I remember a story my master’s degree mentor told me. She said her family had been outraged because she read a T.S. Eliot poem at her daughter’s graduation. In case you’re unaware, Eliot was often criticized for being antisemitic.
I remember the look of awe on her face when she told me, “The poem was about a cat.”
We were discussing Eliot because I was writing my master’s thesis about him and William Faulkner, two of my all time favorite writers and I had been reading the critiques detailing Eliot’s insensitivity towards Jews. I asked how to deal with these critiques when I loved so much of his poetry.
This brought me into a long standing debate and discussion: Can you enjoy the work of an author separately from the author himself?
Since then, I’ve batted this question back and forth, being at once drawn to the discussion and exhausted by it. I found myself returning to this same question over the summer as I started putting my panel proposal together for PAX Prime and the controversy that had once again returned to one of the founders of Penny Arcade and his unfortunate tendency to stick more than his foot in his mouth.
I don’t want to go into the details of what happened and what was said and why. If you’ve followed Penny Arcade or Gabe you’ve seen the type of language he prefers to use and I’ll just sum it up here: He’s insensitive. He’s famous. And he doesn’t care what you think.
So why would I present my research, and some kick ass gamers, at a con where the head guy was violating Wheaton’s Law? Here’s why.
PAX isn’t about Gabe and Tycho. At least, it isn’t for me. I had NO idea there was a comic strip associated with PAX when I first attended four years ago. How many Penny Arcade comics have I read since then? A handful. I don’t follow the strip or the story. I honestly don’t find the characters particularly compelling, probably because they are based on the founders in some way. I do often quote the Greater Internet F-wad Theory because it is a brilliant representation of part of what is going on in this situation and what is wrong with gaming and internet culture overall.
The most important thing about any event I attend is how it feels, what the vibe is like, and how the people there treat each other. When I walk around PAX, I know I am surrounded by people who love and appreciate all the things that I love and appreciate about gaming. Not just the games but the community that is built around games. And even when I am run/walking from the show floor queue so I can pick up a Bigger Blacker Box for my Cards Against Humanity cards, I am impressed with the respect I find in the crowd. No pushing, no pulling, and a general sense of relief to know we are about to receive one of the most sought after items at the con.
It’s more than a little distressing to think that some of the awesome people I’ve met through Game on Girl would avoid PAX because of the idiotic ideology of one founder. What Gabe and Tycho started isn’t about them – it’s about the community. The community that’s grown up around PAX is dynamic, engaging, diverse, and full of amazingly intelligent, insightful people. I am proud to count myself amongst that crowd.
So for PAX, I take the event as a separate thing from its founders. I completely understand how that can’t and won’t be the case for others and I respect that because I am capable of understanding differing points of view from my own. Perhaps, this might be a lesson for some comic strip creators.