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It's been said that I'm "Metal like Iron Man, cool like Drake, frosty like Emma, tyger tyger like Blake." Okay, I said that. It's still true.

Good Behavior: How Riot Games is Using Psychology to Stop Online Harassment 

Gentle Readers,

I don’t know if any of you play League of Legends, a game I insist on calling “lol”, much to my older brother’s chagrin. I’m sure that by now, though, you’ve at least heard of it. League is a MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) published by Riot Games, wherein teams composed of five people choose characters with specific abilities, called “champions”, and do battle against other teams. League of Legends is a community of millions of players, with as many as 7.5 million playing at any one time. For perspective, that’s more people than live in Massachusetts, or in all of Bulgaria.  And daily counts are in the high twenty millions. It is a truly massive collection of people interacting, often as strangers to one another. With any community of a reasonable size, some portion thereof are assholes.

The Champion Select screen.

The Champion Select screen.

While I’m not incredibly invested in the game itself—I played for a while, found it to be a lot like the WoW mod Defense of the Ancients that inspired it, and moved on—attempts to corral, quarantine, or reform these assholes are compelling object lessons in how one might manage a massive digital community. Over the past year, Riot Games has made well-publicized efforts to bring some of this behavior under control, considering their previous systems too lenient. As Jeffrey Lin, lead social systems designer for Riot, put it:

By giving the worst 2% so many chances, we’re actually letting them ruin a lot more games and players’ experiences and that’s something we want to try to reduce… we’re hoping to address with our systems is that some players understand what’s crossing the line and believe it’s ok, because other games never punished it in the past.”

Riot acknowledges that what it has is a relatively small problem, but considers that among the sheer number of games and reports of negative experiences,  even these are unacceptable. Thus, they are taking proactive steps to make their corner of the internet a little less like Lord of the Flies.

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Joss Whedon, Driven Off Twitter by “Feminazis?” Um, No.

Gentle Readers,

A couple of days ago, Joss Whedon left Twitter. Packed up his bags and went, leaving us with this final tweet:

JossLastTweetThat’s kind of a shame. Joss has long been a writer/producer/dreamer of some of my favorite ideas and I really enjoyed his little corner of my Twitter feed. But what is much more important than that is why he left. After Age of Ultron was released, Joss received a non-trivial amount of Twitter vitriol, which you can investigate here, about the portrayal of Black Widow in the film. I had some issues, but nothing I want to get into here, and certainly nothing I want to scream into Twitter about. But what’s remarkable was the assumption that these tweets were the reason that Joss left Twitter. The article I just linked above, at time of writing, assumes that to be true, it seems.

More importantly, it was lent credibility by Patton Oswalt tweeting:

Yep. There is a “Tea Party” equivalent of progressivism/liberalism. And they just chased Joss Whedon off Twitter. Good job, guys. Ugh.

—Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) May 4, 2015

You know, I was really bothered by Black Widow’s characterization in Age of Ultron. I thought she was simpering and her on-screen time was wasted. I thought that attempts to show a softer side of her just made her feel a little less relevant, and made me wonder if Joss Whedon really understands the word “feminism”. The prima nocta joke just wasn’t funny, much less in good taste or appropriate anywhere, really. But does it make me want Joss Whedon to rot in hell?

Does it make me want to curse him out on Twitter, to fill his feed with profanities so that he knows that he’ll never work again in this business?

Eh. Probably not. But just the same, all people who respect free speech on the Internet should be ashamed that Joss Whedon was driven off Twitter.

There is just a single solitary problem with that: he wasn’t. In Whedon’s own words: “That is horseshit.”  Continue reading

On Privilege, Casting, and Loss

Gentle readers,

About a month ago, I wrote a post that was mostly about Michelle Rodriguez kind of putting her foot in her mouth while talking about race and superhero films. It was of the most forgivable sort; she was walking to her car when someone stuck a microphone in her face and she said something off the cuff that had the veneer of being reasonable. She even went back and explained, in a mature fashion, what she meant after being met with backlash. I still think she was wrong. Change the gender, race, ability, and sexuality of white, male, straight, cis, and abled characters. Do it often, and be bold about it, because there’s nothing to lose, and there is only inclusion to gain.

The subject of “loss” brings me closer to my actual point: a significant proportion of white male rage over changing the gender and race of superheroes can be connected to a sense of loss. I’ve previously emphasized that it represents a fear of “loss of cultural property”, but I’d like to broaden my point for a second before returning to it. This fear is a microcosm of the larger fear of loss of those who occupy a dominant position in our society.

