Talking points for the #MeToo backlash

We all know that political discussion on social media can be infuriating, hazardous, frustrating, a minefield, a hornet’s nest, et cetera. And we’re starting to understand how easily social media can be used to manipulate us. But here’s something we don’t know: people with money can pay to design talking points that get allies fighting among ourselves. When this happens invisibly, we have no defense. But we can learn.

Let’s start with a metaphor. A well designed talking point, or meme, is like a hand grenade. It’s thrown carelessly and it does more damage than anyone expected. Or it’s an unethical translator. A says one thing, B translates it for their own personal gain, and C loses trust in A. Or perhaps a virus. An idea that on the surface sounds so good, so exactly like the point you were going to make yourself, that you spread it everywhere. But it has a payload you weren’t expecting.

With that groundwork in place, let’s take a look at some talking points against the #metoo backlash as they appear in a site built by a P.R. firm to change the world by shaping discourse. I’m not going to link directly to their site but SourceWatch has a page for them here and the Wayback machine has generously provided a glimpse at their original intentions when they launched in 2000: “nothing less than the creation of a new language for political, social and cultural writing in the twenty-first century”.

(By the way, the page also makes mention of “fresh, non-consensual thinking.” That’s not what they meant to say, I’m sure, but I find it apt. If propaganda can shape our words, it also shapes our thinking. And when it does so invisibly, there is an element of consent that gets lost.)

Anyway, their article, “Meet the women worried about #MeToo”, gathers opinions from thirteen women on why the #metoo crowd is a bunch of weak victims who are gathered in a screaming mob to chop heads off innocent men. We could go through point by point and refute their arguments, or we could do something different for a change. We could catalog them. With no further ado:

Talking Points for the #Metoo backlash

(I found all these in that single article, by the way.)

A. Destroying REAL feminism 

A1. Real feminists don’t think sex is dirty

A2. Women as victims / fainting flowers

A3. My generation kicked them in the balls

A4. Turning back the clock on sexual equality

A5. Watch your privilege!

B. Hysterical mob

B1. Mob violence

B2. Witch hunt

B3. Beheading

B4. Panic

B5. Mass hysteria

C. That’s not really assault

C1. Confusing real assault with failed advances

C2. Trivializes real sexual violence

C3. Phantom sexual harassment

C4. You can’t touch my elbow

D. Totalitarianism

D1. Censorship

D2. George Orwell

D3. Bullying women to conform

E. The legal system

E1. Presumed innocent / no due process

E2. Innocent people destroyed

E3. If it’s not against the law, it’s not assault

E4. All we need to do is fix the law

Examples

“we are throwing knee-touching into the same basket as rape” – C1, C4

“sex itself seems increasingly to be seen as dirty” – A1

“destroy almost any man by a single accusation” – E1

“in need of shielding” – A2

“celebrates conformity and demonises dissent” – D3

“it was supposed to be about empowering women” – A3

“this is a witch-hunt” – B2

“return women to delicate, Victorian damsels who reach for the smelling salts if they hear a lewd joke” – A1, A2

“accused of transgressions no reasonable person would define as a crime” – E3

“even decades later” – C3

“The heads keep rolling” – B3

“A charge of creepiness is a death sentence” – E2

“ensuring that the lives of innocent people are not destroyed” – E2

“every male as a potential predator and every female as a perpetual victim” – A2

“modern feminism all but ignores the plight of the most oppressed women around the world” – A5

“turning the clock back on hard-won sexual equality” – A4

“Raise qualms and watch the insults roll” – D1

“those of us who have spent years metaphorically kicking sex pests in the balls” – A3

“bullying climate” – D3

“phantom sexual-harassment epidemics” – C3

“fainting-couch nonsense” – A2

What’s Next?

The first step in countering think tank talking points is to find them in the first place. I found it enjoyable – with just a think tank article and a highlighter pen, I was able to take a pile of glowing propaganda and identify the core messages being pushed by the funders, thereby dismantling it until it turned into naked sludge of ugly insults. Fun.

But it would be much more fun as a shared exercise. You could do the same thing to any propaganda campaign, really. Or you could take it one step farther and identify which of the many propaganda techniques are being used. Or consider what’s deliberately left unsaid.

If we can develop a shared understanding of think-tank memes, we’ll be much better prepared to explore the important issues on our own terms.   Using our own words, finding our own thoughts. That’s consensual thinking at its finest.

– Kristin

witch hunter

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Watch your language . . . please?

