Friday, February 22, 2013

Violence, Race and Selective Sentimentality (Sociopathic Society Series)

Cross posted from Red Sociology by Carlos M. Camacho
Courtesy of Andrew Becraft
Gun violence is not new but with several recent tragedies the power of guns in the 'wrong' hands has made the news. As many in the US prepared to get ready for Christmas, a holiday celebrating the birth of Christ and considered a time of wishes for peace on Earth and goodwill towards man, we heard stories of the shots fired in Newtown, Connecticut. At the same time word came in from the Henan province of China about the violent attack there, which we briefly discussed here. Two attacks on schools, several young children killed in their prime. One always hopes that the innocence of children will be saved but in these two attacks that was not the case.
The United States, especially through the President, was devastated and the calls came for gun control which were met with calls for more guns in schools. This is a multifaceted, multi-layered problem. It is about gun control. Who is able to get guns? Mother Jones published a Guide to Mass Shootings as the story from Newtown unfolded and found that the majority of spree/mass shooting killers  got their guns legally. These mass shootings are not solely about illegal weapons and allowing the conversation to be monopolized by those voices is problematic. That said leaving it all to mental health care reform is not the solution either. Though some displayed signs of mental health issues prior to their attacks we must ask what combination of experiences and triggers continue to leave some people with mental health issues murder spree free? Patricia Hill Collins wrote about the matrix of domination where she discusses that no one can be a pure victim or a pure oppressor and that these multiple layers of a person's life affect the way they experience the world. These men, a majority of whom are white, have to deal with their whiteness, maleness, but also their mental health status, their economic situation, their political affiliations, their sexuality, all these aspects of these men and more affect them and these multiple factors need to be addressed. Relying solely on discussions of mental health cannot address the central issues of these attacks because not all of them have mental issues but the majority of people with mental issues are not committing acts of mass murder.
Courtesy of Mother Jones
That said we cannot ignore the racial implications. What is it about whiteness, especially male whiteness that allows these tragedies to occur and then end in suicide or suicide by cop? A majority of mass shootings in the US are performed by white men. Part of the discussion is rarely about race or about masculinity. Professor Thomas Keith in his documentary the Bro Code talks in depth about how society creates sexist men. He argues this happens in 4 ways: Train Men to Womanize, Immerse Men in Porn, Make Rape Jokes, and Obey the Masculinity Cops. He argues that not only white men are victims of this media bombardment but all men face this training in the ways of sexism. The construction of masculinity varies by culture. White masculinity is struggling and to ignore how this manifests itself through this mass violent attacks is a problem.  Further exploration of the intricacies of white masculinity and violence must occur especially in regards to mass shootings but the main purpose of this piece is to draw links from William Richardson's discussion of the sociopathic society to these violent attacks and our responses to them vis-a-vis other atrocities especially against children.
"If you look at these traits [listed traits associated with sociopathy or more accurately antisocial personality disorder] and then look at the values that leaders of our society hold, values that we hold up in business, and how we often see people act towards each other we can see a resemblance to the logic behind the profit motive. Capitalism in our opinion creates conditions where having these sorts of personality traits are not only tolerated but encouraged and rewarded. We call this  "The Sociopathic Society”.  The sociopathic society not only serves as fertile grounds for sociopaths (who are born the way they are) but forces the rest of us to begin to use the logic of sociopathy in our everyday lives."
The film, the Corporation, that William discusses finds corporations to be pure sociopaths if we think of them as persons (which they are, but not entirely, based on court precedence under the 14th Amendment) based on criteria in the DSM. Capitalism facilitates this through a reckless drive for profits above all else, including care and safety of workers and the environment. It begs discussion, in what other arenas is this sociopathy manifesting itself?