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Always a New Musical

It seems that there is always a new musical.

That is, it seems that there is always a new musical based off of some existing property, where the source is often a non-musical entity. I am a lover of theatre from a young age, taking in my first professional theatre shows as a child of seven years. I’ve been seeing Broadway shows since the single digits, and yet, I find myself pulled in two different directions by musical theatre. There are some shows that I’m unreasonably fond of, like In the Heights, Tim Rice’s Aida, Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812Wicked, The Scotsboro Boys, and Spring Awakening. In fact, there’s a good list of the best recent musicals over on Buzzfeed (I deem it good because it includes almost all my favorites).

But there is many a musical that is just bad because it attempts to cover a weak or hackneyed story with music and spectacle. Now, certainly this is doable; it’s possible to include enough high notes and bright lights to distract most audience members from the fact that your show is garbage. Musical theatre however, really requires more, not less. An emphasis on spectacle over content can really be the death of a show, like Spider-Man, where other musicals that are just plain bad, like Leap of FaithThat’s not to say that the success or failure of a show is necessarily tied to its goodness or badness.

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Ethnic Superhero Season, or What Michelle Rodriguez Can Teach Us About Believability

Virtually any time that something happens at the intersection of Black people and comics, I get a message on Facebook. That’s because my friends love me, I’m sure, but it occasionally leads me to be inundated with eight or nine messages about the same thing. Take, for example, this video of Michelle Rodriguez, which was sent to me by about twelve people a month ago:

In the video, Michelle offers a few choice words on diversity in casting: “Stop stealing white superheroes.” It caused a bit of an uproar in some circles, and Michelle made a video clarifying her statements. But first, let’s address the premise itself. Are all of these superheroes, “originally” white, whose races are being changed, being stolen? First, a superhero is functionally a mythological entity (yes, they are—I will fight you), and cannot be stolen. They can, however, be appropriated, and this may be closer to what Rodriguez meant. My initial reaction was confusion, both personal and academic. As an individual, I was confused at why another person of color objects to the practice of diversifying white characters, especially Green Lantern who has already seen a Latino character—Kyle Rayner—in a print run.

Academically, I was confused because the notion that white characters can be “stolen” or “appropriated” when they are primarily what’s made available to young people of all races, while even our fantasies are “regulated by white believability” is troubling. Even more than that, myths are shaped, stolen, borrowed, passed around, and stripped for parts regularly. That’s their nature and cannot be separated from their purpose. It’s what they do. If you don’t believe me, on the left is a picture of Chinese Jesus.

There’s no universe in which I’m sad that Thor is a woman in the newest print run, and I don’t feel that men have lost anything; Thor was a man for all comic print runs beforehand (except for that time he was a frog). A little turnabout is fair play. Similarly, I’m not upset that Heimdall was played by Idris Elba or that Johnny Storm is being played Michael B. Jordan. I’m not even upset that Donald Glover keeps teasing us with this Spider-Man thing, or that Tyrese Gibson keeps telling us how ready he is to play Green Lantern (although I wish they’d stop teasing us, I’m getting chafed over here).

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On Civility & Sexism Online

Content note: cyberbullying, abuse, sexual assault

Some interesting news in the world of electronic incivility: 1. a police officer was fired for using profanity, including racial slurs, on X-Box live, and 2. Reuters reported on the sheer depth and breadth of electronic violence against women.

First, let me say electronic abuse is a serious problem, one whose danger and breadth we are only just beginning to comprehend as a society. Its severity probably has something to do with the combination of anonymity and entitlement that encourages behaviors for which one might normally be held accountable. I think about it a lot and have written about it at least twice, maybe more. But misunderstandings about its rise and the media’s passion for reports on “cyberbullying” have led to skepticism by some, ably voiced by none other than Tyler, The Creator of American hip-hop outfit Odd Future:

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On Spider-Man and Civil War

After years of public begging from all corners, Marvel Studios and Sony Entertainment have come to an agreement on the rights to Spider-Man. Spider-Man has been a part of almost every major Marvel crossover storyline, going back years, and much of the anticipation over this deal has been about his inclusion in a film version of the “Civil War” storyline. It’ll be great to see Spidey out there as part of the MCU. While I’m not entirely thrilled about many of the implications, it does give me the opportunity to talk about Captain America: Civil War and Spidey.

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