Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 17:25 on 13-11-2011, Dan H

Is perfectly fine to show characters that don't fit with 21st century morals as good people, as long as it's done on a consistent manner that fits with the rest of the world.


You realize that's another meaningless soundbite, right?
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at 16:43 on 13-11-2011, TryCatcher
Might as well stop beating around the bush:

Is perfectly fine to show characters that don't fit with 21st century morals as good people, as long as it's done on a consistent manner that fits with the rest of the world.

Also, Joss Wheldon is a hack.
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at 13:56 on 13-11-2011, Dan H
For instance, there's a note about how if you have a character who's a bigot, it needs to be shown as a trait of a bad person and showed as bad. And that makes sense. But then, what about a character for whom bigotry is just part of who they are and otherwise they're a nice person?


At the risk of waaaay overanalysing this, I think there are three very subtly distinct things going on here, although obviously they all overlap. To put it another way, I think you and the article are both right, and probably agree more than you think.

The first issue, I think, is one of expectation clash and what you might call "escapism inconsistency". Obviously there's nothing wrong with an otherwise sympathetic character being bigoted in a text in which characters are *generally* presented as complex and three-dimensional, and which is consistent about presenting a complex and nuanced world. But often bigotry is the *only* unpleasant element left intact in an otherwise sanitized setting, and that does raise some quite serious questions about who a book is supposed to be *for*. You get this kind of double-standard a lot when it comes to gender in Fantasy novels - female characters experience "realistic" levels of sexism (which often involves a lot of rape or attempted rape) while male characters live in a world with 21st century social mobility and health care. It's not that it's wrong to depict racism (it obviously isn't) but I think you can make a case that it's wrong to depict racism as compatible with (or worse, a necessary part of) escapism. Nothing says "this book is not for you" like a setting which leaves all *your* problems intact while making somebody *else's* conveniently disappear.

The second issue is what (and sorry I seem to be inventing cutesy names all over the place here) I think I'd call "dealbreaker disparity". There's an old saying that if somebody is nice to you, but not nice to the waiter, then they are not a nice person. Again (sorry I'm very much thinking as I write here) I think a lot of it comes down to what is presented as being compatible. I think there's a massive difference between "this person is generally nice, but they are also bigoted, and this is a serious flaw in their character" and "this person is a bigot, but it's okay because they're nice apart from that." There's a big difference between bigotry which is presented as a reason *not* to sympathize with an otherwise sympathetic character, and bigotry which is represented as a not-very-significant (or worse, endearing) flaw in a character with whom you are never the less expected to sympathise. A good example here might be Spike from Buffy post Seeing Red - for a lot of people all the soul-getting and redemption-arcing in the world doesn't excuse the fact that he actually tried to rape Buffy.

The third and final (and sorry this has become such a wall of text) issue is when a character is bigoted, but the text fails to recognize the fact. As you point out, people often assume bigots can't be nice people, and the flip side of that is that people often assume that nice people can't be bigots, which means you sometimes get bigoted fictional characters who are given a total pass on their bigotry (you might think of this as an extreme version of 2). The classic example here (and I'm feeling a little bit bad about using so many Joss Whedon examples, but there we are) is Mal Reynolds in Firefly, whose behaviour towards Inara is *actively sexist* but which the show presents as being okay because he loves her really (or, in my favourite piece of Whedon fanwank, as being okay because "Firefly is set in a post-patriarchy society").

tl;dr - there's obviously nothing wrong with portraying bigotry, or with otherwise sympathetic characters being bigoted, as long as that bigotry is textually recognised, and as long as it isn't treated as unimportant or as a harmless bit of escapist fun.
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at 13:11 on 13-11-2011, Dan H
I believe on just introducing facts and let the reader decide whatever they are good or bad.


While this little soundbite *sounds* very sensible, I suspect it's actually completely meaningless.

It is actually pretty much impossible to present "facts" about emotive or controversial issues in a neutral way. Choosing to cite a fact, in and of itself, carries a weight and implies a value judgement. The way you choose to phrase your citation of that fact has an extra weight, and carries an additional judgement. And if you're writing fiction, rather than a textbook, then at some point you are going to describe something, and unless you are the worlds shittiest writer you are going to try and do it in a way that evokes a reaction in your reader, and the reaction you choose to attempt to evoke implies a value judgement.

Not only have I never read a book which works the way you claim to prefer books to work, I have never encountered *any text* - be it a book, a film, a video game or an anecdote off a bloke in a pub - which works that way.
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at 02:02 on 13-11-2011, Arthur B
That is adorable. I hope you named him Steve.

No, his name is DEATHCURSE!!! because he is METAL!!!

(Steve might be what his mum calls him.)
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at 01:59 on 13-11-2011, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Anyone else playing Skyrim?

No, sadly. Actually, the last "new" game I've played is Dear Esther, which is not so much a "game" as a walking tour of a Heberdie with an increasingly unhinged narrator. You know, typical art game faffle, but I did like the environment and the primitive chalk renderings of electrical diagrams, which reminded me of A Canticle for Leibowitz.

