There are a lot of things happening at the moment that really we could have put money on years ago. Utterly, utterly predictable things. We could have bet money on Neil Gaiman eventually marrying Tori Amos (or whoever fit her specific cultural role at the time). Garth Ennis’ career was always heading for a book about three dog friends trying to survive a nightmarish human apocalypse. And Mark Millar’s Clint was never going to make much fuss when it eventually died.
And an Alan Moore interview was always going to cause a fuss. This time, it seems to be in response to comments someone made after a recent event about race and gender in his comics, and stuff Laura Sneddon has done and said, and other stuff, and probably something Grant Morrison has done, and on.
I’m honestly not sure at this point. I don’t follow Sneddon, because I only ever seem to have read her editorialising at times when I’d hoped for information, and I don’t favour that sort of writing. I’ve tuned out new projects by Moore following that one issue of League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen which was a bumper sized expensive issue that ultimately only served as the first chapter in a story, the following chapter of which coming some time long in the future, that seemed to mostly be about Mina Harker being brutalised physically and mentally.
I’m not going to go after Moore or O’Neil on that score – I had a far larger problem with the fact that the manner of presentation of the book was an unsatisfying way to experience a part-work, which made the rambling content and extended assault sequences seem painfully self-indulgent rather than a necessary part of an ongoing narrative. I personally believe that in context any subject is fair game – the context here being that aside from the rape and the starting musical number there wasn’t much else, and at a premium price – and I’m comfortable that the loss of my future purchases is censure enough.
I don’t believe Moore – or any other creator of entertainment – really owes us anything by way of explanation for their work. Part of the point of creative work is that you want it to speak for itself, and if you want to make money from it, or find an audience, you want the work to take on a life of its own.
For people to talk about it.
And if you want that, you don’t get to control what they think or say about it.
Except that this year, apparently, is the year writers decide they and their work are above scrutiny.
I mentioned that I don’t really know all of the details about what triggered this latest last interview. I could suggest that, this being the internet, and comics, it doesn’t really matter, because there’ll be another trigger along any minute, but that would be cheap. My way into this was reading a sequence of tweets, steadily growing in temperature, from Moore’s daughter and son-in-law. And the truth is, I think their anger was totally justified.
Not because they or he were in the right. I think, in their case, that’s irrelevant. Whatever the rights and wrongs and ups and downs of the situations, they’re going to get angry because they feel someone in their family has been attacked. As such, their reactions are correct, but also completely compromised, and we can disregard them. But they were my way into this.
So lots of anger. And a few people saying that Moore is actually really nice and smart and sane and everything in real life, which I’ve never seen any evidence to the contrary of… when you see him talking, he’s all those things. I don’t think his defenders really do him any favours, actually. Most of the time, they just whip things up into a dumb, numb frenzy, and the man is left to pick up the pieces of a shit-storm largely taking place in an online world he tries to avoid, and that he doesn’t really seem to have any interest in understanding.
I didn’t get through the whole interview. Now’s the time to tell you that. I read about a thousand words of it, and as usual there are some zingers in there, and some smart bits of Moore-as-writer where he says what I wanted to hear him say about some uncomfortable sexual and racial content in his work, but it’s also so dense, and so tinged with a layer of pre-emptive evasive manoeuvring that the interviewer never seems to call him on, that I couldn’t unpack the artist-talk from the artist-resenting-talking.
I get where the resentment is coming from. It makes perfect sense. He resents having to talk about it.
And for this huge fan of Moore’s past work, and what he means, and what he might write in the future, I just wish he hadn’t. And I definitely wish he hadn’t at such great length.
(The length of the interview is, by the way, a work of genius, albeit I think an accidental one. There is so much fidget and false-equivalence and flourish and flawed-assumption-of-audience-response that the interview stands as a pretty passable Rorschach test in written form – everybody I have seen respond to it came away with exactly what they needed from it. Because it’s all there. There’s proof that Moore is a genius, and proof that he’s an egotist, and proof that he’s insane, and proof that he’s a dinosaur, and proof that he’s the most witty angry person that ever existed, and it’s all real and it’s all there.
I didn’t read any proof that he’s a misogynist or a racist in the bit I read, and that’s appropriate I suppose, because I haven’t actually seen anybody tangibly accuse him of those things, despite what he and his defenders seem to be responding to. There’s some proof that he and his work are less sensitive to thematic misogyny or racism than some would like, though. The distinction is one that many people miss. I get that, though – hardly anybody can hear the difference between “You’re being stupid” and “you’re stupid” when it’s said to them, either.)
The thing is, I can’t really separate the (so-called) Last Interview With Alan Moore from the Judd Apatow/Lena Dunham dismissal of a critic’s question about nudity that’s doing the rounds. (Or, now that I think about it, most of the times when Russell Brand or Stephen Fry respond to criticism).
I LIKE Alan Moore and Judd Apatow’s work, and feel that the work suggests they’re perfectly smart enough to stand up for their work without resorting to defensiveness or disingenuous deflection. But unfortunately, I think they’re too used to being the smartest person in the room (or being allowed to be the smartest person in the room), and act accordingly. Not by being the most empathic person in the room. Not by politely declining to comment, or by saying “I understand why people didn’t like X, but this is why I thought it was a good idea/this was based on my interpretation of Y” (which isn’t an apology, by the way. I don’t like it when they apologise).
