November 19, 2006

Web comics as guardians of tolerance

I have spent the last month reading the entire archive for Something Positive.

There are a lot of famous (and infamous!) web comics. In the past I have linked to time-honored favorites with long running storylines such as Sluggy Freelance and GPF. For a short while I also had a link to Eversummer Eve, which remains one of the best drawn and most beautifully rendered comics in cyberspace. Sadly, Denise moved her archive to a "paid members only" webservice, leaving the rest of us out in the cold.

Once upon a time there was a comic known as Acid Reflux. For reasons still largely undefined, the two people creating it simply stopped updating and cyberspace lost one of its truly visionary comics. "Acid Reflux" remains my favorite among all the web comics I have encountered in over a decade of wandering through cyberspace. Its loss was a devastating blow to the artform and the community.

Something Positive, however, is the comic that has inspired today's entry. It ranges from grotesque to geeky and the main character is one of the most depressing folks you will ever encounter, but when the sum total of the comic is weighed and measured it is handsdown one of the most honest comics currently available. The writer has a jade eye and a sense of humor blacker than a tomb, but that is also what sets the comic head and shoulders above its peers.

I enjoy a comic that challenges itself and its readers to more closely evaluate their perception of reality. Most of the comics I maintain links to have that theme in common. Almost all of them deal with the personal and social issues we all encounter as we go through life while no two of them offer the same solutions to the problems we face. At the same time, not a single one deals with reinforcing traditional social roles. I guess in my old age the anarchist in me is begging to be allowed free rein.

You see, I have absolutely no quarrel with people seeking the freedom to live their lives as they choose, provided their preferred lifestyle does not condemn, damage, or destroy the chosen lifestyles of the people around them! With almost no exception, the writers and artists of the web comics I enjoy are using their skill and talent to communicate the same idea or something similar.

As always, it is the exception that makes the rule necessary. Our entire modern legal system is an attempt to put the ideas of fairness and tolerance into practice, but everyone knows how imperfect the modern legal system is. Where I grew up, for example, people believed it was only natural to respect the rights of other people to make their own choices, but at the same time, my hometown was also quite small which meant there were not many alternative lifestyles for any one individual to choose between.

After I left home the population of my hometown doubled inside a couple years. In conjunction with this sudden burst in population there came an explosion of illegal narcotics, race-related crimes, and bold condemnations of "social parasites" by the local newspaper editor. It was shocking to return home a few years later and hear stories of race riots in the local park where "hundreds of people" were arrested. When I later learned the real number of arrests was closer to forty, it still didn't lessen the impact of the event itself. The local park is so small that having forty people stopping in for picnics and barbeques would mean some of those picnics would have to be tailgate parties in the parking lot. I cannot imagine a "riot" taking place there!

Right from the day of her creation back in 1776, intolerance was the number one social blight in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Here we are, 300 years later, and not only is the same problem still widespread, in some ways it is worse than ever.

Please, whoever you are out there reading this, do yourself a favor and befriend someone you hate. Make an effort to look at life from their point of view. Consider for a time the very real possibility that what you feel such contempt for is not the person in question, but for what that person reveals about you. The person you hate, the monster you fear, the enemy you long to destroy does not live in the world around you. They live inside you, and that is the real reason you are so desperate to destroy them.

If you have no choice but confrontation and conflict then at least make an effort to respect the reality of their existence and their native birthright to oppose everything you stand for. It is always possible that the real problem is you!