Friday, February 12, 2021

JK Rowling, Joss Whedon, and Gina Carano: Controversy Roundup

A lot of kids have been calling me "Harry Potter" since the weather became cold enough for me to wear my big Inverness coat. I guess the Harry Potter movies are generally where most kids in Japan see Victorian clothes. Harry Potter is very popular at the schools where I've worked and it's easy to guess why; it's about children in a school with uniforms. There are plenty of Japanese films, TV shows, and manga that do the same thing, placing their stories of magic, romance, or horror in the context of junior high or high school. I don't mind being called Harry Potter though I've never read the books and haven't seen all the movies. I am thankful for the one kid who called me Sherlock Holmes.

Often when I hear Harry Potter mentioned, I think of the recent transphobia scandals around J.K. Rowling. I wonder when or if that'll ever filter down to Japan. I've been reading articles and watching YouTube videos discussing the issue from both sides, one side hailing Rowling as a sudden heroine for free speech and the battle against social engineering and the other side lambasting her for propagating transphobic conceptions. I suppose it's long been a problem for the Left--to qualify as progressive, one must have all the right opinions. She is, for many now, irredeemably tainted and anything she might have to say about feminism or human nature generally is either somehow bigoted or totally worthless. I heard there's already a shift in how she's discussed in classrooms.

Recently, the YouTuber ContraPoints released a video essay on J.K. Rowling and, like a lot of ContraPoints' videos, I find myself wanting to like it more than I actually do. Natalie Wynn--ContraPoints--has great style and humour. I like the shot of her typing on a keyboard with a xylophone mallet. And I think she's right in pointing out some of the many problems with Rowlings' argument, particularly the strikingly vitriolic, transphobic public posts from some people Rowling lists among her allies. Wynn doesn't mention any of Rowling's transgender allies. Which is not to say I think, "She has trans-friends" is a valid argument to prove Rowling isn't transphobic though, on the same token, having transphobic friends doesn't make one a transphobe. Still, Wynn successfully shows how Rowling's fixation on false transwomen invading female spaces is irrational.

ContraPoints has a reputation for considering the conservative perspective which is what makes it all the more frustrating when she does not. Her discussion of Rowling's judgement being affected by trauma is a useful bit of perspective. At the same time, she pretends that there is absolutely no validity to any of Rowling's concerns. What about the issue of children being given treatment that permanently alters their development? Is it more important to honour a child's current self-perception or is it irresponsible to trust the notoriously fickle and changeable goals of a young teenager? To pretend there's no debate to be had here is intellectually dishonest at the least. The issue of whether or not children should be given the right to choose to undergo life changing procedures seems separate from the issue of whether or not you consider gender dysphoria a valid experience.

Also unfortunate is how ContraPoints addresses the issue of whether or not the word "bigot" is a slur. She attacks the issue in a thoroughly pedantic way, essentially arguing that "bigot" can't be a slur because it's a verifiable aspect of personality--you can prove someone really is a bigot whereas a slur is generally a rude, alternate term for race or sexual orientation. She might successfully have shown bigot can't be a slur but she misses the point by even making this argument. The word "fat" isn't a slur but it's usually insulting to call someone fat. The point isn't whether "bigot" is a slur, it's that it's being used to dismiss people or arguments wholesale, much as insults are generally intended to, on the basis of feeling rather than contemplation.

Yesterday came word that Disney fired Gina Carano from her role as Cara Dune on The Mandalorian, essentially on the grounds that she's a bigot. A Lucasfilm spokesperson released this statement:

"Gina Carano is not currently employed by Lucasfilm and there are no plans for her to be in the future. Nevertheless, her social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable."

The irony here is that the tweets that landed Carano in hot water were tweets that decried the current political climate and what seemed to her an exhibition of bigotry from the Left.

“Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?”

I'm an old fashioned internet denizen who still thinks we should avoid comparing our opponents to Nazis (though it's as natural as breathing to many on the Left now). But here we have a clear case of a charge of bigotry being treated as an insult--the idea that the Left can be bigoted is so beyond the conception of the people at Disney that their response is to call Carano a bigot for calling the Left bigots. So much for everyone coexisting.

I didn't think Carano gave a very good performance--though I thought she was a little better in the second season, I don't mind the prospect of her absence. But I find the reason given for her firing a little disturbing. It occurs to me that Disney probably couldn't fire her for giving a bad performance, a thing which, unlike her political views, does directly affect the job they'd hired her for.

Yesterday also came the news a few Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast members have come forward with allegations of "toxic" behaviour from Joss Whedon. At the head of these allegations are those from Charisma Carpenter who played Cordelia on Buffy and Angel. Her two anecdotes to establish Whedon's toxicity were an incident where he became angry at her for getting a tattoo of a rosary and an incident where he asked her if she was going to allow her pregnancy to come to full term. Frankly, I can see his point of view in both cases--both are things that drastically altered the actress' appearance and therefore affected the project Whedon was in charge of. For various reasons, he'd be powerless to fire her over them. He was out of line asking Carpenter if she was considering an abortion, especially since he likely knew she was Catholic. But both cases show she had chosen her personal life ahead of her art without any apparent qualms. I don't think Whedon is an especially good director and his talents as a writer are somewhat uneven and don't age well--Xander's jokes are particularly annoying and lead me to suspect they're the kind of caustic things Whedon would say in real life. But I do respect a commitment to one's art. Getting a tattoo seems a particularly selfish action on Carpenter's part and makes me wonder what else she may have done.

Really, though, I don't know Whedon or Carpenter and can't truly judge their characters. But Carpenter has said she voiced her support for Whedon in the past and even said she'd work with him again. Now she says she's changing her stance because of Ray Fisher and the Time's Up movement. Who's to say three years from now she won't say something similar about her current stance? If she firmly believed something a few years ago she considers false now, who's to say she won't make a complete 180 again when the influence of different political winds are in the air? Which, of course, is the fundamental problem with so many of the allegations that come years after the fact. Sarah Michelle Gellar, who also released a statement yesterday, has a little more cred because her hatred for Whedon is well known and has been for decades, though I've only heard of it as being related to creative differences.

Again, I don't know Whedon and can't really judge him but my impression is he's a bit of a dick. That said, I've yet to hear anything that makes me think his life and career should be ruined.

I've seen people wonder how Whedon can be such an ardent feminist publicly and abusive to women privately. Whedon himself wrote the response to this in the second season Buffy episode "Ted" in which guest star Jon Ritter plays a perfect father figure until he's alone with Buffy, at which point he turns abusive. That Whedon wrote such an episode, and that he so vociferously expressed feminist views publicly, suggests to me that he genuinely considered himself a feminist.

What if his feminism was the kind that believed he should be as tough on women as he is on men? His fantasy is, after all, about a super strong woman who turns on her attacker in the blind alley. Now that I work in junior high schools and see how differently boys and girls typically behave, I'm shown evidence on a daily basis that girls really do need to be treated more gently than boys. There are exceptions and I believe in the validity of the transgender experience but I'm inclined now to believe gender is not merely a construct.

Anthony Stewart Head says he doesn't remember any bad behaviour from Whedon but that he's willing to believe his female costars. For me, the last thing any of this makes me want to do is take a leap of faith.

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