Sunday, January 16, 2011

Ending Douchebag Welfare

By now you all know about Travis Corcoran, the colossal asshat at Heavy Ink who thinks the proper response to the attempted assassination of a Congresswoman is to endorse the assassinations of the rest of Congress. Notable people are boycotting him, and that's fantastic. Some people are decrying the boycotts, usually on a complete misunderstanding of what is meant by "freedom of speech" (here's a hint: it means that you are free to say whatever stupid crap you want, within limits. It does not mean that there will not be consequences for saying stupid crap). But one argument sticks out to me, and I think it's worth responding to. Cartoonist Ted Rall said:
If I only bought from companies and individuals whose political beliefs I agreed with, I wouldn’t be buying much.

This guy is entitled to his beliefs. Personally, I think anyone who supports America’s illegal wars is far worse than the Heavy Ink guy is. After all, our wars kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people for no good reason. But people are entitled to support whatever murderous wars they want. I wouldn’t boycott someone because of their disgusting politics. Hell, if I did that, I wouldn’t buy much.

Boycotting or trying to drive someone out of business due to their political beliefs is vile, hypocritical behavior on the part of creative types who depend on the right to free expression to market and sell their ideas. The fact that you disagree with those beliefs does not change that.

(And please spare me the right-wing libertarian pablum about how only the government can censor. Look up the word “censorship” in the dictionary.)

Funny how people react to violent intolerance with violent intolerance.
Ted Rall is an idiot.

Let's start with where he's right: yes, Corcoran is entitled to his beliefs. And everyone else is entitled to think that his beliefs make him a colossal asshat (see above). Said people are also entitled to decide which colossal asshats they are willing to do business with.

And I'll even agree that people who support our illegal wars are bad, because war is bad, and lots of innocent people die in war. On the other hand, people who support said wars aren't directly calling for the specific murders of particular individuals, unlike Corcoran, and I think that puts them in a slightly different category. But where does this war bit come from? It is, as the Latins say, a non sequitur. It's not an either-or proposition--"either you support assassinating Congress or you support killing Muslims"--there's a whole spectrum of vile opinions and vile people. Only one of those people is involved in this situation.

And yet, that's where Rall goes right. Where he goes wrong is by saying that boycotts are "vile, hypocritical behavior" for artists to engage in. The reason he's wrong is in his next clause: because those creative types "depend on the right to free expression to market and sell their ideas." It is most assuredly not hypocrisy for creative types who market and sell their freely-expressed ideas to recognize a freely-expressed idea that is poorly-marketed and not buy it.

Allow me to elaborate: Corcoran had an idea. He expressed it, as is his right. Upon expressing that idea, it turned out that there's not much of a market for calls for Congressional assassinations. He finds himself now desperately trying to sell these ideas that almost no one wants. If he were a political cartoonist, for instance, it would seem that his cartoons would not be picked up by many newspapers.

But he's not a cartoonist. He's the president of a distribution company. He has apparently taken it upon himself to be a public face for said company. In those capacities, he is not selling ideas (except inasmuch as he is selling other people's ideas, printed and bound); he is selling his services as a distributor. He is essentially marketing his own sales skills, promoting himself and his company as the organization you should choose, out of all the other comic distributors, to sell and ship comics to you.

So I ask you: where is the hypocrisy in looking at that situation, seeing a salesman who is so bad at marketing his own ideas that he can't get people to buy them when they are free and extrapolating his marketing skills in arenas where money is at stake? That's not hypocrisy. That's not censorship. That's business. He is the public face of his company, and his thoughtless actions have made it clear that Heavy Ink's public face is a horse's ass. If he's not business-savvy enough to recognize that his public statements reflect on his company and carry potential financial consequences, if he's not business-savvy enough to recognize when to cut his losses and save face rather than continuing to dig a hole when it's just a matter of ideas, then why would anyone think he's savvy enough to do those things when money and business decisions are involved?

Two last things: there is nothing "violent" (or even really intolerant) about boycotting a business due to things done by the owner of the business. As long as Rall is telling people to look words up in the dictionary, perhaps he should turn to the "V" section.

But he's right about censorship. It would be wrong to say that only the government can censor. Lots of people can censor. Private editors can cut objectionable words or phrases out of articles or stories or whatever; heck, when I was a DJ at my college radio station, I did a whole lot of censoring. It's how I managed to play certain songs by Ben Folds and Tenacious D over the airwaves. I even censor myself, here on the blog, restricting what words I use to describe people like Corcoran.

Where Rall runs wrong again is in thinking, apparently, that anything in the Corcoran situation constitutes "censorship." No one is telling Corcoran that he can't say what he likes, where he likes. No one is cutting words out of his blog posts or blocking access to his website or otherwise forcibly limiting his freedom of speech. He has the Constitutionally-protected right to say any asinine thing that crosses his mind. But he is not guaranteed the right to have his words exist free of consequence. He is not guaranteed the right to have a customer base. I would think that "creative types" who "depend on the right to free expression to market and sell their ideas" like Rall would understand: your right to voice and market your ideas does not guarantee that someone will pay for them. And just as Ted Rall isn't guaranteed a Constitutional right to have any random napkin-scribbling picked up by the Tribune, Travis Corcoran is not guaranteed to have people patronize a business that would have such a giant boob as its president.

So, needless to say, I won't be shopping at Heavy Ink. But my decision not to shop there is not because I "disagree with his political beliefs" (assuming, of course, that "kill Congress" constitutes a "political belief"). My decision not to shop at Heavy Ink is based on the same reason(s) as my decision never to buy comics from Larry Doherty. First, there's just the matter of convenience; I don't live anywhere near Larry's Comics, and when I was doing a lot of online comic ordering, I hadn't heard of Heavy Ink. But the more principled reason is that, whenever possible, I like to not directly support douchebags. "Vote with your dollar" seems to be the mantra of comics fandom of late, and more than individual titles, I think that applies to retailers. There's a lot of bad behavior and bad business among comics retailers, and whenever possible, I try not to reward or reinforce it. That means not patronizing shops where the owner is a dim-witted misogynistic asshole who feels the need to vent vehement dislike for folks on the Internet. That means not patronizing shops where the owner is a contemptible ghoul who thinks the proper response to a tragedy is to call for more and again. That means recognizing what kind of atmosphere you want from a comic shop, and patronizing shops which provide that atmosphere. It means not settling for dank dungeons run by misanthropic jackasses.

So, to summarize: Travis Corcoran is a douchebag, and I hope this experience teaches him something about how to run a business. Ted Rall is an idiot, and I hope he takes the opportunity to learn how to argue a coherent point. Larry Doherty is just a dumbass, and I hope the people of Lowell, MA take advantage of their many alternatives. And vote with your dollar, because that's the American Way.

1 comment:

Bobalot said...

I was staggered by the epic power of this guy's douchebaggery.

Advocating the murder of the elected representatives of a nation?