Op-Ed: In Defense of “In Defense of Pickiness”

Retcon Punch begins the long journey up its own assLast week, I wrote an Op-Ed inspired by a twitter conversation I’d had with a complete stranger about Detective Comics 8. That conversation ranged into some interesting topics including taking risks in art and how best to support comics as an industry. I disagreed with many of the arguments that twitterer had presented, so I took the opportunity to present my response in that piece. I was hoping presenting my ideas clearly and civilly would be a way to continue the conversation, both with that twitterer, my fellow Retcon Punchers, and our other readers. Needless to say, I was very excited to hear that twitterer’s thoughts on the piece, so I tweeted him the link:

last month’s twitter conversation about #DetectiveComics still has me thinking, so I wrote an Op-Ed on it: wp.me/p2a7lL-xD

He shot back a quick response:

One little comment: How can perfection have any risk? Perfection is, by defenition, without risks. Everyone likes perfect.

Awesome. This is exactly the type of back-and-forth I was hoping for, so I sent back:

Oooh! (I kind of want to have this conversation in the comments, but) If you’re conflating “risk” with “imperfection,” then yes ..but anyone’s idea of “perfect” is unique. If I think an objectively “risky” comic is perfect, does it stop being risky?

Here, things took an unexpected turn. I’ll refrain on commenting on his or my tweets until I get to the end of the exchange. His response:

sorry, but that loses meaning when you have a review dedicated to calling a work utter garbage because you didnt like the tone.

I responded:

I don’t understand. Am I not entitled to my opinion? I thought that issue was bad. It has nothing to do with “riskiness.”

His response:

I’m saying that you are intolerant of other’s opinions and visions, as evident by your condescending article and review.

I tweeted back:

now I really don’t understand — it’s inherently condescending to dislike something?

His response:

It’s all about tone. The tone of your article was “look at this idiot”. Ironic since the issue with the comic was over tone. If youre going to pull passive aggressive moves like this the least you can do is stop calling yourself “fair and balanced.”

I should note that some point after sending that tweet, he blocked our twitter account. I don’t know if he received any of these follow-up tweets:

That’s not my intention at all. In fact, I asked two other editors to look it over to make sure I wasn’t being unfair… …and I presented your tweets in full to insure I didn’t take anything out of context. I genuinely wanted to engage you about the points you raised, and tried to use that space to simply present my response. I truly am sorry if you were offended by my tone, but I didn’t intend any disrespect. I really just wanted to discuss your points I encourage you to share your opinions in the comments section of that post – I really am interested in hearing your thoughts

Suffice it to say, I was both frustrated and disappointed with this experience. Comic book fans are notorious for getting upset at people for disliking the things that they like, but I had enough faith in this guy to expect him to be able to have a cogent discussion about points we disagreed on. That was a mistake. This simple exchange has shaken my faith in the comics community to have respectful disagreements, or intelligent conversations regarding those disagreements. I hate to have such a stupid, anonymous internet argument have such a profound effect on my personal outlook, but I had so much wide-eyed excitement for what I was hoping that discussion could be, it was traumatizing to have it stomped-out in front of me.

More importantly, this guy called a piece that I was very proud of “passive aggressive” and “condescending.” Those accusations cut deep when I had done everything in my power to avoid anything like that. I really just wanted to engage with his ideas, and I thought the best way to do that would be to present them in full, write my response, and invite further discussion in the comments. On closer inspection, I don’t think I’m actually guilty of any of the things he accuses me of — in fact, he may me guilty of those things himself.

Before I go on, I should mention my state of mind. In that first piece, I did everything in my power to represent my disagreements in a respectful, level-headed manor. It didn’t come from a place of anger, and I think that comes across in the civility of the language. This piece is different. I’m upset, I’m frustrated, and I no longer respect this tweeter. I’m still going to treat his claims with enough respect to examine them logically, but it’s no longer because they’re worthy of my time; I just feel the need to defend myself from even the most illogical insults. Ideally, my emotional responses here will demonstrate how non-emotional that first piece was, but at the very least, I hope they don’t muddle the message. That piece was written by Bruce Banner. Now I’m Hulking out.

