Kate and Paige summarize the events and controversy surrounding the Skaianet Systems website launch. Discussion includes why the content was unacceptable, the posted apology, and laying out how to repair community trust moving forward.
Listen to this episode at https://perfectlygenericpodcast.com/updates/episodes/19
Kate: The Perfectly Generic Podcast contains spoilers, occasional adult language, and Vriska. Additionally, this episode includes discussion of sensitive topics that may be upsetting to listeners, including racism, antisemitism, and the Holocaust. You've been advised.
Kate: [inhale] HUUUUUUUGHHHH
Kate: That's the mood this week, frankly.
Paige: Yeah. Yeah, for real.
Kate: [laughs] Hi Paige, welcome to the Perfectly Generic Podcast. I'm —
Paige: Thank you.
Kate: I'm sorry you had to debut under these circumstances.
Paige: Yeeeeeahhh [laughs]
Kate: I'm — I'm Kate Mitchell, I'm your host. Paige, welcome to the show. Do you wanna introduce yourself?
Paige: I'm Paige — and I don't — [laughs] I don't know what to say! I'm Paige, I like Homestuck, and I'm upset and Jewish and there you go.
Kate: The emotional labor of liking Homestuck.
Paige: Yes exactly.
Paige: That should be the title of this one!
Kate: I'm thinking about it, yeah.
Kate: So — so this week we are gonna — we're gonna talk about what happened on the first. There was sort of the first peep of Homestuck content heading into this year — the tenth year of the property — and it was — it was one that, y'know, it — it got — a significant portion of it was taken down immediately and apologized for because it upset a lot of people. And I was one of those people, you were one of those people, so we're gonna go into this episode: what happened, what was the content, why was it unacceptable, what were some compounding factors, and then talk about the apology statement, V's clarifying remarks, the next steps for Skaianet, and how they can rebuild trust with the fans. Before we do that, even though it's — it's a sadder — it's a sad occasion compared to usual, I did wanna ask — this show — the question that we always ask when someone new comes on the show, which is: what's your history with Homestuck? How'd you get into it, what's your, like — how'd you — y'know, how'd you — how'd your life end up to the point where you're on a podcast talking about it?
Paige: [laughs] So in 2012 I was between my Freshman and Senior — Freshman and Junior years of high school, and I was on Tumblr and I was following just a bunch of random blogs. Mostly they had to do with like, Vocaloid and Legend of Korra, and this one blog that I was following that was like a roleplaying blog I think, it was during one of the hiatuses of Homestuck and it was the one where people were trying to pass it off as an anime. And this blog that I was following reblogged this thing like, here — here's a link to the first episode of Homestuck. And I clicked it, and it was the first page, and the rest is history. So that's my story.
Kate: [laughs] You've been a fan ever since?
Kate: What were those — what was the sort of — what was the experience for you of like, that — y'know, that — that 2012 to 2016 time?
Paige: It was — I dunno, it's hard to remember exactly, 'cause it was also high school for me so there was just a lot going on in general.
Paige: Mostly what I remember is a lot of fan meetups in Los Angeles, those were really fun, y'know with cosplay and people hanging out in parks, and — y'know, spin the bottle, and everyone brought like sopor pies and whatever.
Paige: So it was — I was a lot more — I had a lot more interaction with like, irl fans than I do now in that time period.
Paige: I remember at one meetup that was on 4/13, it was the one where Paradox Space was announced and I was the one who first saw the notification about that, so I started like, shouting at everyone during — like, in the middle of the photoshoot portion of the meetup, so that was really fun.
Kate: I miss Paradox Space, I hope —
Paige: Me too!
Kate: I would like — I would like, after whatever content gets dropped on us this year, for Paradox Space to come back or for something like it to come back.
Paige: Yes please.
Kate: [laughs] So let's — let's get into it. On January 1st 2019 a website was quiet— quietly posted. All of the presence of What Pumpkin on the internet was redirected to Skaianet Systems. The Twitter account was changed, the website redirected. It's a rebrand of the company behind Homestuck, and it was presented in a sort of metatexual way as the in-universe Skaianet website. It — the website includes a list of GPS coordinates, a ten-year countdown clock, and originally included a significant amount of additional content hidden in the source code of the site, which was quickly discovered and consumed by fans including on our livestream of the — of the events that morning. So first off, before we get into specific content, I wanna say — 'cause there's been some confusion about this: please do *not* go to those GPS coordinates! They are — they were not selected — there's no items — there's no physical items at those locations that were placed there by anyone involved in Homestuck. Do not go into the desert! This — this is not — this is not that kind of ARG. Please do not — please do not travel and then be disappointed when there's nothing in the middle of Siberia! [laughs]
Kate: And so — y'know — there was — there was some innocuous or, y'know, even funny stuff. There was a — there was a extra — there was a secret Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff comic, there was a folder full of Roxy's shitty wizard pictures — and then there was also a — a folder of 'cursed data', as it was called [laughs]
Paige: *Really* cursed.
