This post, which was about Alan Moore’s recent interview, has been removed.
After its publication, I became aware that what I had written was factually inaccurate.
I also became aware that what I had written had hurt many people. In part, that was due to the effect of these inaccuracies; I repeated the interview’s misrepresentations. But this hurt was compounded by language I used — language I may have thought was clear, but that some have read as racially insensitive.
I also have become aware that what I’ve written — and some of my apologies — have been read as implying that a critic’s academic credentials matter more than their specific criticisms.
For all of this, I’m sorry. For what it’s worth, none of this was intentional.
If I’ve failed to convey any of the concerns or the hurt I have caused, I invite you to tell me what I’m missing and to help me understand. I will listen.
You can stop here, if you want. I feel like there are a million things I want to say, and I’m not sleeping properly, and I’m sure what follows will be at best semi-coherent. Still, there are a few things I’d like to explain, if only for the record.
There was a lot I wanted to write about concerning the interview, but none of it was social criticism. Among my initial problems with the interview were:
- I found Moore’s personal attacks deeply troubling and not at all fair game. In some cases, these are so ugly that, even if Moore were to win the argument at hand, he’d still lose the argument, even on intellectual grounds (not simply on decorum), and badly so.
- Whatever Moore might think about super-heroes, his personal attacks on an unidentified “Batman scholar” dismissed not only super-hero scholarship but all scholarship — since it suggested that studying X means you think like X. I believe this to be anti-intellectual.
- I was also troubled by Moore’s dismissal of the internet, as if it wasn’t a medium serious critics or journalists used. While Moore may not use the internet, someone should tell him it’s not just uneducated lunatics, and mocking thoughts shared online has class implications, since it privileges elite and established magazines and the like.
- I was also troubled by the conspiratorial thinking Moore evidenced, such as implying that Laura Sneddon having interviewed Grant Morrison meant that they were in league to take Alan Moore down.
- I was also troubled by the vitriol Moore leveled against Sneddon and Morrison, both of whom Moore characterized as utterly unethical opportunists with vendettas, with very little evidence to support such a view. As I said in my original post, I don’t know anyone with a vendetta, and when you believe so many people have one against you, while it’s not impossible that you’re wrong, this belief likely says more about you than anyone.
- I was fascinated by Moore’s timeline of his encounters with Grant Morrison (especially through Dez Skinn and Karen Berger) — although some points in this story either strain credibility (Britain apparently had no better creator to recommend than a guy who’d done, as far as Moore knew, two or three derivative shorts) or don’t match up too well with actual history (Morrison wasn’t an “alleged professional” in 1990; in fact, he’d already secured his place in comics history).
- I was particularly appalled by the evidence Moore gave for his continued, baseless claims that Morrison is a career plagiarist: first, that Morrison incidentally used the Mandelbrot set (not plagiarism in the slightest); second, that Eddie Campbell said so (someone should ask Eddie Campbell what he thinks of this); and third, that Morrison copied a couple very generic descriptions of Moore works (which wouldn’t be plagiarism even if true). When people are left trying to puzzle out what Morrison work could possibly fit Moore’s own description, you know there’s a problem. I further wanted to point out that, no matter what Morrison’s said about a given work or Moore’s depictions, which might well be mean or flat-out wrong, they’re of an entirely different category as Moore accusing Morrison of the demonstrably wrong charge of being a career plagiarist (which is quite possibly defamation of character).
- I’m troubled by Moore’s claim that he won’t be interviewed by, nor published by, nor even associate with anyone who’s ever interviewed Grant Morrison or anyone who’s ever published or been an artistic collaborator of Morrison or Sneddon. Obviously, interviewing someone, publishing something of his, or having once creatively collaborated with him, is not an endorsement of everything Morrison does. Think about the long list of artists alone whom Moore’s writing off here, for no other reason than they once illustrated someone Morrison wrote. But “artistic collaborator” would presumably also include all of Morrison’s co-writers, successors who talked with him, editors, colorists, letterers, and more. Probably every major media outlet or comics journalist (including probably Pádraig Ó Méalóid) has interviewed Morrison. It’s Moore’s right to write off all of these people — many of whom are doubtlessly good people — if he wishes. But it’s ugly, and it perpetuates the chilling effect Moore’s reputation for being easily offended has already had. I can assure you that people within the industry (most of whom would love to interview or collaborate with Moore) are already reluctant to call Moore out — and that cowardice is probably one reason all of these issues with this interview haven’t been discussed adequately. Now Moore’s pushing this effect further, essentially forcing publishers, artists, and every media outlet to worry about working with or even interviewing Grant Morrison. Again, Moore’s got a right to do this if he wants, but it’s really ugly, and it has a chilling effect on the media’s coverage of Moore and Morrison — which may well be the intent. It smacks of the kind of bullying behavior normally associated with corporations that one would expect Moore to condemn.
