Triumph or Tragedy?

25 Apr

This afternoon I clicked on a link that someone I Follow had posted on their Twitter feed and stumbled onto a Tumblr post from the head designer of Magic the Gathering, with regards to an “Ask Anything” question that was asked of him.  The exchange went a little something like this:

dukkhasatva asked: It seems there is quite the discussion about the art of Triumph of Ferocity. If one has no context/background knowledge, that does look like the “helpless woman” you talked about not wanting on cards. Your thoughts?

I feel like its unfair to judge everything out of context. Part of the story had a big fight between two of our main planeswalkers. We want to show that on a card. Can we only illustrate that fight if Liliana is shown winning?  That seems just as sexist to me.

As is, Liliana wins that fight. It’s not like we’re portraying her as some weak victim. She’s holding her own with a man twice her size.

I get where people are coming from, but I have to stand up for context.

For those not in the know, this is the artwork for the card in question:

The very angry, feral looking male is a planeswalker named Garruk Wildspeaker and the woman who appears to not have the upper hand in this skirmish is a planeswalker called Liliana Vess.  According to lore, Liliana used the black magic at her command to put a curse on Garruk that warped his summoning powers and wracked his body with agony.  Now corrupted with dark magic, the planeswalker who once wanted nothing more than to become one with nature has become consumed with rage and a thirst for vengeance on the evil necromancer who did this to him. Long story short:  they have met.

So it’s only natural that eventually Garruk would catch up to Liliana and they would duke it out in a fight to the death or something close to it. However, a number of people do not see the image posted above in that way.  They see a very large man brandishing a vicious looking weapon on his arm and pinning a much smaller unarmed woman to a tree or rock. They see that he appears to be wearing more clothing than she is and seems better dressed for battle.  People see the disproportionate body type on the woman and how unrealistic that shape may be, when compared to how the average woman or how a real woman might look. The fact that Garruk seems to have his knee or his leg between Liliana’s legs leads people to believe that there is some sort of forced sexual undertones between the two of them.

What they don’t see is the fact that Liliana is very clearly casting some sort of magical spell in response to her current situation, which may very well get her out of this mess and grant her the upper hand.  What they don’t know is that Liliana actually wins this one.  People aren’t taking the time to think before and after the fact or to learn more about what it is that they are looking at or they are experiencing.  They are jumping into the here and now. They see something that others have told them is offensive.  They see something that they want to believe is offensive.  They don’t stop to ask themselves why this offends them or if it could be seen in any other light, other than one of offense.  That worries me.

There has been a lot of talk lately about what people find offensive and I feel that context has been left out of the discussion for too long.  We have become so wrapped up in drawing our battle lines, in giving certain words or phrases so much power over us that we have forgotten what goes into those words to trigger these responses in us.  We have stopped asking people what they mean when they do or say things and we just take these words or these actions at face value.  In the rare occasions where someone is asked what they meant by something they did or said, it’s very likely that the person who is asking the question already has their mind made up and there is nothing that the person on the receiving end of the question can do to change their minds.  They have already decided that this person has done wrong and they are basically just asking for clarification to drive their point home.  They have no intention of giving this person the opportunity to clear the air or to right a perceived wrong.

When I read that statement from Mark Rosewater I felt so vindicated and like I couldn’t sit down in my chair.  I had to stand up and let what he said wash over me.  It makes me wish that Blizzard would have stuck to their guns, regarding the Ji Firepaw debacle.  We don’t read certain books or watch certain television shows or movies because they have happy endings.  We don’t take anything away from characters who aren’t a little rough around the edges.  People with flaws who make questionable decisions make us think.  They get us talking.  They inspire us.

It reminds me of that plotline on “Angel” where Jasmine came to the world and offered to usher mankind into an era of peace.  Sure, nobody fought. There was no war.  There was no suffering.  But it came at a price – free will.  The price of all of that good was just too high for Angel to let Jasmine do what she wanted to do.  It wasn’t worth it.  There are people that I don’t agree with and there are things that genuinely insult and offend me as a woman, as a transgender woman, and as many other things.  But I don’t have the right to say to those people “You can’t say that,” or “You can’t do that.”  I have the right to say that I don’t agree with something or to walk away from them if such a thing persists.  But I do not have the right to make someone change to suit my needs or what makes me the most comfortable.  When I see people cave to the demands of others like that it really saddens me, because it feels like they’re giving in.  That’s what Blizzard did – they gave in.  They would have rather had everyone get along and would have rather kept the peace than have people deal with the ugliness that comes from the opposite side of things, the kind that comes from sitting in your emotions and dealing with them or from confronting your fears and your insecurities head on.

