Continuing his tactics of passive-aggressive attack and stubborn evasion, John Scalzi recently commissioned a piece of artwork that was intended to take a jab at the most dogged of his critics (without actually answering their criticisms, of course). This was the Gamma Rabbit, a character that might best be described as a cross between Bugs Bunny and a purple-pink Teletubby.
For those who are arriving late to all this, the Gamma Rabbit character is a mockery of the label that rightwing blogger Vox Day assigned to Scalzi a few weeks ago. On the surface the illustration is merely a satirical rebuttal; but things are never so straightforward where John Scalzi is concerned. John’s deeper purposes become clear when one reads the blog post that accompanies the illustration. For Gamma Rabbit is a Trojan Bunny of sorts, a distracting vehicle that masks even more self-aggrandizement and clever evasion on the sci-fi author’s part:
“Yes, Gamma Rabbit, who likes people as they are, fears no one no matter how they live their lives, and who is comfortable with himself and his own personal values of kindness, tolerance and diversity. Sure, there are some who look down on him and his ways, but you know what? Gamma Rabbit knows that those people are kooky, silly, wacky racist sexist homophobic dipshits…”
As noted above, Scalzi’s harshest and most impolitic critics have called him a “gamma rabbit;” and indeed, the Gamma Rabbit is a stand-in for Scalzi in his own blog post. Even Scalzi’s most sycophantic readers would cringe if he were to explicitly attribute the aforementioned values to himself. But Gamma Rabbit is the spoonful of saccharin that allows his most devoted readers to swallow this one, too. Gamma Rabbit “likes people as they are,” and fights the bugbears of racism, sexism, and homophobia—just like the man the cartoon is intended to represent.
Scalzi has established a personal online niche by exploiting identity group tensions with pandering pieces like “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” John repeatedly tells women, gays, and minorities that there is a cabal of straight white males who are out to get them; but not to worry—he will act as their victims’ spokesperson. His constant and self-conscious references to racism, sexism, and homophobia are intended to prove that he, John Scalzi, is more sensitive than his fellow “straight white males.”
Beyond his blog posts, he also exhibits his sensitivity with politically calculated stunts of self-emasculation. For there is always an underlying political motive, and there is always someone else who must pay the price for Scalzi’s self-serving declarations of sensitivity. Even his fellow science fiction authors are not safe from this self-appointed Robespierre. He recently participated in a smear campaign against book covers that he arbitrarily deemed sexist, an act which I termed “at best a solution in search of a problem, and at worst, a cynical attempt to pander to leftwing ideologues.”
Even when the author appears to be engaging in self-deprecation, he is taking subtle aim at the “enemies” that he wants his audience to fear. And John Scalzi knows how to exploit the dominant memes of the politically correct monoculture. As blogger Helen Smith noted, “There is always a benefit to putting down straight white males [of which Scalzi is one]…[Scalzi] gets ahead politically with his behavior.”
As Helen Smith demonstrated, John Scalzi likes easy and ideologically safe (politically correct) targets. This rule applies on those rare occasions when he responds to criticism, as well. Scalzi realizes that the best way to smear an entire group is to cherry-pick its worst members, and then present them as the representative norm. I noted earlier how he cherry-picks anecdotal cases of aberrant male behavior to build the case that women require his advocacy against sexism. In a similar manner, Scalzi strategically chooses which critics he responds to.
He would not respond to Helen Smith, as this would place him in the difficult situation of having a woman expose his chicanery and call his bluff. Nor does he respond even to Vox Day—who swings back and forth between moderate positions and more extreme ones. But Vox Day frightens John Scalzi not because he is sometimes extreme, but because he is consistently articulate and often insightful. Scalzi does not want real dissent; he wants either sycophants, or babbling cardboard opponents whom he can casually demolish. The more likely a critic is to debunk his methods, the less likely John is to engage him or her in open debate.
John Scalzi therefore confines his flippant blog responses to the anonymous “trolls” who show up in his comment threads. Like anonymous commenters anywhere on the Internet, a fair number of these occupy the extreme fringe. Many of them are also inarticulate, and no match for him and his online posse of like-minded commenters. They therefore make easy targets for the blogger—and enable him to avoid debate with more formidable and moderate critics. As long as John identifies his opposition as the “trolls”, he is able to dismiss the rest of his critics as “racist, sexist, homophobic, and kooky.”
John Scalzi may be evasive and opportunistic; but he is certainly clever. Might I suggest another character for his next piece of commissioned artwork? This would be a species believed to make its burrows in central Ohio, the crafty, cunicular, and infinitely elusive Gamma Weasel.