Friday, August 30, 2019

Alex Danvers Appreciation Friday

So, look. I know I fell behind on the Supergirl recaps.

Mostly, I've had life stuff going on. But also, I lost a little bit of interest in Season 3, for whatever reason. I've picked up watching the show again and am almost finished with Season 4, but by now it seems like a lot of work to start the recaps again from where I last left off.

Woe is me.

Here are my thoughts, in lieu of recaps:
  • I like both actors, but the romance between Lena Luthor and James seems forced. The two just don't have great chemistry, certainly not as good of chemistry as Kara and Lena have when they actually have scenes together. (Disclaimer: every character would be in some way queer if I wrote for this show, even - no, especially - the villains).
  • Sometimes, the villains in CW DC-verse are hokey, heavy-handed, and uninteresting. And look, I get it, maybe the shows are geared toward younger viewers. But, Agent Liberty as a villain isn't working for me. It's supposed to be a metaphor for today's political climate of white nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment, but in the show, Agent Liberty is sort of presented as having somewhat valid reasons for being scared of "the aliens." That is, the aliens are typically are more powerful than humans and so Agent Liberty's fear is not portrayed as entirely irrational. This is a marked contrast to today's political climate of irrational xenophobia toward immigrants, refugees, and migrants.As a viewer, I don't want to be invited to "view the other side as rational and having a point," via metaphor, when in reality Donald Trump and his white supremacist supporters are deeply dangerous.
  • Nia Nal has been a great addition, as has Brainy's upgrade to main cast.
  • The show has never been great at portrayals of Black women, in my opinion. Colonel Haley has potential, but so far the show's creators have written her as a villainous Angry Black Woman.
  • I miss Cat Grant.
  • I will watch all the crossovers. Especially plotlines involving Sara Lance and Alex Danvers (and/or Kate Kane). 
  • Mon-El was fine as a character, and I'd love to see Alex Danvers have a girlfriend again, but I still maintain that the show is at its best when it remembers that the heart of the show is the relationship between Alex and Kara. So, putting that relationship in peril is always a good plot device, in my book. 
  • I know it seems like I'm mostly complaining about the show, and maybe I am. So here's something: Alex Danvers keeps getting gayer and gayer with every episode and I could not be happier about that. Now, let her have connections to the LGBT community and make Kara Danvers bisexual, you cowards!

Yes, please!

Friday, August 23, 2019

It's Happening!

Showtime has released a teaser for The L Word: Generation Q: 

Some quick observations:
  • The L Word last aired 10 years ago and all the original actors look the same as they did then.
  • Bette is running for mayor of LA and this is 100% not surprising.
  • Shane still seems up to the usual Shane-anigans.
  • I can't help it, I'm so excited for this!
  • Oh my god:

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The End Of an Era at Shakesville

We have lost another online feminist space.

Shakesville, of course, wasn't just any feminist space, to me. My friend Melissa McEwan's writing has been hugely influential to my thinking around progressive feminism, social media, Internet culture, and politics. I was an active commenter at Shakesville for at least 10 years (I looked at my DISQUS account yesterday and I have posted over 3,000 comments). In addition, Melissa often included links to my writing here in her regular blog roundups, sending readers my way. Then, shortly after the 2016 election, I became a guest contributor at the space she cultivated and led for 15 years.

I was honored to share my writing at Shakesville and mindful of the trust that she and the other contributors and moderators had placed in me. Melissa's contributions to feminism and to the heydey of the feminist and political blogosphere during the late aughts are likely immeasurable. And, like any feminist who rises to a certain level of visibility, she has long been held to impossible standards (although, over the years I came to see that she also holds herself to sky-high standards in her writing, fairness, and accuracy). I saw repeatedly how any real, perceived, or invented missteps were eagerly pounced upon by others before the inevitable "cancellation," while she simultaneously experienced relentless torrents of targeted abuse from misogynists across the political spectrum.