Come to think of it, that's probably the saving grace of art games; they usually have some idiosyncratic element that would actually be kinda cool to see in a mainstream game, like the horror-Grandma's houses in The Path or Korsakovia's jumbled narration tracks and cloud monsters that scream static as they fly by you.

Also my character is a berserker from a death metal band, complete with scary corpsepaint.

That is adorable. I hope you named him Steve.
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at 00:36 on 13-11-2011, TryCatcher
I believe on just introducing facts and let the reader decide whatever they are good or bad.
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at 00:30 on 13-11-2011, Arthur B
Anyone else playing Skyrim?

I love the fact that they give you the option to throw in with the Imperials or the rebellion right from the start.

Also my character is a berserker from a death metal band, complete with scary corpsepaint.
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at 22:22 on 12-11-2011, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Apropos of absolutely nothing: any day you spend reading about primordial Greek gods and extrasolar planets is a good day.
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at 20:32 on 12-11-2011, Arthur B
I think that's where the main awkwardness is, and it's very difficult to see a way forward. On the one hand, you don't want to end up waving your privilege stick and denying that the way something handles a particular topic is shite if it is, in fact, shite. On the other hand, whether or not a particular work's handling of a particular topic is or is not shite is surely a valid topic of discussion - whether a text fails at something or not isn't always going to have a clear answer.

I think on balance you have to accept that you can only ever say that a text is "alright for me" and you can't necessarily say that it must be alright for others - and consequently, there'll be aspects of a text where you don't have the standing to give the all-clear to it.
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at 19:46 on 12-11-2011, Sister Magpie
That article's interesting because on one hand yes, everything is reasonable. But I still get a little twitchy reading comments that can't help but get prescriptive about how things need to be written. For instance, there's a note about how if you have a character who's a bigot, it needs to be shown as a trait of a bad person and showed as bad. And that makes sense. But then, what about a character for whom bigotry is just part of who they are and otherwise they're a nice person? Is that a bad character to write? Because I'd argue that that's a realistic thing and a good thing to write about, because in the real world people often act like a nice person can't be bigoted.

Yet that character isn't always necessarily going to get called out, because they might not be an important character or it might just be part of the world. For instance, I wouldn't present Mad Men as a shining example of a show dealing with racism, but it does often have people say things that are just establishing the time period and the attitudes that these characters have, often without comment or condemnation. Sometimes it's even funny.

So is it a bad thing that it does that, particularly when it's not dealing with race in any central way? I don't feel like it is. I'd agree with someone who pointed out that the show isn't saying anything noteworthy about race, but I don't know that I'd want to score it badly against a hypothetical version that did, you know? Sometimes it's hard to do what the article says about not defending the problematic thing if you just really don't agree with a particular argument against it.
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at 13:30 on 12-11-2011, Jamie Johnston
How to be a fan of problematic things doesn't say anything that most people here won't already have read / said themselves, but it's quite useful to have a short and readable summary to link to when necessary. (Via ihavechortles.)
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at 09:17 on 12-11-2011, Janne Kirjasniemi
valse: I'm sorry that I derailed the discussion earlier. I hope you'll believe me that I had no hidden ill intent. I do not believe that men are somehow oppressed as men and I certainly do not believe that misandry has any institutional or systematic foundation. As I do not believe these things I'm also sorry that I wasn't clearer in writing so earlier and was thus associated with such thinking. So, once again apologies and I'll try to do better next time.
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at 09:14 on 12-11-2011, valse de la lune
Reading the comments on that Concurring Opinions entry. That's a lot of whiny, insecure children bleating over the poor, long-suffering lot of men. It's like men's rights activists set google alerts up for "male privilege" and swarm up any blog or forum thread they find dealing with such to berate the wimmens how we have it all wrong and how men are really the downtrodden victims of the world. False rape accusations, military draft, custody battles: oh my, it's like a bingo card machine!
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at 06:53 on 12-11-2011, valse de la lune
Arthur: yep, that's what I mean. It's similar to how some nerds like to whine that they too are oppressed because people were mean to them in school. But there's no such thing as "nerdism." It's not a real oppression; it doesn't signify and the only context it will be taken seriously is among other self-pitying nerds/straights/whites/men.

TryCatcher? Your apologia for homophobia and your apparent belief that misandry or anti-white racism is a real thing leads me to believe that you are a smug, privilege-denying tool. I don't usually say this kind of thing in respect of FB as a space, but everything you've ever said regarding minorities has been condescending bullshit. Sit down. Your input isn't half as incisive or clever as you'd like to think. It's old hat. You are boring and sophomoric.

this debunking of the concept of female privilege seems apropos.


Aw, how did I miss this? *bookmarks*

You mention male privilege in a blog post, and it’s inevitable: Someone else (usually male) will start asking about female privilege. If men have privilege, don’t women have privilege too? And does that undercut the idea of male privilege as a type of gender subordination which is built into society? (Because, the implication goes, we all have privilege — and so feminists should stop complaining about male privilege.)