(While an incidental point, Moore’s wrong in his sarcastic parenthetical that there’s no rape in Tom Strong: Tom Strong is himself raped by a woman in Nazi Germany. It’s not a major error; of course, Moore has written works without rape. However, it’s part of the same sloppiness exhibited overall, in which accusations of plagiarism are so inscrutable as to demonstrate instead that Alan Moore doesn’t understand what plagiarism is. When your indignant example of how you don’t always use rape has the main character being raped as a pretty major plot point, you’re just not doing yourself any favors.)
While not a point on this list, I also think Moore’s reputation is at a tipping point. I believe that lots of fair-minded, smart people, who like Moore’s work and much of what they know of him personally, and who are inclined to give Moore broad leeway, or dismiss statements as those of an cantankerous or eccentric writer, have now decided that enough’s enough. At least, that’s what I’ve been hearing, and it corresponds what I feel my own conscience dictating.
I reproduce the above list because I still think they’re legitimate points. My own failure to identify that the interview was (1) misrepresenting the social arguments against Moore and (2) not identifying Will Brooker and Pam Noles has not changed my thinking about any of the above points. In fact, learning this new information leads me to add other concerns about the interview, specifically:
- The interview simplifies the criticisms of Moore’s depictions, often to the point of absurdity. That’s why Moore seems so effective in knocking those criticisms down, one after another. He’s not wrong in his defenses. But he’s defended against straw men, such as “it’s wrong to ever depict rape” or “whites can’t write black characters.” Those are not, to my knowledge, arguments actually put forward by Noles, Brooker, Sneddon, or Morrison. As such, what the interview presents is not so much Moore’s defense against these arguments, but rather a series of sleights-of-hand, in which caricatures of very legitimate points are served up and dismissed with great panache. This is made worse by the fact that the comics community is notoriously hostile to this kind of social criticism, so for the great Alan Moore to caricature and mock these voices is especially troubling. Further compounding this is the fact that some of these voices are those of women and an African-American, two groups who are under-represented in comics and whose voices are too often mocked by comics fandom.
- Why does the interview not identify Will Brooker and Pam Noles? In interviews, where someone alludes to a specific person, it’s customary to identify that person in brackets (although a footnote or some other citation would be fine too). Similarly, where an argument is quoted or summarized, it’s actually required that the source of this argument or quote is identified. Failure to do so actually constitutes plagiarism, and not only in an academic context (just ask Rand Paul). The one exception is when someone is so vile that citing them would risk promoting them. Even this is rare, almost only used in online journalism, and actually still plagiarism — it’s just come to be accepted by many as a moral response to very extreme people. It is a silencing gesture, a sign of lack of respect, and it’s used to indicate that someone doesn’t deserve the dignity of a citation — or in extreme cases, even being named. The interview’s failure to cite helps to cement the impression, which the interview consistently transmits, that these two critics of Moore are (1) a self-identified “Batman scholar” on Twitter, possibly with no real credentials, who’s such a bomb-throwing opportunist that one might conceivably fail to cite him, and (2) an angry fan, totally alone in the points she was making, who once approached Kevin O’Neill at a signing with some complaints. The effect of this failure to cite is to improperly appropriate the arguments of Noles and Brooker, and to deprive them of their voice while simultaneously reducing them to cliches and mocking them. This is a pretty appalling business. That Noles and Brooker are relatively without power, compared to Alan Moore, should also not be lost on us. Nor should the fact that this plagiarism of their work occurs in an interview in which Moore complains about plagiarism. To my mind, it’s one thing to simplify someone’s argument into absurdity; that bad, but it’s probably worse not to even identify those speakers, so that people can follow up and decide for themselves. Sadly, 99% of the interview’s readers will leave it without doing any further research, and they’ll be probably be left with the same false impression that I was — that these were some pretty superficial arguments, mostly advanced by a random angry guy on Twitter and a random angry fan, both of whom the interview falsely paints as completely alone in their views.
