Another One Bites The Dust: The Fall of Rat Queens, and How Media is Like A Rosebush.
I don’t have time for bullshit.
Ever since what I like to call ‘my second feminist awakening’, it’s gotten more and more difficult to appreciate media of all sorts. Movies, TV shows, comedians, books, comics, even songs; everywhere I go, it’s hard to enjoy things because I keep seeing clouds in every silver lining. Something that seems perfectly beautiful on the outside, smells so sweet… once I dig deeper, I cut myself on the hidden thorns of the tropes, agendas, lazy writing, and distasteful opinions that seem present in everything I consume. I can’t even enjoy the things I once loved the same way, because now my critical eye picks them apart and discovers things that I never noticed before that now stand out like glaring sores.
People I like and trust have said again and again that ‘you can like problematic things, so long as you acknowledge that they are problematic’. And they are not wrong. But the simple truth is that life is short. Something has to be pretty spectacular for me to enjoy if it has even a few glaring flaws. I would much rather spend my time watching something that makes an effort to avoid the things I don’t like (such as ‘Elementary’), or something that is written by someone fully aware of the various issues of privilege and bad tropes, and specifically trying to provide an alternative.
It was with this foremost in my mind that someone pointed out Rat Queens to me.
Reviews of the book were intriguing, so I picked up the first trade. I was hooked. Four female protagonists? Fleshed out stories, different races and sexualities? Women not afraid to kick ass and give the finger to respectability politics? Hell yes. This quickly rose to the top of my list as a ‘must-get’ comic. And as time went on, it seemed like things only got more awesome. When it came out that the artist, Roc Upchurch, was a domestic abuser, the writer of the story immediately decided to clamp down and remove him from the title, as he did not want Rat Queens to be associated with the kind of behavior that is anathema to the sort of story he wanted to tell. From there, he not only went on to introduce a trans woman in the story of Braga, he also ended up hiring the artist he did said story with — Tess Fowler — and pairing her with another woman — Tamra Bonvillian — to round out the team. A story about women, with women now helping to bring it to life? Particularly Tess Fowler, a woman known for her outspoken criticism of harrassment in comics? How could one not think that Weibe could do no wrong?
Fast forward to a few days ago. The longer story is here, (with a follow up here from the Mary Sue), but in short, it seems like shenanigans were in play: Weibe was supposedly putting Rat Queens on hiatus, but it was a feint in order to get rid of Fowler and bring back Upchurch as artist.
If you just heard a record scratch in your head, don’t worry, it happened to me too.
As I think about this over and over, the situation is baffling. While only Fowler and Weibe know the whole story, it seems utterly counter-intuitive that this could happen based on everything that came before. Forget that Weibe and Upchurch are friends: how could he ever think that people would just forget what Upchurch did? Does he not understand his own fan base? Is this a James Deen situation, where he’s going after the market of women and men like me while being wholely facetious about how he actually feels?
I am not a man given to put all that much trust in anyone: celebrities, creators, politicians, activists. There’s plenty of experience with them being fallible people. And even though said fallibility has been highlighted with such regularity, I am dismayed when this is proven right regarding people I like: be it Grant Morrison, Matt Damon, or even prominent/semi-prominent people in geek and gaming culture that I’d been following on Twitter. Every time, I need to make assessments on how much I want to continue to follow or support these people. Not merely because I am giving them my money, but because I am giving them my attention, which is in some ways more valuable.
I don’t want to watch movies, TV shows, or read comics or books if I don’t trust the intent of those creating them. It doesn’t matter to me if Enders’ Game has no overt expressions of homophobia; a writer’s agendas, feelings, and thoughts are always present and relevant in any created work. That’s what my efforts toward understanding privilege has taught me: experience shapes the way you see the world. And how you see the world shapes how you describe it. Context is queen.
Tess Fowler has gone out of her way to say that she has not and never has asked anyone to boycott Rat Queens. I get why she’s doing so, and I give her a lot of credit for trying to be a professional even given how crummily she was treated. She doesn’t want this to poison everything going forwards. But I have to live with myself too, and I don’t ever want anyone to think *I* think this is okay. Not like so many people have forgiven Woody Allen, or tried to sweep Eddie Berganza under the rug.
Everyone loves this Ghandi quote: ‘you must be the change you want to see in the world’. My version of this is that I want to only support the things that encourage that change. Farewell, my Rat Queens. I will miss what you inspired.