Textbook.
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at 03:37 on 12-11-2011, Frank
I inferred 'anti-white racism or "heterophobia" doesn't exist' to mean that even if it occurs, it doesn't oppress straight whites to any significant degree as racism and homophobia from straight whites. Even straight whites who don't want to be racist or homophobic but have grown up in pop culture that pushes the dominant cultures tropes of PoC and LGBTQI individuals and their cultures and communities, slip into the dominant narrative of the culture and say something racist or do something homophobic.
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at 03:32 on 12-11-2011, Fin permalink
at 03:07 on 12-11-2011, Arthur B
By the way, try to not throw unsupported statements of "X and Y don't exist" just because it doesn't fit your narrative. Is just childish.

I don't want to put words in valse's mouth, but my understanding of what was being said is that whilst misandry-as-individual-quirk does demonstrably exist, misandry-as-social-phenomenon does not exist in the way that misogyny-as-social-phenomenon most definitely does.

In other words, you can probably find a misandrist here and there, in the same way that if you look hard enough you'll find people who believe any arbitrary thing you could care to posit. What you don't find is a pervasive culture of misandry.

Please correct me if I'm getting this wrong, valse.
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at 02:07 on 12-11-2011, TryCatcher
I didn't "insisted" on that, I just made a rash statement and didn't wanted to fight for it. I could have said "a lot of young men are completely unsure of their own masculinity and they attack viciously everything that isn't on their demographic in a sad attempt to overcompensate", but thought that it was too long at the moment. And that statement doesn't even come fron a need to "defend" nerds, it comes from my (highly cynical) observation that most people are just petty and put their "tribe" above all else. Probably myself included.

There you have the long explanation for that.

By the way, try to not throw unsupported statements of "X and Y don't exist" just because it doesn't fit your narrative. Is just childish.
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at 22:36 on 11-11-2011, valse de la lune
As it were the derailment and apparent shift of focus to men came about as I thought the original discussion was about men to some degree and you yourself brought up the priviledge of the male demographic.


I, oh, wow. I'd like to believe you are saying all this in good faith, but either the point is zipping over your head at incredible speeds or you honestly don't get why it's neither appropriate nor welcome to trot out the suffering of men when male privilege is brought up. Take a look at this. Concerns race rather than gender, but in certain contexts operate in not-dissimilar ways. Look up aversive racism and aversive racism too, and then check Derailing for Dummies out. You're ticking boxes like you wouldn't believe.

As such I thought that continuing the discussion along those lines was perhaps tangential, but it interested me to do so. If I had a hidden agenda it would have been to influence you to a more moderate statement on the subject rather than winning as such.


To what? Because it sounds to me like you're pulling the devil's advocate card.

As was clear in my earlier posts I did conceed most of your points and I actually consider myself a feminist, though perhaps not enough or perhaps differently than you'd like.


Do you identify as a woman?

As you brought up misandrism and your doubts as to its existence, I merely thought it interesting to prove by counter-example that such sentiments are extant. I am well aware that they are not in any way a significant part of feminist thought, whatever some older scifi would have us think.


I don't doubt that misandry exists; I know for a fact that it doesn't exist in any meaningful manner, much like how anti-white racism or "heterophobia" doesn't exist.
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at 21:52 on 11-11-2011, Janne Kirjasniemi
valse: I'm sorry, but I thought we were having a different discussion. As it were the derailment and apparent shift of focus to men came about as I thought the original discussion was about men to some degree and you yourself brought up the priviledge of the male demographic. As such I thought that continuing the discussion along those lines was perhaps tangential, but it interested me to do so. If I had a hidden agenda it would have been to influence you to a more moderate statement on the subject rather than winning as such. Actually what I meant to say was that I realize that the group "White male heterosexuals" is more advantaged in most places yes. Probably everywhere. Perhaps not Dubai? I usually try to avoid blank statements on issues I am not more sure about.

As was clear in my earlier posts I did conceed most of your points and I actually consider myself a feminist, though perhaps not enough or perhaps differently than you'd like. I do not understand how you got to your conclusion of my intentions in bringing up Solanas. As you brought up misandrism and your doubts as to its existence, I merely thought it interesting to prove by counter-example that such sentiments are extant. I am well aware that they are not in any way a significant part of feminist thought, whatever some older scifi would have us think. I do think that you jumped to some pretty big conclusions about my intentions in my writing in general with your last post and I do not mean that as a defense of myself or my writing. I will grant that I did not perhaps express myself adequately, which, of course, is my fault entirely.

But I do apologize for angering you and I will try not to repeat the mistake.
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at 21:43 on 11-11-2011, Frank
The retcon requires my hate.
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at 21:30 on 11-11-2011, valse de la lune
Oops, I accidentally a word so that didn't make sense. What I meant to say is: "She's not on wheels anymore, though."
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