Funnybook Babylon

August 26, 2008

Tough Love: Admitting You Were Wrong

Filed under: Articles — Tags: , , , — Chris Eckert @ 3:35 pm

Everybody makes mistakes; sometimes they’re really important mistakes, like electing the wrong president. More often, especially on the Internet, they’re petty mistakes. I flew off the handle and interpreted some Batman solicitations incorrectly last week. I was wrong. Rich Lovatt seemed to have missed a plot point in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s Fantastic Four, and went back and re-read the books. Afterwards, he admitted he may have rushed to judgment.

These things happen, and they’re no big deal. We’re a bunch of people who like comics, and for whatever reason have decided to discuss them in a public forum. There will be disagreements. There will be mistakes. These things happen. It’s a dialogue.

But sometimes, people don’t want to admit they made a mistake. Take for instance Occasional Superheroine Valerie D’Orazio’s post last week about The Dark Knight. Val didn’t care for TDK:

I’ll be honest with you, I caught the first 20 minutes or so of “Dark Knight” and felt no motivation to see the rest of the film. It didn’t pull me in, it didn’t compel me to want to see more or to care about the characters. I’m sorry.

There’s no reason to apologize for an opinion. If something isn’t for you, it isn’t for you. But at the same time, if your apathy/antipathy for a particular piece of media is so great that you don’t wish to read/view it, that does reduce your ability to make informed commentary about its content. The attitude that “you don’t have to know much about something to know that it’s bad” creates a lot of ill-informed commentary and opinions based on misinterpretations, hearsay, half-truths and everything else. It’s what makes people think John McCain has an illegitimate black baby, that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim with no American birth certificate, that Hillary Clinton had Vince Foster and twelve other men murdered to protect her political career. On a far more insignificant scale, it inspires people to make blog posts with poor foundations. (WARNING: This is going to involve plot points from TDK if you haven’t seen it):

Just a straightforward question: does the idea put forth in “The Dark Knight,” that The Joker was (maybe!) an abused child, work for you? Do you prefer the classic origin, where he’s just a thug who falls into a vat of chemicals? Does the Joker being possibly motivated by his childhood abuse “water down” his villainy? Do you prefer him to be more of an evil without explanation, chilling like a serial killer from a perfect family whose misanthropic behavior is seemingly without explanation?

This is a reasonable “thought question”, but it comes from a flawed place; Nolan and company never really put forth this idea. It’s clear from the film that they did intend the Joker to be “evil without explanation”: he literally declares himself to be an “agent of chaos”, and gives a series of conflicting “origins”. The “origin” monologues are just another terrorist tactic, designed to frighten and confuse his victims. There’s nothing in the film that lends credence to one origin over another, or suggests any of them are at all “true”.


Unless, of course, you stopped watching before any of the other origins were brought up. (though the Joker’s “abused child” monologue actually comes a little over thirty minutes into the film; perhaps Val watched longer than she thought, or she didn’t see any of the monologues?)

Some people commenting on Val’s post responded to the thought question, though several pointed out that the Joker was lying about being an abused child in TDK, which seemed to upset her. She responded with an appeal to authority:

What Roger Ebert had to say in his review of Dark Knight: “His clown’s makeup more sloppy than before, his cackle betraying deep wounds, he seeks revenge, he claims, for the horrible punishment his father exacted on him when he was a child.” I guess he missed the point of the movie too, huh? I know, he’s a terrible reviewer.

Making a mistake does not make anyone a “terrible reviewer”; perhaps this perception is why some people need to insist they’re always correct so vehemently. But even an appeal to authority doesn’t work, as another commenter cites Ebert’s later retraction, admitting he was wrong and that he “should have mentioned all of [the Joker’s] dubious stories, instead of sampling.” See how easy that was? No one thinks less of Ebert for making a mistake and admitting it!

But that’s not how Val rolls: instead she creates a hypothetical situation that does not exist in TDK:

Joker admits to Batman or thug #2 or whoever that he was an abused kid. Then he stops and thinks: why am I telling this to *this* asshole? It makes him, in his opinion, look weak & vulnerable. It embarrasses him, opens up old wounds, points out his one point of vulnerability. So he then says he lied about it.

