Mighty Marvel Monday: Perlmutter, Trump, and the Boycott Dilemma

I was totally planning to talk about normal Marvel stuff this week, but then Ike Perlmutter donated $1 million to Donald Trump and that became the thing to talk about for people working in comics, people who write about comics, and even people who have never read a comic before.

There seems to be a lot of arguing going on, and sides being made.There’s a lot of use of the word rhetoric, and people thinking they’re right and other people are wrong. For a former student (and teacher) of rhetoric, it’s both fascinating and frustrating.

Before I get to that, though, I need to announce that Ms. Marvel won the Angoulême Award for best series.

French cover of Ms. Marvel. Credit Marvel/Panini Press.
French cover of Ms. Marvel. Credit Marvel/Panini Press.

It’s first time Marvel has ever won an Angoulême, and that’s good background to keep in mind throughout this column. Also, G. Willow Wilson was not there, so Kieron Gillen picked it up for her and posted this picture on twitter.

https://twitter.com/kierongillen/status/693563058585739265

 

Okay, back to the Perlmutter and Trump thing. So, let’s start with the basics, i.e. what happened, and why people are upset about it.

Thursday night, Donald Trump held the Republican equivalent of anti-prom at the same time as the GOP debate, because he’s still butthurt about Fox News personality Megyn Kelly calling out his blatant and rampant sexism (which is probably the only thing I’ll ever praise Megyn Kelly for doing). At the event, which was ostensibly a fundraiser for veterans, Trump announced that Perlmutter had donated $1 million dollars.

This Vox article is a pretty good breakdown of the initial fallout. People were outraged. Other people were baffled by the outrage. Still other people were baffled by the bafflement. I’m not going to rehash this outrage, or reactionary bafflement. What I am going to do is talk a little about the way the arguments fail to accomplish anything except lead to frustration for everyone involved, and that’s due to people falling into bad logic traps.

Fallacies are tricky things because sometimes you don’t realize you’re falling into them, and sometimes people talk about them as if they are legitimate arguments instead of bad ones. It’s a defensive tactic intended to distract from the fact that there is no valid argumentative counter.

For example:

Person A: Perlmutter donating to Trump reflects badly on Marvel.

Person B: Judging Perlmutter’s donation is a slippery slope that leads to the policing an individual’s right to make political donations.

Or maybe

Person A: Perlmutter donating to Trump reflects badly on Marvel.

Person B: #NotAllMarvel

Oh, and this too

Person A: Perlmutter donating to Trump reflects badly on Marvel.

Person B: Buying a comic doesn’t support Trump.

Let me clarify that I’m not saying these responses are wrong. What I’m saying is that these responses fail argumentatively since they do not address the initial argument. They are fallacious. They’re red herrings. Sometimes they miss the point. And sometimes people don’t even know that they’re bad arguments. The slippery slope is my favorite example of this. People use slippery slope as if by making the argument they are presenting good logic when it’s actually the opposite. The other two are mostly examples of how argument easily gets derailed. This happens a lot on twitter because when you are limited to 140 characters the natural instinct is to distill an argument down to the crux of the issue. But not everyone sees the crux of the issue as the same thing.

Nor does everyone agree that boycotting Marvel is the solution, which leads to more bad argumentation, like this:

Person A: I don’t support a Marvel Boycott.

Person B: So you support Donald Trump?

Or maybe this

Person A: I don’t support a Marvel Boycott.

Person B: So you think people who are boycotting are idiots?

And then there’s this

Person A: I don’t support a Marvel Boycott.

Person B: If you don’t support a boycott you’re part of the problem.

And that’s the line of argumentation that bothers me the most, because it’s used to silence dissent. It’s a false dichotomy, and I can’t abide false dichotomies. But the real problem that underlies these responses is that they rely on the assumption that a boycott is the “right” course of action. And this is actually another fallacy–an appeal to consequences; the presumption that because the outcome is desirable the premise is true. If we boycott, the company will change. Conversely, claims that individuals boycotting comics will lead to cancelled books also relies on fallacious logic. That’s the nature of rhetoric.

