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annihilator1

annihilator2

Annihilator #1 by Grant Morrison and Frazer Irving. Legendary, 2014.

Did I mention I’m not ‘keeping up’ with comics anymore? It’s not something that happened on purpose, like

“ARRRRRGHHH comics! I’m so mad at you! I’m not going to pay attention to the latest news and gossip about you Any. More.”

It just kind of happened accidentally. I blame Google Reader shutting down, a reality I’m just beginning to accept like…I don’t, seven years after the fact? This technologically driven 21st century time dilation is really fucking with my perception of history. What came first, Faith by George Michael or the Iraq War by George Bush? The world may never know.

Anyway, I couldn’t even begin to guess at what Grant Morrison is up to these days. I saw my local comic book shop had lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of copies of another new book of his, Multiversity. I thought Multiversity was already the name of a site that does in depth breakdowns of the latest issues of Morning Glories and shit, so that’s already confusing, and then Morrison is naturally confusing, and then obviously from the title there are multiple universes at play so I was like

“Girl, nuh uh. I am not going down that road again. He say he changed but no, we all remember Final Crisis.”

But, way in the back of the store, there’s this other new Grant Morrison comic. From a publisher I don’t really know. And a proper Grant Morrison artist — that is to say, British, weird, and mostly famous from 2000 AD.

Hmmm. Intrigued.

I’ve often felt Morrison lives and dies by the artists he works with. His writing can be accessible, enjoyable and fun, or obscure, masturbatory, and overblown, and it depends more than anything on who is turning the script into art. Frazer Irving immediately brings a grandiose and cinematic vision to this series that complements Morrison’s big imagination perfectly, but he also possess the visual storytelling skills to keep the focus on the imagery over text. The first few pages of this story could be totally understood without any of the accompanying captions or dialogue balloons, and that’s a real strength. And the digitally painted textures give everything a bit of a peak 90s-era Vertigo look, which certainly puts me in the mood for a vintage Morrison yarn.

Here’s the broad outline of the plot, as I understood it: There’s a black hole called the Annihilator at the center of the galaxy. There’s a fight in space that pits an evil empire against a lone hero. There’s a guy who looks a bit like Terrence Trent d’Arby who is very okay with the fact that the house he is about to buy is a legendarily haunted murder house. That fellow is Ray Spass. He is a screenwriter and he hasn’t had a hit for a long time. He wants to write a ghost story — hence the importance of moving into a haunted house. The studio wants science fiction.

So just put the haunted house in space.

The screenplay Ray is writing is Annihilator, and his protagonist, equal parts Riddick and Thanos, is Max Nomax, a hero in the capital R Romantic mode.

From there the comic caroms back and forth from Ray’s world to the fictive world of Annihilator, each reflecting the other as such things tend to do. All very predictable until…Max Nomax shows up at Ray’s doorstep.

Oh bravo Mr. Morrisson. How very meta of you. No one would expect the author of Animal Man from THIRTY YEARS ago to play with the ‘ol boundaries between creator and creation, would they?

But I guess I asked for some vintage Morrison, and that’s precisely what I got.

wildsend

Wild’s End #1 (of 6) by Dan Abnett and I.N.J. Culbard. BOOM! Studios, 2014.

From the Improbable Mash-Ups Department: Anthropomorphic Animals + Edwardian English Countryside + Alien Invasion = Pretty Fun.

You could also call it H.G. Wells meets George Orwell, which is convenient because I get them mixed up (along with Orson Welles) all the time anyhow.

southernbastards3

Southern Bastards #3-4 by Jason Aaron and Jason Latour. Image, 2014.

Four issues into this series and every major character has been beaten either to death or within an inch of their life. Some of these beatings we are supposed to interpret as bad and undeserved. Others are supposed to be good and well-earned.

All of the major characters are also white men. There is apparently one woman in Craw County, Alabama — the waitress at Coach Boss’ BBQ restaurant. There is also precisely one black man, the Sheriff, who is actually a puppet sheriff controlled by Coach Boss.

Jason Aaron’s previous creator-owned series Scalped (which, like Bastards, was the story of a disenchanted adult man returning to the hometown he was supposed to have left behind in order to work out some not-insignificant Daddy Issues) featured a complex moral universe in which it was rarely clear who was a hero and who was a villain. The book pivoted around the idea that there is no universal morality. The institutional morality of the American justice system, the personal morality of assorted cops and killers, and a higher morality hinted at by the few remaining practitioners of the traditional Oglala Lakota way of life were all constantly at odds with each other. Death and violence, which are rampant in all of Aaron’s works with the possible exception of the lighthearted Wolverine and the X-Men, took on a new meaning in that context.