So there’s an argument on social media somewhere. Doesn’t matter what the argument is. There are two sides to the argument, even though the issue itself may have many sides. You try to make a third point and are swarmed by angry hornets, maybe on one side or maybe on both.

Poor you! You’ve just been unfairly mobbed! It’s a witch hunt! Thought crimes! There’s no room for moderates any more!

What do you do? Retaliate, of course. Of course you do. Because on social media, you have to think fast and act fast. You take advantage of your brain’s superpower — and it is indeed a superpower — of quickly assembling meaning from a group of facts, of seeing patterns. And you respond.

But now you’re somebody else’s angry hornet.

For most folks on social media, the solution is simple: go offline, get a cup of tea, call a friend and vent, smell some flowers, or do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. Come back later when you’re calmer, or move on to some more pleasurable activity.

But there is one group of people for whom I have a higher expectation: public writers and bloggers. You, my dearies, are the ones that upset the hornet’s nest in the first place. This isn’t a value judgement. Sometimes a situation calls for a swarm of angry hornets.

But if you are writing for the public, if you set those hornets off accidentally, that’s on you. That’s your mistake. If you’re complaining about thought police and whatnot, and you’re doing it honestly (you don’t have a hidden agenda, that is), but not looking at where you might have gone wrong, you’re only compounding the mistake.

Me? Who? Me? I didn’t do anything wrong! I was just saying what I think!

Yes, you did do something wrong. You were careless with your craft. And if someone is kind enough to point it out to you, for heaven’s sake, pay attention! Put on that thick skin that all professional writers must have, and look past the sting of the comment to what the person is really saying. Writers mess up, all the time, but if we look honestly at our mistakes we will always improve.

Now, when I say you were careless with your craft, what I mean is that you didn’t bother to get to know your audience. And that’s Rule #2 for persuasive writing. (Rule #1 is “Consider your purpose” and Rule #2 is “Consider your audience”.) No matter how good of a writer you are, you will never have a full understanding of the depth and breadth of your audience’s viewpoints and life experiences.

#

So why am I saying all this right now? Is there a specific piece and writer that set me off? Yes, there were two or three or four. But rather than go into the specifics, here’s what they did wrong.

  1. A respected Second Wave feminist who actually had something important to say about #Metoo but erred in using the phrase “witch hunt.” There were no actual witches in Salem, but there are plenty of people who sexually assault and harass others. This matters because some of the people who are actively fighting to maintain the status quo, such as Gamergater types, are also using the phrase “witch hunt.” Is it fair of people to accuse you of guilt by association? No, of course not. But, as a master wordsmith, did you really intend to align yourself with Gamergaters?
  2. Same feminist who is apparently getting into arguments with millenial feminists and wrote an article to defend herself against the claim that she is a “bad feminist.” This broke Rule #2, “Consider Your Audience,” because her message will be received positively by some audiences (anybody who feels defensive about being called a “bad feminist”) and with anger by others (millenial feminists who don’t feel listened to).
  3. A writer of an ostensibly progressive paper who started her article complaining about social media is a brush fire — which is true — and callout culture is a problem — also true, but lost me in the middle when she started talking about “thought crimes.” For some reason, although George Orwell coined the phrase to attack authoritarian governments, these days it’s mostly used to shut down conversations about racism, sexism, ableism, and the like. I paused in my reading of the article to wonder, “Which side is she on, anyway?” and then, “Should I bother finding out, or do I have better things to do?”

#

To go all meta, let’s look at my purpose and audience in writing this piece.

My primary purpose is to provide an alternative perspective to a problem we’re all complaining about (other people being annoying on social media) and also to advocate for craft in persuasive writing. This is a bit of a follow-up on a series I started several years back on persuasive writing for activists and have yet to finish.

So far so good. But let’s be honest: my primary audience is imaginary. I wrote it for every single author who’s ever started a pointless argument over a topic that actually needs attention, and who, when called out, takes it personally and attacks back. This is what I’d say if we were in the same room and I had their undivided attention.

So there’s also a secondary audience: every writer everywhere who has to write for an audience of human beings. My condolences.

#

Keep writing, but for the sake of your craft . . . mind your language!

scoobydoogang01

-Kristin

 

 

 

How to Celebrate the New Year

New Years has always struck me as an odd holiday. Winter’s just digging its fingernails into our lives, so . . . what’s different? I used to make resolutions but found they didn’t last. I’m the same person this year as last, more or less.

But this is what New Years is good for: clearing out 2017! All the sorrows and heartaches, and all the expectations I placed on myself but couldn’t fulfill.