Thinking back, very little mainstream media coverage discussed Newtown in connection with the Henan Province attack (also in a school), which was a stabbing not a shooting, which makes sense because in the US the mainstream rarely cares about the global but what was shocking and at the same time not at all surprising was the disconnect  from the highly public story of Trayvon Martin. For those who don't remember, Trayvon Martin was a young man who was shot by George Zimmerman. Trayvon was unarmed and in possession of Skittles and Ice Tea and re-sparked a conversation about gun violence and violence overall against Black America (not that it ever stopped being a conversation) because young Trayvon is Black and his killer, George Zimmerman was believed to be white (turns out he's Hispanic). The story of Trayvon is not an isolated one. The context and descriptors may be different but the story is the same. Many were hurt, and angered by the way things unfolded and still are at this time. Not just for Trayvon Martin either. Every 36 hours a Black person is killed extrajudicially by police, security guards or like Mr. Zimmerman self appointed law enforcers [PDF]. What further complicates this is that 3/4 of this nation's police force is white. Did the President cry for Trayvon? Or for the countless others murdered? How can we be so cold and emotionless when countless numbers of people are being murdered in cold blood? Does the fact that they were killed by authority figures (cops, security guards, self-appointed law enforcers) make their deaths justified? Does their Blackness prevent us from feeling? Let us leave the US then. Why don't we care about the Chinese youth? Does the President not think that their lives are valuable? Is China a bad example? What about the Middle East, where drone attacks authorized by the President have killed at least 100 children? Are they not worthy of tears?
Courtesy of Jill Greenberg
Going back to Sandy Hook, it is sad. I was moved and called my mother. She is a teacher in WNY and I figured she was fine but I needed to tell her A) that I love her and B) inform her of what happened in New Town. If it was my family that lost loved ones I would be devastated. I hope that point is not lost. All of these deaths are sad and disheartening. That said, why do we, as US Americans, not feel moved by the problems facing Black America (that we have seen for far too long), China or the ones we are causing in the Middle East? Because we are living in a sociopathic society and are displaying what I call selective sentimentality. We selectively respect life. White life is extremely valued so we select to care about that. We give it front page status in the news and we are all expected to feel sad, despise the shooter (while not necessarily putting the onus on him), and have a conversation.
The arguments thus far have been about gun control and mental health. Several aspects of the sociopathy are relevant here. The main is the lack of remorse and indifference to the hurt of others. This permeates our society. We also claim no responsibility for these attacks within our borders or those done in our names abroad (whether we agree with them or not). We are angry and lash out when someone brings up a point that puts the onus on us as a people, and even though these attacks continue to happen, we as a society are refusing to plan ahead for an end to our involvement in the Middle East nor protecting our citizens and residents with the exception of attempting to arm more people.
Courtesy of Official One Voice Radio
After the events of Newtown the NRA proposed to have armed guards in schools as a preventative measure against future attacks while others argued for arming teachers. After a tragic event where several young people were gunned down, people are advocating for more guns. It's hard for us to support teachers' salaries, we are continuously cutting funding to education and other community organizations, and still arguing about healthcare for all people  but lets spend money providing guns for teachers or a new staff member whose sole purpose is to carry a gun. Are we just funding guns and training for elementary schools? What about college and high schools? Are going to give these guns only to suburban schools? What about inner city schools? Would each teacher carry or would they be in a locked safe in the main office?  Why are we having this discussion with such vitriol post Sandy Hook? Is it because we care about young people? What about Trayvon? Why weren't we talking about arming POC of color since so many are killed every year? Probably because we don't care about Black people or other people of color and we didn't like it too much when Black people were arming themselves in the 60s.
Courtesy of the Black Panther
There are a lot of questions left unanswered and so many to answer and to consider. What we know is that there is a racist component to this. We, as a  nation, feel more sorrow for whites than for POC who are being killed by police and vigilantes. We are self centered and do not care about the things occurring abroad (except when it comes to the gas pump). We need to move beyond selective sentimentality and work to cure the sociopathy of our society. Part of that comes from a respect for human life whether it is Black or Brown or Asian, young or old and that when violence and death takes one of us we can all pause and shed a tear for that loss and then work to stop all violence. With some much hurt and trauma in the world it can be overwhelming but shouldn't that increase the urgency of our work. Part of our work is in challenging our privilege and working not just individually but structurally to change the way we interact and maintain our social systems. Utopian as it sounds, perhaps one day we will change and evolve beyond the point of hurting each other where we can live and support each other as siblings in humanity.

