Can You Respect the Work of People You Don’t Respect

The other day, I read something that essentially said that modern writers shouldn’t try to emulate H.P. Lovecraft (or, for those who aren’t familiar with his work, the guy who invented Cthulhu), because in real life, the dude was a massive racist.

Now, I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of Lovecraft, but I respect his work. I find that his greatest writing weakness (from a contemporary standpoint) is also his greatest writing strength, which is that he has inspired so many later writers, such as Stephen King and Robert Bloch. At this point, his work feels a little bit predictable, but that’s only because he created so many of the conventions that we see in modern horror and fantasy. In fact, it’s almost a little difficult to write in those genres without drawing a little bit of influence from Lovecraft.

So perhaps that’s part of the reason why I find this statement interesting (after all, how do you contribute to a genre that has roots that you might have a genuine reason to disagree with). But, more than that, this just seems to be part of a larger discussion that we have been having lately.

In 2017, a librarian at Cambridgeport School refused to accept Melania Trump’s gift of Dr. Seuss books, stating that Dr. Seuss was a racist and that his illustrations are “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes”. This response drew both support and criticism, the latter coming from people who called Dr. Seuss a “product of his time” and claimed that his racism does not necessarily come across in the texts themselves.

And, personally, I have read countless stories from authors that were incredibly racist. Sometimes this came across in the texts themselves (Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket” is literally about evil black people) and sometimes they didn’t (if you only read L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz”, you might not even know that he wrote anti-Native editorials as well).

Even today, problematic people still produce highly respected works. Orson Scott Card’s “Enders Game” is considered a modern sci-fi classic, even spawning a movie adaption in 2013, and yet his homophobia and political views have been a subject of great debate amongst confused readers for years now.

So, what do we do with this information? Can we continue to respect the works of people who might not necessarily deserve respect themselves?

Now, keep in mind, from hereon out, I am merely going to be stating my personal opinion. This is not a definitive answer; all I am trying to do is facilitate discussion.

And, personally, I believe that it is possible to respect the work, even if you don’t respect the artist.

Now, obviously, there are circumstances that make this issue a little bit more complicated. For example, I will go out and spend money on a work from H.P. Lovecraft, but I won’t do the same for Orson Scott Card, primarily because as a consumer, I do not want my money going toward someone who I know is still alive and still actively spreading a message that I do not agree with. Lovecraft, Poe, Baum, Dr. Seuss – all of these men are dead and of a different time period, which doesn’t excuse their beliefs and doesn’t make it okay, but it does put a little bit of distance between me and their political views.

The works that I have mentioned here are all highly influential, and I don’t necessarily think that that should be ignored. Many of these are artists who changed the genre they were working in – that changed storytelling, to a certain extent. I think that that is something that is worthy of respect, even if their political views weren’t.

But even as I say this, there is another layer that needs to be added – their political views shouldn’t be erased or ignored either.

These writers are not heroes. They did not transcend humanity, and they were not above hatred. We need to remember that. We need to respect the people that they hurt with their hate speech. And if we don’t talk about the ways that they failed, just as much as we talk about the ways that they succeeded, then we run the risk of forgetting it. We privilege the good that they did over the bad that they did.

As a result, I don’t think that this is an all-or-nothing scenario. We can’t forget the impact that these writers had on literature, so I disagree when their books are banned from spaces on principal. But we also can’t forget the impact that these writers on society, so I disagree when people take a very “get over it” attitude to the matter.

End of day, I think that the choice to read these works or emulate these writers should come down to the informed individual. It is possible to respect the writing that they produced, but not the person themselves. But if the writer and their political views turns the reader off too much, then that is totally understandable.


‘Fake News’ And The Problem With Bias

Fake news‘ is an idea that has been around for a long time now, referring to any news that was overly exaggerated or distorted or, in some cases, fabricated, so that it does not resemble reality and is, therefore, misinforming. This idea was popularized, however, when in 2016, Donald Trump accused the media of being filled with ‘fake news’.

When Donald Trump initially did this, he was criticized by many people for trying to discredit media that does not approve of him, as it is (conveniently) the press that disagrees with him that tends to be dismissed as ‘fake news’. Trump has been accused of trying to attack the press, and of spewing misinformation himself.

And yet, despite the criticism, Donald Trump’s use of the term ‘fake news’ has sort of affected the way that people view the news. More and more recently, I have been noticing people distrusting the news, or disbelieving the news that they do not like.