Starting with email. You get to this screen, and you click “OK.”

[Screen shot reading: "Confirm bulk action. This action will affect all 1,827 conversations in Inbox. Are you sure you want to continue? OK/ Cancel"]

[Screen shot reading: “Confirm bulk action. This action will affect all 1,827 conversations in Inbox. Are you sure you want to continue? OK/ Cancel”]

I’d say I made a resolution to actually address my emails as they come in, rather than letting 1,827 of them pile up . . . but I don’t want to lie to myself.

Next step: the dreaded papers stack. Full of all those bits and pieces I figured somebody might want or need, and they don’t.

Every day begins a new year.

Happy New Year!

 

Memory and Identity in “Twice Upon a Time”

Identity and Memory in “Twice Upon a Time”

by Kristin King

One time, the Star Trek crew cheated death with the transporter. Our hero dissolved in atoms, presumably dead, but luckily, the transporter still had his pattern. After I saw that, I began questioning every single use of the transporter. Did it move somebody from place to place or did it destroy one body and create a clone, with all the same memories? Does consciousness continue or cease?

From there it’s not hard to wonder: is the person who wakes up in the morning the same as the one who went to sleep at night? My consciousness ceased, for a time, as my unconscious mind pruned memories and integrated what remained into the semblance of a whole?

What remains the same, sleeping to waking? What makes a person themself? Is it memory? Or is it something else?

Doctor Who turns out to be the perfect show for pondering this question, and showrunner Stephen Moffat took full advantage of this opportunity during his tenure, culminating with a deeply philosophical regeneration episode, “Twice Upon a Time.”

Who emerges from regeneration? Outgoing showrunner Russell T. Davies gave this problem to Stephen Moffat when the Tenth Doctor said, “Even if I change it still feels like dying. Everything I am dies. Some new man goes sauntering away… and I’m dead.”

The Eleventh Doctor had a new perspective in his final episode, with this tearjerker:  “It all just disappears, doesn’t it? Everything you are, gone in a moment. Like breath on a mirror.”

But he followed up optimistically:

“We all change, when you think about it. We’re all different all through our lives. And that’s okay, that’s good. You’ve got to keep moving. As long as you remember all the people that you used to be.”

That need to remember plays a huge role in many of the character arcs during Moffat’s tenure. Amy Pond loses family members to a crack in time but regains them once she remembers — and she saves Rory as well, and finally the Doctor. Next, Clara’s theme from the beginning is “Run, you clever boy, and remember me,” but the Doctor ends up making mistakes (including the mistake the Tenth Doctor had made in erasing Donna’s memories), and he must pay the price by forgetting Clara. And finally, Ashildr, becomes immortal but her human mind cannot possibly remember everyone she used to be, and she finally simplifies her identity to “Me.”

The question of the Doctor’s memory also plays a crucial role in the episode “Heaven Sent,” in which he must repeatedly undergo the horrific procedure of fleeing from a monster until mortally injured, then annihilate his own body to create himself anew — by throwing a switch that looks uncannily like the TARDIS takeoff control. And yet, although his body is destroyed, some part of him remembers.

“Twice Upon a Time” concludes Stephen Moffat’s exploration of memory and identity with a mysterious entity, Testimony, that manipulates both memory and forgetting. Testimony removes people from time just before their death to copy and thus preserve their memories, and then makes them forget the event and returns them to the moment of death. But the First and Twelfth Doctors accidentally interrupt the proceedings and end up trapped in a frozen landscape in which nothing can change. Not even a snowflake can move: when the Doctor tries, it simply returns to its place of origin.

And then Bill appears. But is it Bill? Or is it a copy of Bill, trapped by Testimony in glass just as surely as the snowflake is trapped in midair? The answer, for her, is yes to both. Testimony-Bill asserts that she has all Bill’s memories, and she is Bill’s memories, so she is Bill. Identity is memory.

The Twelfth Doctor disagrees. At the same time, though, he has his own past self to make sense of. He enjoys meeting the First Doctor and remembering who he used to be. And at one point, when the First Doctor makes a keen observation, the Twelfth lays claim to having made it. (“I said that!” protests the First Doctor. The Twelfth dismisses it: “Same difference!”)

In the end, of course, the question of identity has no answer. When the Twelfth Doctor is ready to regenerate, he gives explicit advice to the next Doctor. “I’ve got a few things to say to you,” he begins (in a Tom Baker voice). And then: “Basic stuff first. Never be cruel, never be cowardly. Never, ever eat pears. Remember: Hate is always foolish, and love is always wise. Always try to be nice, and never fail to be kind. . . . Laugh hard, run fast, be kind.”

