You Gotta Feel It to Believe It


My brain has been in crazy overdrive lately but it's been a jumble for weeks. Hey, wait a minute, didn't I start a blog specifically to mitigate that? To-do lists don't fix a messy "augh I can't concentrate on just ONE amazing thing" head, but idea extraction does!

So for the first extraction procedure: I've become obsessed with the concept of "experience over information" lately. It's really an amalgamation of my previous big essay posts. As such, I'm going to start with some of the same material in order to explain the concept. Heh, this whole blog is just going to end up one giant extended essay in itself.

Rhoulette characterized the concept through the common idea of "pix or it didn't happen" and its relationship to "a picture is worth a thousand words." This is easy to mentally skip over because we hear the two phrases so often, but there is real meaning here. As I've said, this is what happened with Fat, Ugly or Slutty: seeing the messages made a difference. A friend of mine said the following in response to my Feed the Trolls post that really captures the idea quite well:

I really agree that the viscerality (?) of seeing the comments has a lot to do with their presentation - I strongly suspect that even posting a direct transcription of each comment wouldn't have had the same effect. Seeing an actual screenshot, it's almost as though you're receiving the comment from someone yourself, and I think that triggers exactly the sort of reaction that people need to have. This is actually something that a lot of artists try to capture - real-world empathy, grown from a (virtual) recreation of someone else's experience.

This apparent power of experience over information dissemination is unfair, and it's nonsensical in a purely-logical-discourse kind of way. If you say the words to someone, they should just understand, right? Everyone should just get it after they understand the concepts. Unfortunately, that doesn't always happen.

For example, when we talk about the different experiences that minority groups have, we are up against a wall built out of the listener's own experience. It's often not enough to talk about one particular sexist straw that broke the camel's back. Talking about one instance doesn't really convey that it's just one of many, or that this one just happened to be the one that pushed someone over the edge enough to talk about it.

This comic (about comics!) is fairly good and a little funny because of her comment in the last panel. It's a humourous emphasis on how it's so rarely about one thing; it's about all of them at once, and the impact that has on us throughout our lives. I've seen the amalgamation of sexism that women experience described as "death by a thousand cuts" but I like "background radiation" a lot more for some reason. :)

@herpderpedia is a hilarious Twitter account that dedicated itself to retweeting people astonishment, anger and massive confusion at the Wikipedia blackout to protest SOPA. (I checked a few accounts and some of the people featured said that they were only joking afterwards.) Of course I loved this account, but I was also amazed at its FUoS parallels. Once again, you could watch peoples' astonishment at the stupidity featured on the feed. Buzzfeed has been taking advantage of this same phenomenon lately -- and by that I mean our collective sit-up-and-listen when we see "proof." It has been compiling lists of stupid, abhorrent or entitled things people say online. You can tell someone there is a lot of dumb out there, but if you show them, suddenly they'll really understand.

When you get obsessed with a concept, you start to see it everywhere. And sometimes, it just pops. (Link is probably not reliable to non-members, so I've quoted it here.)

One of my friends, while a cool dude for the most part, isn't exactly the most progressive thinker when it comes to gender. He's the kind of guy who thinks feminism is a bunch of bullshit and "it's fantasy, women wouldn't be fighting at all if it was realistic" is a legitimate excuse for bikini armor. He's pretty stubborn on his beliefs so we generally don't discuss the subject at all.

The other day he admitted he was bothered by Nightwing's animation's and appearance in Arkham City because of the way the character sticks his ass out all the time. I then told him, "congratulations, you now know what it feels like to be objectified", and asked him to imagine being female and playing Catwoman. To my surprise he actually admitted I was right, and I think he actually started "getting it" just a little bit.

This story struck me pretty hard. It's an anecdote and should only carry as much weight as one, but it conveys so perfectly what I've been obsessing over that I can't let it go. This pair of friends have discussed gender disparity before at length -- enough so that they know not to talk about it anymore so they can retain their good-natured friendship. Sure, everyone has those respectful disagreements and lines you don't feel like crossing with the awesome people around you.

The person telling this anecdote has already conveyed information about gender differences to their friend. This friend has heard the arguments and offered his explanations and rebuttals for the way things are different between men and women. He knows about the issues. For all intents and purposes, he is informed.

But then, he experienced it.

Suddenly, he gets it. Maybe just a little. But he gets it that little bit.

Insert over-used seed metaphor here.

What the absolute fuck, right? If this is a person who has been arguing for bikini armour all this time, what's the big deal with Nightwing's butt? How is Nightwing's portrayal comparable enough for him to see the discomfort from a woman playing Catwoman?

Why this? Why now?

This is exactly what I can't get out of my head. Some people (myself included, as it turned out) require a dose of experience on some topics, not just information. There is a segment of the population who aren't entirely swayed by angry, insulting discourse. They aren't swayed by patronizing and scolding. They aren't swayed by exaggeration. They aren't even swayed by calmly-presented trends, discussions and anecdotes. Experience provides something "extra" that even the most brilliantly written words can't convey -- or perhaps more accurately, some people can't really understand until they've lived it.

Of course, the other part that stands out in that story for me is my other ongoing obsession: gender-reversal. I expressed my adoration for the concept in my list of Teh Funnay and I still think about it all the time. Performing a simple gender reversal in common scenarios (like the pin-ups, book covers and music videos mentioned before) exposes disparity so easily that I can't get past it. This Nightwing anecdote (and the Batman-related comic linked above) is a prime example of how sexualizing a man sets off alarm bells in the head of someone who constructed an elaborate mental system of Penrose staircases to contain both "women wouldn't fight" and "women fight in bikinis."

There are some people who need that experience to push them into understanding. I'm starting to see 'experience over information' everywhere, even if its application is accidental, as with FUoS and Nightwing. Does this video about men and women at the bar count as an intentional online distribution of experience and feeling, rather than information? Regardless, I can't help but mention it here, I'm so in love with it.

It's an amazingly well-acted and well-scripted amalgamation of experiences everyone recognizes and, importantly, played totally straight. There's no exaggeration here. This is just the exact behaviours we are used to and expect, but with the genders reversed. I'm still impressed that they actually elicit pangs of empathy for the dude who looks like he belongs in a 70s porno. Maybe I'm the only one who felt that, but still -- the feeling is there, and maybe it elicits that experience/feeling in others.

Phew. The other part of this conceptual obsession of "experience over information"? Figuring out the harnessing and distribution thereof. Maybe now I can focus on those ideas for a while.

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