It’s possible that this could’ve happened in TDK, but only in the same sense that anything could’ve happened in the film, hypothetically. They could’ve cast Bernie Mac to play the Joker, driven mad by his sister’s kids. They could’ve done that and no one can prove to me otherwise that they couldn’t have potentially done that. But it’s got absolutely nothing to do with the film that was actually made.

At this point, a lot of commenters get hostile, which is always unfortunate. There’s nothing like snark to make people defensive and even more snarky. The conversation devolves from there:

Don’t you think it’s also pretty silly to assume to know what the director was thinking?
Can you also tell me what David Chase was thinking when he made that Sopranos ending?
And Lost In Translation — you probably know what Scarlett Johansson whispered to Bill Murray at the end of the movie, don’t you?
I love self-righteous people. They make me feel less bad about my own self-righteousness.

Val continues on this tack, claiming that every interpretation of a film is equally valid (regardless of whether or not they’ve seen the film, it seems) and claiming that only the creators of the film can know the truth. So people respond in kind, finding interviews with the creators of TDK.

That’s the key to the character. That’s what was so appealing about him. I think if we had done an origin story for The Joker we would have deflated the character.

(David Goyer)

Everything about what [Ledger] does from every gesture, every little facial tick, everything he’s doing with his voice – it all speaks to the heart of this character. It all speaks to this idea of a character who’s devoted to a concept of pure anarchy and chaos.

(Christopher Nolan)

The Joker, the purpose of The Joker for us was always that he has no arc, he has no development he doesn’t learn anything through the film, he’s an absolute. He cuts through the film sort of like the shark in Jaws.

(Christopher Nolan)

To me it’s the most interesting vision of the character, is one who leaves you at the end of the movie with more questions than answers. To me, The Joker, […] was the idea of the elemental bad guy. That opening shot of him standing on a corner in my imagination he could have just appeared out of thin air.

(Christopher Nolan)

Val’s response to this is to request a quote where Nolan explicitly states the Joker was not abused, claims she has better things to do than fight about such an insignificant topic, and closes the comments on her blog.

Except she wasn’t actually done with the topic: she later posted her response to an unseen e-mail under the title “Fan Mob Rule“:

You wrote: “listen to your friends when you’ve made a mistake.” Friends don’t demand that other friends change their opinion to fit mob rule. It’s distasteful to ask. Don’t you understand that? It robs me of my freedom to think critically and independently. And for what? For a comic book character.

Now, I have no idea what the e-mail she is responding to said, outside of that line she quoted. Maybe the other person was being a real jerk. I wouldn’t be surprised. But this strikes me as a deeply disproportionate reaction. Everything she says is true: no one should demand that their friends “change their opinion” to fit “mob rule”. If people told her she had to watch The Dark Knight, that she had to enjoy it, that she had to like it more than Iron Man. It seems to me that people are suggesting that Val misspoke about a film she didn’t finish viewing, and rather than admit she made a mistake, she defended her position so doggedly that she compares making a retraction to being stripped of her individuality. That is dogmatic conformity to the principle of Never Making Mistakes. And come on, everybody makes mistakes.

18 Comments »

  1. Hey Chris – nice post. Although I still say that nothing’s explicit on the Ben’s girlfriend thing just yet.:)

    Comment by Rich — August 26, 2008 @ 4:43 pm

  2. Rich: that’s why I said you may have rushed to judgment. I just thought that your recent exchange with our David U. was a nice example of how disagreements over funnybooks can and should be handled.

    Comment by Chris Eckert — August 26, 2008 @ 4:47 pm

  3. Really I have a long non history with Val. i’ve been a reader commenting on her blogs for like..shit..2-3 years. when she was doing her ‘broken vagina/yelling about the comic industry’ thing. she seemed cool to me as i had some similar complaints about the industry. She just went about it in a way for years where she manufactures alot of the outrage. She’s really kind of good at it. Hell it landed her a gig at marvel doing cloak and dagger..which oddly enough i’ve mentioned i was working on a pitch to about a year before there was any movement..but it could be sheer coincidence on that part. i’m probably coming from a bitter place but really..i kind of have some right when Beau Smith, Her and a bunch of her groupies decided to go apeshit on me when i disagreed with something they were all saying. it’s a bunch of people at or near their 30’s arguing this shit.

