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 18:09 on 25-06-2011, Cammalot
without anyone actually pausing to ponder that maybe most African-Americans/Non-Whites DON'T want to read about that in fiction novels about non-white characters, because it's basically a retelling of their own history to some extent.

Not only that, but due to the publishing industry being kind of fucked up, it's the only sort of story that people of color seem to be allowed to write themselves. And they hand-wringingly wonder why it's so hard to get black teens to read (which I don't think it is, really, more than anyone else, but whatever). You look at a reccomended U.S. reading lists for them and it's all about slavery, Jim Crow, and Civil Rights. These are important things that must not be forgotten, but your average 12 year old sometimes wants to read, and occasionally be the hero of, a story about, dunno, wizardry or adventure or, just basically happy and not forced-to-bottom-rung people, something else for a change. (And school librarians actually have a hard time finding any other sort of book, starring kids of color, that they can recommend to the purpose.) Same as women don't want to read about rape every two seconds (and "It happens!" is not the best counterargument), and Melinda Lo wanted to write a book where lesbianism was finally not a source of angst and oppression and Teaching the Reader Lessons about Being Nicer, but an attribute of some regular people who have other things to think about occasionally. It is unpleasant (and objectifying, I think) to relentlessly have one identifier be your whole identity.
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at 17:57 on 25-06-2011, Vermisvere
But 1. You have to get through more than one book to get that payoff, and 2. The reason I didn't use that in argument during Racefail is that this discounts people having triggers. Some people simply don't want to read about that situation, and considering the lives people of color lead in the West and the habitual grinding-in of certain stereotypes about us in our media, it's a valid point to not want to encounter that sort of fictional situation at all, which I think I lot of people failed to get. (E.g., I personally do not think I will
ever finish the Octavian Nothing books, which are really, undeniably good, and people who are not African American should read them, but are about the systematic dehumanization of an African slave in the American colonies. I don't find this a relaxing read when it winds up with me hyperventilating, and I don't think I would recommend them to my black colleagues. Not a leisure activity.)



I think it's a rather prevailing notion amongst western (read: white) authors that depicting African-American/Non-White races as suffering through repeated hardships against an oppressive society in fiction is somehow supposed to be empowering to African-Americans/Non-Whites because it goes to show that the author recognises all the crap that people of those ethinicities had to go through, without anyone actually pausing to ponder that maybe most African-Americans/Non-Whites DON'T want to read about that in fiction novels about non-white characters, because it's basically a retelling of their own history to some extent.
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at 17:47 on 25-06-2011, Cammalot
Oh now I remember what I deleted -- I think there was a serious "gaze" issue, even in Bear's original postings, and certainly in much of the debate that followed. Things kept shifting towards being discussed from a white point of view. The writing advice was to white people. In the discussed novels, the viewpoint characters were never the ones of color; even when awesome, the characters of color were not POV characrers. And so on, and so on...
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at 17:38 on 25-06-2011, Cammalot
:-D :-D :-D Thank you, Pyrofennec. I'm actually okay at the moment! But I am really thinking, due to this convo. I don't think I'm inclined to change my communication style — I think I was born conflict-averse, and will be, regardless of the racist and sexist experiences I may have had. But I am looking at the tone argument somewhat differently now.

Racefail: As I saw it, as it unfolded, the primary failure was an over-focus by (let's just say it ) the whites in the conversation on modeling the correct way to have the conversation and be an ally, rather than actually having the conversation and being the ally, which made later apologies eventually look extremely insincere, especially when, much later, it ballooned large enough that tempers flared and real self-defensive feelings came out. (And too many people tried to speak rationally with he-who-shall-not-be-invoked. Very inflammatory. Nothing good came out of that offshoot.) There were people actually trying to do the right thing from the get-go (not entirely successfully), and there were people who actually did not give a shit and never will, and I think the second group got away far more unscathed. And there was a lot, a lot, a LOT of white self-congratulation, which more than anything else put me off the whole thing.