To this second list of problems may also be appended the specific criticisms of Moore’s work. And those criticisms need addressing. They are part of a very legitimate dialogue about Moore’s work. But I’m not the one to address these things. I’m not primarily a social critic. And I’m tainted. No one’s going to believe I’m not covering my ass.
You can find Pam Noles’s extensive study of the racially problematic Golliwogg character here. Laura Sneddon’s attempted to correct the record here. Will Brooker has discussed the background of the interview, expanding on the tweets quoted in the interview, here. If you want to read an analysis of the Moore interview that’s better than my erroneous original post, I suggest Klint Finley’s.
Once I realized my error, I realized I was complicit in the two points above. I felt — and still feel — just heartbroken about this. However unwittingly, I’d silenced those same voices and reduced their arguments too. And people who read that, but didn’t come back for the corrections, would leave with these false impressions just as surely as they would from Alan Moore’s interviews.
Trust me when I say that horror doesn’t begin to describe how I felt; I felt that silencing. Not only of these specific critics, but so many others, who are also concerned about the many racist and sexist depictions in comics and elsewhere but who routinely get mocked and ignored. The great Alan Moore had reduced their arguments, mocked and insulted them personally, and failed to give two of them the dignity of a name. And… I’d done so too. I’d repeated that, and given the thumbs up to Alan Moore’s performance. And then put my name on it, and put it out into the world.
I fucked up. Big time.
Of course, I can plead ignorance and good intent, or the speed and extent of my response. I can point out I had huge problems with this interview already, and my statements after I realized the truth were as bold as any I’ve seen on the matter. I can add that the interview itself, as well as the many who have been silent about it or happily defended it on these points, are guilty of exactly what I am — but haven’t necessarily corrected it.
I would like to point out that my original post repeatedly contrasted between (A) simplistic criticism, such as “never depict rape” or “you can’t write characters outside your race” (which are pretty silly and anti-art; this are basic points about literature which, in all due respect, can’t be compromised), and (B) a meaningful, nuanced, and thoughtful discussion of Moore’s depictions and trends within his work, which I called for and said was needed and helpful. I thought I was distinguishing between (A) the charges Moore addressed in the interview and (B) the deeper discussions of these issues I’ve seen elsewhere (and have participated in). But because of my error, what I was actually distinguishing between was (A) the caricatures of arguments put forth in the interview and (B) what those arguments really were, for those who knew the interview was pulling a fast one. For the record, I think these arguments are precisely the kind of meaningful, nuanced, and thoughtful discussions we should be having.
But you know what? None of this matters. One sin doesn’t excuse another. And I can’t very well expect someone who I’ve helped silence and reduce to give a shit about my good intentions.
And I’m afraid the impression my original post left was that of a white male carting out his academic credentials in order to defend another white male with literary credentials, and to assure people not to worry, these criticisms weren’t serious.
My background is more in literary analysis than social criticism. And in responding to my error, I responded as a literary analyst. I wanted to aggressively correct my mistake and to say I was sorry. I believed my original analysis to be accurate, based on the information in the interview, and I believed my annotations to that analysis to be accurate, based on what I subsequently learned. Of course, I also apologized for any hurt feelings. In literary analysis, this is totally adequate. But it wasn’t, because while I’d largely written a rhetorical analysis, I’d screwed up matters of social criticism. You can’t insult people and then ask them to walk through a rhetorical exercise, even annotated with corrections, in which ignorance logically leads to insulting them! I was now way out in the waters of social criticism — waters I’ve only cautiously and rather nervously weighed into before. And the rules of social criticism are different. I was adrift, and all my training wasn’t helping me — in fact, it was causing me to sometimes seem rather tone-deaf.
Sometimes, even when I apologized, I’d use a word that someone would interpret in a way I never intended — but which was perfectly reasonable, given that person’s perspective. In literary analysis, we’d just say, “this wasn’t what I intended,” correct things if necessary, and everything’s good. But I wasn’t in cold literary analysis land anymore. I’d hurt people, and my training was insufficient to deal with it.
