Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Soma Case: Part The Second

Well, a lot of interesting stuff has happened regarding the Taki Soma case, and if we’ve learned anything, it’s that the wise are better off keeping their thoughts to themselves until all the facts come out. Fortunately, I’ve never claimed to be wise, so here’s my thoughts on the new developments.

The fine folks at The Comics Journal have put a feature about the case online, to be published in their next issue. Before I get into the meat of this entry, I want to commend them for going full-bore to get both sides of the story, and also admonish them for taking an editorializing tone. Granted, it doesn’t pick sides, and indeed the editorialization is that the people who picked a side, either side, so early in the discussion were unwise to do so, but I nonetheless feel that the piece leaves itself open to criticism of bias from both sides, and it probably would have been a better move to just report the facts and leave the commentary for others. Just my opinion, YMMV, of course.

Moving on: I’ll cop to being one of the people who thought it was Jim McLauchlin. My whole “disappointment” paragraph in the previous entry was centered around that supposition. Although I refrained from naming names in public, I named one in my head, and I shouldn’t have done that. So I apologize for whatever spiritual ill-will I may have done Mr. McLauchlin, and to my readers for going off on what proved to be an ill-advised tangent.

I’d also like to point out, with distress, that the predicted responses to Ms. Soma’s coming forward did in fact happen just as I thought they would. The primary accusation against her has been, to no surprise, that she’s making a stink to get publicity for her career. I trust my readers are smart enough to ignore such balderdash. In addition, I’d like to wag a disapproving finger at the schmucks with the utter gall to purport that they’re leveling such accusations out of fair-mindedness and a desire to look at the issue from all sides. To them I say, pull the other one, it’s got bells on. “Let’s wait until we’ve got all the facts” is a fair-minded statement; “Let’s wait until we’ve got all the facts, the bitch could just be making it up” is not.

And finally, I'd like to say that my admiration for Ms. Soma's courage in coming forward originally remains. The facts, as we have seen, are slippery and intractable things, but her feelings are real and hard as iron, and overcoming them to do what was right (and coming forward was the right thing to do, regardless of how it was handled) was a remarkable feat.

Moving on to the difficult portion: I suppose that the easiest way to put my feelings is that, the above-referenced paragraph aside, I stand by what I wrote in the abstract. I’m just no longer sure how it applies to this case.

In the case of people who make a habit of sexual predation against women (or men; this is the 21st Century, after all), and show a sociopathic lack of consideration for the bodily rights of others, I’m all in favor of tarring and feathering and riding out on rails. And that goes for enablers as well. But as TCJ makes clear, the naming of an accused, CBLDF Executive Director Charles Brownstein, changes how we characterize him, from bogeyman to, well man.

Not that I think what he did is in any way right. Even if (and by the way, if a lot more ifs had been used, by myself included, we all could have avoided a lot of unpleasantness) his version is 100% true, and all he did was half-heartedly lift her shirt as a silly prank, that’s still way out of line. That’s just dumb. (According to Rich Johnston, Brownstein has apologized on numerous occasions, and I will give him credit for that.)

But we get into a murky area. For one thing, it doesn’t appear that Brownstein is any sort of repeat offender. My best guess (and you can, and probably should take that to mean as little as you want) is that, while the truth probably lies somewhere between the two statements, the assertion that Brownstein is not a womanizer of any sort is true. And certainly, the executive board of the CBLDF is not made up of any kind of “Old Boys’ Network” of enablers. I mean, does anyone really think Peter David, Neil Gaiman, Paul Levitz and Chris Staros are the type of guys to look the other way on this sort of accusation? ‘Cause I don’t. That the Fund was thorough and serious in its investigation is perhaps the only thing in this case I am sure of.

So the feeling at the moment is one of conflictedness and confusion. Someone did something wrong, of that I’m pretty sure. Legally, who the hell knows, the reports surrounding the involvement of the police are so conflicted that I have no damn idea what to think, but at the very least a grievous error was made and a person’s personal space was infringed upon. And lots of people, myself included, acted on little more than anger when a degree of restraint would have been prudent, making the situation worse. (Most of this, it should be said, came from people other than Ms. Soma.) And I think the best recourse now is to let Soma and Brownstein settle this themselves. Whether this can be done personally or through representatives is up to them, but I think it’s time for everyone else to take down our banners. And yes, Ronee, I include you in that statement.

There is one silver lining in all this: The fund established by Friends of Lulu is still going strong, and attention has also been drawn to another organization, The Volunteer Lawyers For the Arts (thanks to Ed Cunard and Colleen Doran for highlighting this one). It’s likely we haven’t seen the end of sexual harassment, in comics or otherwise, and it’s good that the people who need help have somewhere to turn. If nothing else, an informed awareness about this kind of behavior has taken root in a few more minds, and we’re that much closer to building a world where people treat each other with respect and dignity at all times.

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