it's a great life, if you don't weaken (matociquala) wrote,
it's a great life, if you don't weaken

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And now, a post that will probably get me flamed all over the Internet....

Now, the vast majority of people who get offended by stuff are reasonable, helpful people who really would like the world to be a better place for everyone, who are serious about training people to identify stereotypes, and who are a benefit to all of us. And then there's the 3 % who are professionally offended, and by whom you can really never do anything right, and who will use their pet cause as a bludgeon to demonstrate as much drama as possible anywhere.

It seems to me that one of the major problems we find in dealing with racist/sexist/looksist/queerist/classist/ismist assumptions in fiction (assuming for the moment that we are the sort of persons who would care to deal with these issues instead of sweeping them under our privilege) is that in some ways, there is no win. In other words, the accusation of (x)ism is enough. It's indefensible. Because what happens is not generally a statement of "I found x element of y work offensive because I saw it making these common genderist assumptions," but "X element of y work *is* offensive because of--"

And against that, there's nothing one can say. Other than "I'm sorry my work offended you," which is nice and all, but still winds up not making the person who made the accusation any happier, and, in the long term, involves a silencing of the artist. Because she's sure as hell not going to try to write a black vigilante drag queen vampire again after THAT shit. No way!

And the counterproblem is that the people who are set in their bigotry are not going to be put off by outcry. They're bigots. Sexist men do not care what women think. Homophobes do not care what dykes think.

The people who are going to wind up being silenced are the ones who mean well and are trying. Perhaps trying ineffectually, and needing guidance. Perhaps trying hard, and attracting the Professionally Offended. Perhaps just wanting to be told they are good people, which is unfortunately common. (And of course it's not about being Good People, or getting what oyceter calls your gold star for not being a bigot. It's about addressing a systemic problem.)

And I think I have a partial solution.

The clearest example of how this solution could work that I can think of off the top of my head is the so-called magical Negro, which is a phrase used to describe a situation where the (white) protagonist has a (black) mentor figure who is inevitably snuffed in the third reel. (You may substitute the Other of your choice in the magical Negro role, above: Apache shaman, wise old Jew, creepy witch woman, Inuit medicine man, cute nonthreatening gay best friend... you know the character, right?)

And I know exactly how that stereotype/archetype got established. It's because some poor schmuck of a scriptwriter or an author looked at their cast and went "God damn, that's a lot of honkeys. Let's fire one of these crackers and find a sympathetic role for a black character."

And the main sympathetic non-protagonist role is, of course, the mentor.

Who inevitable gets killed off or incapacitated in formula fiction, no matter what color he is, because he hast to be got out of the way so the protagonist can protag for the last half hour of the movie. (If you were a Wesley Snipes movie, you might colorswap your participants.)

In other words, the difference between Ben Kenobi and a magical Negro is that Ben is not Other to everybody else in the film.

And that's also the solution, right there. Because if you only have one of something, it automatically becomes a poster child. You only have one black guy in the movie? Oh, man, we know he's gonna die. Same thing with one queer guy (Heroic gays always die! It's a law! It's how you know they're heroic!). One woman is the love interest, and she will either stand by her man or betray him. And she might also die.

But you know, you start getting enough of those Others into things, and they become People. If the protagonist is also black, somehow that black-mentor-gets-killed thing seems less... well, icky. And more like maybe the author has been watching too many Hollywood films and needs to branch out a little to some new plotlines.

So you have a cop shop in your book. What if you don't look around and go, Hmm, black cop, WASP cop, Polish cop, Latino cop, maybe an Asian woman because everybody knows they're tough. What about two Asian women? What about two Asian women, a black woman, three Latinos (one Cubano and a couple of Mexicans?), a couple of Polacks, and two interchangeable Minnesota blonds that not even the duty sergeant can tell apart? Throw in two queers! Have them not be sleeping together! It happens! It really happens!

Real life, in other words, doesn't look like a "Three guys walk into a bar" joke.

So why does so much fiction?
Tags: another tom to clog our narrative, arrant pedantry, entropy requires no maintenance, internet slapfights, practical adult solutions

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