Our Backhanded Debt of Gratitude to IO9

Republibot 3.0
Republibot 3.0's picture

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 9/11/09

Like most people, I don’t tend to think too deeply on why most things bug me. If I don’t like the temperature, I just move to another room. It’s almost autonomic. Most dislikes aren’t terribly objective anyway, but based on mood, timing, outlook, whatever. This is why most people tend to go by the “I know it when I see it” definition of stuff they care for or hate. Because, really, why bother going in to hyper articulate detail about the mosquito buzzing around your ear?

But sometimes it’s a big damn mosquito that demands you pay attention to it, or that simply stays in that one particular room, and draws your unwilling attention every time you pass through, and you kind of find yourself drawn to trying to figure out what it is that annoys you so much, mainly because the annoyance won’t let you forget it. Please understand that I’m not talking moral values here, simply matters of taste. Some people like The Monkees, some people like The Beatles. Some people like both. No, really! The Mosquito isn’t evil for bugging the hell out of you and sucking your blood, it’s just doing what it needs to in order to survive. Presumably there’s some people somewhere who like the sound. I like the sounds of frogs croaking in the night after a big rain, but it scares the living crap out of my friends from places like New York and Los Angeles, they just can’t stand it. Such is life.

Which brings us to the subject of IO9.

I’ve always been annoyed by IO9, from the very first moment I saw it, pointed out to me by our own Republibot 1.0 some years back, just about the same time it started, actually, long before our own site went online. Undoubtedly some of that was simple Jealousy. In many ways, IO9 was - and is - everything I ever wanted to have in a website: Big staff, big budget, big bandwidth, big traffic, lots of access to the industry, going to all the cons and parties on the company dime. That’s cool, right? Undeniably it is. Undeniably much of my annoyance is simply sour grapes. I cop to that openly. And yet…

And yet it is all kind of sloppy and superficial, isn’t it? You get a hundred jillion updates a day - which trust me, we’d do here on the ‘Bot if we could, I’m not criticizing the format - but the overwhelming majority of them aren’t very deep, nor insightful, and they’re sometimes riddled with factual errors. Attempting to inform them of these errors so they can correct them - it is a news site, after all, there’s supposed to be some journalistic accuracy involved - commonly brings one of the following responses (1) They argue with you, (2) They ignore you, (3) They say it doesn’t matter anyway. I don’t know anyone who’s spotted an error, pointed it out, and had a different experience than that. Of course I don’t get out as much as I used to, so I might be behind the curve here. They may have instituted more quality control. If so, well done guys, good going. If not, please try harder.

I can’t get too angry about this, though. It’s a Gawker site, after all, and the Gawker strategy as I understand it tends to be: Cover as much of pop culture as you can... it doesn't need to be deep or knowledgeable... just there- and we can leverage our traffic to make it seem 'popular' and 'relevant', even if it's shallow and biased. It’s a marketing strategy, and not a bad one really - it creates a lot of name recognition in a short period of time. What really bugs me - constructive criticism here - is that they seem to tend to report on the SF genre in the way they *Want* it to be, rather than the way it is. They decry movies like GI Joe sight unseen because...well, I don't know why...because it's traditionally patriotic, and patriotism is unseemly? Perhaps. They seem unaware that the movie was semi-international in scope, and not really a flag waver. No matter. Guilt by association, I guess. They rave about a fumble-footed overblown pilot like "Virtuality" which borderline-sucked, but they alternately ignore/decry shows like "Defying Gravity" and "Kings," which are far better in any reasonable sense of comparison. They tend to jump on bandwagons, and the words of the Oingo Boingo song "Imposter" would seem to apply:

You take the credit while others do all the work
You like to think you discovered them first
But we all know you moved in after it was safe
That way you know you could never get hurt
(You like to play god!!)

We have the opposite view. We are passionate and deep... and believe (with some justification) that people will look for, and find us. We’ve been very successful. We cover as much stuff as we can, and we cover it as deeply as we can. We openly state our bias, and after putting it there on the table, I think we’ve been very restrained about it. So much so that some other conservative sites have reputedly been “Confounded” by our refusal to spend all day attacking the president or engaging in other openly propagandistic enterprises. At the same time, we’ve confused a hell of a lot of people who seem to believe that Science Fiction = Star Trek, or can’t understand why we felt that the new Galactica crashed and burned in that final season and a half. “How com you ain’t like Starbuk and you say you likes scifi. BSG RULEZ!” (sic)

Whatever.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of taste. There’s a whole lot of superficial sites that offer a good introduction and some news for the beginner SF fan. There’s far fewer sites for people who are more-than-casual fans who want things on a less skin-deep, more serious and thought-provoking level. I can’t guarantee that we meet that goal, but it is what we’re shooting for, and what we’ve always been shooting for. There are, insofar as I can tell, *no* sites other than ours which attempt to take SF seriously, and yet do not.....

(whining sound)

And yet do not...

(whining sound gets louder)

Oh, fercryin' out loud.

