At the beginning of September, I was idly browsing at Alas, when I came across the following buried at the bottom of one of the pages:
Alas, a blog runs on WordPress blogging and review software.
I was curious. I knew about the blogging, but what’s this “review software”? I clicked. Imagine my surprise at encountering a whole section of the site I never knew even existed. “Amped Reviews”, it said, “Honest Reviews of Movies Retailers, Products, and Websites”. “Don’t believe the hype”, it exhorted.
So Barry has a second string to his bow, I thought, and to start with it looked pretty innocuous. The first section is “Movies”, featuring reviews of “Grandma’s Boy” and “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Scrolling down there are reviews for an Ipod, Faraday Flashlight, Fleshlight, A PPC 7600…
Fleshlight? That took me by surprise. Somehow I didn’t think Barry would be into sex toys, but why not? It’s not obviously something he would necessarily disapprove of.
…MILF lessons, MILF next door, Bangbros??? For those of you who don’t know it, Bangbros are a porn outfit that cater for a distinctly misogynistic segment of the market.
I wasn’t sure where Barry stood on the anti-porn/sex-positive feminism front, but I’ve never gotten any sense of his being pro-porn in any way. (He’s since clarified.) I really couldn’t imagine him approving of this. What was going on? Had the site been hacked? Did he have an evil twin? Whatever the explanation, it was clear that I had a major scoop here. Ampersand is a big name in the feminist blogosphere, so I did what any blogger would do. I immediately
posted a humiliating exposé without bothering to find out any facts emailed him to find out what was going on:
It’s not my intention to embarrass you, but in the tradition of blogger-as-journalist, I feel duty bound to blog about this. I’d like to give you an opportunity to comment before I do.
I also promised to give him notice before publishing. Since I hadn’t given him that notice, he was under no immediate threat when he posted an explanation on Alas.
As he pointed out in that post ‘a couple of “Alas” readers ha[d] noticed’ – me and at least one other person. So he probably realised that it was only a matter of time before it became public. Better for him to do it at a time of his own choosing. And having done so, I felt there was no need for further coverage by me.
He made a mistake in not allowing comments. A comments thread would have allowed people to let off steam. A comments thread would have kept the post visible for longer, so that certain people who didn’t see it, would have. The inevitable eruption would have happened sooner, and have been over sooner. He’s now remedied that, but only for (pro)feminists. Feminists aren’t the only people who feel they have a stake in Alas. I have feelings about it too. However critical I may be of feminism in general, and Barry in particular, I recognise and value the resource that is Alas, and don’t want to see it damaged.
So what’s the verdict? Did he sell out? Yes, I think he did. His claim that “how that all works isn’t something I have any knowledge of” isn’t tenable He may not know the details, but he knows (because I explained it to him) that links from Alas to the review site improve the latter’s search rankings. In any case, ignorance isn’t really an excuse. The only possible defence to the sell-out charge was that he was conned, that Mr. Douglas, the buyer, exploited a loophole in the contract to violate it in spirit, but Barry himself has rejected that defence:
A couple of readers have speculated that I didn’t know that the new owner would link to porn on his pages. That’s not true; I kept the links off of “Alas,” but I knew that he would be putting links to porn on his own pages.
His current defence – that he doesn’t think porn is that bid a deal, one way or the other – doesn’t wash either. Barry may not care much, (I don’t either. It’s not my Ox being gored here) but a large part of his constituency does, and if he want Alas to be a place where they can come to engage in open debate, then he had a duty to them to keep the space clean for them. Neither do I think selling cartoons to magazines which might accept adverts for porn sites is comparable. There’s no connection between his cartoon sales, and what should be a neutral space for anti-porn feminists.
I hope it’s not too late for him to repair the damage. He’s made a start in his most recent posts.
I can’t finish this without commenting on the behaviour of some of his critics – not the ones expressing their hurt, or making reasoned comment, but the ones engaged in vilification and character assassination. I remember Heart, for example, who seems to be leading the charge against him “making a demand” that Barry create women/feminist only spaces on his blog running on his server using his bandwidth paid for with his money because he had attracted a larger audience than she had, like she had some Goddess-given right to the fruits of his labour written into her double-X chromosomes. Barry gave her a platform; I would have given her the boot. Several others I remember pissing all over him, even while he was giving them the breaks.
He may have stumbled, but he’s better than some of his critics.
Alas, an overview: (Originally courtesy of curiousgyrl, though I’ve added a fair few myself.):
Update 2: OK, I give up. I’ve dumped the classification, and merged the lists. I was getting too much grief. The following is just a record of what I intended, and no longer applies.
Update: A note on the classification
I started this round up, with two things in mind. Firstly, when I oringinally wrote the post, it wasn’t clear to me whether Barry was still in denial about the general fucked-upness of what he’d done. I thought by listing the posts, I could draw his attention to the sheer volume of criticism – not just the jackbooted thugs who started the pile-on, but also the thoughful, sensitive objections from people who were hurt by what he’d done.
Barry was hurting too, and I also wanted him to know that he still had friends. So I separated out what at that time was the only unequivocally supportive post by Shelly.
Since then it’s become clear that the community has started to use the lists as a resource. This has been my most read, most linked-to post ever, by a wide margin. I’m not vain enough to believe that my glorious prose is what is attracting so much attention, but hopefully the visitors at least read my glorious prose, even if that’s not what they came for. So I’m very happy to continue maintaining the lists.
It’s also become clear that the simple division between “critical” and “supportive” is quite inadequate to capture the full range of opinion in all its nuance. Some posts – mostly from outside the community – expressed no discernable view one way or another, so I created a separate “other” section. Other posts were mild, or ambivalent. Still others were both critical and supportive. My criteria for assigning them to one of the two categories is entirely subjective – If I were Barry, would I feel more criticised than supported?
I’ve considered rejigging the classification, but in the end, I don’t see the point. Any new set of categories I could come up with would suffer the same problem. On the other hand, I still think it’s worth keeping the classification because Barry is still feeling battered, even if he’s no longer in denial, and this makes the support he’s getting visible.
Bottom line: Please don’t feel offended if I’ve filed you under ‘critical’ and your post was intended to be ‘supportive’, or vice versa. The division of many of the posts has been on a knifeedge.