Maybe these are people who think that things are not as bad as the news makes it sound – such as those who maintain that Donald Trump saying “grab them by the pussy” is not him confessing to being a sexual predator. Maybe these are people who are confused by the multiple perspectives that the media might give to a singular event, such as the 2018 women’s march, which most news outlets maintained was an event to protest against Trump, while Trump himself maintained that it was a celebration of him. And, oftentimes, when people are confused, they choose the option that they like best.

And here’s the thing: I think that there is a little bit of truth to this idea of ‘fake news’ being prevalent nowadays. A little bit. I don’t agree with the assertion that most news is completely fabricated, but I do think that it is difficult if not absolutely impossible to report news that is unbiased.

I think that a lot of us depend on our news outlets to deliver the news to us completely unbiased. And I have heard many talk show celebrities, such as Ellen Degeneres or Stephen Colbert, criticized for presenting the news with a political bias. But I think the thing that many of us forget is that the news is reported by… people. People who have something to lose or gain by the news being reported in a certain way – whether that be public support, such as in Trump’s case, or political change, such as in Degeneres’s case (I mean, she is a gay woman, so of course she’s demanding political change; I don’t even know why that’s surprising to people).

And even when reporters don’t have anything to gain by presenting the news with a bias, they still come to the news with their own understanding of it. With every story, they have to decide what’s important and what’s worthy of omitting. With every story, they have their own opinions, and these opinions can creep up in endless, subtle ways, whether it be the language that they use, the way that they format the article, or even the picture that might accompany the article. For example, when reporting the Brock Turner sexual assault story, Turner would frequently be referred to as a “Stanford swimmer” rather than as a rapist, turning public attention away from the horrific crime that he committed, and toward his so-called ‘promising career’ as an athlete.

This is biased. And I really don’t think that we can get away from this, as human beings: we can only switch from one bias to another. I have to admit, I cannot write any of this without bias. I simply feel too strongly about a lot of news stories, and I think we’d all be lying if we said that we didn’t all feel strongly about one thing or another.

And the problem (the problem that I think is exasperated by this idea of ‘fake news’) is that, when we see bias that we don’t agree with, we want to close ourselves off. We don’t want to hear anything that is being said. We want to think that the entire story is a lie.

And when we have this idea of ‘fake news’ to fall back on, we have a great excuse to ignore the entire article. We don’t agree with the bias, so we don’t agree with the story. So the story isn’t true. It’s fake news.

And this becomes a problem when people are ignoring real facts, picking and choosing what they believe based off how they feel. Because, sometimes, the way that we feel isn’t necessarily the best indicator of what actually happened. Sometimes, the way that we feel is informed more from our own bias than from truth.

So then, what do we do? How do we find out what truth is, when truth is so frequently hidden amongst bias?

Well, there is no easy answer to this, because bias will always exist, no matter where we look. It is everywhere, in every article, in every perspective, in every individual involved in the story itself. The only thing that I can suggest, the only thing that I have found that works, is being as informed as possible before putting forth an assertion or opinion. And what this means is doing a lot of research. A lot of research on the story itself, written about by multiple reporters, and a lot of research into the history of the story. For example, if you are trying to form an opinion about the Brock Turner sexual assault story, then it isn’t enough to just read a little bit about the story itself; a lot of additional research needs to be done into the history of rape culture and the statistics around the issue.

And this research is time-consuming and difficult. It isn’t as easy as being told what happened and how to feel about it, which is why I think many people would rather not do it. But the problem is, when we don’t do this research, we don’t fully understand the issue. We only know one perspective on it, and that isn’t enough. It most certainly isn’t enough when what we are doing is passing opinions on a story that affects our entire culture and the way that people live.

Why We Can’t Let Hope Die In These Difficult Times

I don’t know if there has ever been a point in history where the world-wide news couldn’t be described as … depressing.

That isn’t to say that the world is a terrible and awful place. But terrible and awful things do happen in it all the damn time, and lately, I’ve personally found myself more deeply affected by it than usual.

And trust me, I’m usually affected by it. Outrage and desire for change are not unknown emotions for me. But, lately, a new emotion has been creeping up: hopelessness.

I have a few reasons for feeling this way. But as I don’t have all day to list them all, I’m only going to focus on one: the most recent shooting to occur in the United States.

It’s frustrating. It was frustrating from the moment I first heard about it on the news, because the way I see it, there are many countries that have proven one surefire way to avoid mass shootings by enforcing stricter gun laws, and yet the States simply refuses to do it. And because of that, people are still being murdered. Children are still being murdered. And I don’t understand. I don’t understand why the States seems to be engaging in this war on its own people. I don’t understand why the right to bear arms matters more than the right to live. I don’t understand, and I’m beginning to lose hope that this change will come about in the near future.