In Bastards, Aaron seems to be hinting at a conflict between City morals and Country values, with the suggestion that there is no higher value than high school football. And no better way to resolve a problem than with a hickory stick. The trenchant realism of Scalped’s Prairie Rose Reservation (based on the actual Pine Ridge res in South Dakota) is here replaced by an uncomfortable pastiche of the rural South, a South that I suspect will be more familiar to regular viewers of Dukes of Hazzard reruns than to contemporary residents of Alabama. So far the flatness of the characters, the dullness of the setting, the emptiness of the message, and the repetitiveness of the violence does not impress.

Prophet Strikefile interior detail by Grim Wilkins

Prophet Strikefile interior detail by Grim Wilkins

Prophet Strikefile by Brandon Graham, Simon roy, Grim Wilkins, Sandra Lanz, Matt Sheehan, Malachi Ward, Bayard Baudoin, Onta, Giannis Milonogiannis, Joseph Bergin III, Ron Ackins, Tom Parkinson-MOrgan, and selected colors by Amy Clare.

If you ever obsessed over the lavishly illustrated sourcebook to a tabletop game without playing the game, if you owned any edition of the Star Wars Technical Manual, if your favorite Punisher issues were the Armories*, if you think any drawing of a machine or vehicle could be improved by making it a cutaway, if you’re obsessed with properly ordering the timelines of completely contrived universes, if you ever bookmarked an online encyclopedia of Babylon Five aliens, if the numbers 1701-C and 1701-D mean anything to you…

…then for chrissakes be the nerd you want to be already and buy this book. Also if you’ve been reading Brandon Graham’s Prophet and have suspected the whole time that you have no idea what’s going on, this might help.  I can’t wait to go back and reread the series — I could never have guessed how epic and psychedelic it would become.

 

*

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From 1990, the Punisher Armory was basically just a bunch of really detailed drawings of guns accompanied by some thoughts from the Punisher about those guns, and how much he likes guns.  I’m not a gun guy or an NRA fan or anything, but I loved this comic just for the way it dug into technical minutiae.  The issue was illustrated by Eliot R Brown, a technical illustrator who was called in by the Big Two from time to time to illustrate things like cutaway diagrams of Iron Man’s armor, a topographic map of Gotham City, or the Teen Titan’s satellite base.   I strongly recommend a visit to his website.

 

bryan lee omalley seconds characters

My essays on here have been getting less frequent and more personal.  I’d guess that means that I’m just more focused on my personal life than on comics and pop culture right now.  Probably for the best, as I’m getting married in eleven days — an event I’d certainly hope would be more important to me than Future’s End or the Death of Wolverine.

The following review of Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley contains spoilers for the entire book as well as for the entirety of my own life.

***

katie seconds page 11

That’s the opening to the first proper chapter of Seconds, the second proper graphic story from Bryan Lee O’Malley, the first proper cartoonist many people of a certain age fell in love with.  And if the preceding sentence seemed improbable and convoluted, it’s only because it is so freighted with meaning.

For readers of a certain age, that is.

When I first started reading O’Malley’s breakout work, Scott Pilgirm, I was in much the same place in my life as the titular character.  Fresh out of school, in a cramped and highly unglamorous living situation, at best marginally employed, and dating a much younger and more innocent girl largely because it was the easiest thing to do at the moment.  I was, too put it mildy, a selfish whelk woefully unprepared for the realities of adult living.

Fast forward a few (too many) years and very little has changed.  I mean, I’ve got a fairly grown-up looking apartment, I make a decent living, and I’m in a stable and healthy relationsihp of equals.  But I still see myself reduced to the simple clean lines of a Bryan Lee O’Malley comic.

I’ve been talking to myself more than usual.

***

I’m twenty-nine years old.  I work in the restaurant up the road.  I love the restaurant.  It’s not my first one.  Restaurants, like women, mark phases in your life, lessons learned.

My first one was a neighborhood star that had shone brightly for a year and since fallen on hard times.  This place, let’s call it The Café, had already broken up the chef-owner’s marriage and sent one general manager running for the hills.  The new manager was a hard but humorous fellow who had worked his way from dishwasher to maitre’d in the most legendary dining rooms in New York before relocating to Chicago, which he viewed as the hinterlands.  We at first seemed to have little in common, but soon discovered that we were both alcoholics, and for that reason perceived each other with a grudging sort of respect.  I grew closer with the crew there than at any other place I’ve since worked; I watched my coworkers get married, have their first children, move across the country, and in many ways grow into themselves.  I was the youngest of the bunch but I felt in many ways like we were all growing up together.  Still, after a couple of years the whole environment proved too volatile, and I walked out at the end of a particularly tense shift.

