Distancing snowdrift.coop from Mimi & Eunice

#1

I didn’t know where the characters used in the snowdrift.coop materials came from until reading this forum. Now that I do, I think this project needs to do more to distance itself from the Mimi & Eunice cartoons.

The most recent cartoons (November 12, 2018) are transphobic, especially against trans women. I find them so offensive that I’m uncomfortable even posting them here too condemn them. The artist, Nina Paley, has a few blog posts explaining the cartoons, which I find equally harmful.

  1. Pick a different copyleft cartoon for mascots. I understand this would be a lot of work, as even physical items like stickers would have to change. Plus there’s the risk that any cartoonist could post something equally terrible.

  2. Fork! Pick new names, maybe based on Norse myths to go with the snow theme? Make a new archive page for the cartoons which demonstrate the values of snowdrift.coop. Add new cartoons about crowd matching. Since all Mimi & Eunice cartoons are released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike, attribution is required to Nina Paley, but add a disclaimer. Make clear that these new cartoons are a fork of Mimi and Eunice and why.

  3. Do nothing. I understand that 1 & 2 will offend those that support Nina’s choice to post those offensive cartoons. There’s no solution to please everyone. That said, if the consensus in this forum is 3, I am dropping my pledge. I can’t recommend something that implicitly supports harmful attitudes towards trans women through its mascots.

2 Likes
#2

Hi @tswast first off, I want to say welcome! Thank so much for taking the time to come here and contribute to the conversation.

This issue has been on our radar for a while, especially with the more recent cartoons. After a variety of conversations, we added an explanation to our usage pages, for instance here:
https://wiki.snowdrift.coop/communications/mimi-eunice

That being said, the topic is far from closed and I appreciate your perspective!

Number 2 is particularly interesting to me, and we’ve discussed something along these lines, but not to the extent of new names.

Anyway, I don’t have a ton of time right now but look forward to seeing more responses on this topic and moving towards the better-est solution.

3 Likes
#3

Thanks. I’m glad to see there is already a disclaimer. I agree that more could be done.

4 Likes
#4

Thank you for the constructive post. As people who know me would predict, I have a longer nuanced reply (which necessarily still leaves out a lot).

Status and history

When we first noticed her newer comics, we had extensive internal discussion about what to do. There’s no trivial solution since we had already invested enough in the characters as to produce a video with them. Our discussion led to the disclaimer (which @Salt already linked to in his reply above).

Classic Mimi & Eunice

We still like all the original comics. They were produced regularly from 2010 through 2012, and we thought she had basically retired them as she did nothing with them for years.

We were then already worried and concerned about our connection with Nina when we first learned that she had recently gone in this political direction, but we were blindsided by her revival of Mimi & Eunice.

You suggested:

In that direction, I already personally had bookmarked this link which is basically all of Mimi & Eunice prior to the new comics:

https://web.archive.org/web/20181029125832/mimiandeunice.com/

Anyone who wants to check them out should use that. I’m sad that I no longer feel comfortable freely linking people to the main site. :cry:

Branding, trademarks

In hindsight, we were not sensitive enough to the pitfalls of such connections in free culture. We should have more control over our trademarks and branding (the one area we mostly support in “intellectual property” law, in contrast to the problems with copyright and patent law).

Using M&E in our branding front-and-center is different from just using it on the side (such as using the comics to illustrate concepts on our wiki pages). Our new banner we just printed for conferences (and which will be the starting point for an updated how-it-works page) consciously avoided any use of M&E.

Problematic associations

I really appreciate how, in your suggestions, you brought up forking and other ideas around avoiding connection/endorsement of toxic ideas without severing all connections.

We don’t want to support guilt-by-association ideas. The more our culture has that attitude, the more anyone is liable to malicious actors creating memes to associate anything with whatever. And our partner QuestionCopyright.org — they still have formal ties with Nina and association with her art.

It’s not workable to try to completely disassociate with anything problematic (if one tries to limit all their culture and expressions to only things that come from pure, untainted sources, one ends up in pretty tiny box).

But our core branding is a different level of concern than a more subtle connection, and our disclaimer is really just a first step.

What to do now?

We thought our initial embrace of her characters was a great example of free culture, but tying it to our branding turned out to be a great liability. We may not want to make the same mistake again…

And whatever direction we go with branding, I’d want to maintain our partnership with QuestionCopyright and our use of M&E comics in our wiki (though I’ve had thoughts about what it would take to even redraw the comics we use with different-looking characters).

New names are an interesting idea. But it’s not the names that are a problem, the characters will still have the same artistic qualities.

I suspect the cleanest (though challenging) direction is to just create our own distinct characters so we have our own separate branding. I would really like if there’s a path where we just keep using M&E and somehow get it accepted that Nina’s new comics are just the same as anyone using free culture… after all, someone else could freely create M&E comics that respond to Nina’s ones…

On dealing with controversies and consensus in general

I don’t really want Snowdrift.coop to be the place where any of us get into discussing and speculating about what’s really going on in Nina’s mind or in the trans-debates within feminism etc. Those are complex subjects that aren’t really relevant.