You might disagree with my view on this matter, but I’m not necessarily asking for you to agree with me. I’m only trying to explain where this hopelessness comes from.

And the reason why I am using this example to explain my hopelessness is because I recently watched a video posted to Facebook that featured a woman talking about this tragedy. In the beginning of the video, the woman echoes my own hopeless feelings, making such statements as, “Congress will do nothing to change this bloody course.” Yet, as the video continues, the sentiment begins to take a turn toward the optimistic, ending with such statements as, “Congress will not change, so we must change Congress.”

My initial reaction to this video was something akin to: “well, I agree with the first part, but the last part isn’t going to happen”.

How long has this been going on for? How many men, women, and children have already lost their lives, and received nothing but thoughts and prayers in return? We have gotten so accustomed to this endless cycle, of hearing about shootings, getting upset, demanding action, and then forgetting about it when action doesn’t come. Will we ever actually do anything different?

But the more that I thought about this video (and trust me, it stuck with me), the more that I realized that there was no other way that it could end but on a note of hope. And I don’t simply mean that in the sense that the video couldn’t gain traction on social media if it wasn’t hopeful: I mean it wouldn’t have served any purpose if it wasn’t hopeful.

If it ended where my recent thoughts have been ending, on this idea that change will never happen, then it would become a self-fulfilling prophesy: change would never happen. Nobody would be fighting. Because people don’t fight for things that they don’t imagine will ever happen. And if people aren’t fighting, then change will never happen. There will be no reason for it to happen.

Change won’t happen. People will continue to be murdered. It’s the same thing, every day, and we let it continue.

No, if there is any possibility of change in this world, it comes only from hope.

If you tell people that there’s a chance, then you open their minds to the possibility that you might be right. You make them see the possibilities. You make them want to fight to make it happen.

And maybe the steps we take are small, but they are still steps. Maybe the world isn’t made right in one day. Maybe there are still causalities along the way, and maybe that is a terrible tragedy. But an even worse tragedy would be to allow it to keep happen, to give the message to the world that this is alright. We accept this.

Because I don’t accept this. I can’t live with this. And from what I’ve seen of my community, I’m not alone in this thought process.

And it is very easy to lose hope in times like this. It’s very easy when you’re throwing yourself into the issue, full-force, motivated for the change and frustrated that you’re not seeing it. It’s very easy when you’re distanced from the issue, and you simply don’t understand why this is happening. It’s easy, but it’s also dangerous.

We need hope. Hope motivates action, and action motivates change. It just motivates change slowly. At a glacial speed, at times. But the small victories are still victories, and if nothing else is accomplished, keeping the fight going is at least a victory. Whenever you allow the fight to die, that is when the goal dies as well.

So whenever you are starting to feel hopeless, remember this: you are not alone in this. Even when it feels like you are surrounded by people who don’t understand, who aren’t listening, there are always going to be people in there who do understand. People who are afraid to speak up. People who need to find the courage to say something. And if you keep talking, if you keep fighting, you will eventually find these people. And together, you will be heard. You will create change.


How The Media Normalizes Sexual Harassment

Particularly as a teenager, I had a bit of an obsession with cheesy, bad horror and sci-fi movies. I ate them up, but perhaps my favourite entries into this genre was the Evil Dead series.

To this day, I will still cite “Evil Dead 2” as one of my absolute favourite movies. It just offered the exact right combination of camp and passion, of scares and humour, all at once. And, as is the case with many fans of the Evil Dead series, I positively loved leading actor Bruce Campbell. I thought he was the epitome of cool. He was to me what Batman or James Bond is to many. I would seek him out in any role – from “My Name is Bruce” to “Xena: Warrior Princess” (okay, my love for Lucy Lawless was also a big motivator for that last one).

So when I heard that Bruce Campbell was not only taking on a leading role in a major television series, but that that series was going to continue on the story of the Evil Dead series, I was thrilled.

That is, until I watched the first episode of the TV series “Ash Vs. Evil Dead”.

Now, I’m not writing a review for the series. I’ve watched the first season, and I have my own opinions, but they’re beside the point right now. What I want to talk about instead is a single scene in the first episode.

This scene begins with Bruce Campbell’s character, at work in a department store. Moments before, it has been established that Campbell’s character has enough seniority at his workplace that he cannot be let go. A male character points out to Campbell’s character that a new girl has joined them in their workplace, and the pair of them look her over for a while, commenting on her beauty. Campbell’s character then approaches her and makes several overt sexual comments, to which she responds with eye rolls and clear rejection. When Campbell’s character pushes the matter to the point that he actually begins touching her, the woman physically assaults him, at which point he finally accepts the rejection and walks away.

