Robots, Mutants, Kittens pt. 2

August 5, 2009

So wait – for Automata the premise of the story is that music makes minorities uncontrollably violent?!?


I mean, I get it- it’s a neat premise- the ability to hack robots with “normal” things- as much as Lovecraftian ideas of leaving furniture arrangements in a way causes madness with humans…

BUT. Music makes homicide in minorities? Isn’t that the logic against black music now? Against letting slaves play their traditional music of their homeland? Guh Guh Guh.

For fuck’s sake. I had hoped they might do a little better than that.

ETA: And they follow it with the self-sacrificial minority character!

Double fail bonus!



  1. Hey, so we’re going to tell this story about a 1920s robot culture, and the clash.

    Now, these robots are kind of like a struggling minority, and some of the things they’re having to endure are the kind of insanity that we abhor.

    Our villains are trying to marginalize and take advantage of them in the most insidious way – by literally reprogramming them using things in their environment.

    Now, with the era we’re using as a backdrop, we want to bring in the music, and jazz, and something about that is like an input that sends the robots haywire.

    Wait, we can’t do that. Someone might say that’s a parallel to black music – a parallel we’re obviously not trying to draw. But then they might accuse us of being secret racists. You know, the kind of racists that don’t even know they’re a racist until someone tells them.

    Actually, it would be a lot safer for us to not mix science fiction elements and real world cultural touchpoints to tell stories.

    Phew. That was a close one.

    • I love how the assumption is that if you can’t do things problematically, you’re not allowed to do them at all – “If we can’t make movies like Birth of a Nation, we can’t have movies with black folks in them!”

      No. Let’s say we wanted to play up the insidiousness of internalized self hate and oppression as a tool of genocide. It wouldn’t be a song that would magically make you go cra-zay, robot or no. It’d be a longer story, watching these people grow into self hate, where every example of role model and image presented to them is either obedient and crazy and them being punished for speaking for themselves and rewarded for punishing their own.

      But that’d be a lot longer, and uglier story.

      Oh, but look! Robots! 1920s! Whoo!

      Guess what? You’re not a secret racist, just an ignorant one.

  2. Yeah, I was disappointed with that, given how good some of their previous comics on race have been. It’s also just kinda a hokey story: the setting deserved better.

    I still love comic #3, though, with the secret language.

    • Well, I was somewhat hoping they’d touch on the idea of language a bit more. I mean, I get they’re doing a short bit with it, but still, it’s so fragmentary as to be useless to try to take it in that way.

  3. I’m glad I stopped reading Penny Arcade once I saw the first Automata page.

    And interesting troll you got up there; pants under the chin, full of righteous white man fury, circular logic. And then they say it’s non-white people who’re too emotional and can’t think in a straight line.

    Meanwhile he and Patricia Wrede apparently share the same white brain technician.

    • Yeah, and it’s pretty clear that it’s trolling because it wouldn’t even be an argument if the person actually, you know, read the first Robots, Mutants, & Kittens post, or the Debunking White Fantasy post, or the Fantasy shouldn’t read like history books…

      But of course, it’s never was about talking about media in our society as much as making sure we get correction from authority on high, less we get too uppity. People don’t need to be told they’re racist, but they’ll sure as hell show you…

  4. Not to troll, but I really don’t see the racism. Two points:

    1) The comic isn’t saying it’s bad to be a robot, or even blaming the robots in any way for their violent acts. If it were a robot band playing the music I think it would be different. It looks like the band is made up of black people, but we know nothing about their social status in this fictional world.

    2) The how and why of “music making minorities violent” hasn’t been revealed yet. My first thought when I read the comic wasn’t “oh no, music makes robots violent!” it was “oh man, some anti-robot racist figured out how to use music to make robots violent in an effort to encourage anti-robot hatred!”

    The fictional world is obviously racist and that’s the point of the comic. But I don’t think the comic itself is racist.


    • Victor: Specifically in America, it’s a stupid, but common argument made over and over about music resulting in violence. It initially had more of a place with rock music, but ended up becoming a defining concept of black people in the US.

      Where the comic crosses the line, here, is much like that bullshit argument that flies here in the US often, it basically states that a certain group of people lack agency or full cognition of normal human beings.

      The idea that the issue is “mechanical” doesn’t change much- there’s often resurgences of fake science that tries to paint certain groups as less intelligent or more violent than others, usually without looking at the nature of the testing, or biases in the testers, or the overall condition of the group being tested. Such bullshit sicence then also is used in turn, to reinforce the biases which they were doctored to support in the first place.