Friday, February 15, 2013

NYCC: Defying the Stereotypes and Having Fun

Copyright Carlos M. Camacho

Comic Con: refuge of nerds of various fandoms. In recent years, cons have gotten more popular with mainstream audiences. This happened because shows like Glee, and others, not traditionally part of the con scene have come to be included. I recently attended New York Comic Con (NYCC) and it was one of the best weekends of my life. I met cosplayers (costume players, see above and below), fans, editors, artists, writers, business people, and more. The experience was priceless. I had expectations, some of which were met, for better or worse, and I also found myself pleasantly surprised.
Copyright Carlos M. Camacho
What is a con? NYCC’s website gives a definition that I have adapted here: “Comic Con is [an] exciting popular culture convention. Our show floor plays host to the latest and greatest in comics, graphic novels, anime, manga, video games, toys, movies, and a market place, bringing together the major players in the entertainment industry.” This is similar to academic conferences, which I have attended several times, especially since beginning my life as a PhD student. The biggest difference, aside from subject, was the dress code and the amount of stuff for sale. You may not find PhDs and grad students selling drafts of papers, but artists at comic con will sell sketches. Conferences have a dress code and comic con does not, though if you dress up it is a serious venture.

Before attending NYCC I had my worries. The comic industry has a reputation of being a boys club; from some of the ‘best’ superheroes being men, the hypersexualization of women’s bodies, the tropes used over and over again, and men dominating every aspect of the industry from creation to production and distribution. This also doesn’t begin to discuss the presence of other marginalized people within comics and other mediums. The rise of webcomics and independent publishers has given way to more variety in genre and increased character diversity, but we still have a long way to go. As a comic fan, as well as a video game, movie and pop culture fan, I think that part of changing things is understanding where we are.
Copyright by Carlos M. Camacho

At NYCC, I attended three workshops, two of which I will discuss briefly. The first was called Gay Marriage in Comics: Revolutionary or a Step BackwardsI didn't think Comic Con would host an event like this, so needless to say I had to go. When I arrived, there was standing room only. I was standing against the wall and I listened intently. The conversation was about the recent, very public Archie Comics wedding, as well as, the big X-Men wedding (both between men). I was under the impression that the conversation was going to be one-sided, so I was ready to instigate, but as I heard what was being discussed and looked into the crowd, I realized I was mistaken. The conversation was less about whether gays and lesbians had a place in comics, but about whether conforming to heterosexist norms was the way to go or simply a starting place, and how we proceed from there. The conversation was not always LG focused either, which pleased me. Once we got into the Q&A section the ideas were flowing to repair the invisibilities of marginalized people, and left me feeling hopeful.
Copyright Carlos M. Camacho
That hope was further increased as a man with a feminist bend to him, and also a Marvel fan, when I heard about the Marvel: Women of Marvel panel. The panel was comprised of several editors, writers, and a colorist, who all share their experiences as women in a (mostly) man's world. After the panel I went up to speak with a couple of the writers about breaking into comics, how stories about marginalized groups are treated, and more. Anyone who picks up a comic book or a video game will notice that it is not a perfect world for women, LGBT people, people of color, and religious minorities, from hypersexualization and violence to invisibility. These women working within the industry were able to provide insights on how the industry is changing and encouraged the women in the crowd to connect and not to give up.

Like I said, I had worries going in, and these two workshops, as part of a small group, helped me to feel better. Looking around at comic con outside of these workshops, I saw that there was a lot more diversity than I anticipated, though it was still male dominated, as well as, White dominated. Cosplayers ran the gamut from the serious to the profane, provocative to conservative, but there was an air of fun. As I walked around, even cosplaying myself as Mystique on Sunday, I could not help but think about the attacks on Anita Sarkeesian and the backlash against her and her proposed work on video games. For those of you who are not familiar with the name, Anita operates Feminist Frequency where she discusses pop culture from a "feminist/fangirl perspective." She recently set up a Kickstarter to fund a project analyzing video games from this perspective and before the project was started she had to deal with a monsoon of hate directed at her. Surely this event, that drew people from across the country, must have had some of the people who attacked her or those who agreed in silence. How would we remedy this? How can we make comics and video games more inclusive without being stereotypical?

There are problems with comics, but as creators and fans alike intend to create and enjoy more inclusive diverse comics, and with more options for people to enter the industry than ever before, perhaps we will see more variety in the comic book universe and those ‘out’ about being part of any number of fandoms.