Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Strawman

Over at his blog, Tom Brevoort offers up a familiar spin on an argument he has used a few times before to complain about indecisive fans. You can read the full piece here, but the important part is this:

"For example: it's not great secret that there are still people upset about the changes to Spider-Man. Fair enough, But in the space of a day or two, I got five-or-so comments lamenting the elimination of Spidey's organic webbing, and the fact that there's been no mention of the additional powers he gained during "The Other."

Which comes as a bit of a shock, frankly, because the overwhelming majority of the reactions we saw at the time those two stories came out were decidedly negative! Nobody seemed to like the organic webbing, and people wrote long treatises about how Peter creating mechanical web-shooters was better, because this showcased his science skills. But just a couple short years later, we go back to the mechanical web-shooters, and it's like we fire-bombed something."

This is, to put it plainly, a ridiculous argument. What Tom is saying here is that of the 100,000+ readers of Spider-Man, five of them spoke to him in New York to complain about the elimination of organic webbing and new "The Other" powers. These five people, through some brand of statistical sampling I'm unfamiliar with, also represent the hundreds if not thousands of fans who disliked it when the organic webbing and "The Other" powers were introduced.

It is not even remotely possible that these might be different fans. Because clearly, if there were five comments, they must come from the majority of the 100,000 fans. I'm not sure how 0.00005 percent equals a majority, but hey, I was a journalism major, not a math major.

Brevoort (and Quesada, and Didio, and Bendis, etc.) love to use this argument. "Well, these fans are now loving the same thing the fans were complaining about a few months ago! You crazy fans, you don't know what you want!" When in fact, while some fans change their minds, many of them probably were glad to see the organic webbing and "Other" powers go, they just were sad that the way they were eliminated was by a ridiculous, shoddy bit of storytelling that ran late and accomplished a goal nobody in particular was clamoring for (eliminating the Spidey/MJ marriage) along with the stuff people *were* clamoring for (good stories, new creative teams). Or maybe they hated the organic webbing, they *love* that it's gone, but they didn't think to come up to Brevoort and say "Hey, great job getting rid of that organic webbing!"

Just because I'm liking some of Brand New Day doesn't mean I thought One More Day was the way to get there. Just because I wound up loving The Order doesn't mean I liked that Civil War was used to set it up. Just because I enjoyed most of 52 doesn't mean I'm in love with the new multiverse and Countdown. And just because five fans came up to you at a convention to tell you they miss the organic webbing doesn't mean we all do.

Brevoort is smart enough to know this. He also knows full well that fans are more likely to offer negative criticism rather than positive criticism (and even the positive, at a Con, is more likely to be of a "You guys rock!" general kind of thing, not a "thanks for ditching those lame-as-hell organic webshooters" kind of thing).

He's making a strawman argument to try and belittle legitimate criticism along with the irrational crazytalk that too often passes for criticism on the message boards. Brevoort's blog is a great resource, a look at comics from a guy with a ton of experience and smarts. It's just a shame when he dips into this well of overly defensive rah-rah PR.

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