually any evidence that videogame violence (or sexual imagery) has a particularly deleterious effect on anyone?

Various studies seem to say they do not. Attempts to link pornography with rape, or videogames with violence are almost all horrendously biased and better constructed studies show otherwise. The truly damning evidence against the assertion that these things cause societal harm is in the crime statistics for both rape and violent crime.

Regardless of other factors, of which there are many, if violent and sexual video games or pornography had such a dramatically deleterious effect as is claimed then surely this period, when graphically realistic games and the firehose of free internet porn became viable, should see a massive increase in violence and rape and a lack of progress in social issues.

That does not seem to be the case at all.

It’s possible to ‘play’ with previously offensive tropes without believing in them. Papa Lazarou is a horrendous, blackface, wife-stealing monster, but it’s a joke. Grindhouse cinema has been played with by Rodriguez and Tarantino and it’s perfectly possible to enjoy the products of that era of cheap cinema without buying into the negative side of Blaxploitation etc. Howard and Lovecraft were horrific racists but their writing, their books are still classics even if they contain problematic elements.

The entire exercise of censorship by the well-meaning left, and right, seems predicated upon the arrogant concept that the would-be censor is superior to anyone and everyone else who views the material. That they’re somehow immune. Too intelligent, too switched on to succumb in the same way as the hoi polloi. Either god or education or sheer social awareness somehow means they’re unaffected while the rest of us poor slobs are brainwashed.

It’s arrogant, presumptive and insulting.

Is it censorship to try and silence or remove these kinds of expressions? Often those of a censorious mindset say that what they’re doing is not censorship because it’s not governmentally enforced but the definition of censorship goes well beyond the 1984 style governmental nonsense that people think it does. When you’re applying pressure to have something removed you’re attempting to censor. Social shaming is one method. Economic sanction is another. It doesn’t have to come from government on high with the force of law to be censorship.

Can it be justified?

If you can show that these things actually do cause definite harm then, possibly you have a case. By harm I don’t mean ‘This disgusts you’ or ‘This makes you feel uncomfortable’ I mean actual harm.

Otherwise…

“Oh, fuck off.”