As a contributor and longtime user of Internet, I was appreciative of the Shakesville comment moderation policy, even though it has long been a topic of ridicule and is sometimes put forth as "evidence" that Shakesville was "a cult." My perspective, as I've been a contributor at multiple blogs for more than a decade, is that I've come to see how lax moderation policies at many other platforms, blogs, websites, comment sections, and forums have completely normalized a collective, societal opinion that cruelty is a casual and non-important thing we just have to "deal with" when on the Internet, rather than a thing that is deeply traumatizing to humanity.

"Just don't read the comments," they say, accepting that abuse is just the price we have to pay for being online.

And politically, I think we will be experiencing the fallout of content platforms that have, or long had, relatively "anything goes" or "all sides have a point" moderation policies, like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter for a very long time. These continue to be leveraged against our political system today. The zeitgeist of libertarian tech culture has long been "connecting people" and "free speech" rather than building communities and, welp, it turns out there's a difference. It's as though the founders of so many platforms didn't care, or know, or understand how their philosophies could be gamed by extremists and used to silence the marginalized and monetize fascism.

In many ways, social media sites are the anti-thesis of community-building. Or, rather, people have to put a lot of work into making these sites functional online communities, if it's possible at all on a platform. Civil debate about literally any topic, even the most mundane, does not just magically happen. At its core, a comment moderation policy is the setting of boundaries in one's space, used to delineate the bounds of engagement the community agrees are acceptable.

That so many perceived or framed Shakesville's comment policy as abusive and/or cultish, I think, speaks to a deep, longstanding discomfort many people, including women, still have with women setting clear boundaries, building community, and then leading that community.

During the heydey of political blogging, many people eagerly started "weblogs" without putting thought into what their comment moderation policy would be. Most sites in the early days didn't even have a written one. I've run this site for about 12 years now, and I think many people were figuring it out as they went along, myself included. I remember early confrontations with homophobic male Christians who approached commenting here with complete and total entitlement. There are some things I wish I would have handled differently, but never have I wished I would have spent more time in this one precious life engaging with bad faith assholes here.

Eventually, many people in the blogosphere abandoned their blogs. I think they did so for a myriad of reasons: it was a risk, it was labor that was hard to monetize, it became boring, they didn't have instant success, they realized it's a pain in the ass to deal with assholes, it was stressful, they moved on to other things, they started podcasts, and more. Sometimes, I wonder why I'm still here and whether I'll stay, but I suppose that's a post for another day.

Here, I mostly want to say that, as a writer at Shakesville, I was deeply appreciative that I wasn't expected to engage with abusive comments following my posts there. I had done that before, repeatedly, at other sites and eventually the toll made me want to post less and less at that site until I eventually just stopped writing there (or the blog owners just deleted the blog altogether).

Mostly, I will miss Shakesville. A lot.

More broadly, it seems that we continue to lose more and more feminist spaces online and off, precisely when we need them most, including feminist bookstores, cultural events, and lesbian bars. And, I don't say that to imply that I think Melissa should have continued to run Shakesville. She took on the world for so many years at great detriment to her well-being.

I think about these losses of feminist space and contemplate the way that misogyny so often adapts as feminism progresses, in this neverending cycle. For instance, the near-election of Hillary Clinton in 2016 freaked rape culture patriarchy the fuck out and so we're currently in a feminist resurgence that's also a profound backlash. The world has decided that since roughly half of the white women who voted voted for Donald Trump, then white women do not experience gender-based oppression, or else why would they have voted for their own oppression?

Yet women, all women, actually do continue to experience gender-based violence, hostility, and aggression - in addition to, in many cases, additional identity-based oppressions. Even so, some progressives are joining their MRA brethren and starting to concede that "just" being a woman these days, that is - a white cishet woman - isn't "enough" of a marginalized identity to warrant analysis or advocacy. Some progressive/leftist/liberals communities, particularly if they're very keen on how progressive/leftist/liberal they are, act like they exist in a sort of post-feminist "gender-blind" space. In reality, such spaces are really only blind to gender-based disparities, as they replicated the norms of rape culture and patriarchy. 