The next place, which I shall call Lé Chic was a very elegant and very expensive lair with a prime bit of real estate just close enough to downtown to draw the big crowds but just far enough away to maintain some illusion of edginess.  They had just brought on a new rising star to run the kitchen and undo the damage done by the previous chef (another alcoholic — the world is positively full of us, if you know where to look).  Those ambitions were rewarded in my first year there, when the restaurant earned a Michelin star.  After the turmoil of my first restaurant,  Lé Chic showed me what a real, functional restaurant could be: the attention to detail, the completeness of the experience, the overwhelming emphasis on going well beyond the guest’s expectations, and more than anything, the level of complexity and technique that was actually required to make deceptively simple food at high volumes and ensure that every morsel was delicious every time.   Although the sense of pride I felt in being a small part of such a place was immense, I also knew that  Lé Chic was, for its owner at least, more a business than a passion, and as I saw more and more decisions being made solely in the service of profit margins (often at the expense of employees’ well-being), I had to once again move on.

After a couple years spent in the wilderness of sales and marketing for a meat, cheese, and specialty goods purveyor, I missed the fun and flexibility of restaurants and asked a chef friend about a job at his new spot, aka The Hipster.  I realized when I joined up that I had gone from being a young curiosity (a well-educated waiter, probably on a pit stop on his way to some sort of real career) to an old and tired cliche (an over-educated waiter who never made much of himself in a real career, and now knows the restaurant business the way a mercenary knows the war business).  Still, I loved it.  Saturday nights at The Hipster were like being on stage.  The best looking, coolest and richest people in town were all clamoring for a table in the city’s hottest dining room, and I was one of the beautiful people chosen to entertain them for the evening.  The truth is, I never would have left, unless provided with the perfect opportunity for something even hotter, even younger.

Enter The New Place.  My first time opening a restaurant.  It would be the latest project from a chef and a group that had dominated the city restaurant scene for the last half-decade, and best of all, it was just up the road from my house.

***

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Seconds focuses on a crucial period in the life of Katie, a 29-year old chef suffering through some serious ennui.  Unlike O’Malley’s previous protagonist, Katie seems to have life pretty well figured out.  She’s the most popular chef in town.  She’s on the cusp of opening a restaurant of her very own.  But for the time being, she stuck living most of her life out at Seconds, the restaurant she helped create but feels little love for anymore.  All tied up with this is Katie’s fraught relationship with her ex (and ex-sous chef), and her semi-secret relationship with (you guessed it) her new sous chef.  When an ill-advised hookup leads to a chain of events that ends with a young employee being seriously injured in a kitchen accidents, Katie is overwhelmed with regret.

And then things gets pretty weird.

***

Your early twenties are a great time to make, and learn from, mistakes.  Your late twenties are a great time to make, and reflect on, regrets.

I regret changing colleges after sophomore year.  I regret slacking off  and never giving a thought to a job or life after school.  I regret doing what my father (a chef) told me never to do and getting into the restaurant business.  I regret not getting out sooner.  I regret not keeping up with my friends from my old school.  I regret the way I treated every woman I was ever with before the woman I’m with now.  I regret not spending more time with my Granddad Bill.  I regret not sticking with golf like my brother did.  I regret not seeing my brother grow up.  I regret downing a half dozen pain pills and five Guinnesses the day I got fired from my first job.  I regret not letting rehab stick the first time.  I regret not writing almost anything at all from roughly 2006 to 2011, which probably should have been my most productive period as a creator.  I regret all the times I missed a social engagement because I was either passed out or too drunk to drive.

I love the New Place.  It’s the greatest restaurant I’ve ever been a part of, and this time I’ve been there since the beginning.  It has a concert venue upstairs that focuses on musicians native to the surrounding area, a onetime mecca of entertainment that has since fallen into obscurity.  The food is incredible.  The space is full of plants and light and basically looks like an oasis of joy in an otherwise dreary stretch between a strip mall and an L.A. Fitness.   There’s an adorable little coffee bar in the back where I can quietly make myself an espresso and then look over a room full of happy, laughing people, and feel like I’ve actually been a part of creating what I see in front of me.

I also sort of hate the New Place.  Cutting out my long commute and working in the neighborhood was supposed to give me more time at home with my fiancee, but we didn’t count on the significantly longer hours.  I also have less time to write, and I’m exhausted more often than not.  I think about it when I’m not there.  I have stressful dreams about it.  I’m afraid I’m going to regret leaving the easy money of the Hipster in favor of working a lot harder for the same pay at the New Place.

***

second chances

Overcome with guilt after allowing harm to come to a coworker, Katie discovers an opportunity to make things right.  When she wakes the next morning, everything is okay.

She was only supposed to get one chance, but Katie uncovers a loophole that allows her to go back and fix more mistakes.  Despite the warnings of the hip young House Spirit that has started haunting her, Katie embarks on a program of course corrections, going back to change increasingly important moments in her own life.

And all of this, of course, has unintended consequences.

If I had never left home early, and then if I had never changed schools,  I never would have met the love of my life.  If I hadn’t gotten fired from that first job I never would have found something of a calling in the restaurant world.  If I hadn’t hit rock bottom, I wouldn’t have been so lucky as to start curing my addictive behavior early in life.  If I had held on to the same old friends, I might never have had room for the amazing ones I have now.