I don’t think that’s anything worth celebrating or anything worth calling a triumph.  I think that’s a tragedy.

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11 Responses to “Triumph or Tragedy?”

  1. Hestiah #

    This is one of those times where context really does matter. In a lot of situations, context does matter. It’s been mentioned before somewhere I read in the last few days, that people don’t always care about the context. They let books, tv shows, and movies go unscathed in the war against OMG-feminism, but a handful of snip-its of dialogue and the internet blows up in a fury over the oppression of women.

    The truth is, the story does matter sometimes. And people need to stop getting their panties all in a wad over insignificant shit. Really. They do.

  2. Oestrus #

    There does seem to be some hypocrisy on that front or the notion that some ideas slip past the radar which others would consider more threatening or worse in favor of other ideas that may not be such a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

    For example, one or two of the people who have been loudest in recent discussions are huge fans of Kanye West and other rap artists who make very questionable statements about women or position them in such a way in their videos. You don’t see these women getting upset about that or not giving that entertainer their support anymore. They’re buying their mp3s off iTunes. They’re listing them as their favorite artist on their websites. They’re singing along to the lyrics.

    Can you have it both ways? Can you say that an animated panda has gone too far and has set you and all women back a couple of notches, but then enjoy a music video where someone has scantily clad women gyrating all around them or has them displayed in ways where they are perceived to be dead or dismembered? I don’t think you can. That sounds a lot like hypocrisy to me.

  3. arawethion #

    Worth noting for context, since a lot of people reading this probably don’t play Magic-the card is part of a pair, one representing the Garruk side of the fight and the other representing Liliana. Here’s the other one:

    http://media.wizards.com/images/magic/tcg/products/avr/nh5991idy0_en.jpg

    And the full version of the first one for comparison:

    http://media.wizards.com/images/magic/tcg/products/avr/7au564f5at_en.jpg

    They’re symmetric in a variety of ways-one is Garruk’s color and one is Liliana’s, same casting cost, same (well, inverse) effects. The art was clearly commissioned to specifically fit that theme: one showing Garruk in a position of advantage and one showing Liliana.

    I don’t actually know anything about the surrounding discussion here, or whether it was just some random comment one person sent in to Maro, but figured I’d note that bit of background.

  4. Ophelie #

    I found it pretty obvious that she’s casting a spell. And the look on her face says “I’m totally going to pwn you n00b”. There’s nothing weak or helpless about her. A while her boobs are quite prominant, her figure and attire aren’t scandalous.

    I wonder if the reason I see it the way I do is related to the fact that I made a good life for myself. Since I was very young I was determined to be self-sufficent. As a result, I’ve travelled around the world on my own, I have 3 college degrees, I was single for most of my 20s and thus learned all the necessary life-skills, my career is off to a great start, I’m in a good place financially… It took a lot of work, but in the end, I feel powerful. I wonder if those women who are more sensitive to issues in the media didn’t feel like they succeeded in being in control of their life.

    However, I did find the discussion over the Ji Firepaw thingy to be interesting. I had no strong opinions on it myself, but I think it’s important to talk about these things. Discussion is the starting point of change, and we should always be starting to make this world a better place. That said, though, I kind of wish the internet’s ultra-feminists would take it to the next step by doing concrete things in the real world. It’s easy to point out everything the media does wrong, but it’s another to actually do something beyond talk. (Be a girl scout leader, volunteer at a school, join a community group for women who help each other out, etc)

  5. Oestrus #

    I definitely think that some of the more vocal members of our community, with regards to feminism and equality have some more ongoing issues than just what’s at hand. That’s why I think it’s important for people to ask themselves why something offends them, if the item is question is truly offensive, or is your perspective on it or what you are bringing to the table creating offense where there maybe isn’t any. I don’t think people are willing to have those conversations with themselves or each other and so a lot of people get offended rather impulsively and maybe for reasons they shouldn’t be.

    For example, there was an issue brought up of how certain women didn’t handle receiving compliments from strangers or strange males well. I genuinely believe that these women most likely don’t take compliments well from anyone and this is just an extension of that. I think we walk a really fine line when we say that praise is bad. Granted, there are ways where someone can shower you with too much praise, and that certainly crosses a line. But if you genuinely believe that everyone who tells you that you look great today or that you did a great job at something is out to get to you or cause harm to you I can’t imagine how you would realistically get by in the world. I think some people might rest easier once they realize this and get out of this hell of their own making that they have created for themselves in their minds and the minds of others.

