Friday, May 05, 2006

Which Side are you... Oh, never mind.

This whole Taki Soma/Charles Brownstein thing almost has me wishing that I was doing Fanboy Rampage again, I have to admit. Not because I want to comment on the actual allegations themselves, because those are something that I want to stay far away from because, you know, it’s none of my business and it’s already so much of a mess, but all of the online activity surrounding it has been fascinating to watch, from the purposefully irresponsible tone of the original column by Ronee Garcia Bourgeois (Never mind the inflammatory coyness about the accused that led to Jim McLaughlin having to make a public declaration of innocence, it’s things like this that stand out for me: “I understand that this is quite the sensitive topic and that this all has to be handled with kid gloves and we need to be careful and blah blah blah… I am personally going to make sure this stays in the public eye. I just want this organization and the man behind all of this to be warned. This WILL come out and I am gunning for him.”) to the reactions to reporting on Newsarama, to the reactions to those reactions… It’s like the comics internet’s very own Civil War, and Nitro’s just blown up a bus full of kids!

This latest batch of self-righteousness wars is the result, as everyone knows, of the naming of Charles Brownstein and the emergence of various points where Bourgeois and Soma’s version of events seem to be contradicted. Matt Brady’s coverage and analysis of the story at Newsarama offered the chance for both sides to sort through the contradictory information calmly and rationally:

“This man needs to be immediatly FIRED and possibly castrated. Theres no way in hell I believe him at all. If it takes TWO PEOPLE to remove a man (Ken and Soma) then theres no way it was a bad prank or a feignt. I hope she sues this putz and bankrupts him.”

“All of the new information either supports Brownstein's version, cuts down Ms. Bourgeois, or questions whether the FOL should be involved in these sorts of matters. It just didn't feel balanced.”

“[A disclaimer at the end of the article admitting Brady’s friendship with Brownstein] doesn't change the slant of the article, in the way that it really does paint Taki as a ‘lying whore.’"

Of course, with Brownstein’s identity made public, Matt Brady wasn’t the only one with a connection to Brownstein offering commentary. Image’s Jim Valentino and Marvel’s Joe Quesada were amongst creators offering something resembling solidarity to Brownstein and pointing to the larger issue. Valentino:

“I have known Charles Brownstein since he was sixteen years old. In over a decade’s worth of conversation on nearly every subject imaginable (including women), I know that he is neither mauler nor rapist, nor sexual predator. While the incident in Ohio was unfortunate and unacceptable (and, yes, I royally reamed my friend for it) it was, upon close scrutiny, a drunken indiscretion. Does this excuse it? No. Should this have happened? Absolutely not. But, did it warrant the furor created in its wake by an irresponsible, unethical and inconsequential blogger? Again, no. Many innocent individuals and both involved parties had their reputations hurt as a result of its poorly written, poorly researched over-emotional tone.”


“What we have here is a situation in which two people are being directly hurt and going through more stress than any humans need to go though, all due to a modern day witch-hunt that would have the good ol’ folks from Salem Mass. gleefully admiring us today. Seems nothing has changed… However, what is truly shameful is how this went from being an incident that was strictly between two people and now has been tried in the court of public opinion by ill informed bloggers and posters way to eager to burn someone at the stake! Sometimes I wonder if we should have to apply for licenses to be able to type on the Internet.”

That larger point, however, was somewhat lost on Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, the editor of the original columns at Buzzscope that brought the issue to light:

“I'll be addressing the situation on Buzzscope (PopCultureShock) later this week, as soon as my own investigation is completed […] As some have alleged, Buzzscope (PopCultureShock) bears no ill will towards Brownstein or any of his well-intentioned, level-headed supporters. While Ronée has definitely been extremely passionate in her coverage of this story, to the point of inadvertently causing a few innocent bystanders to have fingers pointed in their direction (for which I, on behalf of PCS, apologized directly to the one party I'm aware of who contacted us about it), she has been no more or less irresponsible than the average TV or newspaper pundit with an op-ed platform. Debate the quality of her writing until you're blue in the face, but don't let the message get lost because you don't like the messenger or how they delivered it. Unlike the TCJ article and, presumably, this one, her coverage was never represented as news and those who say there's no difference are either being naive or disingenuous. Mostly the latter, in my opinion.”

Heidi MacDonald picked up on the interesting first sentence from the above quote:

“Well, it's nice that five months after Buzzscope has perhaps irrevocably harmed three people's careers, jeopardized a marriage, and shaken all three of comics' biggest non-profit organizations, they are finally investigating. Thoughtful, even. They really cross those T's and dot those I's… Folks, I think it's time to cut Buzzscope loose. I really do. They're in the cornfield. If Gonzalez had an insight into actual journalistic ethics, he wouldn't be going around making these jaw dropping statements that are digging him deeper and deeper into the hole he seemingly can't see through his smug-colored glasses of sophisticated higher purpose. And the saddest thing of all? The person most hurt by all of this is the person they were purportedly trying to help.”

Again, Guy misses the point and jumps to a fascinating conclusion:

“When the wagons start circling, they don't waste any time in firing up the Howitzer, do they? Heidi MacDonald, a highly respected blogger who's known Charles Brownstein since he was 15 years old, has now set her sights on Buzzscope and me… Good thing I've never really been interested in breaking into the industry because it certainly sounds to me like the beginning of a blackballing, yes?”

Follow the above link for Mark Waid’s response to Guy’s last line, which is well worth reading. It should be pointed out that Guy’s been playing the “This was never a news story, so it doesn’t matter about Ronee’s wild accusations” card for awhile, now (“…While Ronée was definitely sloppy with her original column -- and I think that distinction needs to be made repeatedly, that she is a columnist, not a journalist and has at no point filed a "news" article about this story…”), along with the “We alone are brave and standing up alone against a tide of apathy and evil” card every now (“You think the guy who did this isn't sweating out his precarious situation a little more with each blogger he sees talking about this, especially influential ones with influential audiences, like Spurgeon, MacDonald and Riggs? You think he's not relieved a bit by posts like Riggs' that shakes its head in shame while effectively saying she won't be doing anything about it? Or Spurgeon, who didn't even deign it worthy of a specific mention? Or several other bloggers who jumped on the story in the beginning but have so far remained silent since Taki stepped forward.”) and again (“I also want to see the spineless men in the industry who stood on the sidelines when this story first came out -- the ones who knew about this guy and his reputation, and stayed silent because, for them, it wasn't that big a deal, or there was more to lose than gain -- I want to see them stand up now and publicly declare their support for Taki and for the Fund, and to let HIM know that he dodged a bullet this time, but that from here on out he's being watched, and the next time he disrespects a woman in any manner, he can kiss his career goodbye.”).

What comes from all of this for me is, I think, something close to Joe Quesada’s comment about needing a license to post on the internet. It’s not just that various fans aren’t able to process events outside of “Civil War rocks Infinite Crisis sucks oh my God”, it’s that the simplistic fan binary mentality of “Which side are you on” being a valid question instead of just an advertising slogan feeds into almost every part of internet conversation, from sites reporting serious events on down. It feels like a turning point, something that might even force the comics internet to grow up a little. Who knows?