Watching this scene, I was slightly horrified. Horrified enough, at least, that it made me question my respect for Bruce Campbell and the character that he has built up in his movies. Because what was happening in this scene was sexual harassment. And not only that, this whole scene almost serves to excuse and normalize sexual harassment in our culture.

Because let’s start with the beginning: who Bruce Campbell’s character is. He’s an older man with seniority in this company. He has clearly worked here a long time. He’s the main character, so he’s endeared to the audience. He’s the only character on this show that has appeared in previous movies, and in those movies, he was always the hero, so we know that we’re supposed to look up to him. He’s funny and endearing and a little pathetic, but heroic at the end of the day.

And let’s take a moment to look at the female character, played by Dana DeLorenzo. This is her introduction to the audience. All that we know about her at this point is that she is new to this workplace, and she turns down the advances of Campbell’s character.

The way this scene plays out in the show, it’s all relatively harmless. He makes comments to her, she assaults him in return, he stalks off and they go about their day. But the problem is, this isn’t even remotely how this scene would play in real life. In reality, there are multiple potential scenarios that could have ended up happening.

For example, A) she doesn’t assault him. She responds the way that most women would, and she just laughs it off or ignores him. She hears her co-workers talking about how he’s kind of pathetic, but at the end of the day, he’s harmless and a nice guy, so just cut him some slack, would you? So she does. She continues ignoring him. And he keeps making comments at her. He gets steadily more and more aggressive with his comments, and whether he means to make the threat or not, they’re both aware of the fact that he has seniority over her. He’s been here longer – he has connections within the company. If he isn’t her boss, he’s at least friends with her boss. And if she wants to move ahead in the company, or even just keep her job, then maybe she shouldn’t be so “frigid” and “uptight”, right?

Or, there’s example B) she does assault him, because he crossed her boundaries and touched her when she said no. And he now has two things: a wounded ego, and a valid complaint against her, that he can take right to her boss.

Either way, she loses in real life.

But in fiction, it’s alright. It’s not a big deal. In fiction, she can assault him and end the harassment right then and there while simultaneously proving to the audience that she’s a strong, independent woman who can take care of herself. In fiction, we don’t have to think about this all that much.

And this affects the way that we see these scenarios in real life. This deludes us into thinking – maybe it isn’t a big deal. I mean, if she really wasn’t interested, she could have just assaulted him, right?

Watching this one scene was extremely disappointing to me. Not only was I watching one of my childhood heroes engage in predatory behaviour that has intense, real-world consequences, it also sort of made me think about the media that I grew up watching, and the media that we’re all aware of. It made me realize just how prevalent it is to normalize sexual harassment in our movies and our TV.

Because when I was a teenager, I watched “Army of Darkness” hundreds of times without ever really clueing in to the fact that when Bruce Campbell’s character says “give me some sugar, baby”, what he is actually doing is forcing a kiss on a woman who, until now, has shown nothing but disdain for him.

And as much as I wish I could say that media starring Bruce Campbell is the only media that normalizes this – it isn’t. I only focused on it because it’s what I’m most familiar with. The truth is, it’s in all of our media.

It’s in every movie or TV show where man is rejected by a woman, and he responds by pressing the matter (ie. Han and Leia in “Star Wars”) or manipulating her (ie. Noah and Allie in “The Notebook”) or continuing to harass her until he finally gets a ‘yes’ (ie. Leonard and Penny in “The Big Bang Theory”). It is so prevalent in our society that it’s not only normal – it’s actually kind of a joke.

And when we laugh at it in the media, we don’t think of the real-world consequences that these scenarios could actually have. We don’t think that they’re a big deal, because our media tells us that it isn’t a big deal. It’s just funny.

And I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t enjoy the movies or TV that we grew up with. I understand why that would be a hard argument to sell, and I know that I, for one, won’t stop enjoying the Evil Dead series anytime soon. But that being said, I do think that we need to talk about these issues. Because talking about them makes us realize how prevalent they actually are – and just how engrained into our society.

When we talk about sexual assault and harassment in the #metoo movement, we aren’t just talking about a few isolated incidents. We’re talking about an entire culture that needs to be confronted and changed. This might be part of the reason why the #metoo movement has been met with some resistance – it’s a lot of change to be made. It’s overwhelming, but it’s definitely worthwhile. Because once we become aware of it and once we start talking about it, then we can start making things better for the people who have actually faced this in real life. We no longer just shrug these scenarios off as jokes – we understand them on a deeper, more compassionate level. We began to see these scenes for what they are, and they aren’t really funny at all.