Kate: Yeah as it turns out it was really *really* cursed [laughs] And this cursed content — was 36 text files which detailed the history of Her Imperious Condescension's actions on both pre- and post-scratch Earth. So as a brief overview of the content, it's — it starts with a — it's presented in an outline style, it's — basically it looks like what it is, which is an internal document used for story planning. This document was referenced a while back in Homestuck Book 3 — as the — which is — is actually — was originally released in 2013, like this do— y'know, the bulk of this document was written prior to 2013, and was minorly updated before going out here. It includes the — it includes a new figure, Calamity, the cherub that's the mother of both Calliope and Caliborn, some wild west shit, and then gets extremely derailed by a long, detailed and [sighs] not particularly — not particularly enjoyable alt!history that involves numerous real-life figures like Laurel and Hardy, Albert Einstein, Charlie Chaplin, and Adolf Hitler.
Paige: [Noise of discomfort] Eeeeeee —
Kate: Yeah! [laughs] The — so I wanted to get in to some of the things that were unacceptable about this content, regardless of their intent. And to address what folks are gonna say, I respect Andrew Hussie as a writer a great deal, and I think with respect comes the requirement for honesty. And it is fine for someone to — y'know I think that it is — I don't think it's unfair to talk about this, having receiving some @s to that question, I don't think this is a — I don't think this is a witch hunt, I don't think it's anything like that. I think it's important to be able to be honest with artists that you respect, and say 'this isn't it chief!'
Paige: Mhmm!! Yeah exactly!
Kate: [laughs] And — just, y'know. This didn't make the story better, I'd be extremely hesitant to treat any of it as canon content or theorize on it until it receives an edit, because the author himself stated that it wasn't — it wasn't well-written, it wasn't finished, and it was — it was inadvisable to post. So, that's that. So let's get into some of the unacceptable elements and the reason for the content being removed in the first place. The story describes a technology laundering operation run by The Condesce, taking Alternian technology and using it for human technological advances during the 20th Century. So this includes the recruitment of several real-life historical figures as frauds who passed off troll technology as their own invention, despite being buffoonish and — and awful. And Albert Einstein specifically was depicted as this ki— as this type of buffoonish fraud. [sighs]
Kate: [laughs] Yeah! As part of this story Albert Einstein is mentioned as having 'employed' a young Adolf Hitler — bullied him, causing the petulant Adolf Hitler to become an antisemite, and for Adolf Hitler to have undertaken the Holocaust as an act of personal revenge against Albert Einstein, that Albert Einstein could have stopped at any moment. And I'm gonna quote some of it here, and this part I didn't actually read on-stream.
Kate: 'Hitler gets really carried away in his new position. Aside from just being an asshole, he seems mostly motivated by spite for Einstein, who keeps being a beloved famous scientist, despite being a fraud. He takes his wrath out on jews especially, and kicks the holocaust into high gear. As years go by, he keeps sending taunting letters to Einstein, telling him this is all his fault. He can stop the holocaust and end WWII any time he wants, all he has to do is come out publicly and admit he's a fraud. He has to say really specific things Hitler has written for him, like "I'M A BIG FUCKING LOSER FRAUD, WHO'S BAD AT SCIENCE, I FAKED ALL MY BREAKTHROUGHS, MY DUMB SCRAGGLY HAIR AND MUSTACHE LOOK GAY, AND I DON'T DESERVE ANY OF MY FAME OR MONEY..." and so on. But no matter how bad WWII gets, Einstein is too ashamed to do anything about it. Instead, he keeps up his act, and develops a really pious, pacifist shtick where he opines on the tragedy and folly of war and such. He takes his shameful secret to his grave.'
Paige: [uncomfortable groan] Ohhhh I don't like he— I don't. Like. Hearing it. I read it, and then I had to hear it again, I'm just like. Who would write this?! Why?!
Paige: Ugh, it's so unfortunate, it's just so bad.
Paige: Ugh. Man.
Kate: And so, for — for those who are not aware, the portrayal of — and — and Harry Houdini, who's also Jewish, is also depicted as part of The Condesce's conspiracy here — the portrayal of Jewish historical figures as part of a vast conspiracy designed to undermine the advancement of the human race, or enslave the human race as The Condesce's goals are, is a concept with a great deal of precedent in antisemitic media dating back centuries. There is a common trope of Jewish figures, both real and fictional characters, being depicted as secretly controlling the levers of power, as secretly being complicit with evil forces, and as being manipulative frauds who do not deserve the success that they have achieved. This story plays into that — those stereotypes. It — while intended to be a satire — does nothing to actually establish it as a sa— itself as a satire. It does not challenge a — a — a reader who is not aware of these stereotypes, and it does not do anything to combat them in text. Instead, this document, were it to not be retracted, would have established that in Homestuck canon a Jewish person was responsible for the Holocaust.
Paige: I don't have anything to add, it's just completely ridiculous and horrible and — God, like — ugh [sighs] I don't know what to say I'm —
Paige: Speechless at how terrible this is!
Paige: I — yeah.
Kate: And it's — it's — [sighs] it's — it is — it is a very difficult thing to reckon with, and it was, as we'll get to Andrew's apology later, in the words of the author 'inexcusably thoughtless'. If you as a listener and a reader read this as malicious, I cannot tell you not to do that. It is not my place to tell you not to do that. I think it is totally understandable to read this with malice in — in mind. Because even if written out of ignorance, it conforms to the worst stereotypes, the worst antisemitic creations of media, and trivializes an event where 17 million individuals were killed. It's about the least productive thing you can do with your fiction. There —
Kate: Are some other issues with the text as well. It's not just the antisemitism in the text that led for it to be retracted. First off, and most trivial, there are a number of typos, structural issues, and just —
Kate: Fundamentally like, unfinished writing in this document. Shouldn't have been shown to the public, just from a quality perspective, it doesn't match the quality of the source material in any way. There's a casual disregard of Native American lives at the start. Troll — the troll caste system is explicitly compared to human slavery, with The Condesce being noted as being in support of it.
