Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Identifying Racists and Scalpers

We want white tenantsI've been noticing a disturbing trend in current American dialogue.  On one side, you have people who seem to cry "racism" at everything (recognizing that racist attitudes are far more prevalent and systemic than many seem to realize), and on the other side, you have folks who deny racism exists at all (except perhaps in the obvious KKK or Nazi caricature).

It's perhaps obvious that the truth of racism in our culture lies somewhere in the middle.  Most people who do, in fact, possess racist attitudes don't realize it, and are certainly unlikely to be donning the white robe or the swastika.  Even so, there are definitely times when it seems that people cry "racist!" just a little too quickly, and I can't help but wonder if the resentment caused by such outcry may actually be hardening hearts to the problem when things really do need to change.

There is a similar trend within the Transformers fan community.  Some people seem to cry "scalper!" at the drop of a hat, while others are reluctant to acknowledge scalping except in the most extreme cases (I confess that I'm often in this category).

For those who don't know, "scalping" is the practice of creating an artificial shortage of an item by buying up multiples of that item for the purpose of resale at a higher price, in hopes of turning a quick profit.  The fact that scalping exists is easily demonstrated in the case of a rare toy, such as the recent Reveal the Shield Legends G1 Megatron, which has been extremely hard to find at local retail (where I might expect to pay around $7), but which is showing up fairly often on eBay, generally with a starting bid of $20 or more.

Full disclosure: I recently ordered a four-pack of Reveal the Shield Legends figures via Hasbro Toy Shop, because that was the only way I could find to get the "Gold Bumblebee" figure I wanted.  Since this required me to get three other figures at the same time that I didn't need, including Megatron, I myself did indeed sell Megatron on eBay.  But since it seems to me that Megatron was in more demand to most fans than Gold Bumblebee (due to the fact that this is the first time a US-released Megatron figure has had a gun alternate mode — however small — since the 1980s), I'm guessing such case orders cannot explain all of the Reveal the Shield Megatrons currently up on eBay.

But even that scenario demonstrates some of the difficulty with determining when either scalping or racism is at work.  One can "explain away" any number of situations that may appear bad at first glance, and while this may well often be a case of a person trying to rationalize bad behavior, this cannot be determined with 100% confidence in most cases.

It is not my intention to equate scalping with racism.  Racism is a blight on our society that shatters lives.  Scalping is, at worst, a nuisance.  But I'm not really trying to talk about either scalping or racism, so much as the nature of the dialogue that often springs up around practices that we find objectionable and/or seek to curtail.  I could just as easily use "sexism" or "cursing" or "returning for refund toys that a person has opened and replaced with an entirely different toy in the hopes that the retailer won't notice."  These are all issues that, to one degree or another, people argue about online because they have strong feelings about them.  And when we do this, there is a natural tendency to speak in absolutes, or otherwise use strong language that paints people with a broad brush.

I'm convinced that neither knee-jerk proclamations of wrongdoing nor persistent denial are helpful.  The question becomes how to move forward.  It seems to me that too many people exist on either "side" of these arguments to allow a real consensus to emerge on how to fix the problems.  I definitely think that we should choose our moments carefully.  The dangers of "crying wolf" are well-known, even to young children.  That said, I think we would do best to err on the side of listening to the knee-jerkers.  We may still dismiss some of their claims as being too overblown, but it seems to me that a greater opportunity for conviction and change exists through this attitude than through too much readiness to deny that a problem is all that widespread.  That way lies complacency.

Unfortunately for me, that does mean that I may need to listen to those fans who insist that scalping is a pernicious blight on the Transformers community.  If I'm too quick to dismiss that possibility, I may be dismissing far more important problems, as well.

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