So… I apologized to Will Brooker in a separate post, because I’d talked quite a bit about that “Batman scholar,” whose credentials Moore had doubted, and I’d addressed how Moore didn’t seem to understand how scholarship works. I know Will Brooker’s work, so it was easy for me to craft an apology. I only learned Pam Noles’s identity a little later, and I wasn’t familiar with her work. I immediately started a separate apology to her, but I felt I had to familiarize myself at least somewhat with her and her work, which took time. Then I realized I had to annotate the original post, so as not to further perpetuate the same misinformation, and I got lost on social networks and in email conversations about this, and that separate apology to Pam Noles remained incomplete.
And I’m afraid the impression this left was that the white male academic was going out of his way to apologize fully and rapidly to a fellow white male academic, while not giving parity to the black woman to whom he also owed an apology.
Boy, was I clueless.
I’m afraid I also conveyed that criticism mattered more if made by an academic, not a fan or someone on Twitter. This is a perfect example of how what I’d originally posted just couldn’t be corrected. Because I’d questioned why Alan Moore seemed so concerned about some guy on Twitter or an angry fan. Once I learned this was a misrepresentation I’d repeated, I corrected the record. But the impression was still left that I seemed to care about who was making the argument than the actual argument, which would tend to marginalize those without degrees and privileged status. That I made a big public apology to Dr. Will Brooker, while confining my apology to Pam Noles to annotations on the original post, was not only racially problematic but also carried elitist connotations — which eerily echoed how the great Alan Moore seemed to be stooping to even address his critics. It looked like an elite white boy club.
Again: boy, was I clueless.
For the record, I’m sure I do have a bias in favor of academics, and I’m sure I have plenty of elitist values. But one of those elite beliefs is that an argument ultimately stands or falls on its own merits. I’ve heard lots of vapid people with doctorates (anyone who’s been to an academic conference has), and many of the most insightful arguments I’ve ever heard have come from people without a college degree. In fact, a big part of why I wanted a Ph.D. was because I wanted to use it to legitimate taking comics seriously. As a comics scholar, I’m very conscious of the fact that the giants on whose shoulders I stand aren’t academics at all; they’re the brave souls who ran the fanzines, or who posted their criticism online (as I did for years before my doctorate).
But again, it doesn’t really matter. I don’t expect anyone to believe me. All I can say is that I’ve tried to understand, and I’m sorry, not only for my original post but for any hurtful impressions my attempted apologies and corrections have made. And if I’ve failed to understand anything, I’m open to listening.
There’s no fixing what was structurally flawed, and I’ve already mentioned how the original post — even annotated — could still hurt people. So it’s gone, replaced by this.
For what it’s worth, this is (as far as I can recall) the first time Sequart’s taken a post down.
I still plan on finishing up that apology to Pam Noles — she deserves it — and then I’m putting myself on indefinite hiatus from writing for this site.
This is a considered decision; it’s taken me two full days to write this.
It’s not that I’m out of ideas. This post was my 133rd consecutive Monday post, during which I’ve written lots of posts on other days. I’ve probably got ideas and notes for 133 more. I’ve written nearly a million words for this site, and I was looking forward to hitting that milestone. I’m really proud of that, but this is more important.
I’m also not trying to be melodramatic, or petulant, or playing the victim. Please don’t let them say the politically correct mobs hounded me into this or something absurd like that; no one‘s asked for me to do this. I arrived at this decision on my own, and had to convince others to support me in it.
I’m not a victim here.
Pam Noles is the victim.
Will Brooker’s the victim.
Laura Sneddon’s the victim.
Even Grant Morrison, powerful though he may be, is the victim.
But most importantly, everyone who identifies with the troubled representations in Moore’s work, or in comics in general… and not only sees themselves being raped or stereotyped but also sees themselves in the critics who have pointed these issues out only to have themselves mocked and ridiculed… they’re the real victims here.
I’m the victimizer.
Let me repeat that.
I’m the victimizer.
And a victimizer with good intentions is still a victimizer.
I’ve lost the confidence of a significant portion of my audience. I certainly can’t credibly write about this interview, although I think it’s a huge story and needs serious discussion. I certainly can’t credibly write about social issues. There’s a cloud hanging over me right now, and it can only pollute what I and others on Sequart write, which isn’t fair to them.
And I’m deeply shaken, not only by my error and all the pain I’ve caused, but also by my own cluelessness and tone-deafness.
Right now, I need to listen, and try to express myself again later.
What I did was not okay, and apologizing is just not enough.
But I’m still sorry.