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Barthes is wrong; Allen, Cosby, and Smith

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  • Barthes is wrong; Allen, Cosby, and Smith

    "The Death of the Author" is a 1967 essay by the French literary critic and theorist Roland Barthes (1915–80). Barthes' essay argues against traditional literary criticism's practice of incorporating the intentions and biographical context of an author in an interpretation of a text, and instead argues that writing and creator are unrelated.

    Barthes is wrong.

    Zak “Sabbath” Smith is a grotesque person and a good game designer. Some of that matters, and some does not. The same is true of people like Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, and others.

    I am not defending these men - I cannot and will not defend these men.

    However, Vornhiem is good, and so is Red and Pleasant Land. This observation asks the same question of Smith that people ask of Cosby and Allen. Cosby's old stand up routines, and TV shows were funny – they were mostly good at what they were supposed to do. Allen is a talented filmmaker – his movies are mostly good at what they are supposed to do.

    Are they worth it? Are they worth the money you have you pay to watch them, or buy the books? Please remember that some portion of that money goes to Cosby, Allen, and Smith. Are the commercial products (i.e. artifacts) these men produce worth the time required to watch or read?

    No.

    Death of the Author posits the artifact is its own thing and independent of its creators or creation. This is the wrong approach. We are in a situation where the author, and authorial behavior and intent as best we can determine them, are more important than the artifact.

    We do not have the luxury of any other approach.

    It does not matter that Allen’s Love and Death (1975) is a funny movie. It does not matter that Cosby’s I Started out as a Child (1963) is a funny stand up performance. It does not matter that both Vornhiem and Red and Pleasant Land are good RPG products. It matters that the men behind these productions are terrible people, who do not deserve support of any kind.

    The same is true of most other “problematic” creators and producers. And the people who support and enable the abuse these men perpetuate.

  • #2
    Yep. Only way that argument can hold any water is if we were somehow in a shortage of creative people who weren't abusive monsters. We aren't, so they can die miserable, alone, and hated.

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    • #3
      "All autobiography is storytelling; all writing is autobiography."- J. M. Coetzee

      All things considered, I'd have to agree. Creatives are their creations in a very real way, inextricably linked, regardless of medium. As a comedian, I can make jokes, often dark or controversial ones, but those, and everything I write or create, are an extension of me. I don't, and shouldn't, have the freedom to distance myself from what I make or vice versa.
      Last edited by AzraelFirestorm; 02-12-2019, 12:55 PM.


      “Nobody is purely good or purely evil. Most of us are in-between. There are moths that explore the day and butterflies that play at night.”
      - Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute The Sun
      (She/Her)

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      • #4
        I know I'm going to get a lot of flak for this, and let it be known that this was supposed be the only post I will make on this matter. After this, I don't want to be going anywhere near this drama with a thirty-nine-and-a-half foot pole.

        As someone who utterly detests the deeds and character of Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, and especially Zak Smith, I'm still going to have to disagree with this thread.

        I am a firm believer in free speech, preservation of history, and keeping the author separate from the work, unless the work in question is directly reflective of the author's views (or is directly connected to his crimes).

        Examples of such works that actually are problematic and cannot be subject to "Death of the Author" would include Mein Kampf, The Communist Manifesto, Chick Tracts, and The 120 Days of Sodom. Those examples cannot be separated from the author, because they are intended as a reflection of the author himself. Cosby's stand-up and Zak's games are not in that category, even if Bill Cosby and Zak Smith themselves are vile evil excuses for human beings.

        To unperson an entire body of work because the person in question is a scumbag is pure unadulterated totalitarian mob mentality bullshit taken right out of the playbook of Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin.

        Yes, Zak Smith is a vile excuse for a human being and should be punished for his behavior, and I will not defend him or his actions. In fact, I hated him even before these recent revelations came to light.

        But there are other "problematic" games created by certain nameless people who have engaged in utterly reprehensible behavior, some of whom used to work for this very company. I could go further into detail, but I will stop here on that specific subject for the sake of civility and respect.

        TL;DR I am opposed to real-life abuse, but censoring fiction like we live under totalitarian rule is not going to solve anything. If you don't like Zak Smith as a person and find his games problematic, then do what I do and simply don't buy them.

        Censoring his works and erasing them from history won't undo the abuses he committed.
        Last edited by Camilla; 02-13-2019, 11:59 AM.

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        • #5
          This isn’t what death of the author means. Death of the author isn’t concerned with the morality of consuming media produced by amoral authors, it’s about interpreting a work independently of authorial intent. Death of the author doesn’t say “it’s doesn’t matter what horrible things Cosby did, it’s ok to watch his standup anyway,” what it says is, “it doesn’t matter what Rowling tweets, Wizards shitting themselves is not DeFacto canon just because she said it.” Or, perhaps a more cogent example, “It doesn’t matter that Tolkien said he detested allegory and vehemently denied that Lord of the Rings was an allegory for the world wars, that’s still a valid interpretation of the text.”