By attempting to snow everyone. By a fast-talking, bullish attempt to turn the tables on the person asking the question, in a forceful enough way that it sticks, as Apatow and Dunham did. By throwing so much intellectual waffle at the argument you’ve decided the person you perceive as attacking you is making that you bury their actual argument in words that kind of sound like they make sense by dint of being very big, intelligent sounding ones – as Moore (and Brand and Fry) do.
People do this all the time. A particular sort of person – usually a man – finds it really easy to conflate their feeling of righteousness with all of the raw information in their head, and use it to try and wash away opposing points. It’s easy to do in speech, and it’s narcotic to do in writing, but it isn’t an act of heroism, it’s an anti-intellectual character flaw dressed up as hyper-intellectualism. And now, frankly, I’m just talking about me, so I should move on.
I’d respect “I hear what you’re saying, but it just doesn’t bother me as much as it does you” more than I do this anti-empathic obliviousness. Empathy is something I really do require in most of the writers I read. Empathy doesn’t mean you bend to the will of how others feel – that’s more what sympathy is about – but it does mean you have an instinct for it.
(Actually, I could live with “I prefer to let the work speak for itself” and Moore leaving the critics to battle it out.)
I can think of a dozen reasons – using empathy – why for Moore as an intelligent man the Galley Wag and the sexual violence in his work and the petulant tone you sometimes hear him use in written interviews are the right choice, but what I can’t square with Moore as an intelligent man is the idea that, when committing those things to the page, he didn’t understand that there were people who wouldn’t agree with his choices, and come to peace with that. After all, he gets to make money from his choices, whereas they just get to feel bad.
I hate the idea of privilege checking. One reason I hate it is it’s one of those things that’s maybe a useful little life tool, like a compass, for working out where you are in the world, but people – being what people are – treat it like a hammer instead, that they think is for beating themselves and other people into shape. That said, I can’t help joking about white male privilege all the time, and I’m often only half joking.
One of the behaviours I hate and love most in people is by definition a benefit of privilege… it’s the middle manager who hears all of the arguments against a plan, pushes the plan through anyway, and then attempts to solicit agreement from everybody under them, or the bully who has the run of the school but wants everyone to like them too. The publisher or corporation that stole market share, but also wants people to believe they’ve got integrity. The person who got what they wanted, but wants to be “right” as well.
Every time Moore is in the spotlight these days, he’s being portrayed as the victim of people disagreeing with him. When it’s DC or Marvel or some other huge corporation that he’s being set against, this makes a bit more sense, but when it’s readers or critics on the other side? Well, he’s Alan bloody Moore. Pop Will Eat Itself included him in a song, and he’s only got better known and more adored since. If you’re a writer at Alan Moore’s level, or you’ve got a TV show (however low rated), or you’re Brand, or Fry, or Jordan..?
In so many ways that really matter, you’ve won. Of course everything’s relative, but if you have any sort of fame… if you can even begin to claim to have a paying audience… you are already getting more validation, of your work and of yourself, than pretty much everyone else you will ever encounter in your life.
That’s what the positive side of checking privilege is really about. If the authorities are harassing you, or people are turning up at your door, or you and your family are ravaged by disease and disaster? Go ahead and feel awful. But if you manage to sell whatever you sell to tens or hundreds of thousands of people? If a couple of people, or even a hundred people, ask you a couple of difficult questions about your work, you can probably afford to be okay with it inside.
Not all offence is equal. Online, right now, there are definitely people keeping an eye out for any opportunity to be offended along their own pet ideological lines. At the same time, there are people who are sincerely sensitive to certain ideas, images or approaches. The only healthy way to navigate our cultural landscape is to learn to spot the difference, and try not to be a jerk about the latter. To learn more about offence, listen to this handy episode over at Unanswered.
For fuck’s sake, please do use subversive images and ideas. If you can handle pushing a particular envelope that others won’t, or that might shake up an audience a little bit, please, do. Nobody needs more conservative art. But if you’re knowingly using provocative ideas – and seriously, two British creators knew exactly what they were doing with the Gollywog imagery – accept that they will provoke people. Can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding, as They Might Be Giants said.
It’s getting to the point where the only writers whose relationship to their work and audience I can really respect are some of the rougher stand-up comedians.
Doug Stanhope on words, Louis CK on rape jokes, Frankie Boyle’s slightly disgusted sneer at the parents who brought two young teen boys to his show and at himself and everyone else, and near as I can tell Jerry Sadowitz on EVERYTHING. They understand the words they’re using, use them out there on a stage where it can get thrown back at them, and because they used them deliberately, they never, ever need to apologise for them or try to step out of their way.
Whether I agree with what they’re saying or not, I can respect that.
I don’t require that a writer have an honest or sympathetic relationship with their audience, but I struggle to respect the insight or intellect of any that doesn’t have a smart and honest relationship with their own work.
That’s it. I’m spent.