Talking Past Each Other
A post that's only tangentially related to cancel culture.
Reading through the comments of yesterday’s “Descending into the Particulars of Cancel Culture” in the wee hours, one particular exchange highlights the degree to which these discussions are often frustrating.
Early in the conversation, Michael Reynolds posted this personal anecdote:
I wrote a YA book series with a premise similar to Stephen King’s Under the Dome. (I was first, as Steve acknowledges.) The TL;DR is: everyone over the age of 14 simply disappears. In an early scene a main character is driving in an old pick-up with her grandfather, Joe, IIRC, down a desert dirt road beside a steep drop-off. I mention in passing that Joe is a member of a SoCal Indian tribe, the Chumash.
Joe exists for one purpose: to provide exposition for the main character. His life span is two pages in a series that runs to ~3000 pages. Then, like literally every adult, he disappears. Poof! For this I was attacked by an Indian activist and accused of ‘erasing native characters.’ When I argued that Joe was never anything but a throwaway character, this genius claimed that Joe must have actually been carefully researched because at one point – with his hands on the wheel of a truck on a very precarious road – he uses his chin to point and that, Ah hah! was an Indian thing. So, it seems I carefully researched and then ‘erased’ a native American character and was, thus, a racist.
The upshot of this idiotic attack on me was that I was dogpiled on twitter, ‘canceled’ more times than I can count, and the word went forth that I was ‘not a good literary citizen.’ As a result of that I was excluded from prize competitions. I was no longer welcome to speak to groups of writers.
Most commenters agreed that this was indeed a wildly over-the-top reaction that not only turned a molehill into a mountain but turned an act of allyship into one of racism. To the extent there was pushback, it was that this was an isolated example from a weird niche culture, hardly ever happens, or isn’t truly an act of cancelation.
A few hours into the conversation, though, Gustopher offers a keen insight:
Congratulations, you have completed “Bury The Gays”, but with a Native American.
This trope is the presentation of deaths of LGBT characters where these characters are nominally able to be viewed as more expendable than their heterosexual counterparts.
Using under-represented minorities as cannon-fodder, without also creating characters of that minority who are intended to last, comes across poorly to members of that minority who are eagerly looking for representation of any kind.
It is something that straight, cisgender white men are completely blind to, as they basically never lack representation (and when they do, watch the fireworks — check out the reviews of Star Trek: Discovery, later Star Wars or Doctor Who that mention the “wokeness” of having women in major roles — some men really get upset not being the center of attention).
Similarly, women get used in comics to have their death be a motivating moment for some man’s character arc all the time.
It turns out, some women don’t like being stuck in refrigerators. Go figure. Gail Simone’s “Women In Refrigerators” site slowly led to a major change in mainstream comics that led to more women in the writer’s rooms and a lot less of the “women are just accessories for men.”
Gail Simone has also become a fairly adept writer herself, not the greatest, but better than most and with a different set of flaws and blinders. She wrote a storyline than enraged the transgender community — I forget the details — and got the full twitter pile on.
Here’s the really wacky part, though — she listened, and when she listened, she realized that the folks piling on were right, and she said so. She had the humility to acknowledge that she screwed up, and has been better. She’s always been pro-trans-rights and all, she just screwed up and wrote a storyline that depicted a trans character as some kind of complete loon without thinking about this being basically the only trans representation at DC comics.
Some of the pile on was by over the top assholes. Over the top assholes who felt betrayed after finally seeing a character that resembled themselves, and then seeing that character used to perpetuate stereotypes.
Anyway, I’m sorry you felt attacked, I guess.
Here’s the thing: both Michael and Gustopher are right here. But Gustopher’s insight would have been much more powerful not sandwiched between condescension.
Michael’s inclusion of a Native character in his story was, presumably, an attempt to populate his created world with a diverse cross-section of people. That he wrote a “throw-away” character was so well fleshed out enough in the span of a couple of pages that Native readers felt betrayed by the loss speaks to his skill as a writer. And would seem to be the point of the setup: readers will never know what happened to the character because he’s gone forever. To quote Will Munny, “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”
Gustopher, carrying on the tradition of the late Paul Harvey, gives us the rest of the story: lots of long-oppressed subgroups are carrying around deep-seated frustrations to which those in the dominant culture are often blithely unaware. Twitter and other platforms have finally given them a voice to express those feelings. And that’s good!
