When I wrote yesterday’s piece on Alan Moore’s most recent interview, I wasn’t aware that the “Batman scholar” Moore was mocking was Will Brooker.
I feel really bad about not identifying him, because it perpetuates how Moore didn’t identify him or take him seriously. And I’m afraid I must have perpetuated that. That was not my intent in the slightest, and I feel sick about it.
By way of explanation, I can only explain that I had been avoiding coverage of this entire matter, which I had very strong feelings about and really didn’t want to write about. I only reversed this attitude after hearing responses on Sunday to Harry Edmundson-Cornell’s editorial, which was run here on Sequart on Saturday. Had I done my research, I would have noted that Brooker has, of course, been identified in lots of places, including on The Beat (which frankly has done a better job of covering this story than other prominent comics websites, including this one). Here’s another example of what I missed, which explains the context of this criticism much better than Moore’s interview cared to (and which I really wish I’d read before writing my own piece). All I can offer in my defense is that I would have never thought this “Batman scholar” Moore was trashing and depicting as so pathetic was anyone other than some guy on Twitter — which is precisely how Moore’s interview was supposed to make us think about this “guy on Twitter.”
Part of why I would never would have thought Brooker was the “guy on Twitter” is that he’s very much a known commodity. Will Brooker is anything but a sloppy scholar, or just some guy on Twitter who dubbed himself a “Batman scholar.”
Let’s start with the fact that he’s Dr. Will Brooker. He has a Ph.D. in cultural studies from Cardiff University. He’s a professor at Kingston University in London. The books that he’s written include Batman Unmasked (2000) and Hunting the Dark Knight (2012). So yes, he is a Batman scholar. He’s the real thing.
My father is a professor emeritus of film studies (among other things) who was in the first class of UCLA’s M.F.A. program in film. So I grew up immersed in film studies. In this regard, I can tell you that two things stand out on Dr. Brooker’s resume. He is the first British editor of the Cinema Journal, the journal of Society for Cinema and Media Studies. This is a huge and prestigious organization, as is their journal, and I’ve met and hung out with its officers, discussing things like the journal’s style. Brooker’s credit here is, to those in the know, a Big Fucking Deal, as Joe Biden would say.
So too is the fact that Brooker authored the Star Wars installment of BFI’s Film Classics series. This is fucking huge. I love this series of little books analyzing classic films, paired with top writers and scholars — you know, like Salman Rushie. In fact, my regular reading of this series was a spiritual inspiration for Sequart starting its own line of books about comics in 2005. This is also a big deal.
In addition, Brooker’s written for The Guardian, Newsweek, Huffington Post, the website Mindless Ones, and… yes, The Independent — that same outlet Moore’s sworn off in connection with his verbal assault on Laura Sneddon. Given how Moore seems to think Sneddon’s contaminated from having once interviewed Grant Morrison, Moore may well think that Brooker’s contaminated from his association with the Independent too. (I’m picturing Glenn Beck, connecting the dots on his blackboard.)
Since Brooker’s tweets, to which Moore responded, were about cultural critiques, it’s important to point out that not only is Brooker’s doctorate in cultural studies, but he’s been so upset by depictions of women and girls in comics — and the fact that the many complaints about these depictions haven’t changed the behavior of the industry itself — that he started his own online comic that reflects these values. It’s called My So-Called Secret Identity, and it stars a young woman who’s a Ph.D. student. A lot of us at Sequart like this idea and have tried to support it since even before it launched, including with an interview by me, a review by Colin Smith, and another interview by Forrest Helvie.
In other words, Brooker’s not only a legit “Batman scholar” (that term doesn’t appear on Brooker’s Twitter page, by the way) but he’s also got a record of putting his money where his mouth is about social issues and the depiction of women.
He certainly doesn’t deserve to be dismissed as a fake scholar. He certainly doesn’t deserve to be disrespected by not even being named, which is a well-worn tactic usually reserved for those beneath contempt, in an attempt to avoid promoting someone like, say, David Duke. And he certainly doesn’t deserve to have his criticism dismissed.
I feel positively sick that, having not done my research after deciding I had to respond to Moore’s interview, I perpetuated the silencing gesture of not naming Dr. Will Brooker. And if I’ve also perpetuated Moore’s dismissal of Brooker’s criticisms, I apologize for that too. Probably like most people, I’ve only read and explored Moore’s defense against those criticisms, which I think is well-reasoned. I was under the impression that these claims were a silly matter, consisting of some self-identified “Batman scholar” on Twitter. Of course, the interview did its best to create this impression. It’s a false impression, and easily demonstrated to be so. It’s also a rather ugly business. To have been a part of this makes me feel sick.
For the record, it’s that sickness in the pit of my stomach — the knowledge that I’ve made a mistake and perpetuated something ugly here — that has prompted this apology. No one’s asked me to do it. When I told Will Brooker I felt terrible and would be writing an apology, he said there was no need and a little note on my original piece would suffice. But I don’t believe that’s correct. I don’t believe that’s adequate.
Because what I perpetuated here was a silencing gesture, designed to denigrate a scholar as not even worthy of being mentioned by name. I could understand that, if the criticism came from a random tweeter with a strong bias but little reasoning ability; there’s no reason to shine a light on such a person. Again, this is a long-established tactic. But it’s one that’s completely inappropriate in this case.
