Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Make Room for Equality and Reality in your Imagination

Okay, where to start?  An apology would probably make the most sense, but that's not really my style.  This line of thought started when I read some excellent posts on Terry Weyna's blog.  I was reading about the controversy brought about by Saladin Ahmed and Ari Marmell when they pose the thought that Games of Thrones is too white.  Game of Thrones, the book--a series, which I haven't read--was first published in 1996 which makes asking if the book is too white a bit like wondering if the sky is too blue.  Assuming it is too white; how exactly do you plan to fix it?

Ahmed and Marmell make some excellent points that I fully agree with considering my limited knowledge of the works discussed: the bad guys seemed to be universally a bit brown; conversely the closer one comes to lilly white the more we come to see the good guys; thus it was more of an issue with the title that bothered me concerning Ahmed's article.  (Even then it stands to reason that Ahmed used an sensationalist title to draw attention, because you know, the media does that.)  But again, the book was written sixteen years ago, that, and if the preceding comment about skin tone and good and bad is indeed how Martin feels I'm still not sure there is anything wrong with that.  

I didn't make my thoughts very clear in the comments on Terry's blog; I was planning on going back to do so but felt I sounded too argumentative so I figured if I'm gonna start some shit I'll do it in my own space; mere decency as I like Terry...  I'm not arguing the absurdity of the black, white / bad, good idea or the apparent ignorance and surprising anger that many, I'm guessing non-whites, have when someone like Ahmed shines a light on the matter.  My contention is in the modern idea that I feel was the undercurrent of Ahmed's article: that all things need to be equal, tolerant, and representative of today's world even in secondary world fiction, to appease all people.  Well, since that is how the real world works I guess such an idea makes perfect sense... (Said with absolutely no sarcasm at all.)

This is a discussion on the New York Time review of books that I found interesting concerning young adult fiction and it's growing popularity among not just young adults, but readers of all ages.  Some of the opinions stated make me roll my eyes, others still make me nauseated.  If you can honestly read Mr Stein's thoughts and not find them pretentious, elitist, high and mighty, or at the least divisive then you probably shouldn't waste your time with my blog anymore as we don't have much in common.  While there is nothing wrong with Proust and Beckett there is equally nothing wrong with a host of writers that aren't white men that history has condemned to only be remembered by their last names.  Which brings me to the thoughts of Ms Flake.

The title, "There Need to Be More Nonwhite Protagonist" is all well and good, but after reading what was written I felt, "There Need to Be More Nonwhite Writers" would have better served Ms Flake's argument.  She talks of the importance of youth being able to identify with characters in books and need for them to be able to walk into a book store and look at a cover and a blurb and think 'that kid's story kinda echoes my life.'  I couldn't agree more and would gladly second all of her thoughts, except that title still bothers me.  I felt Flake had the same underlying feeling as expressed by Ahmed that nearly suggest that it is the duty of writers, or publishing to fill this need of there being more non white writers.

I can't believe that it is the responsibility of Janet Evanovich or Steven King to lead the charge in the proliferation of books that focus more heavily on people of color.  I think most of the advice out other on writing is rather silly, but 'write what you know' seems to hold up well.  No one faults Toni Morrison for not writing about caucasian Australians nor does anyone hit up Gabriel Garcia Marquez for his continued use of Central and South American characters, and it needs to be explicitly said that Morrison and Marquez (more or less, for both) compose fiction that is written in our world and historical times or reality, as opposed to George Martin who primarily writes in a secondary world of his own device where he apparently comes under fire for supposedly reinforcing real world stereotypes--knowingly or not--in a world he has made up.  
Just today, I came across this fun bit on CNN concerning racism and public reception of The Hunger Games movie.  Honestly I don't even know where to start.  Peterman says all the right things and I agree.  I admit that agreeing with her flies in the face of much of what I've previously said, but at least I'm up front and give full disclosure concerning my possibly hypocrisies.  Just because of the reaction of a few people to the black characters in The Hunger Games movie was wholly negative doesn't mean I don't hope that movie studio continue the trend in casting blacks.  I only hope than studios are never forced to do so.  Just as I hope writers are not trying to shoe-horn characters that don't belong in a given story just to make their book's world resemble the most recent census in the country they live.  Also of interest and related to The Hunger Games uproar dealing with black actors is EA's--the world's largest video game publisher--recent flak about allowing, simply giving players the choice, players to state their sexual preference in certain games where players create their own character.  Considering some of the heat EA has taken you'd think EA introduced the world, or at least the video game world, to homosexuality.  I've linked to one article but if you want an eye-rolling good time google "EA gay characters." 

I'll admit that I haven't hit the nail on the head yet (if I had, this post would have been much shorter with substantially less reliance on outside references).  The factual, moral separation of some writer's characters solely by skin tone is just as wrong as forcing gender equality, fair representation of homosexuals, or a positive showing of people of color upon the same writer.  Writing fiction is a creative endeavor: in short, one is allowed to create a racist, bigoted world if they choose.  This may surprise many, but you--the reader--don't have to read these books...  When writing becomes dictated by an outside force i.e. Cuba's government or even something as relatively tame as rabid fan, reader expectation it ceases to be as creative as it could be and begins to rely on work-arounds and inorganic material.  If a writer chooses to censure themself for any reason, that's fine, but don't force it on them. 
Post like this make me happy that I have absolutely no standing in book publishing world as I think I'll forgo the shitstorm of vitriol and negativity that a more high-profile person might incur.  That said: am I crazy?  


Marion said...

I read the two postings and most of the comments. Wow, this got intense very fast. I guess my lame solution is to read fantasy like Throne of the Crescent Moon or Who Fears Death, which are not Eurocentric, as well as my usual white-bread fix.

Marion said...

My other comment, about why most of my own fictional characters are white, is because I do, to some extent, subscribe to "write what you know." So I'm comfortable adding gay characters, because I know a lot of gay people, but I'm afraid I'll inadvertently offend people of color if I write in an African American/Asian etc character and do it badly. I frequently add latino/a characters because I grew up in a latino neighborhood. Still, the discomfort about reaching out and trying to create a believable character who is not like us is just perpetuating the problem, right?

Chad Hull said...

I don't think you solution is lame. I'm not certainly but I doubt there is an equal number of books published among the lines of race concerning genre--or non genre--literature. At least you're doing something, right?

Don't ever be concerned with offending Blacks: it is all to easy to do and the double standards in doing so would make your head explode. I think it's good for any writer to break out of their norm but don't do it just for the sake of doing it. I am a strong believer in 'write what you know' if for no other reason than credibility.

Marion said...

Part of the problem with the Eurocentric stuff is just that there is already so much of it. This has been a ding against fantasy for decades. I remember in the '80s and '90s when Celtic fantasy was "discovered." Yeah, it was fresh and new. Imagine.

@parridhlantern said...

Totally agree with your comment about writing from what you know, even in worlds of fantasy the writers starting point tends to be based on a world they are familiar with whether this is to conform or react against it. if you by some governmental decree are supposed to add a percentage of a particular race/gender/sexual orientation etc & presumably show an equal balance of positive/negative amongst such percentages, you've lost any of the writing to a list of statistics.Read steins thoughts & the phrase "up his own A^^*&" came to mind I'm not a great YA reader, but I heartily defend any ones right to be one.

@parridhlantern said...

PS, although I adore Neil Gaiman, does he count as YA.

Chad Hull said...

Neil Gaiman is too cool for classification. He writes. He is awesome. Nothing else matters.