Mostly, it continues to make me angry that progressive feminists, especially as they become more high profile, have to deal with so much abuse until they/we can't take it anymore. I think a lot about the voices we've lost over the years. And, while we expect the attacks from the right, so many within the moderate-to-left political spectrum are bystanders at best and active collaborators in the abuse at worst. 

Progressive feminists, especially now, just don't fit neatly within the political spectrum in the US. 

So many people casually take it for granted that this or that high-profile feminist is "trash" or "garbage" or "cancelled." Sometimes, that perception is based on honest critique. Yet, in combination with the reality that most women who are public figures get to make maybe one or two mistakes in their careers while white men get cultural forgiveness and redemption tours, the end result is a net positive for white patriarchy and rape culture.

But, many times, the "critique" is straight-up misogyny, abuse, or people being resentful that a woman has set a boundary with them. Many times, the abuse goes viral, on Twitter, with people competing with one another for the hottest, most abusive "dunk" on the feminist, in a process that is profoundly dehumanizing and usually distorts and simplifies everything she stands for. Her entire body of work, discounted because someone with a bunch of followers ridiculed one of her tweets, generating an algorithmic pile-on in which the targeted woman is reduced to a stereotypical "vapid garbage idiot."

It seems to me that it's the fate of every feminist of any renown to be reviled in her own day as "ruined forever" because she is imperfect, "crazy," "idiotic," "hateful," and/or "angry" so that instead of building upon feminist works, new generations of women who have internalized the message that earlier feminists had nothing valuable to say simply start over and over again, repeatedly. In reality, most feminists of any renown have something to teach us, even if they were profoundly flawed in other ways. And, gender-based hostility, discrimination, and violence are ills against which every generation has to be vigilant.

I will end by linking to a Shakesville piece that has long been one of my favorites. "The Terrible Bargain We Have Regretfully Struck," which Melissa wrote almost 10 years ago to the day. 

It has resonated with me for many reasons. The clear articulation of the usually-unacknowledged dynamic that women contend with on a daily basis when confronted with casual, pervasive misogyny: "Swallow shit, or ruin the entire afternoon?" How this dynamic led her to be distrustful of men, rather than - as the stereotype claims of us - hateful toward them. 

And, the critical concept that being an ally to marginalized people is an ongoing act of vigilance wherein we each have to make ourselves trustworthy to those with identities we do not share:
"This, then, is the terrible bargain we have regretfully struck: Men are allowed the easy comfort of their unexamined privilege, but my regard will always be shot through with a steely, anxious bolt of caution.

A shitty bargain all around, really. But there it is.

There are men who will read this post and think, huffily, dismissively, that a person of color could write a post very much like this one about white people, about me. That's absolutely right. So could a lesbian, a gay man, a bisexual, an asexual. So could a trans or intersex person (which hardly makes a comprehensive list). I'm okay with that. I don't feel hated. I feel mistrusted—and I understand it; I respect it. It means, for me, I must be vigilant, must make myself trustworthy. Every day.

I hope those men will hear me when I say, again, I do not hate you. I mistrust you. You can tell yourselves that's a problem with me, some inherent flaw, some evidence that I am fucked up and broken and weird; you can choose to believe that the women in your lives are nothing like me.

Or you can be vigilant, can make yourselves trustworthy. Every day.

Just in case they're more like me than you think."
The work of progressive feminism will never be finished. Don't let our most valuable tools be taken from us - and, just as importantly, don't throw these tools by the wayside yourself: the insights of those who came before us, and our capacity to build upon these insights.

Maudespeed, sisters.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Republican Administration Seeking Federal Regulation of Speech on Social Media Sites

Via Politico:
"The White House is circulating drafts of a proposed executive order that would address allegations of anti-conservative bias by social media companies, according to a White House official and two other people familiar with the matter — a month after President Donald Trump pledged to explore 'all regulatory and legislative solutions' on the issue."