But here’s the thing: none of this is Michael’s fault and the blowback, while perfectly understandable once explained, was both misplaced and counterproductive.
Should Michael be expected to be aware of every possible grievance held by every possible group before including them as characters in their stories? That seems like an absurd demand.
The Simone example is somewhat different, in that making the out-group character a villain is rather obviously going to trigger backlash. Killing off a barely-sketched-out character in a novel where every single adult getting killed is the entire premise of the story? Not so much.
Regardless, a sense of betrayal at finally seeing someone of your subgroup featured in a story only to see them disposed of is completely understandable. But wouldn’t simply explaining that to the author, rather than acting like it was an intentional act of cruelty prompted by racial animus have been a more appropriate response?
The Simone example points to a related aspect of the wider story. While it’s unreasonable to expect people to be attuned to every possible grievance and be walk in the social equivalent of a minefield, subject to mob backlash when unintentionally triggering one of them, it’s perfectly reasonable to expect people to learn.* Confronted with the fact that marginalized groups are hurt by only being represented in a certain way, authors should take that into account.
It’s perfectly fine for a Black, trans, Indian, or whathaveyou character to be the bad guy. But, if they are—and, especially, if they’re being written by someone not in that subgroup—they shouldn’t be depicted as cartoon stereotypes. Or be the only representation of that subgroup in the story.**
At the end of the day, it’s a good thing that once-marginalized voices are now being heard. That it sometimes makes comparatively privileged groups uncomfortable is a natural and not-entirely-bad consequence of that development. But the conversation would be a lot more productive if there were less performative outrage, name-calling, and dunking on social media and more attempts to actually persuade.
*So, for example, while I think the initial backlash over Jo Rowling’s comments on gender issues was over-the-top, in that they were perfectly mainstream for someone our age, the fact that she continues to double down knowing that they’re hurtful to so many fans would seem to indicate she’s doing it intentionally.
**Or course, this gets us to a related Catch 22: there is a loud minority who argue that a White man should not attempt to write Black or Indian characters. Ditto straights gays or cis trans. So far as I’m aware, humans writing about fictional aliens is still okay. For now.
Decades ago, Florence King noted that an editor once advised her that villains should always be WASPs, because that way no one would be offended.
@CSK: Spielberg’s decision to go back to making his villains Nazis in Last Crusade was almost certainly due to the controversy over the insulting portrayal of Asian Indians in Temple of Doom (which led to the film’s being banned in India). In Crystal Skull he made them Russian commies, another “safe” target at the time.
The tragedy of humanity: 1) People are justifiably upset that someone doesn’t take the time and effort to see them as a individual human being rather than a stereotype. 2) some of them lash out at another individual for a real or imagined slight of this nature, failing to take the time and effort to see the object of their anger as an individual human being rather than a stereotype.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
@Kylopod: The irony of this is that the Villian is often considered the choicest role in a movie, and often requires someone with serious acting chops.
We don’t really know that, do we? All we get to hear is this:
“Attacked” how? Maybe this activist was trying to explain something (and did it badly). Maybe this activist was being insufferable.
Or maybe Michael didn’t want to listen.
In any case, to draw a parallel: I think we all, at one point or another, have had to deal with political correctness run amok.
But that doesn’t mean that political correctness, as normally understood, is somehow wrong or fundamentally flawed. (Personally, I think it’s not much more than common politeness extended to previously marginalized groups.)
It would be rather childish, I’d say, to start some sort of crusade against political correctness because this one time some idiot with too much sensitivity training was being a fool.
Regardless of whether he was, or could be, aware, he is responsible. That is why authors and publishing houses employ sensitivity readers. These are people whose job it is is to read the pre-publication work with an eye towards blind spots and challenging issues that may have been missed and point them out for the author to consider addressing.
This is one of those situations that annoys me.
An author works to be more inclusive regarding the characters in their works (which has been called for for a long time, and is good). Then he treats them the same as any other character–including killing them, making them damaged or “bad”–and it’s a terrible thing.
As a white man, I’m only allowed to write about minorities if they’re perfect (and even then, I could get slammed). So… I just write about white guys, I guess?
