Today, Bleeding Cool published this article on the use of a certain word being used in “Papergirls” #1, which was released by Image Comics this week, and the actions taken by Whateverstore in San Francisco. Safe to say it’s garnered some attention, and we felt we would wade in with our two cents.
Let’s not jump the gun here, eh? Let’s not get polarised, and instead be grown up about this. The two gay, married owners of Whatever comics have railed against BKV’s latest book through Image, ‘Paper Girls’. for a character’s use of the word “faggot”. No doubt Twitter is foaming at this, on both ‘sides’ of the cultural divide, but let’s just stop and take a moment. As with most things in life, it’s not simply a case of choosing a side and sticking to it. It’s a complex, nuanced conversation we have to have.
Is it right to boycott a book because you don’t like the use of a word in it?
Is it right to criticise a creator for having a character use a slur in context for that character?
And whatever happened to grawlix, anyway?
An immediate argument against this couple’s decision is one of literary freedom. If I’m writing a character who’s a complete out-and-out misogynist, shouldn’t I feel comfortable to have that character say sickening, sexist things? We don’t want mediocrity, some PC wasteland where no one ever says or does anything that could harm a reader, do we?
Obviously not. Freedom to not censor oneself or be censored by others is a goal most writers would like to achieve, but rarely do. I self-censor all the time – otherwise everything I write would be utterly bleak and completely misanthropic (at any given time, I’d nuke all of humanity and hope that we get on better as free-floating, cosmic chaff, but you have to inject some hope in there, really).
Censorship by others is something we all rail against, but writers face their work being toned-down, sexed-up, mangled or rescued by editors all the time.
So while writers should have freedom to express as they wish, they must do that within certain constraints.
The reason why people boycott work tends to be because it offends them, which is an unfortunately abused word that doesn’t quite get across the actual feelings experienced. Let me put it another way: if you’ve grown up as gay, it’s likely you’ve had every kind of slur thrown at you by people who believed you were subhuman and game for it. Straight people, basically. People who believed so hard in their manifest destiny to be the yardstick by which everyone else should be judged that anyone deviating from that norm was considered deviant.
By people who couldn’t engage their wonderful Brahmanic conscience long enough to prevent them from parroting opinions and ideas implanted in there by other people, by the society around them. Picking up these slurs from TV shows, movies, books and, yes, comics.
While straights outnumber gays significantly on this planet (who knows what other kinds of utopias lie in wait out there in the cosmos, you know what I’m saying?), the idea that a writer only considers things from one viewpoint is limited.
So how about this: when you’ve grown up being called “faggot”, “fairy”, “poofter”, “shirtlifter”, “bummer”, “shitstabber”, “fudgepacker”, or whatever, when you open a book and see a character looking out at you from the panel saying one of those very words, it’s possible your reaction is going to be primal and visceral. You’re not stopping to see the nuance in the writer’s decision. You’re not angry at the character. You’re angry that just when you thought you were on top of things, getting better (it does, but it’s still pretty crap a lot of the time) here’s some straight guy dropping the F-word in front of you like it’s another tool in his armoury.
Does that mean the word should be completely censored from use? Not in my opinion. I don’t like hard-line, polarised anything. Should those two fabulously-bearded guys feel free to boycott BKV? Of course they should, it’s their right to do what they like in the face of “offence” (read: magnificently pissed off).
Those guys aren’t just bristling with their own anger, I’d wager. They’re bristling with a primal rage knowing that there are kids out there who aren’t better yet, for whom life still consists of strangers in the street or even loved ones calling them faggot. It’s easy to think the world is healing, evolving, we have gay marriage now so everything must be okay, right?
It’s not. It’s a straight world, and we’re lucky if we’re gifted some space and safety in it. In other parts of the world right now, we don’t even have that.
So by all means, rage away! Get offended, get pissed off! And don’t let anyone argue that it’s a writer’s freedom when it’s not something they’ve ever had to experience.
One final thing – grawlix. Grawlix are those spirals and symbols used in cartoons, comics and funny books since forever to allow writers to use swearwords that the adults would recognise but the wee ones wouldn’t (or in reality, would, but it everyone keeps up the pretence that their minds aren’t being polluted).
Grawlix. You want to use that slur so badly? Stick in some g@ddamn motherf&*^ing grawlix. It acts as a buffer, makes it less visceral, and show that the writer/editor has a touch of awareness. A£$%holes that they are.