'If the internet is going to be presented as this egalitarian platform and most of Twitter is liberal cesspools of venom, then at least the president wants some fairness in the system,' the White House official said."
Part of the "justification" here is that many conservatives are aggrieved that non-governmental entities don't grant them wanton freedom to spread hateful lies, violent rhetoric, and conspiracy theories.

Social media sites' banning of righwing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, for instance, is an oft-cited example of "bias" against "the conservative viewpoint," which is one of the biggest indictments of 21st-century conservatism in the US.

What's also neat here is that so many formal and informal checks on the Executive Branch are sort of just accepting that Trump can do whatever he wants, especially regarding "culture war issues," by merely issuing an Executive Order.

There's also this relevant tidbit:
"Trump said Monday that he wants the government to work with social media 'to develop tools that can detect mass shooters before they strike,' and the White House has invited internet and technology companies for a discussion on violent online extremism with senior administration officials Friday."
If you actually believe the goal of such "tools" would be to prevent rightwing-inspired domestic terrorism, rather than to persecute the people Trump identifies as his political enemies, I have a large wall to sell you that will be paid for by Mexico.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Anneward Scissorhands

If you've ever wondered the things I think about when I'm not thinking about politics:

 [Text: "I just had a random, weird, brief vision of an Edward Scissorhands reboot with Anne Lister as the lead and I can't stop thinking about it."]

I think this crossover might even be better than the I idea had to reboot Scrooged with Anna Kendrick as the lead.

Insert jokes about scissors, as appropriate, here. And, FWIW, they're all appropriate.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

ICE Conducts Largest Single-State Raid in US History

Via CBS, yesterday, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted what one US Attorney called, "the largest single state immigration enforcement operation in our nation's history." From the article:
"By targeting workplaces across six different cities in southern Mississippi, Immigration and Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agents, with the help of the local district attorney's office, apprehended approximately 680 undocumented immigrants.

Asked about what would happen to workers who have children in the U.S., Albence reiterated the administration's standard guidance that arrests in the criminal justice system lead to family separations. He said affected children would be placed with other family members and in some instances, some parents could be released with ankle bracelets."
The children of the workers were left home alone due to the raid, and reports have stated that volunteers have been donating food and shelter to the children.

What the US is doing to these families and individuals is profoundly immoral and unjust.

Whatever differences people who oppose Trump have with one another, we have to come together to stop what our government is doing in our name. We must vote Republicans out of office, not just Trump/Pence but so many more.

I feel it in my bones that as heinous as this is, worse things are to come.

It is on us to figure out additional ways, large and small, in whatever ways we can to oppose this cruelty: donating, protesting, advocating, speaking out, voting, calling/writing legislators, and more. You may feel hopeless and small and insignificant, but never discount the ripples your actions may have in the future.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Gen X as the "Reailty Terrorism" Generation

What a sad state of affairs it is that I was off the grid for most of the weekend and when I logged onto the Internet Sunday night and saw references to more mass shootings, I automatically knew that people couldn't have still been talking about the previous weekend's shooting in Gilroy, California.  That one, after all, was "too long ago" to "still" be in the news a week later.

We simply have so many shootings that each one lasts a news cycle or so as they follow a predictable pattern of breathless reporting > anger > fear > sorrow > cries of the citizenry for our legislators to do something, anything to help keep us safe > admonitions to stop politicizing this political issue > thoughts and prayers > and then repeat the next day when yet another man murders people.

Personally, I try not to get too bogged down in generational narratives, particularly the ones that pit generations against each other, but I hope you'll bear with me today as I speculate. Cynicism is supposedly a defining characteristic of Gen X, but in retrospect, I wonder if what has largely been described as cynicism is actually a shocked, numb horror of coming of age just as terrorism and sociopathy were rapidly normalized by both Internet culture and news-as-politicotainment media culture.

The infamous OJ Simpson Bronco chase of 1994, which I remember seeing nonstop coverage of during high school, seemed to help usher in an era of 24/7 "watch the drama as it happens" news that is at once horrific and dehumanizing precisely because it is implicitly presented as entertaining. As a teenager, I remember the hokey slogans ("the Juice is loose") and the trivialities that the media focused on ("Marcia Clark is ridiculous! Her hair!") that seemed to take center stage, much moreso than the grim reality that someone had committed murder. 

