Non-Binary Digital Debates

I have to give a lot of thumbs up to the points John Scalzi raises in his recent essay on the Amazon-Hachette public negotiation troubles. My favorite quote:

This is where many people decide to opine that the cost of eBooks should reflect the cost of production in some way that allows them to say that whatever price point they prefer is the naturally correct one. This is where I say: You know what, if you’ve ever paid more than twenty cents for a soda at a fast food restaurant, or have ever bought bottled water at a store, then I feel perfectly justified in considering your cost of production position vis a vis publishing as entirely hypocritical. Please stop making the cost of production argument for books and apparently nothing else in your daily consumer life. I think less of you when you do.

It’s one of the things at the heart of digital pricing: the specter of production costs, and the impact these sorts of arguments have on the perceived value of content itself. I won’t for one second pretend there’s not a discussion to be had about the value of content. It’s just that sometimes “lower production costs” winds up as a stand in for “this didn’t cost you anything to make,” which is both not true and tends to overshadow any other discussions.

Favorite sound bite notwithstanding, the biggest reason I’m linking Scalzi’s post when I’ve not really pointed at anything else I’ve seen on these sorts of negotiations is because the essay as a whole actually sounds like an opening for discussion. Just about everything else I see seems to declare that either the publisher or Amazon is Evil and Trying to Screw Us, and by comparison the other party is Totally On Our Side.

Scalzi rather directly makes the point that BOTH Amazon and any given publisher (1) are not evil, but (2) are on their own sides. If you want to have a debate about which position is best for authors and/or readers, I think that’s vitally important. The binary ideology here is a trap, and winds up shutting down real discussion in favor of one spin or another. That in turn retards real progress that helps the people at either end of the production chain, instead of just the corporations in the middle.

Sliding Backwards

I don’t know that I have a whole lot to say about the current, final season of True Blood, but a tiny little detail in this past week’s episode gave my process-brain a bit of a tickle. Don’t worry, this is completely non-spoilery.

All you need to know is that, in the episode, Sookie is reading aloud from someone’s diary. At first, I thought it odd, since she’s trying to find out recent information, but the entry she starts with is from late in 2010. Then she flips to entries near the end of the diary, and those are from 2011.

Then I realized what was happening. You see, with two big exceptions, True Blood has no time gaps between its season finales and its season premieres. In fact, quite a few season premieres happen mere seconds after the finales, even though it’s a year–or more–between seasons.

Like I said, there are two exceptions to this. There’s a gap of a year that occurs at the start of season 4 (though even this feels like it’s immediate to at least one character), and then, the end of last season involved another jump, this time of 6 months.

Honestly, I’d not thought much of it. I suppose I might just be used to corporate super-hero comics, where the exact When of things sort of exists on a sliding scale. Otherwise, Spider-Man and Batman would be ready for retirement.

But, yes: if we assume that Bill and Sookie met in 2008, when that episode first aired, then the active structure of the narrative really would build up several years’ worth of lag behind the present.

I guess the interesting thing to me about this past weekend, then, is that the writers chose to raise their hands and draw attention to that gap. It wouldn’t have been particularly difficult to have Sookie say “this entry is from October of last year … this one is from last month.” Actually, that likely would have caught my attention less than the way they chose to structure it.

Clearly the dates weren’t accidental. Someone had to sit down and work out a timeline there so that the diary entries synched up with at least a rough approximation of the progression of time in the series as presented.

Given that it seems like a fair amount of effort to do that calculating, I wonder if there’s more purpose to it. I wonder what’s happened between then and now that might effect the writing. Are they trying to avoid one or more developments in the world? If they’re keeping track of dates like that, does it make pop-cultural references more difficult? Is that also something that’s being vetted?

It’s possible it’s nothing more than the writers waving to the audience and saying “yes, we’ve been paying attention. Have you?” I just found it an interesting choice for the writers to draw attention to the discrepancy, to effectively announce that the series takes place in the recent past. And I wonder how that does or doesn’t impact the writers and the production choices being made.

Something like The Newsroom is intentionally designed to take place in the recent past. It’s been that way from the beginning. True Blood, though, has sort of slowly slid its way into that temporal space, and I’m curious to see if there are any other noticeable effects still waiting to crop up as the season progresses.

Comparatives vs Absolutes

As happened the last time I went on to talk about cultural issues like this, I had a friend post a Tumblr entry to Facebook. This Tumblr post, in fact. It’s a brief, witty post about several of the contradictions in the messages the US government sends and the actions it takes as regards pay, education, and parenting. It’s short enough that you should just go read it all, then meet me in the next paragraph.

As with the last time my friend posted a link to a Tumblr entry like this, someone took offense at the line that higher “education will be inaccessible to most disenfranchised people and skewed in favor of the financially stable and white people.” (emphasis mine).

At least a few people balked at the very notion of white privilege, because their lives had not been easy. They had worked, and struggled, and many people like them had to go through major hardships. Being Caucasian, therefore, hadn’t proven a magical cure-all, and thus the notion itself is flawed. I weighed in once, but realized that how much I want to say constitutes a thread hijack, and that Facebook comment threads are rarely the best forum for making this kind of case, anyway.