Paige: [sounds of disgust]
Kate: It, again, undermines the idea of the characters as aracial by having Jake — by having Jake Harley be father of Barack Obama's white mother. It also includes a portrayal — a descri— a description of Jake, who was 16, and Charlie Chaplin who was 37, as having a quote 'turbulent romantic affair', but it should be noted that there were similar age differences in all four of Charlie Chaplin's real life marriages, so I find that one to be acceptable as satire.
Kate: But it's — it's still, y'know, unpleasant.
Kate: And to understand the impact of this we also need to talk about the compounding factors in this work and from this author in the past. So in 2013 there was the Caucasian-slash-Peachy-incident which we talked about on the show in both the racism episode, Episode 17, and the trickster mode episode, Episode 15, so go ahead and listen to those if you wanna hear more detail about it. But those — there was a joke that wasn't received as intended and was changed and apologized for, and those using it for harassment were explicitly disavowed. And part of — part of the impact of that apology and how meaningful it was is diminished for me by the fact that there was another — that, y'know, six years later there was another fuckup, an even worse one.
Paige: An even worse one, yeah.
Kate: [sighs] There's also been a previous instance of a reference that was antisemitic being edited in-text, and Paige do you wanna talk about that?
Paige: Yeah, so the song 'Eternity Served Cold', which appears first in — Caliborn's entry I believe, yeah?
Paige: It was originally called 'Eternity's Shylock'. Now Shylock is a — he's a character from The Merchant of Venice, written by Shakespeare, who is a Jewish money lender, and he's basically kind of this, y'know, he's a vengeful bastard, he's trying to exact a pound of flesh from the, y'know, the protagonists of the play. And this of course is in reference to — or, well — the reason it's called 'Eternity's Shylock' , the song was titled that, was a— y'know, referencing Caliborn's desire to exact a POuND OF SMuT from Dirk, among other things. And when this title was revealed, people on Tumblr, y'know, a lot of people were like, hey, this isn't cool, Shylock is an antisemitic depiction of Jews and we'd appreciate it — or y'know, this isn't okay can you please change the name, and it was. And not a lot of hullabaloo was made about it, except on Reddit by, y'know, gross white dudes [laughs]
Kate: Mhmm [laughs]
Paige: So — those damn SJWs changing the names of songs!!
Paige: How dare they, y'know. But — and so — it wasn't — it doesn't seem like it was that much of an — not to say that it wasn't a big issue, but not a lot of, y'know, stink was made about it compared to this, for sure.
Paige: But it just is another instance of, y'know, antisemitism —
Paige: In Hussie's work. Although — I mean I guess I don't know exactly who named it, but the fact that this is linked to Homestuck at all, and now like, several years later we have to contend with this shitstorm —
Paige: Is just — y'know. Makes you think!
Kate: And anyone perusing, at like a casual read of the archives of the Formspring from the early years of the comic, can see just how much casual quote 'edgy' humor like, suffused Andrew's style of interacting with fans at the time. As in a 2010 — [sighs] as in a 2010 Formspring answer about a — about troll names for punctuation marks that concludes with: 'If the entire realm of interrogative remarks were World War II, surprise noodles would be the mighty Nazis, while query hooks would be the lowly Jews.' And again, there's — the Formspring has been deleted along with everything on it, and it's just sort of useful to note as an example of the style that suffused Andrew's writing and interactions at the time. That, again — I think we had all sort of hoped, as a — as a fandom — that he'd moved past, right?
Kate: And I know that [pause] he has attempted to. And it's — it's extre— it's a — it's a inexcusable backslide, to in 2019 —
Kate: Return to that well.
Paige: Yeah. One of the things that bugged me about, especially the excerpt you read, and I know this is not what the pod— this episode is necessarily about, but the fact that one of the things that Hitler wants Einstein to say is that 'MY HAIR AND MUSTACHE ARE GAY', and the fact that *that* is written in a, like, in a piece of Homestuck media in 2019, after we'd all been so surprised and, y'know, happily surprised by the way that things ended with Dave, with Rose and Kanaya, is just like a slap in the face for LGBT fans as well as, y'know, Jewish fans. And I've been informed that chair lifts don't happen at goyim weddings as often as I thought, so that kind of does lend credence to the idea that maybe he did want to make Rose Jewish, which I'm all in favor of, but the fact that he takes a, y'know there's a lesbian Jewish wedding in — what was it, 2016 on Cascade day, and then two years later this nonsense? Is just appalling, and upsetting, y'know?
Kate: Mhmm. Yeah, it is. In Homestuck, and one of the things we've talked about in this work, the villains are bigoted.
Kate: Bigotry is depicted as some— as like, a weapon of evil. A weapon of social division. Like, Caliborn's whole character is this illustration of a certain kind of like, privileged —
Paige: Violent —
Kate: Of, like, prim— privileged violence.
Paige: Mhmm. Violent misogyny in particular.
Kate: Yeah, and so to depict a villain calling someone 'gay', or using 'gay' as a pejorative, is in line with the themes of this work, but quite frankly —
Paige: That's true.