You see what they made me do? I was about to make a serious point, and they distracted me with this morning's latest bias-ridden blurb.

There are serious sites that are devoted to a single science fiction author or subject: Niven, Heinlein, fiction set on the planet Mars, Alternate histories, and so on, and cover them in great depth. We aim to be a deep site that covers a lot of subject matter- and one that supports the 'little guy'- the independent film maker learning his craft in fanfilms, the self published author looking for an audience outside of the mainstream, the indy musician who can't get exposure because she has a science fiction based stage persona. We are all about empowering the individual-that's what has made America great, rugged individualism.

We realize that we're going to be the square peg, out of place in pop-culture media, looking for meaning where there may be none-- Sturgeon's 2nd Law still applies, in spite of all efforts to the contrary-- but we understand something that a lot of conservatives haven't yet: Pop Culture is the petri dish we all live in.

This is why popular science fiction deserves the coverage we give it: Science Fiction shows us what is possible;if we do not shape this vision with our beliefs, we've let the Left dictate our future, by default.(A small digression: How much foreign policy has been shaped by Trek's "Prime Directive"? A throwaway plot point has become a leftist shibboleth!)

In the past, I've occasionally half-heartedly poked fun at them on our site, and then felt bad about doing it. It seems misguided to mock people for their beleifs. It is, frankly, what *they* do. I felt bad about operating on their level, so I knocked it off fairly quickly. And I have on at least one occasion praised them for doing a good job. That felt weird, too, but it is at least as important to reward good behavior in others as it is to try and curtail bad behavior, even if the others don't notice it. Certainly, IO9 didn't notice.

I don't want to declare war on Io9. Obviously, they'd win. Thus far they haven't taken notice of us, but if they did, really it would only take the tiniest implication on their site that thier people should come over here and harass us, and that would be the end of us. They'd swamp our meager bandwidth, hack us, whatever, and bang - we're down for the count. And for what? It wouldn't serve any purpose, it wouldn't accomplish anything, it would besmirch or at least bury a lot of what we've accomplished here. They are the thousand-pound gorilla, and if they're aware of us, it's as a mosquito buzzing in their ear. Which isn't such a bad position to be in, really.

I mean, after a year or two visiting their site, commenting, getting attacked for my religious and political view, and getting told that my obvious OCD towards their incorrect details didn't matter, I got tired of it. I wouldn't even mind if it was a reasoned opposition, but in fact it never was, it was just reactionary hatred from people - not the staff, by the way, commentators - who never listen to your words, and just assume you're some kind of swastika-wearing goose-stepping moron because your possibly-unreasoned opnions given you by your own past experiences clash with their own certainly-unreasoned opinions given them by the media. There is no point arguing with people with closed minds - on either side, really - and IO9 and a few other sites were instrumental in finally driving that point home to me. Rather than simply argue, rather than just get dogpiled on by people who like to think they're smart but don't actually like to think all that much - again, I'm talking about commentators here - we decided to try and find a new game to play.

Rather than just complaining about the mosquito in our ears, we simply avoided them and built our own odd little tree fort here to fulfill a niche that no one else seemed to have noticed, and which doubtless they'd disdain if they did. We're basically making left-handed doornob openers here, I didn't anticipate that there'd be much demand for what we have to offer, but we've been proven wrong in that regard, ad thank you, the readers and contributors, for that. And now we're big enough - just possibly - that we're buzzing in their ears, though I still think that's doubtful at this stage. Just as their annoying whine motivated us to do something kinda' different and kinda' constructive, perhaps our annoying-to-them-but-really-dulcet-tones will motivate them to better their own site, to move to another room, to change their stance, to be genuinely thoughtful instead of condescending and snarky. Them and other sites as well.

Which is fine. If the culture wars are real, I'd much rather influence by positive reinforcement than by destruction or desecration. Lead by example, and all that. If we're going to try and make an impact...well...a number of Science Fiction alternatives present themselves. I don't want to be a Battlestar Galactica, running like hell from the opposition and hoping God will save us. I don't want to be a Stargate, running in with guns blazing, then having my goals undercut and taken away from me by backroom politicians. I sure as hell don't want to be some kind of namby-pamby Star Trek, preaching the glories of a Maoist Utopia and blithely knocking over any government that disagrees with you all in the name of an utterly intolerant "Enlightened" viewpoint. Personally, I'd rather we be a Doctor Who - someone who's only real goal is to try and make the people around him better.

If our annoying buzz is just enought to make IO9 and other liberal kneejerk SF websites better - and I'm open to a lot of broad definitions of 'better' - by our more high-minded example, then that's a good thing. Of course if our buzz is too loud, then they'll squash us like a bug.

Such is the way of kneejerk liberals: Proclaim tolerance and intelectual discourse, and then shoot anyone who makes a point that you don't like. Or even tries to. Preach freedom and practice fascism. Strangely, they never seem to realize they're doing it.

Which is exactly why we need to be morally better than them. And thank you, IO9, for inspiring us to this end.

No, really: Thanks!

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