    the attitude i’ve caught from her and her many people she pals around with really just put a big sign up saying i’m clearly not welcome. I’m a semi professional comic idiot..I write and draw my own graphic novels to no fanfare..not that i expect it. but when the day i discovered her site..through lying in the gutters..which plugs her at least once every 2 months for no real reason, i thought i found people that are kind of in the same struggle…she was more negative about it but i was like eh..fuck it..she’sok. the day i joined in the discussions i learned that theres this hard glass ceiling and if you have a differing thought they quickly swatted me down. she wasn’t the big culprit in most of this. while it might seem i have an axe to grind..not really..i’m just kind of frustrated when i see her flail about like a legless acrobat over shit that doesn’t matter at all.

    only thing i kind of take issue with in a larger sense is the fact that somehow..without being an actual writer in comics ever..(she was an editor at DC and Acclaim) she kind of pops up at san diego at the big panel with a project and press and all that when frankly i’ve seen alot of her writing and i wasn’t impressed. not that i could have done way better or boasting of my grand talents. as you can see clearly my gramatical skills typing this shit with a broken keyboard and half tired run on sentences that maybe i might be full of shit.

    but seriously..she’s not all bad. sure i question some things..but really i see her as an ok person who wants extra attention whenever possible. in case you don’t remember there was the heroes for hire cover labeled tentacle rape porn a year ago..she went on for 2 months on that…then there was that mary jane statue..which really she milked for 4 months..sure there are real issues she’s fighting against but kind of doing it in a really dopey way that changes nothing and actually just encourages more by screaming for attention.

    i’m really kind of torn with her..i don’t hate her despite what i said before..it’d be nice if i was treated by her and her groupie folk as something at least slightly better than dog shit. i don’t hate her..i hate the idea that everything has to be blown way up..screaming at the rafters over dumb shit..just watch..this bitching over dark knight..it’ll continue..she really needs to rethink ON HER OWN..avoid that mob rule and realize that while her superblogging and constant plugs from all around that really..its kind of time to get of the fucking cross because we need the lumber and its bordering on parody at this point. the wah wah bitch bitch fighting bullshit is way way old at this point.

    but hey i can thank her for the bitchy emails i got from beau smith..that was special. i’m so never going to make a living in this industry… i have since stopped being a prat of her little community..seeing as i don’t follow mob rule and all.

    i really do wish her luck though..i mean it..

    oh sorry for the bad gramm0r train a comin’ its quite girthy.been reading and listening to you guys for months and i’m down with you guys most of the time..kick ass. maybe if i can string together words like normal people do maybe you may want me to guest on the show (wink wink nudge nudge) sorry i’m fucking around..sorry its so long but i had to release a torrent of rage.

    shutting up now.

    Comment by Rob McCue — August 26, 2008 @ 5:39 pm

  4. The two origins offered in TDK, though, that the Joker offers and – whatever – your Killing Joke one which ties quite fine in my allmedia Ultimate Joker gestalt, they do all suggest undergoing some utterly traumatising, soul-shattering experience – hence, yr Joker. I know this is a totally sodden wet liberal reading of the character but it is one I prefer [was (maybe!) an abused child] over [“evil without explanation”… just another terrorist tactic] both of which are reading rather a lot into the – I say text, I think the script is available as a pdf somewhere in the nets.

    I mean, okay, yes there is no ratfied explanation (nor should there be!) but there is the distinct option that this lacuna covers something fucking horrible, which I’d certainly think child abuse classifies under.

    Comment by Duncan — August 26, 2008 @ 5:39 pm

  5. Duncan, I think that “is “The Joker, Victim of Child Abuse” backstory a worthwhile one to explore in a story?” question is a valid one. It could have been a valid one within the realm of Val’s post even, had it not devolved into namecalling and accusations of “mob rule”.

    I just don’t think that the evidence (textual and from film-creator-interviews) suggests that The Dark Knight or its makers intended that to be what the film was about.

    Comment by Chris Eckert — August 26, 2008 @ 5:46 pm

  6. I do find “child abuse” nigglingly, and yes somewhat incorrectly, specific but had the original question been “Do you prefer a Joker created by a senseless, yet undefined event or just as an ahistorical (which he kind of is, anyway) agent of senseless chaos?” it’d not be a fuss. It’s a great bit of tightrope ambiguity in the script, anyway.

