Infinite Spider-Man 13.7: The Man in the Arena VS The Critic

Posted by Mister Mets 05 November 2012

At CBR, some of the most passionate discussions have been on the topic of the behavior of fans and professionals in their interactions with one another, as seen here and here. There were a lot of complaints about perceived slights, either in interviews or with interactions with professionals involved with One More Day or subsequent comics, at message boards, and other places online.

Regarding the relationship between fans and professionals, it seems that people fall into several groups, two of whom view professionals and fans quite differently. Ignoring partisans (whose stated views on whether another acts morally are determined by whether they agree with the individual on other issues), purists (who apply the same standards to everyone) and entertainers (who don't really care about the issue either way, but just want to say something witty) there seems to be one central division in outlook whenever conflicts arise regarding the relationship between the man in the arena and the detractor.

The man in the arena is just a term for the individual involved in a public undertaking, such as a sports figure, politician, or comic book writer or editor, in this case. The detractor is the guy criticizing the man in the arena. He can vary from an anonymous Monday morning quarterback to someone who can be considered a Man in the Arena himself, when his stature and reach is such that he is discussed in a way the anonymous masses of critics are not. See Paul Krugman or Roger Ebert.

The division, although it could also be seen as more of a spectrum than anything binary, is whether you'll side with the man in the arena or the detractor, when disputes arise over whether the former acted civilly.

You could argue that the man in the arena has chosen a high-profile position, be it Governor, Baseball Coach, Hollywood Director or whatever, where he is to be held to a higher standard. His words carry more weight, so he must be careful and sensitive lest anything be construed as an insult. Patience and understanding is an absolute requirement, even when dealing with the worst fans, critics and detractors. The extreme of this is to suggest that the fans can be thin-skinned jerks, while the professionals must walk on eggshells in any interactions.

Or you could argue that the man in the arena (who can also be a woman but it's easier to use male pronouns) has done a lot of work to get to where he is. Analysis of what he does for a living is fine, but it must be civil. And the complainer has to be correct, when it comes to objective details. It is not the responsibility of the man in the arena to waste his time when the backseat driver is careless with facts. There's nothing wrong with patience, but there's also nothing wrong with humiliating a particularly stupid heckler.

I don't care for the partisans; the ones who will criticize the creators they don't like (and often don't follow) for things that are also done by their favorite writers and artists, often to a greater degree.

And I dislike the hecklers. It's subjective, but I think a true heckler has to be obnoxious. And a stupid heckler has to be wrong about the facts, as well. I have no problem with a professional dismantling either a partisan or a heckler.

What you think of this letter and the response probably reveals what you think of the topic.

The worst fans generally top the worst professionals, but what professionals say is more memorable. And a few readers will claim that a particular response to them is an affront to all fans, a sign of disrespect to the customers.

A few readers have insisted that Marvel should make sure that the professionals act appropriately. I don't agree here. It is my opinion that, aside from the most extreme cases, all that should matter is the quality of the work. Punishing a writer because he was rude online demonstrates that quality is not the priority, an attitude that I believe is especially harmful to this particular industry. Rewarding a writer because of his civility is also harmful, as it demonstrates a concern for something other than what matters: the quality of the work. And there is no way for a company to mandate a particular form of behavior without a willingness to take work away from professionals who fail to meet this standard, even if it has nothing to do with the finished material.

I don't think buying a comic book gives anyone the right to be obnoxious and/or wrong without being called on it. Such an expectation sets a bad precedent. That said, I've rarely seen anyone eviscerated simply for giving their opinion about a comic they've purchased. Any reprisals usually come when the critic A) is mistaken regarding the facts, or B) makes a personal attack against an artist (I use artist to describe anyone involved in the creation of the work of art.)

In defense of readers who have had their feelings hurt, I remember an interesting comment about one of the most acclaimed books of the last few years: Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. Unfortunately, I can't find the exact link. One problem the reader had was a difficulty looking at the book without thinking of the author, a man who some would say has significant flaws. It became difficult to read the book, without thinking that this represented how Jonathan Franzen, a flawed man, saw the world.

This could be applicable to Spider-Man comics. If I ever write the Spdier-Man comics, and you have a problem with me as an individual, it would be difficult to divorce your objection to the writer from my take on Spider-Man. The character's no longer the character; the character is Thomas Mets's version of the character, and your take on it is informed by an awareness of my faults.

This could be as a problem when a particular fan is offended by a writer, regardless of who was right. Whereas someone like me would gleefully state that with very rare exceptions, the only thing that should matter to anyone else is the quality of the work, it would become difficult for a reader to assess the quality of the work if he's thinking about how this version of Spider-Man is being written by a guy who did something he finds offensive.

And there is behavior that is truly outrageous. The founder of, an online comics retail service, got a lot of well-deserved flack for suggesting that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords deserved to get shot, and for suggesting that her outreach director deserved to die. This is outrageous behavior by a professional in the comics industry, and I have no objection whatsoever to customers deciding that he does not merit their patronage. Anything said by Wacker or Slott doesn't compare.

Sometimes a reader misinterprets what was said, and a significant nuance is lost in the paraphrasing. Some of the complaints just aren't particularly valid. Sometimes there are people with chips on their shoulders trying to stir up problems for the pros. Technically, someone opposed to the direction of the book has incentives to get anyone involved with the book entangled in time-consuming arguments, which doesn't encourage good-faith discussions. So they might push forward arguments they know to be outrageous, in the hopes of upsetting a fan.

In other cases, readers may not take a scene at face value, and assume there's a new meaning behind it. A few were upset at Mary Jane's reappearance in Amazing Spider-Man #560 as a new character's mystery girlfriend. because it included a reference to Faust, and because he used the "You just hit the Jackpot" line with someone else. There was a similar reaction to the first Big Time issue in which Peter and Mary Jane laughed off the thought that they could live together. It seemed entirely appropriate for the character, two exes who had just started to be on good terms with one another. But it was interpreted in another way.

When a scene isn't taken at face value, it makes communication much more difficult. So it's better not to assume ulterior motives from the other guy.


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