I'm still amazed that the whole thing stuck to Bear's reputation more than it did to, say, John Scalzi's, who outright called the whole discussion stupid, and then apologized (or had others in to apologize) in various extremely US-centric ways. I firmly believe he emerged more unscathed because he is a man, and therefore allowed to be more brash, abrasive, and in-your-face, and then rescind it. It's men's "nature" after all. (Note: I'm actually not mad at Scalzi at the moment. I'm using him as an example; there were worse ones. But I that dichotomy very disturbing at the time. And some of the things said by supposed "allies" on his blog, I found equally unconscionable, like "Wouldn't it be racist to have a black character playing the cello when we know black people never do that! That's appropriation!" I am so forcing my kids to play the cello when I get 'em.)

I actually disagreed with some stuff. First, the criticism of Bear's book (I had a different criticism, but I won't go into that here). In short — a coded-African man is magically entrapped by a coded-white woman, soul-stripped, and used sexually. (Bear did not consider the woman white, but that was not strongly enough suggested enough by the book itself, for many readers.) The thing is, [SPOILER, and part of me wishes I'd just spoiled and said this earlier, during the actual Fail] the white woman's actions upset the balance of the entire world, which was en route to destruction, until she undid them, and she lost her own son in the process as penalty.

But 1. You have to get through more than one book to get that payoff, and 2. The reason I didn't use that in argument during Racefail is that this discounts people having triggers. Some people simply don't want to read about that situation, and considering the lives people of color lead in the West and the habitual grinding-in of certain stereotypes about us in our media, it's a valid point to not want to encounter that sort of fictional situation at all, which I think I lot of people failed to get. (E.g., I personally do not think I will ever finish the Octavian Nothing books, which are really, undeniably good, and people who are not African American should read them, but are about the systematic dehumanization of an African slave in the American colonies. I don't find this a relaxing read when it winds up with me hyperventilating, and I don't think I would recommend them to my black colleagues. Not a leisure activity.)

I also disagreed with the interpretation of Bear's "Writing the Other" list that started the whole thing — she said something along the lines of "people of color are just like you," which I read, based on other thing's she's said, as meaning "They are not aliens, nor are they magical sources of epiphany for whitefolks, and the whole noble savage thing is disgusting so stop it, and stop making all your noble warrior races into expys of the Japanese." But the entire list was lightheartedly written, so that people who take issue with the idea of people just "happening to be black/gay/trans/etc" wanted to make sure that this was clarified (i.e. no they don't "happen" to be anything, there are a whole wealth of experiences such people are going to have that are going to shape their thoughts and reactions and you as a writer can't assume your feelings and outlook are universal).

Basically the birth of Racefail was more complex from within than I think it appeared from without.

Ack, longwinded!
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at 17:07 on 25-06-2011, Vermisvere
Gah, this reminds of a couple of years back when I used to have full-blown beard, and, due to the fact that I have a Middle-Eastern background, a lot of my "white" "friends" (when I say "friends", I mean it in the sense of them being formerly close acquintances - but it's been ages since I've seen any of them, so...) used to make jokes about me looking like a terrorist i.e Al-Qaeda or Taliban or something like that. They often meant it as just a friendly joke, and I used to pretend to laugh along with it just for the sake of maintaining cordial relations with those guys, whilst on the inside I was secretly fuming and showering them with every swear word available in the English language.
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at 16:59 on 25-06-2011, valse de la lune
I really need to stop changing my mind re: what I'm going to write mid-sentence. "Said you" indeed.

In brief, I'm very tall, very dark, and apparently very scary, and for the past decade-plus or so I am habitually "the only black person in the room," and "the only black friend" and the "I don't really think of you as black" girl, and I've revamped my behavior at several points in my life to accomodate this. I don't pick up things that people drop because I don't want to be accused of stealing. I don't walk behind poeple who are much shorter than me after having a woman turn to me and scream in my face as I was running...for a train, not her belongings or her person.


:( I'm sorry that you have to go through that shit. I think it's become a standard thing to say now, but... I'm sorry. That's terrible.

This is kind of liberating. Give me a moment.


/hug
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at 16:55 on 25-06-2011, Cammalot
Crap, I've just deleted a post due to errant backspacing.
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at 16:46 on 25-06-2011, Cammalot
I don't think that's remotely off-topic, but I don't believe that's entirely what happened in that case.