Villains come, villains go. In Little Women, Louisa May Alcott made it clear she had no use for the English (effete twits who cheat at croquet) nor for the French language (slippery and silly), but she was overflowing with kind remarks about Germans. And Jo March’s love interest was a German.
Listening. Humility. Willingness to admit mistakes. Despite being targeted by trolls. This is important. Not all of us can demonstrate the grace and patience Judge Brown Jackson has shown before a pile on, but it maybe helps to try.
Hillary Clinton, thick-skinned target of many witch hunts and piles-on, often says, “Take criticism seriously but not personally.”
James Baldwin, explaining why he went to Paris said, “I wanted to find out where being black ended and where I began. Some things had happened to me because I was Jimmy. Some things had happened to me because I was black…I didn’t want spend the rest of my life going around saying, ‘You treat me this way because I’m black.'”
Sometimes we are mistreated, sometimes we back get what we put out, and sometimes is both. Sometimes the reason we end up ‘canceled’ is because — under pressure fair and unfair — we reveal ourselves to be cranky, arrogant, and generally unpleasant.
It can be a little too easy to blame cancel culture (as demonstrated by Cuomo, Chappelle, Rogan, Rodgers etc). Self-examination is in order. I’m preaching to myself here and intend to “be better,” hat tip to Melania.
Shorter Mu Yixiao:
“I make up scenarios in my head in which I – a white man! – might end up being criticized. The
effrontery! Fetch the smelling salts!”
Can’t you see how ridiculous and thin-skinned this is?
Where could you possibly have gotten that idea? Lol
Online and off, we all need to listen, self-examine, and reflect more, myself included. Internet, social media, Twitter brain, and extremely onlineness can create destructive, reactionary reflexes. Especially Trump-era Twitter, which is one reason why I’m not currently on it.
Bob Parker once reminisced to me that, back in the early 1970s, when his first book, The Godwulf Manuscript, was published a Boston-area radio talk show post berated him for not having any Black characters in it. Bob calmly pointed out that, halfway through the book, a Black woman character who plays a strong supporting role does indeed show up in the story.
I suppose you could construe this as an early attempt to cancel someone as well as a prime example of not knowing what the hell you’re talking about. Obviously Mr. Talk Show Host hadn’t actually read the book. But he knew, just knew, there were no Black characters in it.
But you can see how characterizing what Mu said in that way is just as ridiculous, right?
I didn’t delve into the cancel culture thread, because by the time I came to it 50% of the comments, from both sides, were in the vain of “So and so is a stupid piece of childish sh*t, and it really speaks poorly of him/her that they won’t listen to sound criticism.”
I’m not sure what type of reasoned response one is expecting with a comment like that.
You can see that basing your argument on a caricature (“As a white man, I’m only allowed to write about minorities if they’re perfect”) indicates either the presence of a throughly irrational fear or the complete absence of good faith, no?
If not, happy to have helped you out!
This has been a long-time discussion when it comes to black villains. I remember it being brought up when Denzel was in Training Day, as well as Tony Todd in the Candyman films. These are generally considered to be iconic roles that probably helped black representation in film, but they also skirted uncomfortably over negative black stereotypes. In the Candyman films (based on a Clive Barker story taking place in Great Britain where the characters are all white), I always had the feeling the villain’s back story as being the ghost of a black man lynched in the 19th-century South was created retroactively to avoid having the film come off as racist, which it might have seemed if it was “just” a story of a black slasher villain. As for Training Day, since most of Denzel’s victims in the film were PoC in the inner city, it actually drew attention to the racist system of US police violence, which can definitely include abusive black cops in some cases.
The one thing that baffles me about Michael’s anecdote — and about similar stories — is how anyone has so little going on in their lives that they’ve got the time and intellectual energy to launch a crusade against a book or movie they don’t like.
I used to be a big Dan Simmons fan — still think the Hyperion books are brilliant, and have read them several times. Then I picked up a sci fi noir he wrote called Flashback, and it was appalling. The world had become a dystopia — because Democrats had gotten power and they were weak and lazy and shiftless and everything just went to hell. Imagine Spinrad’s The Iron Dream, but instead of the book-within-a-book being young Hitler’s epic fantasy, this was channeling sci-fi author Donald Trump Jr.
I read as much if it as I could stand, hoping it would improve. Finally I just stopped. And haven’t bought a Simmons book since.