      In this case, Tycho has blogged often enough that I’ve seen he has a -clue- about race issues, which is why I’m all the more fucking disappointed that this is where they’ve chosen to take the comic.

  5. Right, I understand the concept. My point is that that might not be what’s happening. Within the fiction we don’t know what’s happening.

    It’s racist if robots are at fault. If the comic concludes with some form of “the music made robots violent because they are robots” I’ll totally agree with you. That’s racist, 100%.

    But if it ends with “music makes robots racist because someone made a mind control riff” that’s different. I don’t think there is enough context to know why the music made Carl go berserk.

    • Victor- do you recognize when I talk about media and context, I’m talking about what statements, we, as real people, creators and consumers of fiction, are making about each other?

      It’s racist because it’s drawing upon racist imagery and concepts in a reinforcing manner, regardless of the fictional justifications. I’m sure if you had a story with aliens as stand-ins for Jews, who were exposed to a chemical that caused them to eat babies, it would make perfect sense within the fiction and still be completely racist because it’s drawing upon the lies about Jews eating babies.

      If you don’t understand my first point- that this discussion only works in the context of our real world- then there’s no reason for you to read my blog. Everything I write about- including gaming, comes from that context of how we, as actual humans, relate and interact with each other through our fictions.

      • I like assume that people are smart. Smart enough to know the difference between fiction and reality. I can read a book or see a movie that contains racism within the fiction without that making me racist. Most people, I believe, are smart enough to understand the difference between fiction and reality.

        In fact, if you’re going to argue that “music can’t make a black person violent” it also has to follow that “a comic can’t make a white person racist”.

        If I saw a story with aliens as Jews who were made to eat babies I would laugh. I’m Jewish! I know Jews don’t eat baby. Sane, civilized, intelligent people know Jews don’t eat babies.

        If someone see’s a story like that and thinks that Jews eat babies (or that music makes minorities violent) their problem isn’t just that their racist, it’s that their stupid to. Really really stupid. But they were racist before they read the baby eating alien fiction. The fiction did not make them racist.

        Now, I do think there’s a line there. If I write a story with a big dumb angry black guy who is dumb and angry simply because he’s black, that’s racist. Very much so! I think where exactly the line is between racist and not racist is one of the big questions of our time. We obviously have different perceptions of where that line is.

        Lastly, I’m annoyed at being told not to read your blog. I do understand your first point, very well. But even if I didn’t, wouldn’t you want me to keep reading your blog in the hopes that maybe someday later I would understand?

        • If you read some of the links which I’ve so kindly provided on my blog, you’d see people do, often, mistake fiction for reality. Not because any -one- piece of fiction changes them, but because when bombarded by a culture of fictions, they take it for the norm. And it infects everything, from news to policy making to how children grow up.

          And, if you actually read my blog, you’d already know that I don’t care about educating you- especially since you’ve just shown yourself unwilling or unable to educate yourself with materials already provided – this blog serves a different community, and if you DID understand my first point, you’d see how inadequate the “either/or” logic of media influencing culture and culture influencing media stance is you’ve just put forth.

  6. Oh man. Sorry about the troll dude.

    I wish white dudes weren’t so worried about the idea that racism is a zero-sum game. Like I’d have to give up everything that’s fun in my life in order for you not to experience it. WTF. What do you really have to lose if you accept the idea that something promotes or reinforces racist ideas?

    It’s like not wanting to stop telling the racist jokes because they’re just so funny.

    • Yeah, the zero sum game would take it even further- it would then be claimed that if you can’t tell racist jokes, you can’t tell any jokes at all, and then, you can’t even smile without being thrown in jail. You know, because white guys are always being thrown in jail disproportionately and stuff.

      But even trying to get there to argue assumes a level of logic that’s not operating. People aren’t making logical statements, they’re defending whiteness, which is why it’s always so “defensive”(aggressive). It’s not about researching, reasoning, and considering what impacts we have when we make media, it’s about hiding the baseline observation that white people can take the literal suffering of other people and turn it into fluffy entertainment and not only is it ok, but how dare you bring up the possibility that it might NOT be ok?

      That’s why the arguments always fall back to either “You just want to censor everyone!” or “You’re just stupid and irrational!” because what we usually -are- asking for, is a more intelligent look and treatment of material rather than rehashing lies for lolz – and those two arguments go straight to what they’re aiming for- a silencing of the discussion instead fo exploration of it.

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