Get over yourself.

Earlier this week, it came to light that vlogger Anita Sarkeesian was driven out of her home after receiving disturbingly specific death threats in response to her latest critique of sexism in the video game industry. Now, I have enjoyed Sarkeesian’s video’s in the past, but I think her commentary can, at times, be a little simplistic (I’m also not a gamer, so I can’t give an informed critique of her comments, either). That said, she does have important things to say about representation of women and how media, even something as seemingly trivial as video games, shapes our perception of gender roles and gender identity. (Totally off the subject of video games, but her examination of gender in Lego marketing from the 80s up until now is absolutely worth checking out.)

Whether one agree with Sarkeesian or not, however, is beside the point. Reasonable people can reasonably disagree, and some degree of debate is necessary for reasonable people to come to mutual understanding. But there is no excuse for the backlash she has received (from both male and female gamers) at her audacity to suggest that there might be something degrading towards women in popular video games. Indeed, harassment of women in the fan community, especially those who raise questions about the sub-culture’s inclusion of women, is sadly a well-documented phenomenon. It may seem like a silly issue … who really cares how we self-professed geeks relate to one another within the context of our own, admittedly dysfunctional, fan community.

It matters because the outrage some people who have traditionally held power within the community express when the suppression of other voices is mentioned is symptomatic of the same tendencies that happen on a larger scale in mainstream culture. How many people still deny that the shooting of Michael Brown (and so many other young, unarmed black men just like him) is racially charged? How many white voices are crying out that “we’re so sick of hearing about racism … Racism is over in this country!” Such a backlash comes undoubtedly out of fear. For certain men in the gaming community, being told their games are unfair to women presents them with the unwelcome challenge that their favourite hobby might have to change a little bit to be more inclusive. For those of us born into the position of white privilege, we might have to come to terms with how we still need to change and the work we need to do to fight systemic forces of racism in post-Civil Rights North America.  

Now, no one likes being told that there might be some work we need to do to change ourselves and to change how we interact with the world. And I’m not going to pretend that work is easy to do. For me, as Amanda is nearing toddlerdom and the desire for proper children’s toys, I find myself going out of my way to search for empowering images of girls for her. You’ve probably heard me lamenting how hard it is to find any toys featuring female role models that are not Disney princesses, let alone female action figure … just as Anya and Stella. You know what I have to be a lot more conscious about? Making sure I don’t just buy Amanda books featuring white characters and toys with white faces. As a parent, it is my job to ensure she is taught that she can play and empathize with people who don’t look just like her. As much as I push online for there to be better female representation in toys and media, I needed to put just as much effort in representation of visible minorities and people of colour–and to go out of my way to seek and listen to their experience. I am a little ashamed to admit that it takes a conscious effort on my part to remember to do that. But my own sense of shame does not get me off the hook or justify my defensiveness if someone call me on it. 

This is particularly important in terms of our spiritual lives. For those of us who are Christians, our faith compels us to be continually giving of ourselves to others. To think more of others than we do of ourselves, and to champion the cause of those who are suffering in any way. If we who enjoy the benefits of wealth, education, class, etc., cannot get past our own discomfort enough to engage with the experience of those without such privilege … we have something of a spiritual problem.  

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Hero? Villain? Or asking the wrong question?

It took me about 6 months, but I finally finished the epic biography of Jim Henson that was published last year. It was quite a touching read, actually. I have long admired him as the creative force behind many of my most believed projects. I was going to say my most beloved childhood projects, but that would be a lie. I still adore The Dark Crystal, The Muppet Christmas Carol is the holy Christmas movie I watch without fail, and if you’ve ever met me you have probably gleaned something of my potentially unhealthy obsession with the cult sci-fi series Farscape (alright, so that one owes credit to Jim Henson’s son Brian, but still—it’s in the family). If you ever want a good cry, just watch this video of the Muppet performers at Jim Henson’s funeral after his tragic and unexpected death in 1990—this is a man who touched many people through his love, optimism and creativity.

Yet, I had never known the struggles Jim Henson had faced in his career. The failures as well as the successes. Though he was known as a loving father to his five children … turns out he was a bit of a serial philanderer. While the Muppet performers were something of a non-biological family, they could be torn by dysfunction and jealousy just like any other group.

The point is—the story of Jim Henson’s life, while inspiring, is also full of its own complexities. He was a creative genius who gave of himself to others, never satisfied with his most recent success. But he was also a flawed human being. His flaws did not make him a villain, nor did his virtues make him a saint. He was, like all of us, a mixed bag of a human being,

We don’t do well with complexity in this day of click-bait headlines and 144-character commentaries on current events. The human players in our contemporary narratives have to fall into very black and white categories. Sometimes such tendency toward over-simplification is relatively harmless. We have seen no end of love poured out on Robin Williams over the last ten days, not without reason. By all accounts, he seemed like a genuinely warm, loving man who tragically fell victim to the insidious lies depression can tell an unwell mind. I grew up as a huge fan of Mork & Mindy, moderately obsessed with Robin Williams (I was a really weird kid, and I think Williams’ Mork spoke to me). Certainly it is preferable to remember people as the best version of themselves. But we do something of a disservice to ourselves and to the member of individuals like Robin Williams when we fail to remember them, not as heroes, but as people with struggles and sins, vices and virtues just like the rest of us. Ultimately, it is a far richer and more meaningful tribute.

That said, our aversion to complexity can have a much more insidious outcome when we consider the events that transpired in the killing of Mike Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. Others have covered at length the epidemic of young, unarmed black men being gunned down by police officers in the US (as well as the troubling militarization of local police forces in the wake of the shooting–if you haven’t seen John Oliver’s latest, you need to).

I do, however, want to comment on the controversy surrounding the footage Ferguson police released of Mike Brown allegedly robbing a convenience store some moments before the accident (even though the officer in question had no knowledge Brown was a suspect). For many, the video puts in question the narrative from the left that Mike Brown was an innocent adolescent, about to head off to college with a promising future. Maybe he was just a thug who bears his own responsibility for his premature death? After all, we can’t say he was completely innocent, can we?

To certain people, the prevailing narrative seems to be … either Mike Brown was an innocent kid brutally gunned down, or he was a thug who got what was coming to him. What a crock!

Like all of us, Mike Brown was a human being. One known among his friends and family, I’m sure, for both his admirable and less attractive qualities. The more we get caught up in arguments—even well-meaning arguments—about whether he robbed a store moments before his death, whether he was a “good teen” or a “bad teen”, we allow ourselves to get distracted from the main point of the tragic events in Ferguson.

Mike Brown was a human being guilty of no crime that merited being gunned down in broad daylight in the middle of the street. That is one absolute we would do well to remember.

It may seem trite to link Mike Brown’s death–and our collective treatment of the deaths of so many young, unarmed, black men at the hands of those who should be there to “serve and protect” them–to the comparatively uncomplicated attitude towards the deaths of beloved entertainers. But they are all part of the same larger narrative. Our tendency not to see people as, people, but as archetypes. Indeed, Mike Brown and others like him had the right to be complicated, flawed human beings, just like the Jim Hensons and the Robin Williams of this world.