I think I'm about to get long-winded. I'll try not to.

What's being clarified for me: I've always had severe issues with the "tone" argument (and I don't think I'm correct), because I've spent so much effort in my life bending myself into pretzels, often with great resentment, trying not to have "tone" that it's become second nature. In brief, I'm very tall, very dark, and apparently very scary, and for the past decade-plus or so I am habitually "the only black person in the room," and "the only black friend" and the "I don't really think of you as black" girl, and I've revamped my behavior at several points in my life to accomodate this. I don't pick up things that people drop because I don't want to be accused of stealing. I don't walk behind poeple who are much shorter than me after having a woman turn to me and scream in my face as I was running...for a train, not her belongings or her person. And yet I still get the "Why are you so mad? Don't get mad!" treatment when I try to bring up certain points. On the other hand, I have found that calm repetition of the correct points does in fact wear people down sometimes, especially when it's finally clarified that "this is a bad action" doesn't equal "you are a bad person forevermore." It is fucking exhausting, but it does work sometimes.

The lightbulb that I'm having here, though, is that I'm so boxed in and indoctrinated about being "the only one in the room" that I've completely forgotten about the privileged people NOT being the audience. This is kind of liberating. Give me a moment.
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at 16:42 on 25-06-2011, valse de la lune
Oh yeah, it's a neat way of sidestepping accountability. Protesting that you can't control what your fans will/won't say, and that you just linked them to this vitriolic review, is ridiculous when the you probably know full well that your fans--especially ones devoted enough to follow your blog--is going to absolutely froth at the mouth when encountering any criticism of said you or your writing.
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at 16:12 on 25-06-2011, Vermisvere
Racefail got started with Bear not reining in some of her most obnoxious defenders.


Off-topic, but I've found that quite a few authors tend to do that when they don't want to openly grapple with their critics, but instead let their hardcore fans do it for them.
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at 16:12 on 25-06-2011, Cammalot
(this discussion is clarifying some things for me and I'm grateful for it, but I need to get to a better keyboard. One sec.)
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at 16:11 on 25-06-2011, Wardog
@Michal
I didn't even think the link was especially abrasive... O.o

But yes, I entirely see where you're coming from. There's nothing worse than being the white person who gets off on calling other white people racist.
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at 16:08 on 25-06-2011, Cammalot
Racefail got started with Bear not reining in some of her most obnoxious defenders. Initially she linked to the criticism of her as an object lesson on how to accept criticism, which wasn't quite the right thing to do, but the wrongness of it was slightly more layered. It ballooned in another blog when people began talking about who is intelligent enough to read fiction properly, and got all out of control when he who must not be invoked started attacking people of color as having class privilege and therefore no basis for complaint under the guise (I feel erroneous if not outright false) of being on Bear's side.
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at 16:03 on 25-06-2011, Michal
I feel the need to point out that, by linking to Jha's Mainspring review, I wasn't saying it was wrong to be abrasive, rather, that I don't think Jay Lake ever linked to that review on his blog or engaged with it, or even read it (thus his thinking that my critique was odd even when other people have observed the same thing and been quite vehement on the point). It's clear that Lake still wasn't listening from his response, after all. (On a side note, I personally feel uncomfortable with calling Jay Lake a racist dipshit on my blog because I'm a white Polish-Canadian guy, and most of my relatives in Poland are anti-Semitic racist dipshits. Kind of how Kyra wasn't comfortable with going on Strange Horizons and ragging about Lake being a "big fat racist" either.)

Also, in awesome news: Charles R. Saunders leaves a "thank you" on my blog. You don't know how happy this makes me.
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at 16:02 on 25-06-2011, Wardog
I've already kinda boxed myself in with this "politeness and calmness whn arguing with racists and sexists" thing, so I think I'll just stay quiet on the whole issue from now on.