    Comment by Duncan — August 26, 2008 @ 5:47 pm

  7. Woah, xpost. Quick.

    No, I mean, I think she’s shortcutted and equivocated unprocessable horror=child abuse but there is a tendency – for whatever reason(s) – to single Val out for being a bit sensitive with her comments. Like, she’s the only comics blogger I’ve seen you, either Pedro and/or David, Kevin Church all devote a post to being mildly unpleasant about (her actions.) Given the verbal abuse she has received, I think fairly indubitably, I do read a few boards and whatnot, as – whatever – the unappointed head of feminism in superheroes, I think her (occasional over)sensitivity is pretty understandable.

    To the question, I’m not really that interested in what the Nolans actually have to say about it, I find. I probably would be if it was an actual text, but – I dunno – movies. Manyhanded product?

    Anyway, I’m just saying, I like Val, she’s overelided – okay. I like you guys and 4L but targetting her and personalising (an otherwise interesting debate which now has an avenue to continue, thanks) does not make you look good and is, causally, the primary reason I don’t read Beaucoup Kevin any longer.

    Comment by Duncan — August 26, 2008 @ 6:00 pm

  8. Duncan: I have no idea why but for some reason reading your comment there just made me think of the Nolan-Joker as some kind of Kwisatz Haderach of carnage, brutality refined by generations of horror into some ultimate art in one being.

    It kind of works on that level, actually, and thank you for inspiring that, however the hell it came about.

    (Sorry I lack much to say on the article, it just seems to be some sort of bizarre corollary to the principle of “step up your game if you’re publishing under your own name and not an alias”, which is “It sort of helps if you have the ability to back down because otherwise the only one damaging your reputation is yourself”.)

    Comment by Syrg — August 26, 2008 @ 6:07 pm

  9. Duncan: I just singled her out in because it’s a particularly egregious example of something that happens a lot, both on her blog and elsewhere on the Internet. I singled out Perry Moore last night in a blogpost, and in the past we’ve singled out Hannibal Tabu, Kevin Church, and anyone else who’s said or done something worth singling out.

    I’m not trying to pick on Val, but she also moderates her comments and straight-up shuts them off pretty regularly. The whole exchange elicited a response from me, and I don’t really know what I was supposed to do; politely ignore it because I don’t want to be seen as anti-feminist/anti-Val?

    I’m neither of those things, and I’m not trying to attack, her, feminism, FoL or anything else by making this post. I’m pointing out a high profile example of something that bothers me. It’s not about who is a good or bad person.

    Comment by Chris Eckert — August 26, 2008 @ 6:16 pm

  10. I’m sure you’re not, it’s just a nascent pattern I see emerging – I’ve yet to moderate or delete a comment on Mindless Ones (been tempted a couple times) but we are probably a much lower traffic and certainly lower commented blog and also don’t tend to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged, ‘everything’s perfect’ fanmen. So… it’s different, but I think she’s perfectly entitled to delete or shut off comments on her blog as she chooses. As would you or I be – I can understand the reaction, too, sure; I’d just like it to be a little less pointed.

    Do what you like to Tabu though, Christ, he deserves it. Although this would entail the onerous task of actually reading The Buy Pile.

    Comment by Duncan — August 26, 2008 @ 6:27 pm

  11. I’ve let bygones be bygones and all, but sometimes a person gets called out for behavior a lot of times because they’re guilty of that behavior a lot of times…not because the world has decided they’re an easy target.

    I hope she’ll demonstrate on her blog more often that she’s only human and bound to make a mistake or two. Like she did here. The fact that Joker gives two different stories about how he got his scars should make a cut-and-dried case for neither being a definite truth.

    As is true all over the world in all kinds of incidents, the refusal to admit a mistake has become 100 times worse than the mistake itself.

    She’s done a much better job with disagreements over the previous months, so here’s hoping it was just a one-off flare-up and things will return to normal.

    Comment by Kevin Huxford — August 26, 2008 @ 10:49 pm

  12. And I’m looking forward to Cloak & Dagger, coming out from Marvel soon! :)

    Comment by Kevin Huxford — August 26, 2008 @ 11:21 pm

  13. And for the record – Roger Ebert makes lots of mistakes in his reviews. He has tremendous knowledge, but I guess sometimes it’s all hard to keep straight. I remember being bewildered reading his review of “The Incredibles” where he states some really factual inaccuracies, like Dash (the hyper active speedster son) being a copy of Jonny Storm (the dude that is on fire and flies)

    Comment by jayfarer — August 27, 2008 @ 6:37 am

  14. Veering slightly back onto the topic of “Will The Real Joker Origin Please Stand Up”…I’m not so sure that finding out any backstory is a good idea. Some villains you want to empathize with…Flash’s Rogues being, for me a prime example. But not the Joker.