Kate: But quite frankly it's hard to read in good faith that with su— with the surrounding area. The thing is, in Homestuck's text, the bigots are depicted as bigoted, they are depicted as evil, like they are refuted by the other characters in-text. In this style of a disaffected unknown narrative voice there's no response to it, it's just 'how things happened'.
Paige: Yeah exactly. That's a good way to put it 'cause I definitely understand like, y'know — that — that's something that a horrible person would say, and Adolf Hitler: horrible person, right? But just the — the — the way that it's presented did not sit right with me, that one particular line — obviously the whole thing was presented terribly, but it's a g— it's a good way of saying like, y'know, you need — if you're going to have people act horribly in your story you kind of need to say — you need to have other characters point and be like 'this is not okay' —
Paige: Y'know? Yeah.
Kate: Just — the fundamental fact is — people have discussed this content removal as a — as — and I don't think this discussion is in good faith but I'm going to acknowledge it anyway — as a step back for controversial media. And Homestuck has always been controversial: it's extremely strange, it's extremely hostile to the reader, it's, y'know, it's —
Kate: It u— it uniquely balances on the knife edge of — of like, keeping you on your back foot of discomfort at many points in the story. And it is a challenging work and it's part of why I admire it so much. And this content, if you are a bigoted antisemite, if you are a pepe blaster '99 and you are reading this story, you would not feel challenged at all.
Kate: That's not challenging media. That doesn't challenge a perspective, that just hurts — that just hurts a c— a group of people, while —
Paige: Yeah, if anything it —
Kate: While providing comfort to the intolerant.
Paige: Mhmm. If anything it's challenging people who aren't antisemitic, it's like 'hey, did you ever think that maybe Jews do run the world, maybe Eins— Albert Einstein *was* a fraud?' Y'know, like, that's not the kind of challenging you want to have in your story —
Paige: Not the kind that I thought Andrew Hussie would want to have in his story and it's not the kind of story I would want to read.
Kate: Yeah. Yeah! But yeah —
Paige: You have to — like you can say 'oh this is challenging' but you have to think about who it's challenging exactly and what, y'know, social norms you're kind of trying to up-end. And this one just plays right into the, y'know, the thing that all of the neo-Nazis have been saying, y'know, for — y'know. And not just neo-Nazis. but like, over the course of human history, Jews have always been a scapegoat —
Paige: For all kinds of things, and this is not, y'know, this is going right into the norm even if it's not 'politically correct' any more, it's definitely still there so it's not like this is anything people haven't heard before.
Paige: This isn't anything that I haven't had to contend with in my life before.
Kate: Yeah — and —
Paige: I've seen this.
Kate: And just last year there were two instances of — of Jewish places of worship being attacked and people being killed —
Kate: For being Jewish by specifically antisemitic individuals, like antisemitism is alive and well, it is not a — it is not a dispatched problem, and it is not one that can be treated so trivially by our fiction without reckoning with the current modern effects of it. Another compounding factor to the upset that I felt, and I think a lot of folks did, and this is a coincidence, the — the Hiveswap team had nothing to do with this release, with one exception — but the — the Hiveswap writers did take the reference to Stelsa being 'troll Jewish' out of her troll call card between revisions when they posted the new Hiveswap website.
Paige: Mhmm. And I — as soon as Stelsa was revealed I was ecstatic, I was so excited to finally have, like, a canon Jewish character that was acknowledged as such in like — in so many words to be Jewish, even if it's like, 'troll Judaism' which is like, what does that mean? But I was excited to find out! Like, what did they celebrate, y'know, the — y'know, some sort of winter holiday that involves lighting candles? Y'know, is there s— does this have something to do with the Sufferer, maybe even?
Paige: Y'know I was so excited about that. And I was kind of let down by her route, but it was made up for by the fact that, y'know, lesbians, and she did kind of read as like, sort of a Jewish Grandmother character which made me really happy 'cause it felt authentic to me.
Paige: But — and — but they didn't address it strongly enough for it to warrant staying in her troll call, which I guess I kind of understand but it was a little bit of a let-down, 'cause I — it wasn't clear when they removed that if they were saying, 'oh she's not Jewish any more', or 'oh, we're just not gonna mention it on this list of three things about this character', y'know. But then to have this happen concurrently, or y'know, immediately after, is kind of upsetting, and it would be nice if — I don't know, if something — I don't know how this could be resolved, this particular issue, but it's just something to note, that like — an— like, another massive letdown for Jewish fans immediately after Stelsa's, y'know, kind of — shoving her — her religious or cultural identity kind of to the background of her character is not very...good. [laughs]
Paige: Sorry, I'm — I lost the ability to say words, but it's — it's just not — it doesn't make anyone happy, it's not, y'know — no-one likes that. No-one — no-one liked that.
Paige: Everyone —
Kate: No-one liked that.
Paige: Everyone disliked that!
Kate: Welcome to Episode 19: No-one Liked That. [laughs] So now I wanted to read and discuss the two pieces of official communication we got out of Skaianet after this incident. So within a — within a couple hours of this content being discovered first by fans it was deleted from the website, and then the next morning an apology was put on the website in place of the original content. And the apology was written by Andrew Hussie and I'm going to read it now.
