Keep Your Opinion to Yourself?
By now, I assume everybody who's interested has read or at least heard about Frank Miller's rant against the Occupy Wall Street movement, and stridently in favor of the so-called War on Terror.
In all honesty, I found the rant to be ill-informed, full of sweeping generalizations and the kind of name-calling you'd expect on the playground. Exactly the sort of cranky rant that should end with "...and you kids stay offa my lawn!" Reading it made me far more sad than angry. It's full of the propaganda that outlets like Fox News or pill-poppin' Rush Limbaugh peddle every day in pursuit of an easily-manipulated electorate, and more importantly, the almighty dollar.
I disagree with everything in Frank's rant, including the dodgy punctuation. Everything, that is, except Frank's absolute right to rant about anything he wants, in almost any manner he wants. That's the privilege and the price of the First Amendment.
More troubling to me than the political views of someone who's a primary influence on my work, though, is the reaction to Frank's rant: literally more than 13,000 comments (last time I checked) on Frank's site, on other message boards, even on Huffington Post and The Onion. Time magazine took note, grouping Frank with anti-OWS celebs Ben Stein, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Glenn Beck and Kelsey Grammer. Not what I'd consider enlightened company, but I suppose that too is in the eye of the beholder.
Online comments sections are the devil's playground, of course. A large part of it, certainly, is the anonymous nature of the Internet prompting people to abandon any sense of civility they might otherwise have. Seems like most still can't apply the simple rule of typing only what you'd actually say to someone's face. And to be fair, that simple rule should apply equally to Frank's rant, since I doubt he took the time to visit Zuccotti Park and tell its denizens they were "louts, thieves, and rapists" to their faces.
The comments in reaction to Frank's essay feature some of the nastiest, most vitriolic sentiments I've seen in a while (and I work in comics, so I know from nasty, vitriolic sentiments). The vitriol is from both sides of the aisle, running the gamut from those calling Frank a series of increasingly vile names, to those applauding Frank's comments and calling those who disagree an equally vile collection of names.
I find the whole thing to be not only depressing, but a perfect microcosm of what's wrong with our national discourse: ignoring facts in favor of partisan talking points, and a complete lack of empathy for any other viewpoint. There were promises by many to never buy Frank Miller's work again, and promises to consign copies of "Dark Knight Returns" and "Daredevil" and "Sin City" to a bonfire. On the other side, there were promises to start buying Frank's work, though a fair number of those came from people who didn't seem exactly sure what it is that Frank does. There were also more than a few comments that essentially said, "Go back to your comic books and keep your opinion to yourself." It's a troubling sentiment, and I wish I could say this is first time I've heard it.
I know a number of creators who have been told the same, usually on Twitter or message boards, when they expressed a particular opinion (usually a political one). That includes me. A snarky line in one of my "Ion" issues made some reference to Ann Coulter eating crayons (which I admit is silly; Ann Coulter doesn't eat anything... except the souls of the gullible, which obviously have no calories). I got more than a few messages from people inviting me to keep any mention of politics out of "their" comics.
I write stories about characters. I don't write stories that are thinly-veiled political diatribes, because I have no interest in that. I won't shoehorn politics into a story if it has no place there, but neither will I avoid it if it's a logical and necessary aspect of a particular story. If I think Michele Bachmann's crazier than the Joker hopped up on goofballs (and I do), I'll just tell you. You won't have to read between the lines to find out.
There's an almost inevitable backlash -- again, from both sides -- when someone with any kind of public platform expresses a strong opinion. A segment of the audience seems to want their entertainers to entertain, and nothing else, whether you're Sean Penn, Dixie Chicks, Stephen Baldwin, Hank Williams, Jr. -- or Frank Miller. But Sean Penn didn't give up his right to free speech when he became an actor, nor Hank Williams, Jr. his rights when he became a singer. I might end up agreeing with Sean a hell of a lot more than with Hank, but that doesn't mean I think Hank should be silenced. (As an aside, I don't think Hank is owed a platform to express his views, either. ESPN firing Hank isn't an abuse of his First Amendment rights, it's an employer firing an employee for being a dumb ass in public.)
I don't think it's any secret that a majority of the comic community leans left. Why that is is open for debate, but it's a pretty common thread in the creative arts, whether it's art, music, literature, theater. There are right-leaning comic creators, certainly. One of them, Chuck Dixon, is a good friend. We've dined together, worked together and survived CrossGen together. I'd take a bullet for Chuck. We just happen to have different opinions on some things. No big deal.
I know creators who keep their political and religious beliefs to themselves because they believe those are a private matter. And I know others who keep their beliefs to themselves because they don't want to risk offending a reader and losing a sale. That's their right, and I support it fully. It's just not what I choose to do.
If you happen to follow my Twitter feed, you know I don't mind sharing. I don't hide or censor who I am, or what I believe. I'd rather tell the truth about all of it, and let everybody decide whether they're interested or not. If it's not your thing, you can unfollow, but at least I showed you the courtesy of being honest. Which is also what Frank Miller did. He was honest to a fault. What you do with that honesty is up to you.
Do you separate the artist from the art, the writer from the writing? I don't have an answer for you. Everybody has to make that call for him or herself. I've read some of Orson Scott Card's work years ago (though never "Ender's Game") and liked it well enough. Now that I'm aware of his homophobia, I won't be buying any more of his work, because I choose not to support someone with such a hateful agenda. But it doesn't retroactively change my enjoyment of his earlier work.
I'll still thumb through my "Dark Knight Returns" hardcover when I need inspiration. That story still matters to me. So do "Sin City" and "Batman: Year One" and all those "Daredevil" stories. I guess I care more about how Frank Miller sees Batman, than how he sees the real world. Especially now.
Ron Marz has been writing comics for two decades, and thinks it's pretty much the best job ever. His current work includes "Artifacts," "Witchblade" and "Magdalena" for Top Cow, "Voodoo" for DC and his creator-owned title, "Shinku," for Image. Follow him on Twitter (@ronmarz) and his website, www.ronmarz.com