However, we do have the unenviable job of dealing with all sorts of controversy because we’re going to be funding art and journalism (let alone the fact that purely technical software projects are still produced by people with all their human opinions and issues).

Are we going to fund video games that use violence and sexism? Or music with sexist lyrics? Personally, I’d rather not. I don’t want those to exist. We will not be some absolutist anything-goes-no-matter-how-offensive platform, I’ll tell you that much. But I accept that we will likely fund some projects I don’t like.

There’s certainly some lines to draw, but where? Will we now accept Nina’s art as a project for funding, even though we distance our branding? We certainly would have in the past before her recent direction. Work like Sita Sings the Blues, the original Mimi & Eunice comics — that stuff is right in line with our mission. What about her new film Seder Masochism? It doesn’t have any trans-critical elements at all; it’s just an art-film engaging with culture, religion, patriarchy… but it stretches fair-use to the limit through use of copyrighted pop songs, and that’s a separate liability question. What about if she produces more “gender-critical” art, would we allow that to be funded here, would we get into exactly how respectful it is or isn’t?? etc.

This is all bigger than the immediate challenge of our branding. My main point is that we had better keep dealing with how to manage controversies like this because we can’t avoid them given the space we’re in.

For now, we want to go with safer, unambiguous first projects, get our community co-op governance fully functioning, and then we will have the capacity as a community to democratically figure out difficult policy decisions.

Our decisions right now affect the make-up of that foundational co-op membership. So, we’re already dedicated to making sure everyone feels welcome and that we have diverse perspectives present. Thank you for joining us and sharing your concerns.

Notes on nuance in interpreting controversial things (click to expand)

If you had posted the new comics here, we would remove them from your post. Even though the comics only criticize rhetoric from trans activism that Nina disagrees with (and do not criticize trans gender people themselves), the style is exceptionally provocative, sarcastic, and NSFW. Most of the new ones are not welcome/appropriate at this forum.

I initially even thought about making this topic private because I don’t want the topic to draw any additional attention to the new comics (in part because I still wish they didn’t exist). But we can’t disappear them, so we probably have no choice but to deal with the situation and continue to work to distance ourselves.

Many of us feel that there’s an overall tragic lack of emphasis on charitable interpretation in today’s social norms. In this case, I think Nina’s growing radical feminism combined with her free-speech views and her own failures to take charitable and nuanced interpretations of others. And that combination led to her lashing out against what she saw as censorship and online mobs attacking anyone who questioned popular views. And in then the feedback loops pushed her toward entrenched and more extreme views (and the same happens for her critics in this whole awful tragedy).

Though too little and too late, some selections of her newer blog posts show indications of self-awareness and recognition that she fell into bad habits and outrage culture in her own way. If only she had understood that before she got radicalized by those systems and made these new comics… :confounded:

Of course, maybe 1% of people seeing her outrageous comics will even try to interpret them charitably. And even with the most charitable interpretation, the new comics still remain highly troubling, counterproductive, and something we want absolutely no connection with. Of course, without charitable interpretation, they will be seen as exceptionally toxic and outrageous.

Some people are extreme enough that they would condemn me for the mere act of proposing a charitable interpretation of something they find offensive. There’s a terrible trend toward opposing the humanizing of anyone seen as hateful or wrong. But I feel we need to try for charitable interpretations and human compassion — and it would be a misunderstanding for anyone to see my saying that as indication that I agree with the people I’m aiming to interpret charitably. It’s just important that we recognize nuance and complexity here. For every case of real hate, there’s lots of cases of misunderstandings driven by uncharitable readings of minor disagreements.

Interpreting your words charitably: I’m guessing you mean more that you wouldn’t support a community or organization that consciously decided to do and say nothing in response to this sort of thing. Or rather, a decision to do nothing and have no qualifications would indeed make the continual use of the mascots imply a lack of concern for the issue.

Speaking for myself, I’m troubled by some people (not assuming you though) failing to recognize the strong distinction between support for free speech and support for what someone does with their free speech. When the ACLU defends the legal right of a hate group to have a rally, they really truly are not endorsing the hate itself. One can still reasonably disagree with the ACLU even while correctly understanding their position.

So, some may feel Nina shouldn’t even have a right to express what she’s expressing (despite that it’s not comparable to real hate speech). I feel she should have that right, but we don’t want to be associated with it. And I sure wish she’d not used M&E to express any of it.

This community supports trans rights along with other aspects of diversity, per our community values.

3 Likes
#5

Thanks all for the thoughtful replies. I’m glad to see you are already thinking about this.

Regarding #3, I understand the need to have neutral platforms and that there will likely be funding of projects I don’t like on snowdrift.coop. My objections are more around using controversial art as branding for the platform. I’m grateful to see you are already working to avoid that problem.

4 Likes
#6

That is a great suggestion. Of course with free software everyone has the idea of forking in the head. But forking art isn’t something I had considered. I think it’s a good idea that we could explore. Thanks for your feedback.

2 Likes