Reality TV was not yet a major trend until circa 1992, with MTV's The Real World, and prior to the reality TV fad, I would argue that TV had a more clear separation between news and entertainment. Yes, the news had a point of view, often told from the perspective of white men who were granted auras of objectivity and authority, but what was particularly dehumanizing about the OJ case was that it was like the media companies had found this new way of presenting murder as existing for our collective entertainment consumption. (In 2006, OJ Simpson had a one-episode prank-based reality TV show called Juiced, which was in the "too offensive but entertaining to look away" category that is a pretty good summary of the mainstream media's attitude toward covering/enabling Donald Trump's political rise).

The Columbine school massacre occurred in 1999, which is largely seen as a birth of a new era of young (often white) angst-driven male violence, and the coverage told us that the incident was both incredibly scary and entertaining. There are, of course, very different narratives around, and state responses to, violence perpetrated by Black people. And, since Columbine, the federal government's lack of effective response to white-male-initiated domestic terrorism can only rightly be seen as a continuation of the United States of America's historical, state-sanctioned approval of white male rage, entitlement, and violence.

Contrast the state's casual indifference to homegrown, white male domestic terrorism, for instance, with its over-reaction to international terrorism. After brown men engaged in terrorism against innocent civilians in 2001, the federal government quickly banded together, started a whole entire war, and passed sweeping legislation in response. Coupled with, and perhaps "justifying," this state-sanctioned aggression and erosion of liberties was the fact that we saw the planes crashing into the Twin Towers over and over and over and over again on TV and online and in newspapers. 

We now take our shoes off in airport security lines. We ration our shampoos and "liquids" into TSA-approved amounts. We're urged to "say something" if/when we "see something." These are all things that are done now because that's what's done in America.

We are still reckoning with these issues and traumas in ways large, small, known, and unfathomable, and that's before I've even factored in the rise of Internet culture, social media, and the cottage industry of white male pundits who perform "political news, but as irony/jokes."

Donald Trump stoked the embers of 9/11 as he ran in 2016 on a message of keeping the country safe from immigrants, terrorists, and/or people of color even as he himself was engaging in stochastic terrorism against his political opponent Hillary Clinton. He continues this course of action, often online and often against women of color who publicly stand up to him, with the help of Twitter who tacitly approves of his behavior through its indifference and inaction.

Of note, Trump hasn't promised to keep anyone safe from the white men in this country who commit political violence, and if he had promised to do so, he'd be failing miserably.

When white men go on shooting sprees after leaving rambling, bigoted Internet screeds, we're told to get over it quikcly, that it's not political violence, and/or that their online behavior and bigotries are irrelevant to their acts of aggression. Many commentators still think that what happens online "isn't real life," even though what happens online often has consequences offline. Sometimes, those consequences are "just" harming another user's mental health or ruining their day, but sometimes - in a nation with relatively easy access to guns - it's a mass shooting spree. That's not to say online culture/radicalization, bigotry, or reality politicotainment are the one cause of mass shootings, just that when easy access to guns are added to the picture they maybe all combine to make the killing that much easier.

The fear many of us have upon attending fairs, concerts, religious services, festivals, or doing basically anything at all in the public sphere is just the price we pay for "living in a free country." The same asinine talking points from people committed to the violent status quo that we heard after Columbine are still being uttered today: lone wolf, video games, bullying, the sadness/angst of white boys.

What is discussed less frequently, and this is a special note to people still operating under the delusion that "the young people will save us," are the ways Internet culture helps radicalize people, especially young white men, given that the US is steeped in a brew of racist misogyny, white male supremacy, techbro libertarianism that constantly engages in both-sidesism, and dehumanizing murder-is-entertaining politicotainment.