    Going back to the Firepaw thing, I felt that there was discussion about this, but not necessarily the healthiest kind. People went into it with only one possible outcome and if you didn’t support that outcome you very quickly became the enemy. There wasn’t much wiggle room there and it got ugly. I also agree with you that there is a lot of virtual crusading happening, but not so much happening on the real world side of things. I think that we have some very powerful voices in our midst that could bring about some amazing changes, if only they took the steps or had the motivation to do so. It makes me sad to see that potential and those strong voices not being used to their fullest potential or in the best way possible.

  6. Nin #

    Blizzard’s response to the Firepaw thing was nothing short of genius tho, judging by this: http://www.applecidermage.com/2012/04/25/ji-firepaw-now-more-than-ever/ . I’d say this is yet another example of things becoming better because of open discussions.

  7. Oestrus #

    Hi Nin,

    I tend to disagree. I think that nothing about the Ji Firepaw scandal was handled well, especially when it comes to the person that you are referencing in your comment. I think there was a lot of hypocrisy from that side of things. I think there was a lot of bullying and finger pointing and I think the example that I gave in my post about wanting someone’s opinion when you already have your own formed, just so you can use what that person says against them holds true in this situation and others that have stemmed from it.

    Like I said, I don’t think anything regarding the outcome of that is worth celebrating. I think it’s an opportunity that could have been explored and treated so much better than it was. I don’t condone it and I think there are quite a few people who should downright be ashamed of themselves for the way that they acted.

  8. Nin #

    I was more refering to the actual dialogue in the screencaps from the game, which seems like a neat wink to both sides and refreshingly free of bowing to either side also. As for the bullying etc, I suppose I have not followed the kerfuffle closely enough to really notice who said what to whom, so, ugh, sorry if I linked them from the wrong person.

    I suppose if you are “in the trenches”, participating in the argument it all is much more personal and all attacks etc much more strongly felt – but for someone like me, following from a safe lurking distance, all those debates seem like the birthing pains of a new way of life, of creating and participating. Exchanging opinions and influencing the ways things are done – it does seem like there is a new vigorousness to the debates and more responsiveness from all the sides – both the internet commentators and the commented-upon creators. I can’t help but to feel that whatever the short-term consequences, in the long run we will have a new and interesting way of creating art.

  9. Oestrus #

    From the outside looking in or from a distant perspective I can see how it would appear that everything was happening interchangeably in friendly exchanges across the board.

    Unfortunately, lines have been drawn pretty firmly in the sand by those on Twitter or across various forms or even on our own blogs, and I’m no stranger to that.

    The final outcome of the Ji Firepaw situation did not come amicably at all. It did get ugly. It did get personal. I think it definitely left an impression on the community and I will even go so far as to say that it will color how future situations are handled, going forward.

  10. SerrinneWoW (@SerrinneWoW) #

    This issue (I am not a Magic player so this is the only time I read about it) reminded me so much of the big freak out people had a long while ago over a Vanity Fair cover that featured James Gandalfini in character as Tony Soprano ( http://www.vanityfair.com/magazine/toc/contents-200704 ) Many internet-types suggested that this photo objectified the woman in the photo and I thought to myself “Hey, Tony Soprano isn’t exactly the most enlightened dude, and this photo is IN character, so isn’t this photo ABOUT a dude who would do exactly that rather than DOING that thing”? I feel like the contexts of these situations is really vitally important! – things can be ABOUT (for example) power (like the Vanity Fair cover or the Magic card) and not be sexist in and of themselves. I was too scared to say that on twitter so thanks for the post :)

  11. Oestrus #

    I can’t tell you how many times I have heard variations of your last sentence on Twitter or in comments on other people’s blogs over the last few weeks. That to me says that these attempts to create healthy discussion and a sharing of ideas have failed pretty spectacularly. Certain people have done a wonderful job of singling out the people who agree with their ideas, while creating an environment that makes others feel like they can’t contribute because of what might happen to them if they do.

    Oh, the Vanity Fair thing. I remember that whole debacle. You’re absolutely right, with regards to how that cover should have been viewed and how it was most likely meant to be viewed. I doubt many people gave it that much thought, which is sad. We can get so much more out of something when we look past face value, in anything in life. I thought that cover was really well done and I’m glad to see that I’m not the only one.

    Thanks for stopping by!

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