He finishes up with heroic grace: “Doctor, I let you go.” The statement gives us the emotional effect of resolution, but it’s also quite ambiguous. Who is the “I” that lets go of the Doctor? We could all ask that question. Who is “I”?

And so the Doctor regenerates, going out in flame right along with his partner the TARDIS. And Stephen Moffat has cleared the worktable for the new showrunner and for the new Doctors, whoever they may be.

Brilliant.

Dante_Gabriel_Rossetti_-_The_Gate_of_Memory

The Gate of Memory by Dante Gabriel Rossetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. That’s not a TARDIS in the background . . . is it?

 

Anglicon 2017 “Should the Doctor Be a Woman”? Panel

This panel on the past and future of female Doctors may have been poorly named, considering that Jodie Whittaker has already been cast as the Thirteenth Doctor, but the conversations were great. Raven Oak moderated, and the panel consisted of Eric Gjovaag, Mark Dando, and Denise Nilsson.

Eric Gjovaag got the conversation off to a productive start with a brief video showing fan appearances of female Doctors, starting with a clip featuring Barbara Benedetti. (More info on these films is available on director Ryan K. Johnson’s website.) That way, the panel and audience started out with a lot to chew on. The video also had a moment from The Curse of Fatal Death and some other works I can’t recall off the top of my head.

The audience conversation was lively, energetic, and thoughtful. A sampling of some of the questions and comments:

  • There’s a generation gap in fan reaction. People who grew up with Classic Who may find this quite a departure. On the other hand, the younger generation seems ready.
  • Some of these videos continually referenced the fact that the Doctor was a woman. If the new show does that, it won’t turn out well.
  • Some of this came up when Missy appeared as the latest incarnation of the Master. While it’s true that the Master has always been a complete ham, there was some discomfort about having her gender and sexuality continually referenced.
  • Someone popped his head in and got the audience roaring with laughter by asking: “Will she get equal compensation?” GOOD QUESTION.
  • Someone proposed Idris Elba as the fourteenth Doctor. I agree.

We finished up with a look at the publicity photo of Jodie Whittaker’s costume (below), described on a UK news site as “navy culottes with yellow braces.” Apparently that’s in fashion in Europe. Folks spent some time speculating on whether the rainbow ribbon on her shirt might have come from an earlier Doctor or companion, like Dodo (who was filmed during the black and white era). Panelist Mark Dando expressed dismay at the photo: “But what have they done to the police box?” (It’s darker blue and one panel looks black.)

Denise Nilsson finished out the session by expressing optimism for the series, saying, “It’s still the TARDIS, still the Doctor.”

doctor-who-costume-reveal-jodie-whittaker

Anglicon 2017 Recap

I went to Anglicon this year, along with my son, to revel in Classic Doctor Who fandom. Much fun! It’s nice to meet people who liked Doctor Who before it was trendy. Highlights:

I lived the Classic Who tropes (not always on purpose):

  1. Losing track of companions: This began the moment I left home. I hopped in the car to pick up my spouse from the bus stop, but due to bad directions, I drove around aimlessly only to find he’d walked all the way home. It was a good omen.
  2. Wandering through corridors: The hotel room was a half mile from the convention area, along a twisty route. This would have been true to the show, except the walls didn’t wobble.
  3. Tea: I enjoyed a proper black tea in the Hospitality Suite.
  4. An unattended TARDIS: And as usual, someone had left the door open, and someone else had wandered in. (They fixed this by Saturday, though.)
  5. Losing track of companions (again): In the end, exhausted beyond belief, I kept trying to gather family members, and they kept wandering off.

Fanstruck by Sylvester McCoy:

I lined up early for a photo op with Sylvester McCoy so that I wouldn’t spend the entire con worrying about getting one. I needn’t have worried, since there was plenty of time for photo ops, but it was a delight to see him show up and perform crowd control.  Later, during his Q & A, he put on another stellar performance, getting down into the audience to answer questions with a quick wit and well-timed comedy. And finally, I hung out in the general vicinity as he wandered through the art show with his “handler,” admiring the art.

And Peter Davison:

He had so many stories to tell about his acting career. The audience questioned him about everything from his first time acting to his upcoming works. My second favorite: his account of directing The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot, including the moment when all the actors were in their spots, the cameras adjusted, the lights on, and he was waiting around to hear people shout “Action!” only to realize that was his job.  And my favorite: his account of filming All Creatures Great and Small, with . . . actual animals about to give birth.