In fact, citing Brooker’s tweets without crediting them certainly wouldn’t be permissible in academia, where it would be called plagiarism. That’s why, when this kind of silencing gesture is employed against the well-deserving, most are careful not to quote directly; instead, they summarize the person’s criticism and respond accordingly. Of course, this failing to cite a scholar’s criticism — indeed, to even name the scholar to which one is responding — occurs in the context of an interview that goes on to allege rampant and repeated plagiarism.
(This is one reason why, where interviewees don’t identify people by name, interviewers and publishers often do so in brackets or editorial comments, wherever they can identify the reference. For some reason, this wasn’t done in this interview.)
Now, I’m sure there are some who will say that I’m just circling the wagons here. But my own culture is as much academic as it is informed by my lifelong love of comics or my own creative pursuits. This academic background is why I founded Sequart, way back in 1996, when comics weren’t being taken seriously by the professors and scholars I so respected and admired. It’s also why Sequart has a more analytic and scholarly approach than other comics websites. And it’s why Sequart has a culture of academic freedom, in which I refuse to censor articles or editorials, such as Harry’s, based on their stance (and yes, even based on their usage of curse words — which, despite popular belief, aren’t antithetical to making legitimate points).
Within this context, we can of course still disagree. We can even disagree passionately. There’s nothing wrong with Alan Moore or anyone else saying Brooker’s assertions about Moore are wrong, or even “full of shit,” if one wishes to use that language. That’s completely fair. Personally, I have no idea whether I disagree with them or not, because this interview with Alan Moore didn’t bother to even credit this “Batman scholar” (snicker, snicker) appropriately, and I got sucked into that.
But while we are all free to disagree, we’re not free to dismiss someone on the basis that they’re a “Batman scholar” or someone who made an argument on Twitter. We’re not free to quote someone’s argument without attribution. We’re not free to mock a legitimate scholar as having a brain that’s been addled by his choice of subject. These tactics are likely legal, but they’re not ethical. In fact, they’re anti-intellectual, because they mock the very idea of scholarship (including of comics) and attack someone on the basis of their chosen field or their use of Twitter.
These kinds of tactics only look more unethical and anti-intellectual in the wake of having discovered that the person being attacked on such a spurious basis isn’t a “guy on Twitter” who put “Batman scholar” in his Twitter description but, in fact, Dr. Will Brooker. Again, you can disagree with Brooker as much as you want, but you can’t be thought an ethical player who’s a fair player in a passionate debate and also try to silence your critic by not naming him, by attacking him personally, and by attacking the basic notion of how scholarship works.
This is not okay. It’s wrong.
I’ve perpetuated that, and for this I feel deeply sorry.
In apologizing, I hope I’ve taken accountability and demonstrated how such problems should be handled — in what I hope is a professional and transparent manner.
I don’t know if Alan Moore or Pádraig Ó Méalóid know who Will Brooker is, or even that he was in fact the source of this criticism, which was unfairly represented in the interview as coming from some random guy on Twitter. I wouldn’t be surprised, given Moore’s seclusion from the internet and from the wider world of comics criticism, if he had no idea who Will Brooker is, or if all he was given was out-of-context tweets and quotes.
Something of this sort does seem to be at work, with at least some of the criticism to which Moore responds in this interview; this is suggested by the lack of context to this criticism. I can’t help but feel as if Moore might have been manipulated — handed extracted quotes, to which he predictably responds with, among other things, no small amount of anger. If this is the case, Moore still ought to apologize, but a considerable degree of culpability lies with others as well. Not having been involved, I don’t know to what degree this is the case, and I have no evidence of it, outside of how in the interview Moore seems almost completely unaware of anything beyond the excerpts to which he responds.
Again, I’m sorry for perpetuating the misrepresentation and marginalization of Moore’s critics exhibited by this interview. I screwed up. The fault is mine, because I failed to adequately research the issues involved. I felt passionately about the matter, and I felt compelled to comment upon it (especially with one of Sequart’s writers under attack), and I didn’t take the adequate time to get this right. I was ignorant. It never occurred to me, perhaps foolishly, that the interview would misrepresent a scholar of Will Brooker’s credentials for some random guy on Twitter.
But I also have to say that this only underlines, for me, how troubling this particular interview really is. I pointed out some of the reasons why yesterday, and there’s a lot more I haven’t yet addressed. A lot of my exoneration of Moore, for the social criticism he’s received, was based on the impression, deliberately left by this interview, that these were just complaints made by some guy on Twitter or by some angry fan at a signing — complaints which the interview represented as being rather off-the-cuff and having no real merit. It’s now clear to me that this wasn’t the case. As a result, the way Moore diminishes his critics personally becomes far a more insulting affair.
For example, it’s one thing to mock a random guy on Twitter who proclaims himself a “Batman scholar” — and in the process to attack the very idea of scholarship on popular culture. There, the response may well be, as I suggested, to simply ignore Twitter criticism. But it’s quite another thing to make a very real scholar seem like a crazy guy on Twitter. Once you recalibrate for this, the hostility the interview shows, not only towards particular lines of criticism but to the culture of criticism and scholarship themselves, increases dramatically.
As a result, an interview that I already found mind-boggling has become even more so.
I’ll have more soon. But I wanted to get this apology out there, as soon as I could. Thanks for reading.