I do, however, have an oft-neglected blog, so let’s make use of the personal soapbox, shall we?

I’ve talked before about how feeling like they’re being lumped in with racists can be uncomfortable for people who consider themselves open-minded. Likewise, I think a lot of Caucasian (or male, or heterosexual, or cis-gender, etc) folks find the term privilege unsettling, as they feel like it suggests they’ve had things easy. That, to me, is where the communication breakdown lies.

Privilege is about easier, not easy. The kind of privilege we’re talking about here isn’t an absolute, but a comparative. At nearly any point in the race (demerits for the pun), a member of a given minority is going to have one extra strike–at least–to contend with than a peer who falls into the given, privileged category.

More defining, here, as I think it’s also important to take peer into account. Just as people seem to think privilege is an accusation that life is a walk in the park with no stumbling, they similarly seem to insist that those who subscribe to the notion that privilege exists have hard-line stratified society: Things for any single member of the class with privilege are universally easier than they are for any single member of a minority outside that class. If that were my intent, then by all means: slap me upside the head and call me a moron. Thankfully, it’s not.

Are there minority individuals whose lives have been easier than some Caucasian individuals? Of course there are. To insist there are no examples of that would be as bone-headed a presumption as insisting all dogs are larger than all cats. It completely disregards reportable examples and oversimplifies everything to the level of a Dick & Jane story.

There are plenty of people who struggle and work and suffer and despair who are members of any given privileged class. That’s humanity. It’s not that there are no obstacles in the lives of those with privilege; it’s that there is an absence of a very specific set of obstacles, and that absence is generally so integral to our culture that it’s hard to notice if we don’t make an effort to.

Being the societal default, for whatever value we’re looking at here, means you’re already meeting part of someone’s expectations. It doesn’t mean you automatically win, doesn’t mean there are no obstacles, no hardships, or no flat out horrors in your life. It means that, on top of whatever other crap you have to deal with in your life, you don’t have to deal with being off from “the norm.” No one is consciously or unconsciously adjusting expectations or re-aligning a mental image upon meeting you. Sometimes that’s merely a small, barely-detectable scratch, others it’s a massive wall you need to get over with no handholds. But it’s there, and insisting that it isn’t only helps keep it there.

There seems to be an inverse assumption in a lot of the objections to claims of privilege, as well, that acknowledging privilege as a problem means that we all think the solution is to make Everything Easy Forever for minorities in the comparison. Once again, we’re picking at the wrong terms. The paradigm of privilege is a bad one. Inverting that paradigm doesn’t seem like an especially effective means of fixing anything.

Subverting it, on the other hand, is something I’m all for.

Related: I’m pretty sure more than a few bits of this are inspired by this excellent discussion of discrimination by John Scalzi. Since he’s likely doing it better, do take a look if you’ve got the time.

ETA: I also just ran across This excellent post on privilege by Jessica Price that does a really good job of flipping the discussion in an effort to better make the point.

You Have to Stick the Landing

You can blame Laura for this one. She egged me on.

Until a few months ago, the sum total of what I knew about Switched at Birth was what channel it was on and that two girls discover the eponymous event as an inciting action to the series. I’ve certainly followed my share of high school / college dramas, but I tend to need them to hook on some of my other interests (usually sci-fi / fantasy elements), so I never really thought much about it.

Then Max Adler announced he had a recurring role for the then-upcoming (now finished) season1. I’ve had a giant soft spot for him since his turn as Karofsky on Glee, a high school show which for several seasons bypassed my usual spec fic requirements by appealing to my musical theatre geekery instead. So, I took a shot on the latest season. As an added bonus, I discovered that half the characters in the show are Deaf, and nearly everyone in the cast signs to some degree, so I was hitting two of my geek fascinations at once2.

Here’s the thing: I like a lot of the performances on this show. And the plots are actually ambitious in more than your standard “our teenagers think about and have sex” kinds of ways. It’s just that I feel like there’s a lot missing in the execution of those plots and / or the fleshing out of characters, so much so that I often found myself wanting to shake the show by the shoulders and yell “stop short-cutting this and wasting your potential!”

Spoilers for the just-completed season, by the by. If you watch on DVD, or you’re backed the heck up on your DVR, you may want to turn away. There’s just no way for me to talk about what I want to talk about without spoiling.

Also, This is likely to go on a bit

Sometimes You Just Need a Steampunk Scotsman

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Another RPG character. Had fun playing with a lot of elements just for the heck of it. There isn’t actually a Scotland for him to be from in the setting, but honestly, there aren’t nearly enough RPG characters running around in kilts. Then, because he’s a tinkerer type, and also slightly mad, I wanted to do something mildly steampunk / clockwork inspired, but which wasn’t really polished or symmetrical at all. He cobbled together the armor from a lot of random randomness.

Because Turkey Vulture

Will I be getting back to sketchy Wednesdays? No promises. But I built a character for a play by post RPG game t’other day, and he amused me, so I sketched him.

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He’s a half-orc, who in-game are a mistrusted race because one of their parents looked monstery and everyone knows looking like and being a monster are the same thing because Pretty Is Never Evil.

