Outrage Porn and the Commodification of Fan Spaces

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This is great.  If you haven’t read it, I recommend you do.

There’s a lot to it, not all of which I agree with, and much of it comes from a very different culture than is the river in which I generally swim (to borrow a parlance from Gary Panter).  I don’t put much stock in the idea of queer-baiting, for instance (at least as it relates to properties like Sherlock and Supernatural; which, it seems, have an established interpretation that a small, but vocal subset of fans choose to ignore, and then get mad when the show does not legitimize their reading).

To me, the important point is the degree to which the passion of fandom can and does become commodified.  And not in the usual sense of the people who sell us t-shirts and Enterprise model kits.

What’s different now is the people who profit off passion in the form of controversy: the outrage machine and its click-based profit motive writ large over nerd culture.  Make no mistake, it’s a business to these people.  They need your shares.  Which is why the manufactured controversies are becoming more frequent and less substantial with each new cycle.

Just look at the recent example of Barb and Stranger Things. In all other respects, the recent Netflix prestige series is celebrated as a well-written and even female-friendly show.


Justice for Barb, I guess?

Not every character can be the hero of the story.  Audiences intuitively understand this.  If the story were about Barb, it would require its own sacrifices, characters cut down before their time, just as unfairly as Barb was.

But it’s not about story, it’s about politics.  And our politics are about our passions.

I have my own theories on this.  I believe it goes way beyond fan culture.  The world is a messed up place.  People have legitimate grievances.  And voicing those grievances in the form of theoretically righteous indignation feels good.  So good we might actually be addicted to it.

Just look at this data, from Weibo, the Chinese social media platform that’s essentially China’s Twitter.  It indicates anger spreads faster than any other emotion in web sharing.

We’re becoming increasingly segmented – victims of the bubble – and the controversy-makers pit our bubbles against each other to drive traffic and ad revenue.

And believe me when I say, they’re counting on your addiction.  Controversy-peddlers don’t care about your issue.  In fact, in many cases, they’re actively opposed to it, or have a vested interest in trivializing it.  That’s how thousands of fans end up going after Nick Spencer for (allegedly) making Captain America a Nazi.  That doesn’t benefit them, however legitimate their grievance might (or might not) be.  It benefits advertising revenue, and possibly Marvel, who keep their product in the public eye and at the center of the conversation.


Seems legit.

So what do we do about it?  Unlike the author, I don’t believe we can put the genie back in the bottle.  Nor do I think it would be morally or ethically right to return fandom, and its otherwise voiceless groups, to safe spaces only, free from economic exploitation.  I think it might be foolish to even think those spaces exist.  The suits know about Tumblr now and they’re not likely to forget fandom’s home address.

The best thing we can do is talk about it.  We need to be aware of ourselves caught in the gears of the outrage machine.

No one can tell you what issues should or shouldn’t be important to you.  There is injustice in the world, objects worthy of your ire.  But next time, before you click share, it might be worth asking, “Who benefits?”  Because it might not be who you think.

A Milestone for Comics

I yearn to be able to one day contribute as much to the conversation (about everything: race, class, society, life) as Dwayne McDuffie did. Does anyone know if the Milestone books are available on Comixology? If not, they should be. It seems that with the national conversation where it is today, they were frustratingly, brilliantly ahead of their time. And it seems that almost every other week there is a think piece about a new reader discovering that.

I am proud by the way, enormously, heart-wrenchingly proud, to count Matt Wayne as a friend and teacher.  A man who was there for Ground Zero of a movement that tried to change everything about comics, without laying a finger on the things that worked.


Opening Up The Archives

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Lots of changes to Exit.  I’ve added a new page that includes a smattering of the spec samples I’ve written over the years.  Not all are perfect (there’s a lot I would do differently, being a different writer now than I was then), but I’m proud of something in each, and hopefully, they can serve as learning tools for you.

The Ghost of Scripts-mas Past

Occasionally, I’m asked to share “spec” scripts (material designed to show my skills as a writer, but not contracted by any company or official persons).  I’ve written several.  I’ve decided to include these to give a sense of the process.

Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, “All Tomorrow’s Parties”  My first spec.  This was a terrible sample, in that it made no attempt to mimic the voice of the series. But it was a pretty good indication of what I’d do with the premise.  In that sense, and in the sense that it got me work, it has served me well.

Part of what inspired this was the obvious question of sex between Cameron and John, which the show seemed determined to slow burn, but which felt to me something that had to be dealt with from jump.  Terminator 2 always felt like a perfect metaphor for puberty.  You’re already struggling with all that anger, and then someone gives you a robot that can burn the world.  Making the robot look like Summer Glau just makes the metaphor more explicit.

Because it’s science-fiction, the issue of teen sex revolves around a time travel paradox that re-orders our understanding of cause and effect in John’s timeline, as well as posing the question of just who keeps reprogramming all these robots to begin with?

Wolverine and The X-Men: “Weapon 12” – Funny story (maybe I’ll tell it in detail another time), my first job as a writer in Los Angeles was supposed to be for Wolverine and the X-Men, on a season two that never materialized.  I found myself with a lot of free time and everyone thought I was already working on the show, so…

This is an adaptation of a few different arcs from Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men (including “Weapon 12” and “Assault on Weapon Plus”) with the aim of introducing Fantomex, in all his arrogance, improbable powers and charm, into the continuity of a show that is admittedly for children, and shouldn’t get near a character like Fantomex.

Fun fact: Fantomex was based on the Diabolik character from Italian comic strips and grind house cinema, who was himself based on the turn of the century criminal master mind and French answer to Sherlock Holmes, Fantômas.

This is a very early sample from before I knew the rules of writing for animation, but it’s still worthwhile as an artifact.

Film: “The Lucky Strike” – A script for an abandoned short adapted from the story of the same name by Kim Stanley Robinson.  What might have happened if the fateful flight over Hiroshima had gone a bit differently?  I regard this mostly as practice, though it was shot.  The film was abandoned when the production couldn’t secure the rights to the footage they had.

I like this one a lot.

Fringe, “On the Subject of Genies and Bottles” – This is pretty self-explanatory.  I had just read Great Mambo Chicken on the recommendation of Warren Ellis and my head was buzzing with nano-swarms.  Still one of my favorite books.  Script is good, too.

Doctor Who, “The Martian Invasion” – The Doctor meets young Orson Welles on the night of the War of the Worlds broadcast.  But what’s the real invasion and what’s the hoax?  Clever idea (though some people have pointed out it plays in territory similar to The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, which I’ve never seen), and putting the Doctor up against someone as brash and arrogant as him was a lot of fun.  I still like this, and may do something with it one day.

More to come, particularly for those of you interested in writing.  Stay tuned.

Am I Crazy, Or…

There is something important in this story. About a million important things. At this time of night, I don’t have the insight to identify it or the faculties to express it once identified, but it’s there, for certain. Is it the finally-realized result of a decade and a half of terrorism? The strange condition of the human animal, wherein we behave worse in a fake crisis than a real one? Reading about this feels like reading about the Stanford Prison Experiment in real time and if it was an accident. It has the surreal quality of a Twilight Zone episode. Some post-9/11 Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, with a heaping dose of the bizarre banality and boredom of a Beckett play. I’m grasping at straws.