Online interactions and the normalization of Reality Terrorism have likely led a lot of people into viewing their interactions with people online as "not real" in a way that is profoundly dehumanizing (as I tweeted yesterday, oh the irony). Social media platforms like Twitter reward the toxic pile-ons and endless quote-tweet "dunks" that, once a target has been identified, end up being profoundly dehumanizing once the competition starts for the best "slam."

It's not only white men who dehumanize others on the Internet. In fact, social justice lingo and half-understood concepts are often weaponized on social media in ways that are extremely abusive. But, it is disproportionately white men who go on terroristic murderous rampages in the US and there are, I think, cultural reasons for that.

As commentators left, right, and center scream at each other about gun violence, hypocrisy, which "side" is worse, First Amendment rights, and the Second Amendment as though we're still living in the media and cultural landscape of the 1960s, I note that most of them will actively ignore (or mock) anything progressive feminists say about the links between mass violence, misogyny, rape culture, and Internet culture. (It's the same story with rape and sexual misconduct. Many on the left and right only care about the issue insofar as they can use it against political opponents, rather than for the simple reason that it's wrong and dehumanizing).

In December 2017, I wrote about the content moderation labor we do that has become a built-in aspect of using social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook given the reality that some users use these platforms in ways far darker than the creators originally imagined. This moderation labor - blocking, muting, reporting - is just what we do now because sociopathy is normalized online and Internet culture designates you a fascist if you want platforms to be different and better.

And, oftentimes taking actions like blocking and muting other users leaves the harassing, extremist, and/or hateful content still "out there," unaddressed, for others users to see and be radicalized by. It puts the targets of such content in a difficult position of knowing that harmful content is still there, able to seen by others and acted upon for the rest of the Internet's life.

I liken it to an experience I had some years ago having been invited to participate in a conversation with men at an anti-feminist site. The site owners invited me to participate in a conversation about feminism wherein they would host two separate blogposts about my commentary: one that I could ostensibly participate in and that they would moderate for (by their standards) hostility, and a separate post where they would post my article and anti-feminists could say whatever they wanted about me and my opinions.

From my correspondence with them, I was supposed to be very grateful for this extreme generosity, but their setup overlooked the detail that, even if I didn't go visit their hostility-is-okay blogpost, I still knew that they would be hosting a forum for anti-feminists to engage in hostility toward me and that such commentary would exist on their site in perpetuity without being addressed by feminists (because most feminists didn't comment at their site).

A current rule of Internet culture really seems to be that users should just "ignore" online hostility and sociopathy targeting us because thinking of more complicated structural solutions isn't worth the "loss of free speech" or is too hard. Unfortunately, the old advice of just ignoring online bullies doesn't seem to be working out so well for us, as a society, as it seems that approach just normalizes aggression and bystander apathy.

Back in my December 2017 post about content moderation, I wrote:

"I think it's reasonable to say that most Internet users are actually exposed to traumatic content somewhat regularly. We've also largely accepted exposure to this content as 'normal,' without having begun to really grapple with the effects of it as a society.

In a popular piece at Medium, James Bridle wrote recently of frightening videos posted on YouTube to scare children, ultimately saying:
'What concerns me is that this is just one aspect of a kind of infrastructural violence being done to all of us, all of the time, and we’re still struggling to find a way to even talk about it, to describe its mechanisms and its actions and its effects.'
Bridle concludes that 'responsibility is impossible to assign.'
I think often about the voices we've lost over the years, and there have been many, because of the toxic cultures that thrive on platforms where the performance of content moderation labor falls on us, as users and writers.These harms are not something people in my generation (Gen X, if you're curious) really grew up learning how to deal with, or that, in my experience, many mental health professionals are even equipped to understand. I think many people have simply adapted to living with at least a low-grade state of anxiety about what they might encounter today on the Internet, particularly if they do a large portion of work on the Internet as part of their jobs."

Are we, Generation X, the Reality Terrorism Generation?

Perhaps. And perhaps we will soon be the last generation that remembers life before extremely online life. I'm not sure what the implications are of that beyond, in our own small ways, trying to advance norms that are not centered around the sociopathic norms that currently dominate Internet and politicotainment culture.