This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on December 22, 2016.
Every week in a new installment of “Leading Questions”, the young, lantern jawed Publisher of Comics Bulletin Mark Stack will ask Co-Managing Editor Chase Magnett a question he must answer. However, Mark doesn’t plan on taking it easy on Chase. He’ll be setting him up with questions that are anything but fair and balanced to see how this once overconfident comics critic can make a cogent case for what another one obviously wants to hear.
So without any further ado…
What makes someone think they can keep getting away with things after they’ve been exposed?
There’s about a hundred ways to interpret this question and none of them are good. This is what you give me for our Christmas column? I don’t know what your parents got you for Christmas, child, but I can guarantee if I send you anything, it will be coal.
In all seriousness though, I’m seeing three routes to pursue with this particular question. Two of which are related to comics and only one of which is fictional. So let’s start at the most harmless version and work our way up to reality. Maybe we’ll retain our sobriety along the way, but I’m not feeling optimistic about that particular proposition.
That means we’re starting with Lex Luthor. Luthor isn’t the only example of this in superhero comics, but he makes for the most obvious example. As a scientists, businessman, and public figure, Luthor has continually been shown to be a grade-A piece of shit. Even if you accept a universe in which a dude goes faster than a speeding bullet and leaps tall buildings in a single bound, it’s still SUPER unbelievable that this man can head an openly traded company or be given legal access to complex machinery.
Yet that’s what continues to happen. No matter how many times Lois Lane and the rest of the Daily Planet crew expose Luthor for being a genuine scum bag, he keeps getting away with things. When he’s a scientist, he almost destroys Metropolis. When he’s a businessman, he dedicates incredible resources to killing Superman. When he’s President, he takes drugs and goes batshit insane on television. In spite of all this, Luthor remains a viable doctor, CEO, and politician in the DC Universe.
It’s not just Luthor, of course. People continue to forgive and provide second chances for rogues of all stripes no matter how many times they are exposed. Norman Osborne murdered a girl in the middle of New York City and was applauded for taking over international security concerns. It’s absolutely bonkers, but if you’re a supervillain then apparently exposure of what you are is a non-factor.
So let’s move on to the real world aspect of comics. I’m not going to name names here. That’s a fool’s errand for a couple of reasons. We don’t want to get sued and when it comes to exposing the grade-A pieces of shit in comics, we ought to dedicate real effort to that journalism. For anyone reading this that pays much attention to the politics of American comics though, they’ll know what and (some of the) who this is about. There are sexual harassers and abusers employed as major publishers in both creative and editorial positions. At least three of the four biggest publishers fall into this problem currently.
The problem here is that even after these issues become known and details are brought to light, nothing is done. We as a niche culture come to understand that there are monsters among us, but they have existed for so long that nothing is done. So when these particular pieces of shit look around and realize they have been exposed, but nothing much is being done, they often continue to act as they wish. In the best case scenarios, the abusers in question keep their jobs and are prevented from engaging in their disgusting behavior again. In the worst, nothing is done and they continue unabated. Both scenarios are bad and the latter is more common than the first.
Your question was how someone can think they will continue to get away with something after being exposed though. But I think that’s a problematic question because it puts the cart before the horse. Exposure, in and of itself, is not an issue. Expose an anonymous good samaritan to receive praise and they are both encouraged in their good deeds and encourage others to do the same. But the issue is not the exposure it’s the phrase “to receive praise”. What matters is what follows the exposure. If no action is taken, then no reaction ought to be expected.
So now let’s take that last leap. How do people in reality expect to keep getting away with behavior that ranges from uncouth to openly terrible outside of comics? We can find examples that are truly ridiculous. Just look at Anthony Weiner. Seriously, watch the documentary Weiner. It’s a slice of reality that manages to often be revealing and hilarious in the very same moment. He’s a politician that did something disgusting, was given a second chance and wasted it by continuing in his behavior.
He’s also the exception.
I’m not going to mince any more words at this point. This is about president-elect Donald Trump. Trump is a motherfucker who has fucked up more times and fucked over more people than we can count. It’s all public record too. In the past year we’ve all become aware of this man’s many sins. Yet we live in a world in which he can be elected to the highest office in the free world. We live in a world in which his terrible business practices, abuse of women, and open incitement of hatred towards anyone who isn’t a straight, white man is embraced.
We live in a world where a man who makes Lex Luthor look like a dream can be elected President in spite of continually being exposed for being a monster. That’s the reality we live in. That’s what we must come to understand.
And that’s the crux of your question. In a better world, I might respond that people are too stupid or egotistical to alter their behavior after having it exposed. That might still be true, but it’s not the fundamental truth of this answer. Because even if someone like Trump is stupid or egotistical, it’s not the core of why he continues to behave like he does.
The truth is that he continues to act this way because there are no consequences. Trump has shown us that you can indiscriminately fuck over contractors, grab pussy, and disparage people based on their color and creed, all while becoming President. So maybe the better question is, why do people care about being exposed if they’re in a position of power?
I can’t answer that question. I don’t really want to.