The power of rhetoric is in being able to redefine an argument on your terms. The problem is that other people can do that too, and that can be used against you. It’s why the Sophists were hated and the word rhetoric has come to be synonymous with dirty politics and lies. Rhetoric is a skill and a tool that can be used by people for good ends, or for bad. But no amount of rhetoric or argument, good or bad, can dispute is the irony in the fact that the CEO of the publisher of the comic that was just awarded Best Series at the prestigious Angoulême Awards, which stars a Muslim Pakistani-American teenage girl and is written by a Muslim woman, donated money to a anti-Muslim political candidate.

Neither is anyone disputing that people have the right to choose where and how to spend their money for whatever reason, whether that be on comics or other things. Whether you should boycott a brand is an ethical dilemma we are all too familiar with. There are websites devoted to keeping track of current boycotts and apps that help us buycott. These kinds of ethical considerations have become part of consumerism, and I’m just as guilty as anyone. I still avoid shopping at Hobby Lobby and experience a flash of guilt when I buy something on Amazon. I feel bad when I enjoy a comic written by someone who has a history of abuse allegations, and I buy as many comics as I can afford by creators I want to support. I’ve been through this dilemma before.

I’ve also observed it recently. In 2012 I was living in Atlanta when the Chick-Fil-A fiasco happened. Not having grown up in the South I never had an attachment to Chick-Fil-A, so I didn’t see the big deal. But I’ll never forget how friends, colleagues, and students were having intense ethical crises and questioning whether boycotts made an impact. “Why does it matter when it’s just a chicken sandwich?” I asked. It wasn’t until much later that I understood that it wasn’t really about the chicken sandwich. For some people, especially those who had lived in the South, the chicken sandwich was something that they loved, and it evoked happy memories and Southern pride, much in the same way I take pride as a Californian about In-N-Out burger. I still remember the first time my parents took me to one and I learned about the sacrament that is a Double-Double.

So it’s not really about the chicken. It was also about having to reconcile Southern identity with their personal politics, especially when those politics differed from their friends and family members. In the age of social media, this was a personal issue made public. It was posted on Facebook statuses.  D.L. Hughley published a breakup letter on HuffPo. Other people made vlogs that went viral.

It was a personal issue made public, and it was made public because of a chicken sandwich. But it wasn’t really about the chicken sandwich. And to me, that’s what this Marvel boycott movement feels like. Granted, it’s not a perfect analogy, since Chick-Fil-A not only actively supported certain organizations but also doubled down on the anti-gay rhetoric in their public statements, but the reactions that people are having are very similar, which is why I’m fairly confident in my claim that it’s not really about this particular act that is sparking so much protest, but something else that’s being crystallized through this particular act for some people and they’re using it as their line in the sand.

All of the examples in that Salon article, all of which are things that make me dislike Ike Perlmutter as the CEO of Marvel Comics, are all things that were done previously to this particular instance. And Perlmutter’s donation, while it makes it very clear what his political leanings are, aren’t even something that has a direct impact on Marvel Comics or the employees of Marvel Comics in the same way as that leaked email about why he didn’t want to make a movie about a woman superhero or the ridiculous budget cuts back in 2011. Perlmutter’s been a Republican and a friend of Donald Trump’s for a long time. This isn’t new.

But it is new to some people, and if it’s not new to some people, it’s still brought the issue to the forefront, again, and people looked to social media for reactions from Marvel creators. Where would their line in the sand be? They were, for the most part, silent but G. Willow Wilson tweeted these tweets on Friday.

gwillowmarvel

She later followed it up with this post on tumblr that has been linked and tweeted and retweeted, and it’s from this post that I draw inspiration and empathy, especially in regards to this passage:

There’s a lot I can’t say, so let me just say this: follow your conscience. I am going to continue to work on Ms Marvel, for the following reason: I have never, in my entire career, seen a character and a story light people up the way this has, and I need to see it through a little longer. (Unless of course I get fired for talking about this shit, in which case, it was nice meeting you all.)

