Good God, will it ever end? Of course it’s my fault for perpetuating this by continuing to comment, but I checked the original post on Heidi McDonald’s The Beat and discovered yet more by Harlan Ellison. Quoted in its entirety:
HARLAN ELLISON Says:
08/19/07 at 1:01 pm
I was edified to learn that according to some wittling thng called blog.kobek.com posting just prior to this, that I “lost” my recent lawsuit.
Simple objective reading of the original suit filing, and what I was seeking, followed by simple objective reading of the final settlement, and what I got, might suggest that the great legal mind behind that kobeckoid pronouncement is, well, to be kind, predisposed — whatever the empirical evidence — to skew and slant and knock-cockeyed-to-produce-a-prejudged-result. Tsk-tsk. Even troglodytes should behave more honestly.
The most obvious point of Ellison’s post is that I was reading with Unobjective Eyes to join, I guess, the International Conspiracy against the Great Writer. In a way, I almost understand this– I certainly linked to, and did not hide, the fact that the man had some choice words for me in the distant past, but c’mon, really? Does this putdown from days of yore color my thoughts so deeply that I’m signing up for the Great War?
Hardly. As much as Ellison’s big dog persona is obnoxious, I hold a great fondness for the pleasure his stories brought me, and I still find a few of his books to be pretty great. Gentlemen Junkie, in particular, remains a favorite. My interest in this lawsuit has always been Ellison’s approach to this matter, which I consider a case study in how not to deal with your enemies, especially in these here days of the Internet.
Reading the settlement, we can safely say that, technically, yes, Ellison did not lose. That’s because the case was, you know, settled. Neither party admitting wrong-doing. Technically, neither side lost.
My original post was intended as a corrective to much of the commentary that I had seen on the message boards at The Comics Journal, which I felt looked at the settlement in the wrong way entirely. Obviously, yes, redacting passages from a book isn’t the greatest outcome for anyone except the Plaintiff, but on the other hand, should this matter be considered as zero sum game?
In my opinion, emphatically not. Harlan Ellison can justify why he filed suit & why he felt that he needed to do so, and he was certainly within his rights to file, but I felt then, and feel now, that in the grander scheme, Ellison lost at the exact moment when he filed papers. Because honestly, and I’ve said this before– who in the hell wants to read a history of Fantagraphics as written by itself?
Ellison’s suit took passages from a book that had an audience, at most, of two or three thousand people, and turned it into a cause celebre. The words of his Most Hated Enemy, Gary Groth, a man considered by many to be, at the least, smarmy and self-satisfied, were broadcast to an audience far wider than the number of people who would have read them in their original context. Furthermore, the suit enshrined the Offending Passages in legal filings that were made immediately available throughout the Internet and even on Ellison’s own website. No matter the outcome of the case, Ellison had ensured that these Offending Passages would never, ever disappear.
And, as I made clear in my first post, I feel like the settlement made things worse. The most striking aspect is that Groth gets to post a 500 word essay on Ellison’s website. I presume that earlier aspects of the settlement prohibit Groth from an ad hominem attack– but so long as he doesn’t call Ellison a jerk, or a big mean bastard, it seems that he’s free to say whatever the heck he wants. Ellison has agreed, legally, that he can’t respond, and that he can’t sue Groth or Fantagraphics about what is said in the rebuttal.
If the intention of the lawsuit was to make Groth shut up, how exactly is it winning to not only give Groth the last word, but also be legally obligated to provide him the forum in which to say it? The terms of the settlement– 30 days, 500 words, etc.– reflect what I called a Print Mentality; this was a crap term to describe the idea that such limits mean zero in a medium where nothing ever goes away. Groth’s rebuttal will appear on Ellison’s site & then be copied and distributed around the Internet. And because of the terms of the settlement, that’s it. It’s the last word on the matter. And it’s never going away.
In the bigger picture, I do not understand what Ellison was thinking. Was the Great War irritating? Sure. Were there really a lot of people paying attention? No. When I read the Offending Passages in Ellison’s filing, I groaned. Here was a 40-something-year old man getting his kicks out of badmouthing Ellison in a little book being published by the same 40-something-year old man, dedicated entirely to the history of this 40-something-year old man’s own company. Talk about putting the vanity in vanity publishing.
If we assume that the balance of power always tilts towards the party with the least interest, then in this situation, Ellison was the one with far greater power. His silence could only have ennobled him. But by filing this suit, he shifted the power to Groth– yes, I’m sure Fantagraphics took a big hit on this financially, but where else? Has Groth’s reputation suffered? Has Fantagraphics? Or does this only enhance the company’s carefully cultivated Rebel Image?
Meanwhile, Ellison, a man that frequently touts his credentials as a staunch defender of Free Speech and the First Amendment, has been cast in the role of the guy who couldn’t take the heat so he sued to have words removed from a book. I’m not saying that this is a fair or unfair assessment– but it is a general perception. He’s the guy who got the passages deleted from a book. And he’s an author.
Equally baffling is Ellison’s eager willingness to now repeat the same mistake by engaging with, well, me. First, on general principle, I don’t feel that I’ve been unfair to Ellison in this matter– if anything, I’ve only had a sympathy for seeing someone get caught (as I have in the past) in a serious misunderstanding of how information works in a world where anyone, and everyone, is constantly blogging and spouting off about nothing, and where nothing ever goes away.
Secondly, of the two of us, who has more to gain by a back-and-forth? The sheer amount of traffic this nonsense has driven to this website has literally dwarfed the traffic of all its previous days combined. All Ellison gets out of this is the ability to protest, really protest, that he’s happy with the terms of the settlement. He probably is, but when the lady doth protest too much on the Internet, it reads ironically.
Third, and finally, doesn’t this reinforce the perception of being unable to brook criticism? After all, Ellison put this lawsuit in the public sphere. Did he not expect people to comment and have differing opinions on it? Did he not prepare himself that some of these opinions might be unfavorable and not to his liking? Does he feel like his status as defender of free speech is enhanced by referring, in an obscene manner, to an innocuous piece of commentary by a self-professed gnat?
So at last we come to what I hope will be my final words on this matter, and I direct them entirely to Ellison himself: Honestly. Stop. I understand why you think what you’re doing is the right approach, but it doesn’t help.
UPDATE 9/7: More.
Drudge in Hollywood
On Steve Ditko
From Sunset Blvd
Welcome to Kurdistan