Still, I obsess over tiny moments of the past, reliving in minute detail the way things did happen and the way I wish they would have happened.  If I, like Katie, had the power to do-over any moment, the list of things I would change would be almost infinite.

But, given that my past mistakes indicate a life-long history of poor decision making, what would make me think that I would be able to go back and do a better job?

Who’s to say I wouldn’t just make things immeasurably worse?

And that’s precisely what happens to Katie.  She doesn’t just mess up her life by trying to redo the past.  She messes up the whole space time continuum.

***

The inner-workings of a restaurant are a frightening and mysterious thing

The inner-workings of a restaurant are a frightening and mysterious thing

I focus most of my attention on the past, and the rest on the future, often with very little regard to the present moment.  Lately the universe has been conspiring to remind me that that is precisely the wrong way to do it.

In the beginning of Seconds, Katie is the same state.  All of her emotional energy is tied up in the past (her relationship with Max) and in the future (the all-too-distant opening of her new restaurant).   Attempts to change the outcome of the latter by altering the former are met with disaster.  In the end all she has to do is focus on the present, on being present.  It turns out the work of changing the future is difficult.  Back-breaking.  It can’t be done by flicking some single switch in the past.  There is after all no lever of sufficient length to lift the whole world.  Progress can only be achieved in real time.  By focusing totally on the present moment, and on doing the right thing in this moment.

Ha.  Maybe there’s something I can take away from that.

The restaurant I work at recently received a pretty harsh review from a fairly important publication, and it has really gotten me thinking about restaurant criticism.  Restaurant critic was once one of my dream jobs.  Given that my two primary hobbies are eating and criticizing things, it would seem like a perfect fit.  But having worked as long as I have in restaurants, I always view anyone who would deign to criticize what we do with, if not disdain, at least suspicion.  What do you know, anyway?

Almost all restaurant reviews focus on three things: service, food quality, and ambiance.  This is as true in major newspapers as it is on Yelp.   Criticism in this vain offers its readers a service: there are many, many options for dining in any major city, so which ones are worth spending hard-earned money at?  This is the restaurant review as a product review.  Comparing the latest trendy restaurants is barely different from comparing the latest models of Android phones:  give me the technical specs, the price points, and that indescribable ‘x factor’ (which is, 100% of the time, just the reviewer’s totally subjective gut reaction).

But there has to be more to it, right?  What about where that cellphone comes from?  It’s environmental impact?  The kind of conditions the people who made it work under?  In the world of product reviews, that kind of deep data is so far removed from the end consumer that it is more or less irrelevant — or rather, very easy to ignore.

But in a restaurant those factors are more in-your-face.  There’s more than food, service, and ambiance.  The top-tier of restaurants today are a microcosm for some of the most important social issues of the 21st century:  questions about class, race, the environment, economic sustainability, multiculturalism, and labor are all constantly at play.  I believe there is room for a restaurant criticism that looks beyond the surface dining experience to examine and evaluate the real workings of a restaurant.

Here are some possible questions a restaurant critic with a Marxist-Feminist-Ecologist perspective would ask:

