On Editorializing Social Thought and Discourse

I don’t particularly go looking for controversy—generally, doing so strikes me as bad practice. Once in awhile, though, it manages to arise out of the day-to-day. On Friday, over in my editing world of SixPrizes, we had an article discussing the treatment of women in the Pokemon TCG, and what could be done to better it. I confess: I knew it would not be smooth sailing. But, I don’t think the disagreement came from where I most expected it, and the exact nature of it has unsettled me. I’m wrestling with a lot in the aftermath, and writing generally helps me with that, so here we are today.

I do want to note: when I say “I” or “we” with regards to editing, Alex and I generally make editing decision in tandem. With that said, “I” generally means things I considered bringing up between us to discuss, but “we” might in a few places too. We didn’t really have the time to chat much before this got published, so pretty much all thoughts are simply mine.

The Background

I don’t really intend to discuss the article’s points itself, though invariably in this there’ll be elements where some people won’t like my stance toward what Kenny so thoughtfully crafted. I genuinely and completely endorse the driving point behind his article: people of all genders (and other differentiating background traits) should be treated the same way. For my life, I can’t conceive of acting differently, and it bothers me that this has to be written. Nevertheless, the stories my female friends in the game can tell are absurd. I think some folks’ way of dismissing someone’s opinions out of hand as invalid is far from a gender-exclusive issue in the game, but stories of that nature that are only a drop in the bucket of absurdity.

Fully agree with his underlying sentiment. Furthermore, it’s an issue I take seriously as a person. When Kenny mentioned the idea, we as an editing team were for the concept in these veins (admittedly: we did push it back a month, as the prior slot conflicted with EUIC coverage). I firmly believe everyone should feel valued in the game, but at a minimum, nobody should be made to be devalued. This is important.

Editing writing about the TCG is fairly easy—if for some reason I happen to slightly alter meaning with something I reword, it’s not the end of the world and we can clarify it later. This was totally different. Somehow and someway, this subject has become a hot-button issue. Editorially, I feel our job was to make sure this subject had the opportunity to be considered, and since Kenny feels as strongly as he does about every word in it, to detach from my own thoughts and let his completely show through. Most stressful edit of 2017.

I think I succeeded in not changing any meaning, but even choosing images ate at me. Visuals can change the context of words completely, and I didn’t want any part in influencing the context here. If not for Alex’s less-timid approach, you would’ve had every art of Pokemon Fan Club I could find just spread throughout the article because it’s totally neutral.

There are two main things eating at me with this that I want to write out. First and foremost, part of me wanted to address the tone of a few key statements before we published—more on that in a second. Otherwise, the reaction—and my part in bringing it about—has somewhat bothered me. Those two are my focuses here.

On Tone

You catch more flies with honey than vinegar. I’m not sure where that euphemism originated, but it’s invariably true. People don’t generally like to be confronted, especially with uncomfortable ideas.

Without a doubt, I think the most controversial line in the piece is as follows:

Every man that reads this article has played a role—whether actively or passively—in making a woman feel uncomfortable at a tournament. That, too, is the truth. Accepting these truths, however uncomfortable they may make you, is paramount in having a complete understanding of the problem, and being able to contribute toward finding a solution.

In the moment, we didn’t want to change anything—or ask Kenny to change anything—because the goal was to make this about what he wanted to say, and not editorial direction. My goal, with this and any other opinion piece, is to provide a forum for someone to speak about an issue of passion—not to regulate that speech. While I can’t call what we do “journalism,” I firmly believe that it’s wrong to use editorial discretion to silence a view. If the view is “that” reprehensible, its author will find itself knee-deep in community backlash anyway. In this way, there will be self-policing in the end: there’s nothing I actually need to do. That doesn’t mean there’ll be a Marxist manifesto running tomorrow, but within reason, I don’t want to play the role of thought police.