          Death of the author is a complicated subject, and I think Critical interpretation in the modern world needs to be more nuanced than Death of the Author would suggest. I agree that Lord of the Rings as allegory for the World Wars is a valid interpretation of the text, and a valuable way to look at it, but I also think that any critical interpretation of Lord of the Rings does itself a great disservice if it disregards Tolkien’s distaste for allegory and his insistence that his Middle Earth stories were written only to give fictional context to his constructed languages.

          ...but it’s not really what’s being discussed here.

          Originally posted by Camilla View Post
          Examples of such works that actually are problematic and cannot be subject to "Death of the Author" would include Mein Kampf, The Communist Manifesto, Chick Tracts, and The 120 Days of Sodom. Those examples cannot be separated from the author, because they are intended as a reflection of the author himself. Cosby's stand-up and Zak's games are not in that category, even if Bill Cosby and Zak Smith themselves are vile evil excuses for human beings.
          Emphasis mine.

          See, the above is a great example of why this is a separate issue from death of the author. Camilla here is specifically choosing not to separate the art from the artist because of authorial intent, the very thing Death of the Author is specifically about disregarding. Death of the author would suggest that it doesn’t matter if a work is intended to be reflective of the author or not, all that matters is if you interpret a reflection of the author in the work.

          Originally posted by Camilla View Post
          TL;DR I am opposed to real-life abuse, but censoring fiction like we live under totalitarian rule is not going to solve anything. If you don't like Zak Smith as a person and find his games problematic, then do what I do and simply don't buy them.

          Censoring his works and erasing them from history won't undo the abuses he committed.
          Camilla, “don’t buy them” is the only thing that is being advocated here. Nobody who isn’t made of straw is suggesting “censoring his works and erasing them from history,” so please try to relax, put down your anti-SJW pitchfork and actually engage with the discussion instead of crying “Leninist” every time someone suggests maybe not buying stuff written by rapists is a good idea.

          Back on topic, I have a great personal example of why “separating the art from the artist” doesn’t always work. My favorite musical artist from 2008 to 2018 was Will Francis, AKA William Control. He’s a fucking brilliant lyricist and solid composer, and produced some of the most evocative darkwave music I have ever heard. Much of his music focuses on the theme of BDSM, which as a BDSM-practicing person, I found pretty cool.

          Recently, it came to light that he took advantage of his celebrity and of BDSM to rape and abuse a lot of women. Now, I already own his entire discography up to the point that this information came out, so listening to his music on my IPhone or my CD player won’t make him any more money than I’ve already made him. I could continue to listen to the music I’ve loved for over a decade, and as long as I didn’t buy anything new he released, no more of my money would make its way to him. But I can’t in good conscience ignore authorial intent here. As a responsible practitioner of BDSM, it disgusts me to listen to music about BDSM, written by someone who ignored safe play protocols and took advantage of the trust of the women who trusted him to rape and abuse them. Worse, he used a lot of sound sampling, including in several songs, samples of sexual moaning sounds. Turns out, at least one of his victims has come out to say that some of those samples were of her, and were recorded without her knowledge or permission. So I can’t listen to any of his songs that feature moaning sounds without the knowledge that those sounds are an invasion of some woman’s privacy.


          Going by Willow now, or Wil for short. She/Her/Hers.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Camilla View Post
            ,,,unless the work in question is directly reflective of the author's views.
            What human creative work in all of history can't be argued to be directly reflective of the author's view?

            What human author is so coldly logical that their biases, views, and agendas are never present in their work? Esp. given that human creativity is completely anathema to "Vulcan" style thinking.

            As thoroughly gone over by Wil, this isn't about censorship or whatever political fantasies you want to have when people talk about this stuff.

            What this is about, is putting the Avery character in the VtM Prelude interactive fiction game the context of Zak S being responsible for her. She is not a harmless character. She's the product of a malicious asshole and when you play the game, you're supposed to get draw into Zak's hatred of others. It's about knowing that Zak is an expert at manipulating minority people into being shields for him (exactly what happened with Sarah when she came to his defenses about this... just like has been established is a consistent pattern for him) to deflect criticism of his work as being an attack on people he doesn't like.

            And people deserve to know about that before playing the game, or about how disgusting Woody Allen is and how that reflects on a lot of really iffy things in his movies, before buying/watching/etc. those products. Not have that knowledge hidden from them under some literary concept that the creative's biases don't matter.

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            • #7
              I've already spoken my peace on the subject and I want it to be made clear that I do NOT defend Zak or his horrifying actions and that yes, people should be aware that Zak is a scumbag

              I'm gonna quietly withdraw from this thread and instead work on my Grand Theft Auto fan projects, it will be less stress and less drama for me and anyone else involved.

