When I saw the news coming out of Paris, all I could think was, I said this was coming years ago... and it finally happened. Except what I said wasn't anything to do with terrorism or Islam or race politics or anything like that.
It was back in 2000 or thereabouts, at the San Diego Comic-Con, during one of those sessions shooting the breeze around the campfire at the CBR barbecue Jim MacQuarrie and his family used to host at Mission Beach. A bunch of us that were admins on the message boards here were trading stories about the more demented posts we'd seen and the various nutballs we'd had to deal with in our time at CBR. In particular, we were talking about the rage that had come out of Emerald Twilight. The Hal vs. Kyle debate had become a holy war on CBR's Green Lantern board, and we were boggled at the insane levels of anger we were seeing. It had been going on since 1994 and showed no sign of slowing. I'm talking the kind of frenzied savagery that would allow a person to survive naked in the jungle for six weeks. All aimed at a comic-book story... and at anyone fool enough to admit, no matter how timidly, that they kinda liked the new direction and were willing to see where Ron Marz was going with Kyle Rayner as GL.
What I said was-- it's been quite a few years, so I'm paraphrasing-- "Sure, we all laugh at these Green Lantern guys and their lunatic rage over a fictional character like Hal Jordan. But here's what I worry about. I wonder if one of them is ever going to show up with a gun and take Ron Marz hostage until DC agrees to get rid of Kyle Rayner. I mean, there have been threats."
Somebody muttered something about how the real DC crime worthy of homicide was the Super-mullet.
"I'm serious," I said. "There's no security at the con to speak of.... just those grumpy senior citizens in the red blazers saying take the other escalator. Come on. You think they're capable of actually stopping anyone? People carry those giant TOKYOPOP bags in and out of that hall all the time. You could get an arsenal in there with one of those. One crazy pulls a submachine gun out and with the crush in the aisles on the main floor... he could mow down dozens of people in seconds. Kids, families. We've been laughing about crazy demented fans all night but really... one of these days, one of them's going to snap."
That was about fifteen years ago.
Well, it happened. Someone snapped. Someone became so incensed over a comic book that nothing would satisfy them except shooting the people that created it.
The world is disbelieving, horrified, shocked. Me, I'm horrified, sure. But not at all surprised.
Well, that's not true. I'm surprised it took this long.
Since the killings at Charlie Hebdo's offices in Paris a few days ago, I've seen all sorts of punditry and carrying on about What It All Means. It's fear of the power of satire. It's terrorism. It's what happens when you go after religion. No one has any real answers, except we are all agreed that it's crazy and horrible.
From where I sit, though, the best response I saw was Patton Oswalt's: "Nice of you to finally notice." He was talking to Salon, who'd magically reversed their disapproving stance on comedy 'going too far,' now that someone has in fact committed murder because of the disapproval of comedy 'going too far.'
But it strikes me that comment easily applies to comics and fan-crazy as a whole.
Look, you can talk about religion all you want. But religion doesn't make people homicidal and crazy. Not every Muslim is a terrorist, any more than every Christian is blowing up abortion clinics. People don't commit violent acts like that because of their faith. For that matter, they don't do it because of their fandom, either. Let's be very clear about that, for those of you out there starting to bristle. These people do it because they are sociopathic murderous derange-os who need to be locked up where they can't hurt anyone. Full stop. Anything beyond that, you can safely file under 'excuse' and there is no goddamn excuse.
Here's what's bothering me, though. My question is: Is the Charlie Hebdo thing the wake-up call, finally? Is this what it takes? Will people start paying attention now?
Because this particular brand of fanatical crazy-and-horrible has been ramping up for years now, especially in comics and gamer culture, and we keep laughing it off and excusing it. It's routine now for comics creators to get death threats over the fates they inflict on fictional heroes: whether it's Ron Marz over Green Lantern or Dan Slott over Spider-Man. Every writer in comics who's ever worked a convention has a horror story. (I wasn't aware of this until earlier this week, but Kurt Busiek apparently got threats over Superman beating Thor in Avengers/JLA, for God's sake.)
Denny O'Neil was asked about scary fans by The Comics Journal years ago. "I call them 'the hoverers.' They just stand by your table, hovering, and once in a while they'll ask me why Batman doesn't just kill everybody or something." He added that it was pretty clear that the answer that Batman was the hero and didn't do that kind of thing was a disappointment to them.
