Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary

July 18, 2008

The American Comic Book Industry: Making The Easy Difficult Since 1938

The amount of needless agonizing and fussiness indulged in by members of the American comics industry and fan cultures when confronted with a potential ethical choice is always fun to watch, and this is doubly, perhaps triply true of the latest community brouhaha: the notion that comics industry scene-makers at the forthcoming San Diego Con might want to think about (gasp!) drinking someplace other than the bars owned by someone at this very moment openly supporting a specific political agenda with which they might strongly disagree.

Poke around places like here and here and you see the usual dissembling and "not the boss of me" proclamations: let's do something "creative" instead of having to make the choice that seems to be presented to us, you're denying this person's right to free speech, I'll go but I won't like it/cooperate/buy as much as I might otherwise, our actions don't matter in the long run, you're hurting the people that are employed by this person, comics is a bunch of mob-minded lefties, for all you know the owners of the Westin could maintain a dungeon filled with nine-year-old sex slaves, and so on.

As tends to be the case with comics folk post-1990 or so pressed to make some kind of simple decision that doesn't directly benefit them, the flailing about can be fairly awesome to behold. The issue as presented seems clear to me: whether or not to patronize a business when you learn the owner is supporting a stance on public policy that upsets people with whom you work and are thus asking you to consider another option. That seems like a clear decision to make with simple options in response: yes, no, I don't care. Even better, which bar to drink in is maybe the lowest set of stakes for a decision possible in this world. Easy, right?

Apparently not. I'm baffled why it should take anything more than prominent people in the comics industry declaring they're uncomfortable with a business this year to make folks consider with seriousness and respect the courtesy of a bare-minimum effort to patronize another place until the situation shakes out. Instead, the response from many people seems to be finding ways to justify continued patronage as if this were a very, very precious thing. In fact, most of the rationalizing being done on behalf of continued patronage not only invests it with importance, it seems to presume one's decision to hang out and drink in a certain location comes as the fulfillment of an expectation for received business that no entity on earth should get to claim or have claimed on its behalf. The end result: no one simply disagrees. Rather, there seems to be a compulsion that one agree with the spirit of the objection being made and explain why they can't do anything about it.

The problem is that the reasons floated to justify holding both positions don't make a lot of sense, or make much less sense than picking a side and seeing it through to conclusion. For instance, saying a decision to socialize elsewhere "only hurts the wait staff" is loopy. You're not withholding anything from those folks simply by walking past their place of business, not in the way you're asserting. You're simply patronizing another business with its own equally deserving-of-your-money wait staff whose majority-stakes owners have managed not to make a strident public stance that has your fellow industry members uncomfortable with going there.

This bears underlining. There are people who need the money on the other side of every single decision to patronize or not patronize a business for every reason possible, from one based in an ethical choice or sympathy for another's position like this one to one based on simply liking the carpets more in one business over another. Why should the wait staff at the Hyatt not get your tip money because their boss supports a certain policy? Well, why should the wait staff at not-Hyatt not get your tip money because you drank at the Hyatt last year and the year before that? What did those not-Hyatt people ever do to you? Where are their champions? It's a made-up argument covered in a shoddy coat of freshman dorm hallway class politics. The person that argued that the Marriott's bar is too small to host enough people to be a suitable substitute may have sounded crass in comparison to the comics industry's freshly minted crew of Emma Goldmans, but that argument is at least driven by a standard that holds up to basic scrutiny.

In the end it's not very surprising that people in comics make complicated a simple issue, because far too many people in comics faced with any issue at all shrug their shoulders, work like hell to come up with a wacky, left-field solution or to make cloudy the waters, and then end up doing what's most convenient for them or most flattering to their sense of self and place. Too many comics folk fight harder for the right to walk their own path than ever fight for anything that matters, if only to someone else.

I expect the Hyatt's bars to be packed.

Update: Since about a half-dozen have you have asked, the owner of the Hyatt does have a small ownership stake in the Marriott as well, a property he originally developed. The primary owners and operators, however, is the Host Hotels and Resorts group. As far as I know, nobody in the comics industry has expressed you extend your decision-making process to that property. Still, if you're looking to get at Doug Manchester in all his endeavors, his ownership stake may make a difference to you deciding to go there as well.
posted 8:05 am PST | Permalink

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