    If, for example, a story was written that flat out said (for continuity’s sake) that the Joker was horribly abused as a child, unless you’re some kind of cretin, you’re going to feel pity for him. That empathy cuts the heart right out of the character. Instead of the Joker being a psychopathic force of nature, he becomes the Joker: Poor abused child who just wants to be loved and understood while still cutting your heart out.

    Sometimes the only answer to “Why?” is “Why Not?”

    Comment by Chris Ayers — August 27, 2008 @ 6:56 am

  15. Really the fact that she’s a woman has less to do with it than the fact that she’s clearly a person who refuses to admit that she’s wrong or has difficulty doing so. As another person who has this problem, I tend to extensively google search and source my statements before I make them and I avoid making comments on things I don’t know anything about/have never seen or read.

    The fact that it’s being commented on is only because it’s so egregious as to make me uncomfortable with empathetic embarrassment to read her continuing comments on the entry/issue.

    Comment by Abby — August 27, 2008 @ 1:11 pm

  16. Guys, first and foremost, great friggin’ website! Its one of the first places I go when I get done teaching in the afternoon. And one of the things I particularly like is when you call out someone you needs the written beat down. (That, and in general, all of you do a marvelous job of voicing opinion, delving under the surface of issues, and general kick-assness.) What I can’t understand, aside from the general discussion on how creepy the Joker should or would be if he did or didn’t have an origin and the intentions of the creative crew in bringing this film to us, the viewing public, is how much wasted space is spent on Valerie D’Orazio.

    Christ, reading about her is like listening to a recording of the sound baby seals make when they are getting clubbed. I’m not sure if “over-rated, tooting her own horn until its a bent and broken brass nub, whiny-ass, fleeting fifteen seconds of lame, self-gratifying, person of the female gender” adequately defines how insignificant Val is to the scheme of things, but I hope its close.

    Val is obviously the type of person who intends to make a statement before she actually does. I’m pretty sure her pre-theatre primping for TDK went something like this (Twittering, of course…),”Okay, ready to roll, not going to enjoy this, have some Friends of Lulu mailings to get out, will be stopping on way to movie for my daily wheat grass juice, really not going to enjoy this since everyone in the world is enjoying it, still waiting for Batwoman to come out, dammit, will totally hate this movie…”

    And shit, she stays for a whole twenty minutes and thinks, literally rattles an idea around in her head, that she’s going to post a review of the movie anyways…brass balls.

    Here’s a thought, Joker was abused. His drunk father treated him like a flower in the big house; he was beaten like a red-headed step-child; his dreams were stomped on like a group of Neo-Nazis going curbing. And guess what? That is real-friggin’-world. It happens and it sucks, and sometimes a kid gets out, but more often than not, they don’t. The foster system in most states is about as broke as the guy that came up with Coke Classic.

    Oh, and its a movie…

    The thought of the Joker becoming who he is because of abuse is as chilling as his “origin” monologue involving his wife and a knife. That freaked me out more than the abused child theory. IMHO, the creative people behind TDK realized that any and all of Joker’s monologues could be true, and I believe this makes him the true embodiment of fear and loathing, because as a society we understand all too clearly that reality is so much more terrifying than fantasy.

    Hopefully, next time you guys bring up Val D’Orazio it will be for this story that’s mentioned at her (self-written, apparently) Wikipedia entry concerning a project she’s hoping to get out there someday: “She is also developing a creator-owned title called Vamptopia, an ‘Anne Rice meets Quentin Tarantino meets Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’ story which she is looking to adapt into various multi-media.” WTF?

    Peace out.

    Comment by Shaun Behrens — August 28, 2008 @ 12:34 am

  17. Yeah, I’m done with her blog and its sycophants. It annoys me now more than I enjoy reading it.

    Comment by Andy — August 28, 2008 @ 11:25 am

  18. I think it’s clear that D’Orazio is none too bright and is admired by her followers as a symbol rather than as a person or a creative entity.

    Comment by Aaron Poehler — August 28, 2008 @ 3:06 pm

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