“Think twice, and then say nothing”
– Chiun, reigning Master of Sinanju
The internet, being computer based, is binary in nature, The same is mostly true of its users. People online view things with either utter apathy or obsessive interest, and tings are either adored or despised. Similarly, people who make the news online are either hero or horror – they are the awesomest person in the history of awesome, or they need to be tied to the top of a mountain and sky buried before they’ve stopped living. There is almost never any in between. So when a story comes along that lies in the part of the spectrum between “yes” and “no,” the Internet often has trouble parsing how to respond.
Clarence is one of Cartoon Network’s new shows, a charming little thing about an optimistic (if slightly odd) young man and his adventures being a kid. It’s become quite the favorite in our household, and I’ve spent no small amount of time preaching its wonders. However, earlier this week it was reported that the show’s creator, Skyler Page, had sexually assaulted another animator at Cartoon Network Studios. The Internet did what it does best: attack. Two camps were quickly formed – those ready to pillory him without question or hesitation, and those assuming this was just another female plot and started demanding proof, assuming that since nobody personally said anything had happened to them, it was all just vaporous lies. That was until Adventure Time storyboard revisionist until Emily Partridge stepped forward. Needless to say, Camp Two immediately began attacking her, while calls to cancel or boycott the show came from Camp One. Virtual pitchforks were rapidly sharpened.
Cartoon Network acted quickly,and removed Page as head of the show. Many creators stepped forward both rightly chastising Page’s actions but reminding people that the show is the work of many talented people, and it should not suffer due to the actions of its creator. Other creators related tales of Page groping them at various times in the past, and things were lining up to be a good old fashioned hate-fest for Mister Page.
But then something very interesting happened. Page’s long time friend Jeff Rowe revealed that Skyler suffers from Bipolar Disorder, and the day of the incident in question, was so far into a manic state that Jeff went with him to an emergency room where Page lay strapped to a bed, “singing They Might Be Giants songs and talking like a cowboy.” He remains, at the moment, hospitalized. Jeff’s post is quite clear when he calls Skyler’s actions “Abhorrent,” but wishes to provide “more context to the conversation.”
CN creator Emily Quinn followed up on this news with elaboration from her experience with Page. He had already been hospitalized once before, after a series of episodes resulting from what Emily describes as not being able to handle the pressure of running a show. Executives at Cartoon Network had responded to these episodes by slowly taking creative control of the show away from Page; the rapid response of the studio after this week’s allegations may be better explained by this history.
The agreement is universal that Page’s issues do not mitigate or excuse his actions, but The Internet is placed in an odd situation – those who engage in sexual assault must be punished and cast out, but those with mental issues must be helped and cared for, and their actions must be seen through the filter of their disorder. The Internet, a binary creature, must now explore the infinite variations of “maybe” that lay between the endpoints of “yes” and “no.” If it wasn’t for the fact that real people have had very serious things done to them, I’d almost be enjoying watching the Internet spiral into a negative feedback loop of “I must and yet cannot.”
A woman – indeed, several women – were harassed and assaulted. The exact details of the assault has not been revealed, save for that it was not rape, and any further detail is None Of Our Goddamn Business. A guy with existing mental issues was placed in a position of responsibility that he wasn’t able to handle, the pressure exacerbated existing mental issues, and during manic episodes did things to co-workers that cannot be forgiven or ignored. That’s a lot more complex than the usual “Guy grabbed a boob – git him!” that The Internet prefers to deal with.
In the modern age, information flies at us thick and fast and there’s a temptation to take the first information we receive, treat as the entirety of the truth, and formulate an opinion so we can get a comment posted as quickly as we can. Sadly, this temptation is also quite prevalent in the established news media, where the first story posted will get all the user clicks. But based on the number of times stories have morphed, or sometimes been proven entirely wrong, it’s approaching the point where people need to remind themselves that a story has many sides, especially one where humans are involved.
When one reads a story online, one could do worse than to treat it with the same level of caution one does when hearing about a new health from a spam email. “What is the evidence behind this story?” one could ask. “Is there another possible explanation for this action? Should I wait for more information before I act or respond?” It seems only fair that as technology becomes capable of processing more and more data at amazing speeds, we try to process a bit more as well, and not assume it’s all true because we read it on a computer screen.