  • Who works here?
  • Is the staff young or old?
  • Has the staff, especially the bar, host, and waitstaff, been hired for attitude and intelligence, or have they been hired solely based on their appearance (people outside of the industry may be surprised to learn how many restaurant jobs require you to submit a headshot along with your application)?
  • Are people of color fulfilling many roles throughout the restaurant, including managerial, or are they relegated to support roles (busboy, barback, prep cook, dishwasher)?
  • What is the ratio of women to men on the staff?
  • Is the LGBTQ staff provided with a safe and supportive working environment and provided the same opportunities, in both the front of house and kitchen, as the staff as a whole?
  • Are there women in managerial roles?
  • Are there women working in the kitchen as well as the front of the house?
  • How much are kitchen and front of house workers paid?  Are there benefits offered to full-time employees?
  • Are kitchen staff paid hourly or a day rate?
  • How many hours a day and hours a week do kitchen staff work?  How often are employees actually allowed to take their legally mandated breaks?
  • Is there significant staff turnover?  Are loyal staff members rewarded with opportunities for advancement?
  • Where does the restaurant’s product comes from?
  • Does the restaurant utilize locally farmed products and develop mutually beneficial relationships with farmers?
  • Are the products being served currently in season?
  • What percentage of the product served comes from local or sustainable sources, or from small purveyors, and how much comes from industrialized sources and corporate purveyors such as Sysco and US Foods?
  • Does the restaurant actually use the farms they name or are they just using the name for a marketing advantage?  If a farm is listed, is 100% of that product from that farm, or is it a mix of accurately named farmed product and a substitute product from a different origin? (This is unbelievably common, especially with meats.  Be wary of any high volume restaurant that claims to serve a specific cut of steak from a single family farm.  There’s only so many ribeyes on an animal, people).
  • Are fish and oyster species names and points of origin given accurately?  Does the waitstaff have the correct information regarding seafood sustainability?
  • Is the restaurant committed to serving only sustainable seafood?  Are there red-flag items such as farm-raised salmon, tuna, and Chilean sea bass on the menu?
  • Does the restaurant take steps to minimize environmental waste (forgoing hand towels in favor of dryers, re-using menus, minimizing the size and quantity of to-go containers, using environmentally friendly cleaning agents, favoring draft beer and wine over bottles and cans, converting vegetable oil for use in biodiesel vehicles, composting, using LED and low-wattage lighting, using reusable non-petroleum candles, etc., etc?)
  • Does the restaurant offer bottled water?  In areas that frequently experience drought, such as the Southwest, serving water only upon request or preferring bottled water is often the environmentally responsible move.  In other parts of the country, serving bottled water is an environmental nuisance when filtering and/or carbonating water in house and using washable carafes is possible.
  • What kind of community does the restaurant serve?
  • Are the primary clientele locals, citywide foodies, or tourists?
  • Does the restaurant cater to the wealthy, the middle-class, bohemians, or the poor?
  • Does the restaurant cater to the old, the young, to professionals, to others in the restaurant industry?
  • Does the restaurant staff treat customers of different races differently?
  • Does the restaurant offer options and positive experiences for people at many different income levels?  Does it welcome a young couple that has scrounged every dollar for a modest bottle of wine and a shared entree with the same hospitality it would provide to a wealthy group of white men with black Amex cards?
  • Does the restaurant provide a substantial benefit to its surrounding neighborhood, in terms of economic impact and quality of life?
  • Does the bar serve spirits from independent distilleries and beers from microbreweries?  Or does the backbar represent the numerous marketing categories of powerful global alcohol conglomerates such as Pernod-Ricard, Beam Suntory, and Diageo?
  • Does the wine program feature organic or biodynamic wines from small producers?

What is the point of all this?  There are restaurants out there that, while they may be fun and delicious, are out to do little more than maximize profits.  They may do so at the expense of their own employees, the rest of the local economy , and the environment.  And there are also restaurants that are fun, delicious, and ethical.  If restaurant critics really want to provide relevant information about where we should spend our money, they should do so by providing more information about which restaurants are Doing the Right Things.

Here are some of the restaurants in the Chicago area which I feel are not only generally tasty but also do right by their workers, purveyors, and their environment.  Pretty much all of these are former clients of mine or places that I have worked, so, I guess that’s a conflict of interest, but that’s also how I now that they are upstanding folk:

  • Vie and Perennial Virant
  • The Publican and Publican Quality Meats
  • Frontera/XOCO/Topolobampo
  • The Bristol
  • The Girl and the Goat
  • Trenchermen and Sportsman’s Club
  • Longman & Eagle, Dusek’s and The Promontory

Few of those restaurants are new or still trendy, but they’re also not names that would surprise anybody.  The reason they’ve stuck around for a few years and become so popular might, just might, have to do with the fact they not only put out great food and drink, but they treat their employees well and never sacrifice ethical principles in favor of a quick buck.

Maybe someday I’ll be brave enough to expose some of the restaurants that I know are talking the talk without walking the walk.

Next time you read a harsh restaurant review, or sitting at a table wondering why your $28 entree is taking longer than you’d like, keep in mind that a restaurant in an incredibly complex organism that many people have devoted a ridiculous amount of their life to.  And that, while the food is still always the most important thing, there is so much more to a restaurant than just what ends up on your plate.

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30. Drederick Tatum

 

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29. Eddie and Lou

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hutz

28. Lionel Hutz

 

cletus
27. Cletus Spuckler

 

brockman
26. Kent Brockman

 

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25. The Rich Texan

 

24. Jimbo Jones, Dolph, & Kearney

 

lindseynaegle

23. Lindsey Neagle

 

kirk

22. Kurt Van Houten

 

chalmers

21. Superintendent Chalmers

 

20. Squeaky Voiced Teen

Continue Reading »

On Labor Day, author Chuck Wendig tweeted

He followed up the tweet (since shared over 5,000 times) with a blogpost today  in which he attempts to respond to the reactionaries who have taken issue with his sentiments regarding the ongoing Nude Celebrity Hacking Scandal.

Wendig’s primary argument is that the rule of law prevails, and the onus is on the perpetrators of crimes, not the victims, to obey the rules of polite society by not stealing.  Furthermore, he defends the right of individuals to a reasonable expectation of privacy. The most common response from people who defend the 4channers/Redditors who have spread the leaked celebrity nudes is that “if you don’t want naked pictures of you to get out, you shouldn’t have them in the first place.”  Many media pundits have rightly called out this kind of thinking as a form of victim blaming.