Was I comfortable with everything personally? Definitely not. In crude terms, my feelings on an initial read were pretty simple: those that agree will adore it, those that don’t will not, and those that might be convincible will probably not get past the uncomfortable portion. Were we doing the topic a disservice in risking it being unapproachable for those who most needed to read it? Did the controversial language, which generally evokes defensiveness, do more harm than good for learning?

A few days later, I’m not completely comfortable with my answers to those questions. A large part of me wants to say I should’ve asked Kenny about toning it down. Yet, I can’t shake the feeling of hypocrisy that would elicit.

The Counterpoint

I’m pretty strong in the belief that religious institutions—at least Christianity and Islam, the two I’m reasonably familiar with—that water down their tenets for the purpose of “growth” are doing a disservice to all, if not inherently violating their own tenets. When I see churches more focused on things like youth sports teams than faith itself, it’s an uncomfortable picture: sure, you probably “grow” more on a numbers basis that way. But, do you lose the whole point along the way?

My belief is that the point risks getting lost there. For the theological out there, I think the warning to Laodecia and Romans 12 are pretty clear in regard to this sort of thing. Personally, watering down the truth to reach a greater numerical end is a step in the wrong direction.

So, with these two terribly conflicting views rattling about in my head, it’s been a stressful weekend. In the end, I think the right call was made in doing nothing—if people are going to be uncomfortable, they’re going to find a reason to be uncomfortable. Risking the integrity of his message, regardless of what I think of it personally, to change that fact wasn’t worthwhile. It’d be unfair of me to make that request.

On Response

I was pretty sure that the majority of this backlash would come from mid-twenties male readers that didn’t like what they saw. Fine. Never going to please everyone, and in this case, that wasn’t remotely the goal. In reality, that blowback wasn’t quite as voluminous as I expected. Sure: some folks took issue with the messaging, but I didn’t see anyone denying the presence of a problem outright. That surprised, and heartened, me.

So, when the first major piece of negative feedback came from a parent concerned about his children’s exposure to this sort of discussion, I was admittedly surprised. It’s too lengthy to quote from here, but it’s here if you’re bored enough to be here reading this in the first place.

This was a hard one for me. I’m staunch in my belief that it’s not my job to editorialize; people will do that for me when they see a piece. When this parent challenged that an alt-right author ought to be able to write a counter-piece, else the site was taking a political position, it was a weird place to be. I’m not there to act as a mouthpiece for whatever idea wants to be out, but at the same time, I still feel strongly that we’re not there implicitly to filter. Partly, that’s why I’m here, not there, with this. But, as I said, I think it’s my job to hear anyone with an opinion out.

The initial comment, I think, might have been a bit clouded in emotion, as I get far more clarity from those beyond it. My read is that this person was concerned mostly about the themes of the piece as exposed to adolescents. Truly, not something that I considered ever in the editing process, as my data suggests our readership is mostly parental and college age.

Unlike many others, who are ready to jump this person down, I understand the issue. I don’t think 11-year old Christopher would’ve taken parts of this well at all. There’s an argument out there that “nothing here is controversial, therefore there’s no need to worry about the age.” I’d probably agree if my idea of plane reading wasn’t adolescent psychology research, but I digress. I think this is a real concern, and I’m glad to have had it raised, even if it’s another thing on a long list of things to think about.

I’m not comfortable with the way the debate is going in that thread, and think it’s altogether too personal. Perhaps that’s inevitable when people care, but I don’t like to see it nonetheless. I wish people weren’t as ready to personally assassinate another’s motives. Disheartening.

Fortunately, on the whole, the feedback has been heartening to see. There’s not as much negativity, neither in volume or nature, as I expected, and general reception has been positive.

Bottom Line

If you’re still here, I appreciate your reading of the ramblings. Overall, I want to thank Kenny for bringing the article to us, as I’m glad the subject is out there. I hope this helps shed some perspective or is at least something interesting to think about. While the piece’s framing presented something of a dilemma, I’m confident at this point that we did what was right. Whatever comes of that, comes.

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