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.