Furthermore, both sides of this argument have resorted to false analogies to prove their point.  Some have likened the storing of private photos on a cellular phone to the storing of money and valuables on a front porch.  If you really didn’t want them to be stolen, wouldn’t you put them in the bank?  Wendig’s initial tweet pokes fun at this ridiculous idea by suggesting that if you really valued something such as your tennis shoes, you wouldn’t have been so callous as to wear them outside.  Wendig remains blissfully unaware that his own analogy is a clumsy and lacking in merit at those of the ‘trolls’ he is, in theory, responding to.

Privacy, particularly online privacy, is one of the most important social issues of the twenty-first century and reducing the discussion of it to weak analogies that can be expressed in the space of 140 character tweet does a huge disservice to the promotion of intelligent debate.

In order to understand the ins and outs of the Nude Celebrity Hacking Scandal, it is necessary to address aspects of the story with specificity.  The most salient feature of this story, and the one the at the armies of online ethicists have so far ignored, is that the women whose photos have been leaked online are all public figures.  They are not, in my understanding of the world, private citizens who possess a ‘reasonable expectation’ of privacy.

Let me be clear:  whoever hacked into these women’s private data has committed a crime.  Reposting and sharing the images online without the women’s consent is a lesser crime, but still despicable and, as Wendig notes in one of the more clear-headed parts of his essay, dangerously indicative of a broader rape culture that seems to be not only persistent but ascendant, especially here in the United States.

However, exposing the breasts of celebrities is not the same as publicly broadcasting nude pictures of an individual who is not already in the public sphere.  What I find most shameful about this story is that it has caused such a rush of outrage, and such a stampede of support for these wealthy and famous women, when many non-wealthy, non-famous women have experienced far worse public shaming and more brutal invasions of privacy without anyone taking much notice.

The internet, we have learned, is a very scary place.  If you are a woman who has shared private photos of yourself with any other person, it is very possible that those photos will end up online without your consent.  If you are a celebrity, you will experience, along with a certain amount of shame, outrage, and embarassment, significant benefits in terms of public sympathy and PR exposure.  Many, many people will go online to call you a ‘slut’ and tell you it is your own fault for ever having deigned to take your clothes off in a consensual sexual scenario.  But many people will also come out to defend your right to be a sexual being and condemn those who would steal from you and expose your personal moments to the world.

If, on the other hand, you are a private citizen whose ex-boyfriend has posted pictures of you on one of the many “revenge porn” sites online, or worse, who has made an effort to manipulate search engine results for your name such that hateful messages about you will be found by friends, family members, and employers, then there is no one that will rush to your defense.  You may be welcome to seek remuneration on your own, at a high cost.  But no public figures are going to come out on twitter and tell your emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend that he is scum.  You will not experience a positive spike in name recognition or a comforting wave of support or a helping hand from the feminist twitter community.  There will be nothing to balance out the voices of commenters and message board freaks who call you a slut and make threats of rape and violence against you.

You are not a celebrity, just an average person.  So while you may still have a reasonable expectation of privacy, you can never have an expectation that anyone other than you will enforce it.

I find this whole situation to be an example of how our society has its priorities turned all on their heads.  Who cares about the right to privacy of celebrities?  Celebrities DO have a choice about whether to be in the public eye.  Infamy may be thrust on people, but fame is a choice.  No one is forced to sign on to a major Hollywood movie, to play professional sports, to make the rounds of talk shows to promote their new single.  Those things are almost always a dream come true for those who do achieve them, and it certainly seems that most people alive would gladly sacrifice almost anything to have those things, but they are still choices.  And when you make the choice to be a celebrity, to stay in the public eye, and to actively seek money and fame, especially in Hollywood, you essentially waive your right to privacy.  That is the trade off.  You want to be a beloved idol to millions upon millions of people?  Then you no longer get to have much in the way of a private life.

And if you’re a celebrity who has digitally stored some naked selfies or forwarded them to an intimate acquaintance?  You can certainly hope that those don’t get leaked, that no one ever sees them.  But because you are a celebrity, those photos are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, and if there is any way for them to get out, they will get out.  The market virtually dictates it.

This is very different from the situation of an average citizen who has coyly sent a sexy picture of themselves to someone that they are sleeping with or hope to sleep with.  That individual does have every right to expect that those photos, which have no value except to perhaps two or three people in the entire world, will ever go out into the wider world.  And yet they do, all the time, and there is a suspicious vacuum of outrage when that happens.

www. exploiting poor and middle class women’s sexuality 4 profitz .com clears thousands of dollars a month and no one cares, but supermodel Kate Upton shows one centimeter more of flesh than she’s already shown in Sports Illustrated and all of the sudden it’s an ethical crime of earth shattering proportion?  Give me a fucking break!