Why Toxic Masculinity Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Means

I’ve used the term ‘toxic masculinity’ now and again when discussing feminism, and I’m always slightly surprised by the reaction that I get.

It doesn’t seem to matter the context in which I use the term. It doesn’t seem to matter how much I explain what the term means. Every single time I bring it up, there is always at least one person who hears what I’m saying and they think that I mean that men are toxic. They assume that I am saying that men are all evil, and they are to blame for all the negative things that exist in this world.

Which isn’t what I mean. At all. Honestly, some of my best friends are men.

No? Not buying that blatant excuse? Okay, I guess I’ll have to explain a little further then.

So, in order to understand what I mean when I say ‘toxic masculinity’, you’re going to need to understand the feminist theory that gender is performative. First put forth by feminist scholar Judith Butler, this theory essentially states that gender is not what’s between your legs or what comes naturally to you as a human being – gender is a performance, and we are all given the script from infancy. And by the time that we’re adults, we are so accustomed to performing our parts that we don’t even realize we’re performing them anymore.

So a lot of the ways that we perform our gender – the way we dress, the things we say, the thoughts that cross our minds – they are all learned behaviour. Women aren’t more emotional by nature; women are perceived as more emotional because women are encouraged to discuss their feelings whereas men are discouraged from doing the same.

You may agree with this. You may not. But this is the theory that toxic masculinity rests on.

Because what the theory of toxic masculinity argues is that some of the behaviours that men are taught to engage in to prove their masculinity are, in fact, toxic.

And I don’t only mean toxic to other people – although it is certainly that. From a very young age, men are told that violence and domination are two surefire ways to prove that they are men. In our media, you are much more likely to see men solve their problems by punching them than by discussing them, and you are much more likely to see men respond to rejection with harassment than with genuine understanding. And this has contributed to a society where 99 percent of perpetrators of sexual violence are men. Men are also responsible for 98 percent of mass shootings and 90 percent of murders.

And women are not the only ones who are victimized by male violence (although that fact shouldn’t make you care any more or less about the fact that this is happening). Although one in four women will face domestic violence at some point in her life, 68 percent of homicide victims are men.

So, yeah, violence and domination is a real-life problem that affects all of us for the worst. And yet, that doesn’t seem to stop our media and our society from telling boys that violence and domination is one way to prove that you are a man.

But this is just one form of toxic behaviour that men might engage in to prove their masculinity. There are so many more.

For example, men are told from a young age that “real men don’t cry”. They’re told that nobody cares about their emotions, so “toughen up” and “be a man”. So, of course, to prove their masculinity, men will suppress their emotions and avoid talking about them. And perhaps because of this, depression in men goes woefully under diagnosed, despite the fact that men are four times more likely to die by suicide than women.

Men are also told from a young age that “real men” are “players” and “lady-killers”. They get all the women, all the time, and women love them. This contributes to this idea of women as conquests and trophies, yes, but it also contributes to this idea that a “real man” is heterosexual, and intensely interested in sex.

Men are told that “real men” have big penises, despite the fact that trans-men are not born with penises.

Men are told that “real men” are muscular, which contributes to poor body image for men who do not feel that they fit that image.

Men are told that “real men” are white – in fact, Asian-American men are frequently emasculated in our media.

This is what I am referring to when I say ‘toxic masculinity’. I am not saying that men are evil. I am not saying that men are toxic. I am saying that society has put in place certain methods by which men are expected to prove their masculinity, and many of these methods are toxic – to the men who do not live up to these expectations, to the men who do, and to everyone else around them.

And this is part of why I believe that it is important for us to talk about toxic masculinity, even despite the negative connotation that many have ascribed to the discussion. Because in recent news, we have had multiple movements that discuss some of the unfortunate side-effects of toxic masculinity, such as the #metoo movement and Bell Let’s Talk Day, but we haven’t been discussing the matter directly.

And if we are going to make some actual, lasting changes, we need to talk about it. We need to stop telling boys to bottle up their emotions, or to fix problems through violence. We as a society – men and women alike – need to change the definition of what a “real man” is, and we start by changing the way that we talk to men and boys about their masculinity.

Because there are so many ways to be a “real man”. Real men identify as men – that’s literally the end of it. And that means that real men do whatever the hell they want, so long as what they do doesn’t hurt others or themselves.