'Originally there was some backstory content hidden in some cursed tags in this site code. I came up with the concepts years ago for internal purposes, not originally intended for public consumption. I thought some might find it interesting if the material were leaked in the site code in an obscure way. I think it has proven to be neither obscure as imagined, nor all that rewarding to read. The subject matter was inflammatory in careless ways, and the negative reactions to it are legitimate and should have been expected. A drafting process can be messy and can result in some ill-advised nonsense which often should not see the light of day. Letting a bunch of rough draft text files be deployed in this way was not a well considered move. Obviously this material has hurt a lot of people. Which isn't what I was going for, and didn't anticipate, but certainly should have. As far as the intentions behind it, I'm sure I believed it would be read as condemnation through satire, but instead it came off as excessively irreverent and disrespectful of a sensitive topic (to be clear, the main topic relates to antisemitism, which of course is not an issue that should be handled frivolously). After receiving criticism it's obvious to me where I'd been mistaken, and why no one could have possibly read it the way it was intended. I know this content was bad, I regret putting it in a place where people would discover it, and I regret that it was drafted in the first place.
I acknowledge that there are certain subjects which demand an exceptional level of care, and that I have been inexcusably thoughtless in handling this. I understand that there should be a certain standard of consideration and review for the content that is presented to an audience, and in forgoing that consideration there have been serious consequences for those people whom this issue directly affects. This could have been easily avoided had I sought a more careful review before it was posted to ensure that what I actually wanted to convey was being properly conveyed.
I am sorry that this lapse of judgment has been hurtful to so many people. I cannot undo the damage that this has caused, but I can promise that I am aware of the gravity of this mistake and that, going forward, I will be more mindful of the serious impact careless decisions have on those they hurt.'
Kate: What do you think of that?
Paige: I think it's a start, it definitely — I mean, it was a relief to see just because it made me feel like, okay I don't have to drop Homestuck from my life entirely, y'know. 'Cause he recognizes, oh hey, this was a bad thing that I did and I should apologize for it, and make — y'know, try to make sure that people understand, y'know — that, I dunno, this wasn't done maliciously, I don't actually — I'm not a — I'm not a neo-nazi, is kind of the — the first step here to be like, 'hey, this isn't something I actually believe, and I'm really sorry that it came off that way, and I understand why it came off that way and why it wasn't acceptable', y'know. Yeah. Mostly — and I — so my first instinct was like, oh, thank God I don't have to throw out these books I just got, y'know.
Paige: But I definitely think like, after several more reads, it's like, y'know you didn't really address everything, you kind of need to say some more about what you're gonna do in the future to kind of make sure that this doesn't happen again, y'know?
Kate: Yeah. Y'know, for me it's — it is a start, it is good that there's an acknowledgement. It is the right thing to do to have apologized in a timely fashion, it was the right thing to have deleted the content quickly after having posted it. It wasn't the right thing to post this — it wasn't the right thing to write this, and any individuals who did review it and found it to be acceptable to post should not be in charge of reviewing content before it goes live for this company in the future.
Kate: So I — I'm gonna move on to that because one individual has come out and stated that they did see the content before it went up. And it was V, who's a — who's a writer for Hiveswap Friendsim, who wrote both Lanque and Marvus' routes, and recently has joined Twitter at @vfromhomestuck. And I'm gonna go ahead and read their statement now:
'There were several people who had previously seen the content that was released on the Skaianet website the other day. I was one of them.
This content was written some years ago in a different context. I believe at the time that I’d read it, it was not intended for anything other than a kind of lore road map to inform unrelated future content. It was presented basically as is: a very rough, outline style document that was not meant to be viewed externally. There were obvious problems with the document, which I recognized at the time.
But my reactions to an incredibly rough outline intended only for internal planning purposes were probably imbued with less urgency than they would have been had I actually reviewed the content with the understanding it was to be published as is. And to speak very candidly, I think the frequency with which I tell Andrew that his ideas are stupid and terrible in a facetious manner may honestly have obfuscated the sincerity of my objections at that time. I could have and should have been more clear that I wasn’t joking.
I believe after that point the idea was dropped pretty quickly, and these documents were left to sit unreviewed for a long time. By the time the prospect of releasing the raw outline was raised years later, I had honestly forgotten most of the details of the story and exactly how bad the objectionable parts had been. That being said, I certainly remembered enough that I should have felt motivated to review the material again when I heard he was considering posting it. While I had no part in writing it, I was not proactive in stopping it, and in that I feel I hold a burden of negligence.
Not for nothing, I think the fact that this content had technically passed the eyes of several people whose opinions he has come to trust in matters like this was a significant factor in what made him feel like it would be received as humorous. It isn’t that none of us recognized that there were problems, but none of us at any point said to him in clear terms, “do not post this”, or “you have to take out X, Y, Z specific parts, and here is why, and we aren’t just making fun of you this time”.
While the responsibility for a person’s actions obviously ultimately rests with that person, I think in the course of demanding from our privileged friends deference to and trust in our judgment it also incurs upon us some degree of responsibility in ensuring that the judgment we are instructing them to follow is also sound and thoughtful. I don’t think that he received that in this. I discussed this with one of the other people who had seen it more recently, and they related to me that at the point they'd given Andrew their feedback, they had only skimmed the document without actually finishing it. I also think that my disengagement and disinterest in reviewing it again may as well have been tacit encouragement.
