Filtering Through Your Own Lens

By | Monday, May 17, 2010 Leave a Comment
Last week, Brian Hibbs wrote an article talking about what he thought should be done with regards to digital comics. Tom Spurgeon and Johanna Draper Carlson have some thoughtful responses (and my thoughts specifically are in the comments section of the latter). In both cases, it's pointed out that Hibbs is very clearly looking at the issue through the lens of a retailer. Which makes perfect sense since he is, after all, a retailer. But it highlights the point that we all look at any issue with a lens that's not necessarily the same one someone else is using.

At some level, that's fairly obvious, right? For example, someone who's been on the receiving end of a lot of racism since they were young is more likely to see issues in terms of race, if only because it was continually reinforced AS an issue throughout his/her life. On the other hand, if someone else grew up in a community where racism was non-existent (because that community was either socially progressive or completely homogenized) that person is decidedly less likely to think of race as a significant factor. Race is an obvious, headline-grabbing example, but it holds true for many other areas of discussion as well.

Including comics.

Using myself as a prime example, I've spent a lot of time studying comic fandom (do I need to plug my book again?) and one of the conclusions I came to was that a vast amount of what goes on in fandom stems from an individual's self-identity. And after coming to that conclusion, I've noticed that I tend to filter a lot of other things through the spectacle of self-identity.

Now take the issue of not enough women being in comics. I see that as a bunch of white men making stories in which they are able to readily identify with the male protagonists and lust after the female ones. It's not so much that they don't like women or are trying to keep them out of the industry, they're just interested in reinforcing their sense of self by portraying the fantasies they ascribe to. That so many of them do it is because it's been defined as what they're supposed to do, as comic creators. To be a "real" comic creator, it's your life's dream to make Batman, Superman and Spider-Man comics. So creators wishing to identify themselves as "real" comic creator adopt all of the traits associated with it, including doing lots of comics about white guys in spandex beating the snot out of other white guys in spandex.

However, that's how I look at it through my lens of self-identity, developed from research in comics fandom. Other folks certainly have other ways of seeing that same issue. Having read Valerie D'Orazio's memoir, I feel pretty confident in saying that's precisely NOT how she sees things. In fact, I think it'd be pretty safe to say that most women in comics don't see things that way!

But that's okay. Because We wouldn't have any progress if everyone always saw things the same way. I realize that sounds rather trite, but it's still valid.

What I think is key in this, and any other, discussion is to realize that you are absolutely looking through a specific lens when you think about any issue, and the next person may be looking through an entirely different lens. With that recognition, you can better address where your disagreements lie and avoid a lot of frustration. That's not to say, of course, that your lens is "more correct" than somebody else's. After all, in my opening example, Hibbs is a retailer and it's in his best interests as a retailer to hold a retailer's perspective. BUT, as has been repeatedly been pointed out in varying manners by Spurgeon, Draper Carlson and myself, the reality of what happens isn't exclusively dependent on retailers -- there are other parties involved viewing the same situation through their own lenses. The lenses of a publisher, a creator and a reader for some easy examples.

But knowing that those other lenses are being used, to make a corollary to the point I was trying to make over in the comments, is able to empower you to make more informed (and presumably more intelligent) decisions based on what you're able to figure out other people are doing based on their own self-interests.
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