The last line is important for people to keep in mind. Not everyone is the writer of an Angoulême Award winning series, and I applaud G. Willow for speaking up for those who can’t at very real risk to herself. In an industry people can’t even come forward to talk about sexual harassment for fear of professional retaliation, the idea of publicly criticizing the company they are contracted to must be terrifying. But so too is the idea that their silence equals approval.

When the question of boycotts arise, it can be shocking to realize that an issue you care about doesn’t matter at all to people you care about. But the flaw in that line of thinking is assuming that other people don’t care just because they’re not demonstrating it in the same way that you do. I am a huge Marvel fan. I’ve been called a Marvel stan. And I’ve spent the past three weeks criticizing Marvel on issues relating to diversity and asking them to do better. Marvel has made progress and I want it to continue to do so. And for me, to support Marvel being better means praising them when they do something well, and also talking about things they do that annoy me in this column until my editors tell me I can’t anymore. It also means that I will continue to support Marvel through buycotting the comics and creators I support. That’s my way of being an ethical consumer of comics. It might not be your way, but that doesn’t make it wrong.

 

ICYMI

 

Curiously, Angela’s nomination was absent from this week’s Axel-in-Charge. Maybe they’ll get to it next week, when they talk about Ms. Marvel’s Angoulême. But if we’re going by Axel’s own word on the subject about letting the readers decide on Angela’s sexuality–it seems the readers have spoken.

Kate Tanski

Kate Tanski

Recovering academic. Fangirl. Geek knitter.

6 thoughts on “Mighty Marvel Monday: Perlmutter, Trump, and the Boycott Dilemma

  1. I’ve got my issues with Marvel and only recently came around to buying ANYTHING from them to support the creators I like, after boycotting the company for years over One More Day. I still refuse to buy anything Spider-Man related.

    The fact is that it’s his money and he can do with it what he wants. It’s not like he’s turning Marvel Comics into a propaganda press for Trump.

    Now, the minute that he’s firing Nick Spencer and G. Willow Wilson and we have a comic of Steve Rogers kicking Sam Wilson’s ass to the curb and shouting that the real white god-fearing Captain America is back and that a real American hero is with him, standing back to reveal Donald Trump… THEN we boycott and let loose the dogs of war.

    1. This is also a good point to consider when people start throwing around the word ‘boycott.’ In order to be successful, boycotts need to have some kind of achievable goal in mind and a strong rationale for why boycotting is the right course of action until this action takes place, and I’m not persuaded. Like you said, it’s Perlmutter’s money and he can do what he wants with it, and his donation to Trump’s fundraiser does not indicate Marvel creators are writing write pro-Trump content.

  2. Perlmutter and his wife also gave 50 million to cancer researched. He gave way more money to a good cause than for Trump.

    Now when will people boycott DC for giving jobs to two serial harassers: eddie berganza and scott lobdell.

    hopocrisy too much on comics fandom

    1. A writer or artist being hired is easy enough to deal with: just boycott that particular book they’re on. I’ve never bought a comic starring Lobdell on writing, and barring a major personality overhaul, I never will. A senior editor like Berganza on the other hand…

    2. That’s comparing apples to oranges here, and doesn’t negate that Perlmutter did support Trump. Cancer research and a presidential campaign are not the same, even if Trump is comparable in a metaphorical sense to cancer.

    3. Perlmutter may also donate to other charitable organizations–but this “counter”argument isn’t really a counter, and it’s the kind of “counterargument” that I’m trying to caution against. Perlmutter’s good deeds do not negate that the Trump donation is a PR problem for Marvel.

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