In any case, I found myself into the idea of someone from that kind of background who spent a lot of time trying to rehabilitate the images of other not traditionally pretty creatures.

So, when my ranger-y character went looking for his traditional animal companion, he picked a turkey vulture, because everyone swoons over the hawks and the wolves, and I enjoyed Ladyhawke, too, but carrion eaters get no love, but they are all gonna be thanking their lucky stars when the zombies show up because birdie will be all: Who ordered delivery?

Throwing Coins with the Roses

Venice Theatre (née Venice Little Theatre) has had something of an open secret amongst local community theatre actors and assorted other theatre folk for a while now. This weekend, local critic Jay Handelman outed them:

While preparing to write a story about the upcoming Venice Theatre production of “Oklahoma!” I discovered that the actor playing Curly McLain, the leading male role, is being brought in from New York, provided housing and a small stipend. He’s a young actor just beginning his career and it will be good experience for him.


Then I discovered that several other performers in the show also are being compensated with what I’m told is nothing more than gas money to help cover the cost of their driving some distance to nightly rehearsals and performances.

None of this is really news to me, or to a lot of people who do shows regularly in our local community theatres (I was rather surprised to hear that The Players in Sarasota has supplied “gas money” to folks; I suppose theirs was a better-kept secret).

The article is generally an overview of the issue, asking each of the Artistic Directors of the three local community theatres (Manatee Players, The Players in Sarasota, and Venice Theatre) if and in what context they’ve provided financial compensation. Handelman poses a host of questions, clearly intending this to be a conversation starter.

Anyone who’s spoken with me much about local community theatre knows I’ve been waiting for that public conversation for a while now.

I may or may not come back to this and take on different aspects from the article, but for now, I’ll try to give this some focus by using Handelman’s questions concerning other volunteer performers. Since, you know, I am one on occasion.

I’ll take them in order, and with the obvious caveat that I can only speak from my own experience, from my own thoughts and feelings on the matter and what I’ve personally heard in a reasonable number of conversations on the topic with other theatre friends. Much as I want to, I don’t have psychic powers; I can’t tell you what everyone in the community thinks and feels.

Some personal context, to whatever extent it might influence your interpretation of what follows: I’ve never received financial compensation for a community theatre show. Venice did arrange for another cast member to provide me with a workout plan when I was Rocky in The Rocky Horror Show, but I can’t tell you if they paid her or not, because I honestly don’t know. At the time I assumed she did it for free, since she was a pretty big supporter of the theatre and the show.

I have been paid for two shows I did through PLATO, the nonprofit started at the former Golden Apple Dinner Theatre. As did every other performer in a PLATO show.

All that out of the way, let’s get to the questions:

Don’t fellow performers become resentful if they realize they’re not getting stipends that others are getting?

Not everyone, and the extent and the target of said resentment will depend on the person, but it would be silly to expect there wasn’t some resentment. Personally, I’ve never taken issue with any of my cast members who were pulling a paycheck. As I’ve pointed out before, doing a show is always hard work. It’s hard work we often love doing, but it’s still hard work. Hard work is always deserving of reward, and every person I know who’s been paid did that work.

But with rare exception, so does everyone else in the cast of the exact same show. It’s incredibly difficult not to take selective payment practices within a cast as an implicit indictment by the theatre of one’s worth as a performer. No one likes to feel de-valued.

What does that do to cast bonding?

I’ve actually never experienced a problem in that arena, but as I said, I’ve never held hard feelings toward my fellow cast members because they were or weren’t pulling a paycheck. And honestly, it’s hard to do a show, to really engage in the work of doing a show, if you’re putting up walls between yourself and cast members. Some casts bond better than others, but I’ve never noticed a paywall, as it were.

Will it mean some performers won’t audition for shows if they’re not going to get compensated in some way?

I can confirm at least anecdotally that this is the case. As I said near the top, Venice’s policy as regards payment has been an open secret among a lot of theatre folks for years. I know of several instances where folks refused to accept roles without compensation. I know people who have walked into auditions explicitly requiring payment in the case that they’re cast. I know people who don’t audition because they assume Venice will just be bringing in paid ringers for X show, anyway, so why bother auditioning?

What talent will we be missing?

From the responses in the article, the argument of Venice and — to my surprise — Sarasota appears to be that we’re missing out on the talent if theatres don’t pay.

I do know a few working performers who actively suggest Venice as a venue from which other working performers should seek employment. I know some directors who, likewise, walk into auditions with the mindset that they can hire in for X roles in a show if they aren’t satisfied with the volunteers who show up to audition. That and the response to the previous question may or may not point to missing talent in the volunteer pool depending your own point of view on the matter.


In the end, mileage on all of this is going to vary. No one wants to put on a horrible show. If that costs a little extra money, maybe that’s the price of admission (and, hey, if you can defer the cost of your avocation, most folks aren’t inclined to say no). On the other hand, every dollar spent bringing in a paid performer to fill a perceived shortcoming in the volunteer talent pool is a dollar that can’t be spent expanding volunteer outreach and visibility, which may in itself mean a smaller available volunteer talent pool, and then we’re heading into Ouroboros territory.