The game room:

I got a chance to play my first Doctor Who role-playing game, run by a game master who kindly took into account my inexperience (and that of my son as well). Something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

The panel “Should the Doctor Be a Woman”?

Poorly named (because the next Doctor is a woman) but great in-depth conversations about the past and future of a female Doctor. I’d like to spend an entire post on that, so I’ll skip it here.

The film festival:

I only had the chance to see two short films but liked them both. The first was a sci/fi zombie crossover, “Father’s Day”, that was at the same time gross and heartbreaking. The other film, “Renegades,” by Grant Pierce Liester, was riveting, with small moments gorgeously done.

All the costumes:

So many people put so much detail and care into dressing up. It’s a delight to watch.

The Corgi parade:

One of the guests of honor is a Corgi who starred in Dirk Gently, along with his sister. I missed most of the Corgi antics. But on Sunday as I walked down the hallway, I found everyone lined up for something, and it turned out to be a parade of dogs (many in costume), led by a Dalek. Boy, were those dogs pleased with the attention!

And the conversations:

I mostly kept to myself (introvert!) but the conversations I did have were fun.

All in all:

I don’t attend many cons, finding them exhausting, but this one was worth it. Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to put it on.

anglicon-staff-2017

Are Fans Ready for Jodie Whittaker?

jodie whittaker doctor whoI never expected to see a woman play the official “Doctor Who,” but here we are, with Jodie Whittaker cast as the 13th Doctor. Are the fans ready? Not entirely. This weekend at Anglicon 2017 I had one telling experience, with one high-profile guest doubling down on previous comments opposing the casting. He had already been publicly criticized for those comments and had taken those comments as “getting in trouble” unjustly. This tells me that either nobody sat down with him and had a thoughtful conversation on the topic, or that somebody tried and he didn’t listen.  Either way, the communication failure is frustrating!

I was most frustrated at having to listen to these comments without the ability to talk back, but well, since I am a writer . . . . I’ll just pull out my trusty soapbox. (It’s bigger on the inside than out, by the way.)

What follows is my recollection of the comments, to the best of my ability, though memory is fallible, and my response.

1. It’s unfortunate to see politics in Doctor Who

Some of the best episodes of the show have been political satire, like “Aliens of London,” where the top figures of government are replaced by windbags, or “The Long Game,” where human civilization is controlled by aliens, through the media. So what do you mean by “politics”?

 

2. Casting a woman as the Doctor is “political correctness”

It’s the opposite. The simple truth is that for a long time casting a female Doctor was considered “politically incorrect” and even now, it’s a risky move. She will face criticism like you would not believe, from women and men both.

3. All future Doctors will be women

The logic of your comment seemed to be: Since we’ve had fifty years of male Doctors, to balance the ledgers we’ll have fifty years of women. Don’t worry! Misogyny is alive and well in Western culture, and men and women alike both judge powerful women harshly. How many fans liked Captain Janeway? How did Hilary Clinton lose the election? But even in the absence of misogyny, why bar men from the role. That makes as little sense as — well — barring women.

For the record: I vote for Idris Elba as the fourteenth Doctor.

4. Losing a role model for boys

Okay, some people in the audience were offended by that, but I used my magical ability to create “head canon” (fandom’s phrase for “the show as we wish it was”) to convert it to “losing the Doctor as a male role model for boys,” and I’m actually sympathetic to that. There is a gender-utopia view that kids can be anything, do anything . . . and yet, many if not most still look to same-gender adults when shaping their identities and planning their future careers.

And yes, the Doctor is unique as a male role model. He hates guns and uses intellect to solve problems instead. He has boundless compassion and is not afraid to cry. The truth is, we have precious few heroes like that.

But.

See #3. There will be plenty more male Doctors, I’m sure. A generation of boys will not lose that.

And.

Boys can take women as role models.

And.

By the way, I’m the reason my son is a Doctor Who fan.

And.

Since a gender-specific Doctor is so amazing for our sons . . . why would you want to deny that opportunity to our daughters?

I grew up a Star Trek fan and gladly imagined myself in the role of Captain Kirk, and later the Doctor. That worked for me. It doesn’t work for my daughter.

We’ve got a new generation coming to Doctor Who, and, in the words of Captain Jack Harkness, “The twenty-first century is when everything changes. And you’ve got to be ready.”