Banning vs. Censorship vs. Pulling, There’s a Big Difference
While many agreed with our statement that Image Comics‘ Airboy #2 written by James Robinson contained material that was transphobic, some also did not support our call to pull the comic from shelves (virtual or physical). They decried censorship, hid behind free speech and artistic expression, and some trotted out the 1st Amendment. In doing so, they played into the hands of individuals defending the status-quo, and conflating the concepts of banning, censorship, and pulling an item. These are three concepts that are all very different.
When it comes to banning or censorship, banning is the easiest of the two to debunk as an argument. The act of banning is usually an act determined by a law, official decree, or some official. Last I checked we at no time addressed the situation to government officials, asked for governmental interference, or a law to be passed, so in that essence it’s absolutely not the correct term at all to be used.
There’s also the other definitions of the term such as prohibiting an action or forbidding the use of something, or refusal of allowing someone to go somewhere, do something, or participate in something. Can’t say we called for any of that either. The comic was already out in the public, and at no time did we say folks should never have access to the comic.
So, to everyone that used the word “ban,” you are factually incorrect in your hyperbolic statement(s).
Censorship is a more interesting one to discuss and debate. The ACLU defines censorship this way:
…the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government as well as private pressure groups. Censorship by the government is unconstitutional.
I think we can all agree on the above definition. Immediately we can get rid of the part of this being “censorship by the government.” As much as I’d like to run for office, I am not the government, so no matter what, hiding behind this as unconstitutional is again factually incorrect. Anyone claiming so shows a lack of understanding about the 1st Amendment and what it actually protects.
The 1st Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” We’re not the government, case closed on that part of the debate.
Censoring is actual deletion or prevention of an idea or feeling. We never asked for the deletion of the comic at all. But we asked for was something much broader, and actually a form of free speech. That gets us to our actual “ask,” for Image Comics to pull the comic.
Pulling is a completely different thing. It is asking the petitioned to engage in speech themselves through a specific action. Like a sit in, chaining yourself to an item, the act of pulling an item is actual speech through action. We most recently saw this as Bree Newsome acted through civil disobedience to pull the Confederate flag down from a pole on the grounds of the South Carolina state Capitol. Our ask wasn’t to that level, or the other examples I gave, but such actions are similar in nature. So for those denouncing our ask, I guess you can call them hypocritical on the subject.
People need to remember that free speech does not equal freedom from criticism, nor does it mean freedom from consequences. Free speech does not guarantee one a platform to engage in that speech. The platform in this case is digital shelf space, physical shelf space, and promotional plans. We critiqued the work for over 36 hours without response. We engaged in free speech spinning out of that criticism. When it was clear we were being ignored, we asked others to engage in free speech through action. That action, for a publisher to exercise their own free speech in whether to support a comic or not. But not giving the comic a platform, Image would themselves be expressing free speech.
This act would also not prevent the comic from being able to be obtained elsewhere. The creators would be free to sell the comic themselves, submit it to other platforms, and use the many other distribution methods they have access to. This is not a case of a comic never being able to be obtained again. Stores would still be able to make their own decisions as to what to do with it. Digital platforms too would be able to make their own decisions as well.
I think Laura Sneddon says it best in her take on the situation:
A comic that is sexist, misogynist and transphobic has every right to exist. But it does not have every right to be bought or supported. And when a publisher produces such comics my opinion of them is severely lowered. And of the creators too. And any shop that carries the title knowing the contents therein? Yup, you as well.
The thing about free speech is that everyone is free to utilise it. Go ahead and publish your own comic full of whatever you want! But if that comic contributes to harmful ideas that have real life counterparts and results they help bolster, you are also completely free to receive the criticism coming your way. And if you’re a publisher putting out such content? Don’t be surprised if people start to question the other titles they buy from you.
I also want to remind folks we were the site that rallied creators, other blogs, and some publishers against internet censorship during the SOPA/PIPA fight in 2012. This was an actual fight against government censorship, and the power of corporations to censor what they don’t like. Many sites and creators who are wrapping themselves in the 1st Amendment and free speech were silent then. Some others said they supported that action, but couldn’t speak publicly as their publisher didn’t. Some also repeated similar statements in private emails showing support over this.
We as a society live under a social contract as to norms and behaviors. Every single day we self censor as individuals, holding back what we might think, or wording things in a particular way as to not hurt, offend, or worse, those around us. WE ALL CENSOR OURSELVES. In our thought. In our actions. The idea of free speech is a myth we tell ourselves to make us feel good about society. In our bringing up this topic, we asked Mr. Robinson to think about and reflect on that social contract, and how the material he produced fit into that puzzle. The troubling scene in particular, and discussions and actions within by characters, brought no special value to the art. There are many other scenarios that would have gotten the same points across and done so without treading into dangerous myths and tropes that are used in the real world to justify violence against transgender individuals. And no, I’m not saying Robinson advocated for such violence. The social contract I’ve mentioned has a primary goal being the desire of protection of those around us. That protection does come with the surrendering of some personal liberties, and results in the self censorship we all do. Every action we partake in has some of that sacrifice.
As far as the specific ask, and those who felt it went too far. I hope one day I get to negotiate against you in some way, because going in with your specific goal/want is exactly what you shouldn’t do. You need to leave room for negotiation. “Pulling” was the extreme ask to leave wiggle room for that exact negotiation. I’ve never gone into a negotiation with exactly what I’ve wanted, I’ve always asked for more to leave room to get what I really want. I think that was lost on a lot of folks. It’s also not exactly something you can say publicly.
Overall, for those focused on the ideas of banning, and censorship, you’re falling for the talking points of those against progressiveness, openess, and a welcoming attitude within the comics community. You’re being distracted from discussing the material itself and engaging in debate on THEIR terms, not OURS.
But, when it really comes down to it, it’s also not factually correct at all.
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.