That's too much of a leap, Hatcher, I hear some of you saying. Sure, there's crazy comics fans out there and sure, some of them are pretty creepy, but come on. They're harmless. Those Charlie Hebdo guys, that was terrorism.
You think I'm exaggerating? Seeing a connection that isn't there? Ask the women.
Ask Janelle Asselin, whose common-sense review of a Teen Titans cover resulted in an avalanche of hate mail and rape threats. That started right here on the aforementioned CBR message boards, which despite the efforts of many, many good people trying to stop it, had nevertheless turned into such a cesspool of internet nastiness and online bullying that Jonah finally decided to shut it all down and reboot from scratch with very clear behavior standards in place. Some folks were annoyed by this but I will tell you that everything Jonah put in those rules was what the admins had been asking him to do for years. (I know; I was one of them.)
Or let's talk about GamerGate. Anita Sarkeesian canceling a speaking engagement at Utah State because a threat promised the biggest school shooting in history if she showed, that she would "die screaming like the craven little whore that she is." Her crime? Writing an article that suggested maybe video games need not be an exclusive boys' club. Or Brianna Wu, who was put in fear for her life over a joke tweet.
Not mention all the shit that Sonia and Kelly have been subjected to right here on the blog. I was kidding around with Kelly a few days ago on Twitter... she was worried about what she'd write about if the Squirrel Girl advance copy didn't show up in time and I said she should write about The Five Worst Cases of Mansplaining in the X-Men. She laughed and said, Are you trying to get me killed? I told her I would if she didn't, I wasn't afraid of those people. She said Dooo Itttt! I laughed. She laughed.
That was January 4th. On January 7th Charlie Hebdo got shot up and suddenly it wasn't funny any more. Because apparently it CAN get you killed. 'Those people' have demonstrated that they really are something to be afraid of.
All these mainstream press pundits and bloggers and so on currently howling about the evil that was committed in Paris earlier this week, about how the staff of Charlie Hebdo are martyrs to the free press? Where were they when female writers were being threatened and doxxed and forced to flee their homes because of deranged fans? What's the difference there?
If it's about crime, then it's about crime. If it's about free press, it's about free press. You should be free to write what you please, right? And to publish it? Nobody should get rape threats or death threats over that? That's the position? Then it's true all the time, not just when you agree with what's being published. Frankly, I am not terribly impressed with the level of satire practiced at Charlie Hebdo. For that matter, I'm not crazy about Seth Rogen movies and I still have no intention of seeing The Interview. But so the hell what? How is THAT the point?
The content isn't the issue. It offends me hugely, as long as people are being offended, that so many writers are trying to make it the issue. It's astonishing to me how many supposedly serious journalists are huffing that on some level Janelle Asselin and Anita Sarkeesian and yes, even the staff of Charlie Hebdo were asking for it because they "courted the controversy." Sorry, but no. Just no. That's crap.
I've heard that defense before, many times: all the way back to when I was eight years old. Apologists for bullies use it constantly. It's a variation of Well, what did you do to make them mad? Every nerd that was ever victimized by a bully has heard that one and it's still bullshit, even when a nerd is the one using that excuse. It's right there with Girls wouldn't get raped if they didn't dress slutty.
Look, it's not enough any more just to jeer at these extremist bullying freakshows, whether they're jihadists or superhero fans. They're not just picking fights on message boards any more. They've proven they're dangerous. They're committing crimes. And now some of them have killed people.
Sure, the Charlie Hebdo killers did it in the name of the Prophet. Whatever. Not seeing a difference here. What I can't figure out is why so many other people still do. Extremist, fanatical rage looks the same to me whether it's about the treatment of Mohammed or the editorial direction of Spider-Man.
Comics conventions and websites like CBR are doing better. We have anti-harassment policies now and better security. But it's not enough. The culture that tolerates the crazy as part of the business, that makes excuses and stalls and minimizes, that waits until there's a crisis before taking any action at all, is what has to change.
That culture is us, and the time to start is now. Enough is enough. There's no need to declare a movement or have a ceremony. Just start. Today. This minute. Say to yourself that you won't let creepy fan bullshit like threats and doxxing go unchallenged any more. Those actions are criminal. And keeping quiet about it, just hunkering down and hoping they go away like we have been, isn't working. It's making them braver.
See you next week.