From a historical point of view the rise of tabloid and paparazzi culture should be viewed as a positive.  For the vast majority of history, average people had no expectation of privacy whatsoever.  As Emily Bazelon and Dan Carlin noted on a recent Culture Gabfest, it is impossible to have a reasonable expectation of privacy when you share a common bedroom with dozens of members of your village, clan, tribe or family.  Only the very wealthy and powerful had access to the privilege of privacy.  In the late capitalist era, however, this conception has been turned upside down: it is the poor and downtrodden who are anonymous (or Anonymous, as the case may be), and the wealthy and famous who are subject to the surveillance state.  In one version of Utopia, this trend will only continue, until political figures and powerful businessman must be subjected to the public’s watchful eye twenty-four hours a day, while the total privacy of the everyday citizen is in turn respected absolutely.

In truth, the future of privacy will probably see, rather than a complete upending of traditional values, at least a complete flattening of how privacy is distributed.  One of the foundational documents of the modern era is the Constitution of the United States, and one of the principal ways in which the society envisioned by that document differs from the feudalism and patriarchy that proceeded it is in the guaranteeing of certain rights to ALL citizens.  Thus the Constitution enshrines freedom of speech not just for the poorest and weakest individuals but for the most powerful and vile corporations.  It protects not only the privacy of me, Benjamin Rogers, but also of Academy Award winning public figure, Jennifer Lawrence.  In theory, this a beautiful and powerful principal, difficult to accept but wonderful to believe in.  In practice, the enforcement of Constitutional principals has never been as equal as it should be, and until such time as real privacy is afforded to all, I don’t see any reason why special rights to privacy should be afforded to those with the wealth and status to, as one celebrity who has not yet been photographed nude recently suggested, “shake it off.”

I invite civil discussion, question, and criticism in the comments.

I would find these Hipster Barista memes much funnier if he didn't look exactly like me.

I would find these Hipster Barista memes much funnier if he didn’t look exactly like me.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A raccoon, a tree, the guy from Mouserat, Lt. Uhura, and a WCW Superstar walk into a wretched hive of scum and villainy…

I don’t have a unique take on Guardians of the Galaxy or anything to say about it really other than that I loved it.  I appreciate that self-spoofing, tongue-in-cheek postmodern humor has so thoroughly broken through to the mainstream to become the dominant form of entertainment.  I feel like you can chart a direct line from Andy Warhol to Giles Goat Boy to 30 Rock to Die Antwoord to Guardians of the Galaxy.  Everything is at it was predicted in Frederic Jameson’s seminal theoretical text Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.

And Chris Pratt gets to be the Barthesian hologram, the hyperreal version of Han Solo, the more-Harrison-than-Harrison Ford of the 21st century.  Approval, be thee stamped!

Quick Burns:

  • Michael Rooker!  I learned on IMDB that he is one of the few actors to have appeared with Stallone, Schwarzenegger, AND Van Damme.  You probably know him as Merle from the Walking Dead .  As Yondu Udonta, he was my favorite character in the whole movie, or at least the most scene-stealingest.  A little bummed that they toned down Yondu’s signature red mohawk so much though.
  • Karen Gillan, wassupwitu?  Are you tired of being typecast as a super hot redhead with a Scottish accent?  Amy Pond melted my heart one thousand times…but this blue space beastie with a rotten attitude?  Not doing it for me.  Is it because everybody loved Jennifer Lawrence painted blue in X-Men?  Because you don’t have anything to prove to Katniss Everdeen — you were a companion.  That is like Bond Girl x 1,000,000.  But I will watch your sitcom with John Cho.  I will watch it hard.
  • How long is it actually going to take to gather all six infinity gems and make them the focal point of the entire Marvel Cinematic universe?  I assume they’ll be in a Doctor Strange movie.  I assume there will be some element of the Illuminati/Secret Avengers storyline, although that will be pretty boring without Professor X and Reed Richards involved.  We know that Ultron is the villain of Avengers 2.  So are we building up to an Infinity Gauntlet story for Avengers 3, which will come out around the time that my as yet unconceived children are getting their learner’s permits for their flying cars?  Just seems like a lot of buildup for six magical stones I guess.  I’d rather see Secret Invasion, Civil War, or (please?) Kang the Conqueror as a cinematic universe storyline.
  • The five core Guardians were perfect.  I could watch this team, with these actors, and this dynamic, in a dozen films.  Zoe Saldana, who has always been close but no cigar, was the full Macanudo this time.  Rocket looked great, had the best lines, and Bradley Cooper sold that ridiculous accent for all it was worth.  Groot, an animated tree, was the heart and soul of the whole movie — and I wish the Vin Diesel haters would shut up.  Dave Bautista was the funniest thing in a movie full of professional comedic actors, and also the biggest, most dangerous looking thing in a film full of computer generated space monsters.  And Chris Pratt…his is the face that launched a thousand (Nova Corps) ships.  He’s just the sweetest.