As this was a free, quasiofficial easter egg dispersed obscurely within the source code of a website, it was not subject to a full formal review process as would a collaborative work passing through the company itself for wide publication (and I’d like to clarify specifically that the Friendsim/Hiveswap team was not associated with this in any way). He sought review and input from several friends in an informal capacity over an extended period of time, and received potentially misleading feedback from multiple sources.
Due to the completely unbothered atmosphere from the people who were aware of its impending release, I do not think he imagined it would have the hurtful impact it did. I think this inaction is why he believed it would be OK. I truly do not believe Andrew had any malicious intent. In saying this I do not intend to excuse Andrew’s actions, or my inaction, but I hope this explanation can help fans understand how and why this happened.
I’d also like to make this clear that I’m not writing this because I’ve been asked to. I feel that in being negligent in this matter that I’ve failed him personally as a friend, and as someone who was in a position to easily prevent him from making an ass of himself. And more importantly I was also in a position to discourage this from being released at all, but I did not take the steps to actively involve myself in the review of this content such that I could have helped prevent the damage it caused to the people who had to read it.
This event has certainly reminded me of the responsibility I hold as someone associated with a property of this reach and impact, with a marginalized perspective that I have impressed upon its creator entitles me to a greater level of understanding and foresight with regards to matters that will impact the marginalized community than he has. He trusts us to tell him when he has made a mistake and we did not do that adequately. So I would like to apologize for my part in allowing this to happen, and assure you that going forward I will be appropriately vigilant to the extent of my power in ensuring that nothing like this will happen again.
Again, I must emphasize I am speaking only as an individual. What I am saying here is entirely independent from What Pumpkin and does not represent its position as a company entity.'
Kate: So, I have some fairly serious issue with this statement [laughs] I wanted to — I wanted to ask what your reaction to it was.
Paige: Again, it was sort of like — at first my reaction was like, a little bit of relief 'cause it k— it did give a little bit of — a little more kind of background on exactly how this came to be, y'know. But I also agree with what — y'know, 'cause later you said, y'know, this isn't — this wasn't really helpful, this was only detrimental, y'know — and you know a lot about that stuff because that's kind of your job, like what you do for a living, y'know.
Kate: [laughs] I have done professional PR work and — and still do, yeah.
Paige: Yeah exactly, exactly. 'Cause you — you know more about that stuff than I do, originally I was just like, oh, another person [audio cuts out] apology and that's great.
Paige: I'm glad that s— I'm glad that people are reali— y'know, people who were involved in this at all were — are realizing hey, we did a bad job here, and i — we wanna say sorry, so that's kind of nice. But I agree that does kind of muddle the waters and like — it — it implicates several more people who we now don't know, or whereas Hussie was willing to be like hey, this is all my fault. Because I mean — and V does say the person, y'know — a person's actions ultimately are their own to take responsibility for, but Hussie was willing to do that without saying 'hey, these other folks did look at it and they didn't say anything about it so it's not, y'know, all my fault'. And the fact that someone else is trying to come in and be like hey so actually there were several people who looked at this beforehand and thought it was okay so it's not all Hussie's fault, just seems like you're kind of undermining his own statement, y'know?
Kate: Yeah, I think it makes his apology less impactful.
Kate: So I have three fundamental issues with this statement. The first is simply that it paints a picture of a dysfunctional working process. For one reviewer to say that they only skimmed it and for another to say that they had forgotten most of the content, it does not speak to a level of care equivalent to the amount of attention that this would receive, and it is frankly naïve to assume that the Homestuck community — full of anticipation, full of excitement for this year, 2019, and the content that is going to be coming out in this year — would not immediately rush to digest content posted on the — at the very beginning of this year. This is a critical year for Homestuck as a property. It is the tenth year of its existence, and effectively the Epilogue or post-canon content — the reaction to it and the excitement for it is a — is a way of testing 'can lightning strike twice' in this — in this type of fan interest, and 'are there another 10 years in this property', right — and that's the amount of time that's gonna be necessary for the videogame property attached to it, which was harmed by this release, to finish telling its story.
Kate: And so, again, it — it paints a picture of a process — of an internal process that isn't — that — that does not best serve the work, and does not best set up the creators behind this project for success. And does not adequately protect them from the cons— from the negative consequences that can come with this sort of attention. My second issue with this statement is that it raises more questions than it answers. By stating that there were multiple other reviewers without naming them, it creates a culture of suspicion where any — where any unnamed individual might have been complicit in the release of this content, and — I don't think that that's fair to individuals of the orbit of this project, to paint with such a broad brush and say 'there were other individuals that saw this and I won't say anything else'. I don't — to be clear, I do not believe that we as a community deserve the names of those figures. I do not think that their anonymity should be compromised, and I — I do not want to hunt them down. What I'm saying is it's inadvisable to say that there's an amorphous group of individuals and create that speculation, and put that pressure on individuals close to this project. And my third issue is the one that you talked about, which is simply that it does undermine Andrew's apology. I understand the impulse to want to protect your friend and collaborator. I understand that greatly. I think it is a noble instinct, and I think it's totally fair and understandable to try to do it, to try to be a good friend, to try to be a good creative partner. But I don't think that this helps convey the message that this is an event for which the responsibility is being taken and appropriate actions are being taken to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Kate: And that brings us to the next thing that I wanted to talk about, which is: what are the next steps for Skaianet in the wake of this and how can they rebuild trust with fans who were hurt by this, and put the property in the best place to succeed in 2019 and beyond?
