Saturday, September 7, 2013

Getting In/Staying Out

Do you know the Penny Arcade Dickwolves thing?

If you don't, this is the general idea. And this is Mike Krahulik's recent apology. And you can find the original strip in there somewhere. Links upon links upon links!

For the record, I don't go to PAX. I do read Penny Arcade. I love the comic's absolute lack of decorum. I have to admit I chuckled at the dickwolves joke. It was so bizarre and over-the-top. As I read it, I realized it could be offensive to rape victims. I didn't think that was the intent, but I was interested to see what conversation would come of any backlash.

Once that backlash arrived, the PA guys reacted in an utterly stupid, immature, disingenuous way. I think they've finally realized that.

And I know why. I've been accused of rape humor when I really meant something else entirely. Not just using it in an over-the-top way like Penny Arcade did--in this case I meant something completely different. When someone took my humor as a rape joke, I immediately sprang to my own defense, and painted myself as a victim, and said "how could you think that of me..."

I should have just said, "Oh, I didn't mean it that way. I'm sorry to have hurt you or brought up bad feelings. Please forgive me." That easy.

But hey, it was a nice awakening, and I was embarrassed, and I started to become aware of rape culture and all the subtle cues I had absorbed growing up about rape. I don't get to decide what should and shouldn't be a trigger. So I thank my friend for working with me (and still being my friend) on the whole thing.

Point being, the conversation is less about whether or not Krahulik was being an idiot, and more about PAX itself, and whether the gaming convention fosters rape culture and culture hostile to women. Would you be better off quitting PAX in protest? Or should you stay, trying to use your influence to change the organization from within? This is much like another conversation I am very familiar with. It has to do with a large institution, staffed by committed volunteers, and driven by deep passion for the material. (Not SFWA, but that applies here too.) This institution is rife with problems, deep-seated in rape culture and homophobic culture, and yet it has great potential.

The Mormon Church.

I'm what author Samuel Woolley Taylor called an "eating Mormon"--I'll go to events where food is served, but you'll have a hard time catching me in church. I don't get a lot out of the services themselves. I've been to congregations where I really enjoyed the services, because we talked about the things that interested me--feminism, LDS history, the Church's tendency to rewrite said history to "safer" versions.

Around here, at least in church, people stick to the safe stuff. I get bored.

The Internet has opened up a lot more dialogue than Mormons used to tolerate. So while many LDS people I know glommed on to the deep-in-rape-culture post FYI: If You're A Teenage Girl, this satirical rebuttal was written by a Mormon mother. Since Proposition 8, the gay-rights-Mormon minority has been more and more vocal.

But the LDS Church fosters an unhealthy (in my humble opinion) near-worship of their leaders, so that few people are willing to talk about issues in the Church for fear of undermining the Brethren and going against the general grain. This is why many moderate Mormons supported Prop 8 in California, and thirty years ago, opposed the Equal Rights Amendment. Because the leaders said so. Only liberal Mormons seem to have a problem with, for instance, "The Tolerance Trap." The leaders are supposed to be modern-day prophets, so while they are not infallible, you'd have a hard time figuring out where that "not" begins with orthodox Mormons.

If you're interested in the ex-mormon/liberal, doubting Mormon point of view, the Mormon Expression podcast gives a lot of good overviews. (If you want to know the orthodox LDS viewpoint, just find the guys on their bikes.)

My wife attends every Sunday although, like me, she is bored a lot, and sometimes offended. Unlike me, though, she believes that she can change things. She may be right. She works with teenage girls, and has determined to create a sex-positive, inclusive, tolerant (gasp!) curriculum. This is great, considering that most Mormon girls grow up with damaging messages about sex. For instance, the leaders in my congregation in the 90s would lick the frosting off a cupcake, ask if any girls in the audience wanted it, and then explain that the cupcake symbolized a girl robbed of her "virtue." I'm not alone. A particularly choice verse in the Book of Mormon describes extramarital sex as "the sin near unto murder." I knew missionaries who spent their two years in deep, crippling depression and anxiety because they could not stop masturbating. Some tried to commit suicide. A good leader can intervene before these attitudes develop.

Mormonism offers a rich history and a profound set of opportunities to serve. Even from a pessimistic point of view, that church ain't going NOWHERE. It's huge, it's rich, it converts at a rapid rate.

Returning (finally) to PAX, a volunteer, blogger or participant has a certain sphere of influence within their organization. So... stay in or get out?

In any organization that fits this strained comparison, it might be helpful to ask yourself a few questions:

1- What do I get out of this organization? Is it fulfilling for me?
2- Am I in a position to mitigate damage that might come from leaders, other members? Am I willing to speak up and isolate myself when these messages are shared?
3- Am I willing to choose my battles?
4- If I leave and criticize the organization from the outside, will my criticism be more effective than my presence would be on the inside?

There are other questions but this blog post is turning into a book. Which reminds me. I read books. Next time I post, it will be a nice simple book review. Amen!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The State of the Rock

I have debated whether to post this. What the heck.

You've got friends who are in bands, who put on comedy shows, or who put on a local circus. If you don't, I feel bad for you, son.

Those friends send you even invites every time they perform. You RSVP to some. Sometimes you go. Often you forget, or you RSVP to some and then the night rolls around and you can't do it. I was just there. I had RSVPed to an event Monday night, and by the time I got the kids in bed, the event was half over, and I had to be up at 6:30 for the first day of school, so I flaked. Yep, it happens.

Thing is, those clubs that host the shows? Unless you live in a one-bar town with nowhere else to go, they expect said bands and comedians and performers to bring the audience.

My band, eh, well, we are liked. Many a compliment do we receive, and our CD sells well online, and we can usually book on the strength of our recordings. But our audience? Our turnout? Not so much. We just played at a great venue. The other bands liked us, the patrons liked us, and the bar staff liked us. But we won't get invited back.

We didn't smash a urinal or fight the bar staff. No, all our friends, all 70 that we invited, failed to show. We brought three family members, two of whom got in on the guest list. The bar didn't break even for the night.

We will never play there again. 

We've puzzled three hours, till our puzzler was sore. Perhaps we rely too much on friends. Perhaps we're not reaching the right group of fans. Perhaps we need to pursue different venues.

Or perhaps this situation sucks.

First question out of any bar owner's mouth is not "What does the music sound like?" It's "can you bring a crowd?" Well, bar owner, let me ask you this. When you can watch two hours of live footage from your favorite bands online, when Netflix is calling and you've got millions of songs on Spotify, do you always go support your favorite local bands?

I'm sure you did when you were 19 and life was all about punk shows. Or maybe you're one of those lucky popular folks who never lacks for followers. For the rest of us, it's a real gamble. We've played with one of the biggest bands in the Seattle/Bellingham area, Keaton Collective,and not only did our audience failed to show, theirs did too. They have over one thousand likes on Facebook, they get played on KEXP, and there were maybe three people in the audience that night.

We love what we do. And we want to share it with you. Every show we play is a privilege and a reward and the product of thousands and thousands of hours of hard work. It's NOT for us. We want to play you a kind of music you do not hear everywhere.We busted our brains and hammered out songs and put in week after week of practice in our drummer's basement to make something UNIQUE. Oh, and we sank tons of our money into instruments and recording gear.

That goes for any performance your friends put on. It is the result of more sweat and strain and practice than you know.

If you don't show, the bar owner notices that this band/comedian/fire-eater doesn't bring a crowd, and won't give them another chance, and eventually they stop booking shows, and "eventually I'll see them" turns into "dang, I wish I had seen them when they were still gigging."