Would you like some flatpack furniture to help you settle in :D

For what it's worth, I do see where you're coming from, I really do. But having spent (wasted) a fair amount of time in my life, and on the internet, arguing with people who were sexist or homophobic, or whatever, there comes a point when you get really bitter about the whole "reasoned argument" fallacy, which as Pyrofennec has already said often amounts to a little more than an excuse to deflect attention from the matterat hand. The problem is not the sexism, it's you being aggressive etc. etc.
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at 15:58 on 25-06-2011, valse de la lune
Arthur B: Hell, I've blundered quite badly in discussions Pyro was involved in in the past and I'd like to think things are still cordial between us.

That's what I'd like you to think. No, just kidding; as someone whose isolated missteps have been latched onto before, I try not to make a habit of "she said something failtastic this one time and apologized for it but RAGE KILL MAIM THIS BIGOT" (though I'm also not inclined to defend isolated missteps from other people who feel offended, either).

Come to think of it, didn't Racefail '09 start by Elizabeth Bear getting upset at someone who very politely and reasonably criticized her portrayal of characters of color?

Daniel: The reason that a lot of people write *really angry* reviews of books they are angry about is to let other people know that they are *not alone*. If everybody else is praising a book which you think is a pile of shit (either because it's offensive to you in some way, or just because you think it's not very well written) then it's extremely reassuring to find other people who *also* think it's a pile of shit and are willing to say so.

This, too. I've gotten a surprising amount of "I thought I was alone in loathing James Cameron's Avatar!" responses.
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at 15:52 on 25-06-2011, Dan H
I must confess, I used to be one of those people, at least until I discovered the joy of Dan's Potter-Demolishing Critical Reviews. Which, in turn, got me interested in Ferretbrain.


This, I think, is sort of the heart of the issue (and has the advantage of being a relatively neutral but still illustrative example). My Potter reviews aren't designed to persuade people who like Potter to dislike it (although if they do bring some people round, that's all to the good) their primary purpose was to articulate my own frustration with the books and (secondarily) to provide *other* people who didn't like the books with something they could read that would make them feel that other people shared their opinions. I might also add that nobody has ever felt the need to tell me that I'd win more people over if I was less aggressive.

I think the same principle applies to more serious issues as well. The reason that a lot of people write *really angry* reviews of books they are angry about is to let other people know that they are *not alone*. If everybody else is praising a book which you think is a pile of shit (either because it's offensive to you in some way, or just because you think it's not very well written) then it's extremely reassuring to find other people who *also* think it's a pile of shit and are willing to say so.

Again, it comes back to the fact that reviews aren't written for authors, they're written for readers, and often for a specific subset of readers. This is doubly important to remember when it comes to social justice issues because it's all too easy to assume that all complaints about - say - racism and misogyny are written expressly for the attention of white men, when they very frequently aren't.
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at 15:43 on 25-06-2011, Vermisvere
I would argue that if someone is put off by you saying "this thing is a misogynistic, racist pile of steaming shit", backed up with compelling reasons why it is, in fact, misogynistic, racist and shit, then they're nowhere near as "on the fence" as they might like to think they are.


Fair enough.

I've already kinda boxed myself in with this "politeness and calmness whn arguing with racists and sexists" thing, so I think I'll just stay quiet on the whole issue from now on.
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at 15:43 on 25-06-2011, Wardog
Of course, once it's been accepted that you don't need to be polite or reasonable, you have to decide whether to be snarky and sarcastic, mocking, righteously angry, or incisively analytical :)


ALL OF THEMMM!
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at 15:38 on 25-06-2011, Arthur B
I was merely suggesting that for someone who is "on the fence" about the whole thing, being a bit more non-aggresive in your approach to reviewing might nudge them to your side more efficiently than being outright "this book is a misogynistic, racist pile of steaming shit"

I would argue that if someone is put off by you saying "this thing is a misogynistic, racist pile of steaming shit", backed up with compelling reasons why it is, in fact, misogynistic, racist and shit, then they're nowhere near as "on the fence" as they might like to think they are.
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at 15:34 on 25-06-2011, Andy G
Of course, once it's been accepted that you don't need to be polite or reasonable, you have to decide whether to be snarky and sarcastic, mocking, righteously angry, or incisively analytical :)
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at 15:33 on 25-06-2011, Vermisvere
Okay, I think I've managed to rephrase my previous standing in a way which will hopefully make more sense.