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              • #8
                Avery is the most awesome and sympathetic character in the game. She's basically the protagonist's older sister. I like her.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Cielle View Post
                  Avery is the most awesome and sympathetic character in the game. She's basically the protagonist's older sister. I like her.

                  I never played the game, so I don't know what the deal is with Avery and what Zak had to do with it.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Camilla View Post
                    TL;DR I am opposed to real-life abuse, but censoring fiction like we live under totalitarian rule is not going to solve anything. If you don't like Zak Smith as a person and find his games problematic, then do what I do and simply don't buy them.
                    I would not erase Smith from history, even if I had the power to do so. I'm not O'Brian and this isn't 1984. At the very least erasing him would mean we could not learn bitter lessons from what he did.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Heavy Arms View Post
                      What human creative work in all of history can't be argued to be directly reflective of the author's view?
                      Yes - the artifacts are the products of people. The artifacts cannot and should be be separated from the people that made them.

                      Originally posted by Heavy Arms View Post
                      And people deserve to know about that before playing the game, or about how disgusting Woody Allen is and how that reflects on a lot of really iffy things in his movies, before buying/watching/etc. those products. Not have that knowledge hidden from them under some literary concept that the creative's biases don't matter.
                      Yes, they should know these things. They should understand that the best bits of Allen, Cosby, and Smith are all still the products of sex offenders. Appreciating the works should come through that lens, of understanding the nature of the creatures that produced the artifact. There should be no room for "the person is bad but the artifact is good" thinking if it allows the artifact to stand on its own. The artifact should not stand on its own.

                      The artifacts cannot and should be be separated from the people that made them.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Grumpy RPG Reviews View Post
                        Cosby's... TV shows were funny – they were mostly good at what they were supposed to do.
                        The Cosby Show, ​Season 1 - Cliff Huxtable reveals that his reason for going to college at Hillman was because of Claire's interest in Hillman.

                        Season 3 - Cliff celebrates his fiftieth birthday.

                        Season 5 - Claire turns 46, establishing Cliff as six years her senior.

                        ​Claire even mentions in an episode that she didn't get to go to her high school prom because Cliff had his finals that week.

                        Meaning that an eighteen-year-old Cliff was romantically interested enough in a twelve-year-old Claire to have it shape his academic future.
                        Last edited by TheCountAlucard; 02-12-2019, 08:06 PM.

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                        • #13
                          I wonder how much of that was deliberate, and how much of it was the writers not worrying about how the details added up? I'm not defending Cosby, but he is guilty of only his own sins, so to speak, and not those of a rotating set of writers who did not think the math through.

                          In any case, back on topic, the Cosby Show should always be viewed, first and foremost, as a TV series starring a sexual predator. The same is true of the RPG work of Smith - its quality doesn't matter, that Smith is a sexual predator, and abuser, matters. We should not let people off the hook who defend the books (or movies or TV shows) even if they do not defend the men. We should not be quick to forgive people who now apologize for something they had been told about, but refused to acknowledge, for years.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Grumpy RPG Reviews View Post
                            In any case, back on topic, the Cosby Show should always be viewed, first and foremost, as a TV series starring a sexual predator. The same is true of the RPG work of Smith - its quality doesn't matter, that Smith is a sexual predator, and abuser, matters. We should not let people off the hook who defend the books (or movies or TV shows) even if they do not defend the men. We should not be quick to forgive people who now apologize for something they had been told about, but refused to acknowledge, for years.
                            ...Jesus. Wasn't Charlaquin just saying upthread that "don't buy his products" was the only thing being advocated here? Going pretty fucking far beyond that, aren't you?

                            Honestly, I have no idea who wrote most of the books in my RPG library. It's not something I care about, because it doesn't change the purpose I have in mind for them. I'm in the market for RPG books, I'm not looking to buy a sociopolitical lifestyle.

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                            • #15
                              (shrugs) That doesn't worry me.

                              Some of the people who worked with Smith in the past are trying to own the problem and to do better, such as Ken Hite and Drive Thru RPG. Others who enabled Smith for years are not stepping up in that manner, or are trying to make the situation about them and their feelings, such as Mark Diaz Truman (and Magpie Games) and James Edward Raggi (of LotFP). Why should we ignore or dismiss the behavior of people like Truman or Raggi?

                              Edit: I'm not calling for book burning or inflicting personal harm. But we can stop watching the movies of Allen, stop watching the Cosby Show, and stop buying, reading or using material from Smith. We can also stop buying, reading, or using the material from Truman and Raggi. There has to be a price.
                              Last edited by Grumpy RPG Reviews; 02-12-2019, 11:12 PM.

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