Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Blair Butler

Let me get this out of the way off the bat: I don't like G4's resident comic guru Blair Butler.

(As a disclaimer, I've never met her, and only know her from her appearances on G4 and their associated web presence. So she might be a completely different person than what she presents herself as on TV. But this blog is going to largely run on the premise that she's really not all that different than what we generally see, and she's not actively cultivating a specific persona for G4.)

As I sat down to start writing this, I tried culling my thoughts together more cohesively. What exactly don't I like about her? I don't like just railing against anything (much less anyone!) for the sake of railing against it/them. If I'm going to rant about her here for all the world to see, I better be able to back up my opinion with something more concrete than "I just don't like her." There's too much of that on the Internet as it is.

So I started recalling what I've seen/read/heard from her. I pulled up her web site, and her MySpace page and watched some clips. She's generally well-spoken and articulate, she knows the industry pretty well, and she seems to have a genuine interest in comics as a medium and not just flashy superhero stuff. And that really struck me because, as she's arguably the face of comic fandom on television, those are all great qualities to have. I can't really fault her along any of those counts. Indeed, in that regard, she's doing a fine job presenting a decidedly positive, non-stereotypical image of a comic book fan to people who might still hold to the "classic" fanboy image.

In her presentation of material, both online and on television, I find that things do tend to get glossed over very quickly and lack much depth. But here, I can't fault Butler -- at least not entirely -- since she's not the one making decisions about how much time/attention is devoted to comics. I don't know for certain, but I get the impression she rushes through so many different things precisely because her alternative would be to go into a little more depth on considerably fewer comics. It's a depth versus breadth argument, and there's justification on both sides. Ultimately, though, the breadth that she tries to cover is useless to me because I'm already regularly tapping into enough other (generally, more robust) sources that provide me with more information along the lines that I'm looking for.

I am very cognizant of her attempts at humor. I absolutely get what she's trying to get across with her jokes, but I find that they fall flat more often than not. I think, in part, it's because of some degree of predictability and, in part, because I don't think her delivery is well-timed. Further, she's often taken aback by humor coming from those she interviews, and she's not able to respond quickly. It seems that her humor is almost wholly scripted as a one-sided conversation intended to sideswipe her interviewees (or, alternatively, a two-sided conversation in which the unscripted responses are completely predictable), and deviations from that script, when she comes across someone with some ability to banter or ad-lib, catch her entirely off-guard.

One could argue that it's difficult to work in soundly funny material on a nightly basis, and there's certainly a lot of merit to that counter-argument. But one of the reasons why someone like a Jon Stewart of a Stephen Colbert is able to pull that off is because they were trained in improv. They understand how to think on their feet and feed off whatever material is present. It seems to me that if that isn't a particularly strong suite for you, it should be an avenue to avoid. (Although, again, to be fair, Butler does an infinitely better job at bantering and improv-like material than the co-hosts of Attack of the Show! But I'm trying to address the comic book angle specifically, and I'm not really concerned with other attempts at general geekery.)

But I think the thing that really bugs me about Butler is the type of humor she usually resorts to -- that is, making fun of comic book fans. Certainly, she has more of a "right" to do so than most people, being a comic book fan herself. But she has this bizarre ability -- and I can't say if it's a conscious decision on her part or not -- to step out of her role as a fangirl and essentially laugh at the fans instead of with them. She joins the other side, as it were, and becomes one of "them" -- one of the legion of reporters that are at CCI only because their boss told them to go, and they really don't get what the big deal is, and oh-hey-isn't-that-Gweneth-Paltrow? Even dressed as a Stormtrooper or a slasher victim or what-have-you, she seems to be barely tolerating her environment and not really willing/able to become a part of it.

Again, in some deference of fairness, I'm not the type of person either who can really get down with dressing up as Batman. (Nothing against those who do, mind you, it's just not my cup of tea.) In knowing that, though, I'm not going to make of jokes at the expense of someone who does. (Unless, of course, they're too big to fit into a Batman costume in the first place, but that kind of snark is aimed at individual's judgments and not an overall mentality.)

So I guess my dislike of Butler boils down to a fundamental disagreement with her judgments as a comic book fan. I prefer depth over breadth, and it seems to me that she -- as a potentially positive bridge between comic fandom and the laity -- should be focusing more on the positive aspects of fandom over the negative stereotypes and snarkiness that pervades much of her commentary on the fans themselves. Those fundamental value judgments, for me, are significant enough that they make me question her judgment when reviewing individual comics. So when she does say she likes Crecy or Abyss, that carries almost no weight with me. They might indeed be very good works -- and in these cases, I think they are -- but I'm not going to use someone whose other (related) values are appreciably different than my own as a gauge for my own possible enjoyment of a work.

So, Blair, if by some chance you run across this missive, nothing personal. I don't know you as an individual -- you might be a great person to hang and/or talk comics with. You seem to have a genuine interest in and understanding of comics, and that deserves some respect. But I happen to hold different values on some significant points; given that I'm pretty sure I'm not your target audience, that's hardly surprising. That being said, though, on the rare occasion that I might make a snarky comment about you, it's generally only meant to highlight the differences between us.

1 comment:

Rob said...

Yeah I am always annoyed that the hosts of "Attack" always love to make fun more than inform (I noted it especially during their San Diego coverage) but it seemed to me Blair was trying to hang with the cool kids when she was making fun of the fanboys, more than anything. But that was just my impression.