I don't disagree that people who are already biased in favour of something or against it are going to experience zero or very little change in their opinion even after application of "the reasoned argument". I was merely suggesting that for someone who is "on the fence" about the whole thing, being a bit more non-aggresive in your approach to reviewing might nudge them to your side more efficiently than being outright "this book is a misogynistic, racist pile of steaming shit", which may, in some cases, turn people away almost immediately, even if the review brings up many excellent points, because they will assume that the reviewer is Angry and therefore a majority of their review is going to be obscured by a smokescreen of emotion-induced ranting. I must confess, I used to be one of those people, at least until I discovered the joy of Dan's Potter-Demolishing Critical Reviews. Which, in turn, got me interested in Ferretbrain.

Anyway, um, moving on. *gives a nervous chuckle*

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at 14:38 on 25-06-2011, Wardog
I have to say, I'm with Pyrofennec and Furare on this one. People are not racist because they haven't been told politely enough that they're being racist: they're racist because they're racist, and that's kind of their problem. Obsessing about appropriate ways to call people out on their -ism once again puts the focus in the wrong place: on the oppressors not the oppressed. Also, I think the thing we're forgetting here, from our bastions of being largely quite comfortable, is that for us what may be a matter of academic debate actually genuinely affects other people. Presumably Pyrofennec writes angry reviews not because she can't think of a "better" way to express herself but *because she is angry*. Which is a perfectly legitimate response.

Also on a more general note, I would say that reviews are not "for" the writer, so having to express yourself in a manner an author might find palatable is completely irrelevant. Dan doesn't trash JK Rowling because he wants to gently educate her about how to be a less shitty writer. They're not even for people who like Harry Potter. They're explicitly for people who don't.

I suppose I would also say that I guess there is a netiquette distinction perhaps at play here. I think it's generally taken for granted that if you go to someone else's space you owe them a certain degree of politeness. But what you say about people, and how, in your own space is entirely up to you.

Also, and sorry to keep going on, but I do wonder if we're giving too much credit to the "power of reasoned argument" here. I mean, if I read a book that I feel is sexist, then as far as I'm concerned that is a sexist book and you're not going to be able to "argue" me, however politely or eloquently you may express yourself, out of disliking the book. Nor am I going to argue someone who does like the book into dislike it.

An example of this in practice is my review of the The Knife of Never Letting Go. I found it skeevy and gender-essentialist, and therefore didn't like it. Niall didn't. We fought like tigers and neither of us was able to convince the other to change their opinion.
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at 14:22 on 25-06-2011, Arthur B
It seems to me that, regardless of your right to be rude to people (which I wouldn't dispute), you have a much better chance of persuading *anyone* of your viewpoint if you're polite and reasonable. Attacking people only makes them more antagonistic.

Basically I'm agreeing with Pyrofennec here. I'd also point out that in my experience people are wired to judge statement critical of things they've done more harshly on the politeness scale than statements supportive of them, even if the statements use exactly the same language and tone. Even a polite approach will likely be seen as aggressive anyway, so there's something to be said for just plain going for the throat. Plus, if you really are deeply offended and angry about something someone has done, then if you don't actually show it when you confront them with that you leave the door open for them to turn around and say "Well, I suppose you might have a point, but you don't seem that angry about it so clearly it isn't so much of a big deal."

Checking the reviews that Pyro cites, it's pretty clear to me that she's not just latching onto isolated missteps and, as a consequence, jumping people. Hell, I've blundered quite badly in discussions Pyro was involved in in the past and I'd like to think things are still cordial between us. Both the examples are cited are of works with issues that permeate them sufficiently that, in Pyro's assessment at least, there's nothing to salvage. Pretty much no creator with even a moderately functioning sense of self-esteem is going to agree with "Your work is crap on a fundamental level and it would be better if you ripped everything down and start again", no matter how politely it's phrased.

(Well, it can happen. Mike Moorcock revised a couple of his novels when it was pointed out to him by nobody less than Andrea Dworkin that he appeared to be saying some seriously fucked up things on them. But Moorcock is a fiend for revising his work post-publication anyway so it's probably less of a big deal with him to make such changes.)
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