So the other day Scott Kurtz posted an essay about why it’s wrong for people to think Jack Kirby should receive more credit for The Avengers, and his estate receive some remuneration from the great success of the film adaptation. Go read that post really quick, it’s not very long.
Then the next day, someone at a blog called Mighty God King posted this essay about Kurtz’s essay: I’m not sure who the someone is, but I’m guessing it’s Christopher Bird, so I’m going to refer to the writer as “Bird” just for clarity’s sake. Read that one too, it’s much longer, but you can do it.
First things first:
I find Scott Kurtz’s post appalling and repugnant. It’s filled with specious, lazy arguments and outright sophistry. It’s a preaching-to-the-choir argument aimed at Kurtz’s fans, which basically suggests that look, all that was a long time ago, the water is too tainted, I wish we could do something about it but it’s just too late, let’s just enjoy what we have anyway. It’s a similar argument to the ones people make against reparations, affirmative action, etc.: “well look *I* never oppressed anyone, that’s not my fault, hey man you’re bumming me out.“
The problem with anti-reparations arguments is they’re built on that solipsistic foundation that seems to refute that individuals are a part of a society, and thus have responsiblities to each other. That while your grandfather or great-grandfather was coming back from World War II and building a new life, using one of the most prosperous times in American (note I’m pretending you’re American here, sorry) history to amass some small wealth for his family and heirs, another person was returning to 25 years of Jim Crow laws, just a few generations removed from being An Actual Human Slave. So while it’s fine to say, “hey I never oppressed anyone,” there’s still a gross taint on the society you’re a part of. Being part of a society calls on us to build and improve that society, to lift up the people around us when we can; and even if we can’t fix every problem, surely we can do better than ignoring the very worst of them.
Now, Marvel not giving Jack Kirby enough credit for creating The Avengers–and probably 70% of the characters being featured in blockbuster Marvel movies lately–is in no way as serious a problem as reparations or affirmative action. But they’re related, because they’re both representative of a “me-first” approach to being a part of society, and they both demand willful ignorance of those problems. Scott Kurtz’s post seems to suggest that people wanting Jack Kirby to get more credit for his creations, and his estate revenue from those creations, are being cynical. Which, after a post filled with bad logic and rhetorical straw men, was an almost shocking line to stumble across near the end:
“That’s not pragmatic thinking. That’s cynicism. And I’m so tired of the cynicism.
Guys, learn from the Avengers movie. The real villains here are the cynics.”
I’m suspicious of demagogues online; I think being at the pinnacle of a pyramid of positive reinforcement and “you’re the best”s and “don’t listen to the haters” all day addles some people’s brains. Triply so online, and quadruply so for someone like Kurtz who has been SO popular and SO famously, histrionically contrarian over the years, and so has driven away most dissent, and then chosen to ignore the rest: “The worms who never had the courage to create anything themselves looking to forge an identity on the internet by getting in a good dig.” The worms! But when someone like Kurtz calls the effort to get Kirby more credit/revenue from the billion-dollar Avengers movie “cynical,” it’s the very height of cynicism itself, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Kirby’s rights to credit. As I said at the top of this post, it’s appalling and repugnant.
But second things second:
Christopher Bird, in his rebuttal to Kurtz’s essay, immediately takes a tone so unnecessarily insulting that when I first came across it I couldn’t even finish it. He attacks Kurtz himself, his work, and his career, over and over again, all the while indulging in the kind of snarky sentence-by-sentence quote-and-rebut format which is so popular on message boards, and other places where the substance of what someone says is less important than deconstructing each word they use to say it.
Why sink to that level? There are so many obvious flaws in Kurtz’s thinking, why sink to insults to make your point? When has insulting someone ever improved a discussion or pointed the way to a solution? It never does–insulting is only useful when you want to please the people who already agree with you. The people who will say “SICK BURN BRO!” and forward the link to their friends, subject line “PWNED.” In this case it marginalizes the actual point, i.e. “Scott Kurtz is either very wrong or very VERY right about what “cynicism” means,” in favor of the classic internet theatre of Pulling The Curtain Back On The Great Oz.
I said I didn’t initially finish Bird’s post. But then I got into a brief argument with Christopher Butcher on Twitter about my objections to it–without going into all the details, Christopher was very supportive of Bird’s post. I like Chris very much, and have more respect for him and his opinion–regardless of whether or not I agree with it–than almost anyone else online, so I went back and reread the entirety of Bird’s post, looking for value. I had originally gotten about halfway through, so when I read the rest I came across this gem:
“‘In the words of Darrell Hammond playing Sean Connery in “Celebrity Jeopardy” sketches on Saturday Night Live: “Boy, I believe you may be functionally retarded.’”
Why? What does it add? Stuff like this drives me crazy. Taking a wrongheaded, somewhat offensive post online and retorting with your own wronghead offensiveness doesn’t do anyone any favors. What reasonable person is going to read this, nod sagely and say “yes, I see now, Scott Kurtz is functionally retarded, just like Darrell Hammond as Sean Connery said.” Is Bird arguing that Scott Kurtz is wrong about Kirby supporters, or that Bird is smarter/cleverer than Scott Kurtz? Because though it made me hate myself, all the way through his post all I could think about was Kurtz’s line “..By being the guy who got the awesome last word in.” I KNOW! Terrible, how could I even fall into that obvious rhetorical trap? But there you go.
The point of all these posts is whether or not Jack Kirby created or co-created the lion’s share of the characters and titles that Marvel–the company, the movie studio, the tradition, the universe–is built on, and whether or not he deserves to get some royalties, residuals, anything. That’s the point! The point is not Scott Kurtz, nor Christopher Bird, nor me. Chris Butcher told me to write my own rebuttal to the original Kurtz post if I didn’t like the Bird one so much, and I initially thought that would be a waste of time–just another internet-somebody making very VERY obvious points. Which, to me, always seems more like self-aggrandizement than an actual will to make a valuable argument; to add to the conversation, so to speak. Doubly, triply so from someone like me, who is so obviously an egomaniac and can’t stop talking about himself and what he thinks of everything.
But Chris Butcher made another really good point during our Twitter argument: that ignoring a post like Scott Kurtz’s, just because you think reasonable, thinking people will see it’s complete garbage, also amounts to shrugging your shoulders at Kurtz’s attempt to discredit Kirby-credit supporters. In Chris’s words
“I always want us to be better than our opponents, but I’m not willing to settle for silence if we can’t be.”
And since yesterday, I’ve come to agree with him more or less, and so decided to write something. But for me, and still, redressing a perceived wrong by sinking to its level not only never works, but is suspect in its motivation. And most importantly, drives away people like myself who would have agreed otherwise, who might have taken that message and spread it, gotten more people talking about it. Communication is always more valuable than zingers–it’s easy to take someone down on your own blog, deconstruct their sentences, call them retarded, etc., but it’s a short-term gain. Having some class, taking the high road, and most importantly actually engaging pays long-term dividends, both for you and for the point you wanted to make in the first place.