Paige: I think they really do just need to have more people looking at this stuff with an eye specifically for like, is there some way that this might be read wrong, is there some way that this might, y'know, hurt people who are just fans who are just try— y'know, just trying to enjoy a webcomic, y'know. And I know that, y'know, we joke about Hussie being kind of a cryptid, and he, y'know, for the longest time in Homestuck it was kind of just him doing all the stuff, and ta— all he did was like, take the — the input suggestions from readers and the reader base was very small at that time compared to it as now, or compared to the jump in like, 2011-ish? Anyway —
Paige: But I think it — he — he said this himself, that it's like, it's kind of a collaborative effort, and you see that even in the later days when obviously he couldn't be taking suggestions any more — you see canon, or fanon ideas that people came up with, y'know, coming back to make an appearance in the comic proper. Y'know the g— one of the best example I can think of that is Shelby, y'know, who wrote y'know this mass— this big ol' fanwork that everyone loved and ended up being not just an artist for the comic but being basically the representation of fandom in the comic.
Paige: Y'know, and I think that's great and I think that if they wanna continue the spirit of Homestuck which is sort of talking, y'know, or conversation between the creators and the fandom, they do need to have someone looking at this with, y'know, basically they need to have sensitivity reapers— readers and I don't think that would be necessarily a problem given the way that Homestuck has always worked where it's always been kind of, y'know, the fans giving input in whatever, y'know, tangential ways that come back to the comic itself, this would just be kind of a more direct version of that?
Paige: With more of a — less frivolously like, hey, y'know, that trickster design ended up being canonized, and more like 'hey, there's not gonna be any, y'know, questionable content any more because we have people looking at this', but it's still a way that the fans can kind of shape the way that the comic moves from here on out, y'know?
Kate: Mhmm. The — I think the fundamental thing is — is that people — people hear 'sensitivity reader' and they hear that and they think, 'oh somebody's going to nerf Homestuck', right, because Homestuck has always been provocative and direct, and it has included, y'know, stuff that is weird and — and — and sometimes upsetting, and fiction can contain those things. And that's part of why I was so disappointed to hear that the Hiveswap and Friendsim teams were not consulted before this release. Because the writer base and the creative base for Hiveswap has — is a — is a diverse group of people who just spent the last year of 2018 writing content that was provocative, that was controversial, that fit the style of Homestuck and — and built fan engagement and community around it.
Kate: All while avoiding PR missteps like this, even while engaging with controversial subjects in the Friendsim. Y'know, these individuals did a fantastic job being the sole face of this property for the last year, right, and even now the individuals working on Hiveswap are the only public interface that fans have to the project. And, y'know, to put out this sort of content without consulting them, it's — it's — frankly it's just — it's just not utilizing the talent that you have on hand, right, like — y'know, it's —
Kate: It's — it's just — it's not to the service of the work.
Kate: And these individuals who have worked in the Homestuck universe already, who have turned in fantastic work in it, like, y'know they're not a disaffected sensitivity reader who like, doesn't understand what the appeal of Homestuck is, these are people who get it.
Paige: Exactly! Yeah.
Kate: And so, per— personally I'd hope that in the future the folks involved in the very successful 2018 project Hiveswap Friendsim will be more involved in the mainline property moving forward.
Kate: We also gotta — we got *a* reader question this week, a listener question this week. Jett Gray asked on Discord: 'Is there any good comparison between what happened with Skaianet and Hydra Captain America?' And I think *absolutely* yes.
Kate: I actually talked about this day-of with a number of individuals. The Secret Empire storyline from 2017 — [sighs] and — [sighs] yeah. The —
Paige: I —
Kate: Sorry, go on?
Paige: Well I was just gonna say I remember when that happened, and I am not a comic book person, y'know —
Paige: But I do — I — I'm sort of an MCU fan, kind of, and in the MCU my favorite is Captain America so I saw these and I was like, what the hell did they just do to my favorite, y'know —
Paige: And it's — I know — I realize that in comic books there's always like, several different continuities going on, but the fact that this character that was created by a Jewish man during World War II and his whole, y'know, original premise was like he's gonna punch the Nazis!
Paige: He's gonna punch Adolf Hitler in the face — to take that and to associate him with a, y'know, a — a shadowy, evil — what's the word — organization —
Paige: That is — was originally created to be a — basically a fictional Nazi, y'know, group, but with more weird technology and magic, is just kind of a slap in the face to everything that Captain America once was supposed to represent, y'know?
Paige: And again I'm saying this not as someone who's a comic books fan, I don't feel like this was a betrayal to me personally because I haven't been following this character for very long —
Paige: Y'know? But it's not that hard to see why this is a problem, y'know?
Paige: If you — If you know anything about a) Captain America and b) Hydra, you know that this isn't a cool thing to do, and they thought, we're gonna do this y'know for shock value, and like you really need to stop and think about what you're doing and who this is gonna shock and if that's necessarily a good thing, y'know?
Paige: And I think — I feel like the Homestuck case, it's not — it wasn't really done for shock value so much as it was just, y'know, this is the way that Hussie kinda writes but he didn't really think about exactly what this particular piece of writing kind of implied, y'know?