If youre going to pull passive aggressive moves like this the least you can do is stop calling yourself “fair and balanced.”

Okay, obvious attempts to paint me with the same brush as Fox News aside, I never actually claimed that piece was balanced. In fact, I think I was incredibly transparent about the fact that I was only presenting my side of the argument. “Balance” could only come about through reasoned responses, but instead of engaging me in discussion, he accused me of being passive aggressive. But here’s the thing: there’s nothing passive about presenting a viewpoint in opposition to another. There’s also nothing aggressive in that piece. I disagree with him, to be sure, but I did so very respectfully. In order to ensure that, I had two of my collaborators here look over the piece to make sure I wasn’t being mean or unfair. In short, I don’t think the piece was passive aggressive at all. It’s certainly less passive aggressive than calling someone names and then cutting off all contact with them.

I’m saying that you are intolerant of other’s opinions and visions, as evident by your condescending article and review.

Again, I don’t think this claim bears out. Sure, I didn’t like Detective Comics — which is my prerogative, if we’re respecting each other’s opinions here — but I don’t think I was intolerant of anyone’s opinion. In fact, the Op-Ed was all about respecting opinions. Yes, I disagreed with him, but I chose to engage with his opinions because I respected them, and sought out his response because I was interested in them. Objectively, that seems much more tolerant than calling someone names because you disagree with them, and then preventing them from ever speaking to you again. How can you claim to be tolerant of other’s opinions if you won’t even listen to them?

Also, neither the review nor the article are condescending, and suggesting that they are belies a profound misunderstanding of the word “condescending.” Disliking a work of art, is not condescending, and neither is explaining that dislike. Yes, I made some jokes in that review, but I honestly just think Detective Comics failed to be a halfway interesting book. I must admit, I can see how he might read the Op-Ed as condescending, but only if he assumed I was being incredibly sarcastic every time I engaged with one of his ideas. I think the fact that I respected his ideas enough to engage with them, and then invited him to participate in a dialogue kind of flies in the face of that assumption, so the Op-Ed must be read earnestly. In that case, its only crime is that it disagreed with the tweeter, which again, is not inherently condescending.

Heck, it’s not even condescending to point out that “evident” is not a verb, and that he probably meant “evidenced” or “was made evident.” What would be condescending is if I said we should overlook that because grown-up words are hard sometimes, so instead I’ll just suggest that this particular tweeter’s grasp of syntax may explain why he can overlook Tony Daniel’s terrible grammar. (Okay, I realize that unsolicited copy-edits are pretty condescending, but I wanted to take some digs at this guy. Don’t let that cloud the point that the tone of that piece is only condescending if you choose to read it that way, which requires a fairly large leap in logic.) Holding a comic book or a comic fan’s arguments to a high standard isn’t condescending; not holding them to that high standard would be.

It’s all about tone. The tone of your article was “look at this idiot”. Ironic since the issue with the comic was over tone.

I think I’ve effectively demonstrated that the tone in that piece is kind of necessarily respectful, but just to be clear, that is not what an article that accuses anyone of being an idiot looks like; this one is. I think this guy is an idiot. I don’t need to beat around the bush about the point of my writing, and I can’t imagine why I would. Please, understand, the reason I think this guy is an idiot isn’t because we disagreed about a work of art he liked (though I would like to hear a different defense than the one I pick apart in that earlier piece), but because he reacted so poorly to respectful disagreement. Blocking a real person on twitter is the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and shouting “I’M NOT LISTENING!” That’s not an attitude I’ll ever respect. I also won’t abide people making wild accusations, particularly hypocritical ones. Speaking of hypocrisy, you’ve noticed that he really doesn’t like the tone of that Op-Ed? Does this quote really make any sense, then?

sorry, but that loses meaning when you have a review dedicated to calling a work utter garbage because you didnt like the tone.