GuardiansoftheGalaxy_20140323

Arrow and Diggle vs. Dragon - Double page spread from Green Arrow #34.

Arrow and Diggle vs. Dragon – Double page spread from Green Arrow #34.

It’s late and I’m halfway trying to watch Blade while I write this so I’m gonna burn through this whole stack of comics with one sentence reviews of each.

Wild Blue Yonder #5 by Mike Raicht and Zach Howard with Austin Harrison and Nelson Daniel.  IDW, 2014.

This series has been one long sky pirate battle, and in this issue someone finally falls out of the sky.

Update on what’s happening in Blade: Some dude at a rave is about to get eaten by vampires — was it well established that vampires love goth nightclubs before this movie or did that trend start here?

Prophet #45 by Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Farel Dalrymple and Giannas Milogiannis with Joseph Bergin III.  Image, 2014.

In the final issue of this genre redefining space opera by Brandon Graham and his mad-scientist squad of artists, the lengthy and oft-confusing tale of an interstellar war between aliens and clones is, to no one’s surprise, not brought to a tidy or satisfying conclusion.

Update on Blade: the sprinkler system in the goth nightclub went off and covered everyone in blood.  Absolutely vivid gore.

Zero #9 by Ales Kot and Tonci Zonjic with Jordie Bellaire.  Image, 2014.

Ales Kot continues to bring a wholly different sensibility to each issue, this time using a tale of a twice-timing arms dealer to revisit the Bosnian conflict of the ’90s and the horrors of sexual violence during wartime.

Update on Blade: Wesley Snipes showed up and blew away a lot of vampires, then the next time I looked up some boring doctors were talking about boring hospital stuff.

The Wicked + The Divine #2 by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie with Matthew Wilson.  Image, 2014.

After the visual splendor of Young Avengers I’m a little perplexed by McKelvie’s rather staid layouts, but still think this series shows a great deal of promise.

Update on Blade:  Blade just through one of the boring doctors out of a window!

Satellite Sam #9 by Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin.  Image, 2014.

This is my favorite monthly book right now.

Update on Blade:  boring doctor has been taken to some old biker dude’s garage.  If this movie were made today, I’m sure said biker dude would be played by Jeff Bridges.  I’m not actually entirely sure he’s not played by Jeff Bridges.

Batman #32-33 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo with Danny Miki and FCO Plascencia.  DC (Warner Bros.), 2014.

#32: This is what it might be like if DC Entertainment employed a more Marvel-like sensibility to a Batman movie.

#33:  Batman vs. The Riddler in a head-to-head, face-to-face game of wits that satisfies on every level.

Update on Blade: Has Wesley Snipes said anything yet in this movie?  I know I’ve only barely been paying attention but it seems weird that twenty minutes into this thing the title character hasn’t opened his mouth.

Green Arrow #34 by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino with Marcelo Maiolo.  DC (Warner Bros.), 2014.

Ties a bow on Lemire’s entire run on the title so far, and features the best hand-to-hand fight sequence I’ve seen in a comic in ages.

Black Widow #9 by Nathan Edmondson and Phil Noto.  Marvel (Disney), 2014.

Did the Black Widow just kill the Punisher?

Secret Avengers #6 by Ales Kot and Michael Walsh with Matthew Wilson.  Marvel (Disney), 2014.

Bet you didn’t think you’d ever see a Jorge Luis Borges reference in a Marvel superhero comic, huh?

Update on Blade:  Stephen Dorf’s bangs game was so crucial.

Saga chapters 20 & 21 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.  Image, 2014.

20: Just a lot of dressin’ up like wrestlers, doin’ drugs, and stabbin’ robots.

21: If Prince Robot is holed up in your sex-lair tryin’ to forget all his worldly problems, it is probably best that you don’t yourself become one of his worldly problems.

Update on Blade: How is it that this doctor woman is up walking around like nothing happened when she got thrown out of a skyscraper like three scenes ago?  Is she a vampire too?  I’ll just assume all of the characters are vampires from here on out.

Rat Queens #7 by Kurtis J. Wiebe and Roc Upchurch.  Image, 2014.

And then there were Lovecraftian nightmares.

Manifest Destiny #8 by Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts with Owen Gieni.  Image, 2014.

Half the crew is trapped on land and half on the boat with an impassable river full of flesh-eating monsters between them.

Harbinger Vol. 1: Omega Rising by Joshua Dysart and Khari Evans with Lewis Larosa and Ian Hannin.  Valiant, 2012.

This is one of those Harry Potter/Ender’s Game things where a wayward youth is suddenly revealed to be a chosen one and sent to the most awesome magnet school ever where he is instantly the most successful and popular student while still being rebellious and independent.

Update on Blade: Blade just told someone to “suck eggs.”  Maybe it was better when he wasnt saying anything.

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