Paige: So it's not really the exact same kind of situation but it definitely was a betrayal to the fans and to the original — well not, I won't say that — I — betrayal to the fans, I think.
Paige: And especially, y'know, again, to Jewish fans.
Kate: Yeah. And I think my take away from thinking about these comparisons is this. Marvel didn't apologize from what they did. They profited off it immensely, it was the best-selling comic series of the year. They didn't have to, they had PR agents handling it at every major media source, right, like they — they continued raking over — ra— you know, making money hand over fist.
Kate: And this is so *common*. Our large corporate media companies, they make missteps like this and then it's lost, the media drops it, fans drop it, because of the extensive cultural presence that they have. And when and independent artist fucks up, even if they do really *really* fuck up, it's a lot easier for fans to think 'this person is cancelled now'. Because they're accessible, it's easier to cancel them, it's easier to cut them out. And — I understand completely if your response to this posting on the 1st is to leave. I won't try to convince you to stay. But I'm staying because I believe that this is a work and a fictional universe that has a titanically influential place in the history of literature and in the history of the way that we interact with it. I believe that it was a landmark story for LGBT representation in comics. And I believe that this comic's evolving, frustrating relationship with race is emblematic of the struggles that we are going through as a society and the cultural issues that we have. And it is — it's hurtful, what's happened, but it is reassuring to know that the response to it was not indifference. The response to it was not hunkering down and defending it. The response to it was not playing to those who would seek to use Homestuck as an instrument to hurt the marginalized, and instead expressed regret, and hopefully continue to work to take actions to prevent this. Just because an artist feels bad about doing something, doesn't mean that it wasn't hurtful or you also can't be angry at them. And I'm certainly angry. I am — I am very upset that this content got to the light of day. I — y'know, I [sighs] Part of — part of why I wanted to talk about this on the show was that I feel like this show has spent a lot of time talking about this work as a — as a force for empathy. And a lot of time convincing marginalized fans that there's a place for you here. And it felt like a gut punch to have something that was so thoughtless at protecting the — the marginalized. But I'm staying, because I think that this is a transformative work, and I think that through the proper application of accountability, through honesty, we can change anything for the better. And even it's just a webcomic, the idea of being able to change and grow and move past your mistakes is important, and it will be essential for us if we're going to move past the culture of division and fear that we're currently mired in across the world.
Paige: Mhmm. I don't have anything to add to that, it's kind of everything I've been thinking, it's like — I mean the other thing is I'm too hyper-fixated to let go at this point, y'know?
Paige: Like, y'know, bad brain. Drop that.
Kate: Yeah I mean what am I gonna do with all of these facts about Vriska that I know?!
Paige: E-xactly! Like —
Paige: What am I supposed to do with these books I *just* got for Hanukkah? Like —
Paige: God damn. But yeah, it's — I mean — it's like, as long as I'm here, as long as I've already sold my soul to this work I might as well try to do what I can to, y'know, make it better and talk about these issues and try to do something about it and hope that we can all come to an understanding and hope that the people who are responsible to this can understand exactly what they've done wrong and try to change in the future, y'know?
Kate: Yeah. And Paige, I really appreciate you coming on and talking about this, I know this has been like a challenging week.
Kate: And I really — I'm — I'm so thankful that you could share your perspective with us on the show.
Paige: Of course.
Kate: And I guess that is our show, as a matter of fact!
Kate: So the intro music and background music behind readings was by myself. You can find my EP '2' at katemitchell.bandcamp.com. The outro music is 'Perfectly Generic', the theme of the podcast, the incredible theme of the podcast by President-for-Life of the Perfectly Generic Music Team, Goomy. You can find their music at smoothiefruitiee, that's [spells out] smoothiefruitiee.bandcamp.com. You can also find a link in the description to both those bandcamps. Speaking of links in the description, the Perfectly Generic Podcast will be Live from Burbank, California on March 24th and both of us will be there on the panel for that episode!
Paige: Yeah, I'm gonna be there! It's gonna be exciting, I'm so excited!
Kate: Yeah, I'm really excited as well. We're gonna have a number of individuals, guests Austinado, Sparaze, a number of — of unannounced guests as well, and James Roach will be helping set up audio so you can, y'know, give him a high five for making such good music.
Kate: You can find this podcast at perfectlygenericpodcast.com, at twitter.com/pgenpod, @pgenpod on Tumblr, and you can join our Discord through either the pinned tweet on our Twitter account or a link in the description. The Discord is where we take most of the questions for shows, and where folks have great discussions about Homestuck and Hiveswap. You can find me at twitter.com/gamblignant8, it's my Homestuck account, twitter.com/KateMitchellOW is my account where I talk about Overwatch, my day job [laughs]
Kate: And — and I'm also on Tumblr at @gamblignant8 but I don't use it very much. Where can folks find you, Paige?
Paige: Mostly at Twitter, my @ is KILLIaKILL, that's k-i-l-l-i-a-k-i-l-l, because I love Kill La Kill.
Kate: [laughs] I still don't understand anything about anime. People always come on the show —
Paige: That's okay.
Kate: And they talk about anime and I have *no* idea. Alright, well thank you so much Paige, that's our show for this week.
Paige: Thank you Kate.
Kate: Y'know, keep — hey I know it's been a tough week listeners, keep fuckin' — keep pluggin', let's go!
Paige: [laughs] Keep on keepin' on.