Um, if I’m not allowed to dislike a piece because of its tone, how come he can? He’s right, something is ironic about that. Or, rather, something is wildly hypocritical about that. On second thought, maybe my argument was so unbalanced because this guy can’t pick a side. What’s really interesting about that particular tweet is that he suggests the review panning Detective Comics 8 is unfair because it’s based on my opinion. THAT’S WHAT REVIEWS ARE. EVERY REVIEW. EVER. NOT JUST THAT ONE. It goes without saying. Human beings write them, and notions of “good” and “bad” are inherently subjective. Reread the review (or any review), starting each sentence with “in my opinion,” if it makes you feel better. I appreciate that this guy thinks my opinions represent objective truths, but I really never claimed that they were. I’d even go so far as to say that that thinking especially doesn’t make sense on this site, where every “review” is actually written as a point/counterpoint (though we do end up agreeing a lot…) and comments are encouraged.

As I started writing this piece, fellow Retcon Puncher Patrick Ehlers was quick to remind me that we actually have intelligent, civil discussions regarding comics everyday. And not just with each other — we’ve had respectful differences of opinion with site commentators and comics creators alike. He’s right, I shouldn’t let this one instance of frustration mar the otherwise rewarding experience that sharing my views on this site has been. Those interactions, those meetings of ideas that inspire us to think more deeply about comics are precisely why we made this site in the first place. I want to do everything I can to encourage those, and I certainly don’t want to let my reactions to this one twitterer discourage others from voicing their opinions. This site exists for discussing comics, and discussions are mighty boring if everyone agrees. Here’s to hearing each other out, to respectful disagreements, and civil discussions on subjects about which we care deeply. I hope this site continues to be a destination for such discussions.

8 comments on “Op-Ed: In Defense of “In Defense of Pickiness”

  1. The part that confuses me the most: that he seemed to think we were somehow excited to post a negative review. No one shares a negative review of a comic book – artists and creative types don’t pass it around to their legions of followers. It is literally BAD FOR BUSINESS when we post a negative review. But, shit, gots to be honest.

    I am really glad that we have readers that feel welcome to comment on our articles (and disagree with us), and it’s totally frustrating that your twitterer opted out of that conversation. Well, more room for those of us that agree to disagree.

    • Yeah, as much fun as it can be to write a really panning review, it also means we have to read a comic we don’t enjoy. Both as comics readers and editors of a small comics blog already spreading itself thin on reviews, we just don’t have time for it. We’ve cut titles we didn’t like before, and we made it clear DetCom was on the chopping block as soon as NotO was over. If we wanted to write bad reviews, our pull list would look very different, but as readers and reviewers, we prefer to read the good stuff.

      • I agree with everything said. As someone who was writing about DetCom from the beginning, I feel that I have been fairly open minded when reading and reviewing this book. Also, I do mention things I like, which means that I am in no way looking to publish just a blatantly negative review. I like to think we all look for things we both do and do not like about a book. I think that he attempt to make it look as if we are even snobbier than regular comic snobs is outlandish.

        • The funniest part is that, under other circumstances, some of his claims would probably be true of my argument style, but I was really making every effort to be fair in that post.

  2. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t read the whole post but I think it’s appropriate to note…

    They can’t be bought, bullied, or bargained with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

    And to make irrational arguments on twitter. They want that too.

    • Oh yeah, no worries about not reading the whole thing – Drew will admit that this is sort of a self-indulgent exercise for him.

      The disappointing thing is that the dude seemed like a rational dude: very un-Joker-like.

      • Yeah, his stealth irrationality is part of what has me so angry.

        No joke on self-indulgence — it’s really a personal journal entry we posted because we like having content on the site. Thanks for reading even a word of it!

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