Rush to Judgment: the Saga of Saga #12 [Opinion]

on Wednesday, Apr. 10th

Once upon a time Apple banned a comic book from their app store. For depicting gay sex!

There was a hue and cry in the land. (Do the twitter search, people.)

Until it turned out that it wasn’t Apple at all, but ComiXology, who pre-banned the comic from its app. Which is a bit different, but could still be motivated by the chilling effect that the removal of 1500+ French comics from an app owned by comics distributor Izneo last month had on ComiXology’s thinking.

Now I wouldn’t have known it was gay sex unless the writer, Brian K. Vaughn, said so in his statement on the alleged removal. The character depicted in the images was sufficiently androgynous to my throughly jaded eyes. Since there was no official statement from Apple on the issue–because, you know, they didn’t order the removal–I assumed that the images may have given offense since they depicted a particularly hardcore sex act. The technical term for which is best rendered in Japanese.

Sure, there’s been sex depicted on the TV head of Prince Robot IV in Saga before, just not quite that hardcore.

[Did I mention how much I love Saga? If only for the fact that I get to type phrases like “the TV head of Prince Robot IV “? Okay, good. Glad that’s clear.]

Meanwhile there’s still the issue of Apple giving off the impression that they only allow Puritan values inside iOS apps. The “chilling effect” is real and it means I agree with Devin Faraci on something. (Which is hard for me to admit since I’m #TeamSwanberg).

Faraci comes down hard on those who leap to Apple’s defense now that the direct culprit is revealed. He’s not wrong, but his indignation brushes up against a kind of internet culture dog whistle: the idea that Apple is attempting to control what content is available on their devices. Not just what is sold on their devices, but what is consumed on their devices regardless of the source.

This was never the case with Saga #12.

ComiXology made a point in their morning email blast to remind everyone that despite the fact the issue wasn’t available on the app store you could still buy the comic from them on the web and then synch it to the device. Which led me to note that you could punish Apple for their puritanical nature by buying any and all of your digital comics in this fashion. A fairly simple work-around and one that would benefit comics creators and ComiXology by keeping Apple from taking a cut.

There’s this “Apple are a bunch of cultural Marxists” meme that floats out here in cyberspace. It’s a framing device that only serves to obscure the actual power consumers have on mobile platforms. Apple does have the right to sell or not sell whatever the hell they want on their store, but we also retain the right to put whatever the hell we want on these boxes–at least when we speak of content for consumption. To imply otherwise skews the issue at hand: the app store is a raw deal for those who want to sell digital cultural artifacts like comics, but there are ways to get around that.

Let’s repeat that last: there are ways to get around Apple’s control of the content marketplace on iOS. We should be making a big deal about that all the bloody time. Fostering an online culture that embraces web storefronts that cut middlemen out of the picture is something anyone with an indie bone in their body can get behind.

On the other end of the spectrum from Faraci taking people to task we have John Gruber leaping to the head of the Apple Defense Force, asking “How exactly did anyone think Apple was banning a content update to an app that was already in the Apple Store?” The Izneo story only proves that Gruber doesn’t watch this space as closely as he thinks he does. Apple is policing content, and while Gruber may get out on a technicality–he said content update–the real issue is around the question of whether Apple should be policing content sold on apps that are not directly made by Apple.

(To be fair, no one likely has complete knowledge of what Apple is doing in this space. Gruber trades on smugness, however, which invites cheap shots.)

I’m embarrassed by all this because I too rushed to accept the version of events that were put out via the Image Comics blog. A decade of reading a writer–which I have spent on Vaughn–will tend to create that trust bias. Not that I hold any emnity towards Vaughn, he was taking a reasonable position given the information he had availible to him. In a sense we all were, given the earlier story about French comics. If anyone had the right to react quickly, without digging into the root causes, it was the guy whose livelihood was being threatened by the action.

The rest of us, however, do not get off the hook.

Our collective rush to judgement is wrecks the potential of our internet-enabled culture to be something more than just broadcast media on meth. Instead of reaching down deep we’re all primed to react to the latest “controversy” with our personal talking points. Collectively we no longer seem to ask that most fundamental of questions: “What’s really going on?”

If the internet truly is made of cats, then it would appear they have finally had their revenge on curiosity.


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