But it never once occurred to me I should go on Twitter and start shouting about how horrible this book was. Or even to write a negative review on Amazon.
It was a lousy book so I stopped reading.
When this Native American reader went after MR on Twitter — what was the point? Obviously I haven’t read the messages, and it’s possible — as someone here posited — that what he was saying was intended positively. You know, hey, I liked this book but there’s something in here that pulled me out of it, maybe you want to think about that in the future.
But that’s not how Michael characterized the encounter, and I’ve got no reason to distrust his account. And then all those other people so desperate to disapprove! What’s the point?
I suppose I can understand Twitter-warring against a pundit, who is making actual policy prescriptions for how the world should work, or against politicians or other officials who have direct impacts on our lives.
But a novel you don’t like is just a novel you don’t like. Read something else or, better yet, save up all those keystrokes you’re using on Twitter and write your own…
Granting Michael’s version of the facts, I would suggest this is partially right. He rightly felt that the criticism was misplaced but his proffered explanation – “that Joe was never anything but a throwaway character” – is slightly off. The better response would have been something along the lines of “I’m glad you connected with Joe and felt his absence so strongly but Joe disappeared not because he was native American but because he was an adult.”
I don’t know if people would have listened to reason and responded differently but its possible. Humans, now and forever, have been tribal. We carve people in, and out, of the group. Humans, in groups, are also frequently irrational.
Cancel culture isn’t new, it is just that more of us can peek into the individual groups policing their own – something that ahs always been messy and unfair at times.
That’s some of the best advice I’ve seen recently.
Really? Have you not met humans before? We form groups and then we police them.
Think of sports fans. Or churches. Or the regular crowd at a bar trivia night. Professional societies. Or just about anything else. The only difference is that the rest of us can peek in at the activity due to the openness of social media.
Jesus Christ, we’re still doing this? Some of you are being deliberately obtuse.
I’ve created I don’t know, probably 2000 named characters. Of those, let’s say 1500 are throw-away characters – guys you see in the background, guys there for just a single purpose, etc… If I can’t throw away throwaway characters because they’re this or that group then I simply have to avoid including any characters from that group at all. And given that, as pointed out, quite a number of people don’t think White writers should write non-white characters at all, let’s see what we achieve.
Listening to all the clever advice here, and the stupid snark as well, I would have started with this this: Perdido Beach, California, where 332 kids have just been marooned and abandoned and guess what? Every single one of them was white!
IOW, congratulations my progressive friends, you have come full circle back to segregation.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that writers of each race are equally productive. Let’s dictate that no one is writing any race but their own. The situation now is that there are White, Black, Brown and Asian characters in just about every book. Given that Blacks are 13% of the population, and Whites are 60% of the population, take out your calculators and see whether you think the result is more representation, or less. Anyone?
It gets better. Let’s just swallow the logical inconsistency of it and say that Black authors can have White characters while White writers – the majority – cannot. Now tell me how this affects the Black-White ratio in characters?
Some otherwise smart people, too confused to follow reason, have now talked themselves into both McCarthyism and segregation. Fucking brilliant. What’s next? Eugenics?
That wasn’t really why you were attacked, though.
In fact, someone wanted you to write a relatable, non-throwaway Native American character.
Doesn’t sound like segregation to me.
Some people are campaigning for a more just and fair society, or to defend an oppressed group. And some people get off on being sanctimonious pricks, latching onto any cause they come across that allows them to get into someone else’s business and start lecturing them. The first type makes progress. The second type makes enemies out of potential allies, and therefore retards progress.
The extremists on both sides of this running debate simply refuse to see that both types of people exist, always have and always will.
I appreciate you accepting that I’m telling the truth about this particular incident. The attack actually originated not on Twitter but on this academic’s blog – and the motivation was to draw attention and gain influence.* It then spread to kidlit publications and Twitter. But of course this is just one incident, there have been others, and I’m less concerned for me than for the more tender or more vulnerable writers.
One young woman achieved incredible success straight out of college. Like a lot of writers she was not used to dealing with the public. A mutual friend actually suggested I should talk with her about it, but we did not have that kind of relationship. A subsequent work of hers was portrayed as racist on the simple grounds that, well, the attacks were flat lies. This writer had not written what she was accused of writing. I don’t mean that there was a difference of interpretation, I mean flat-out lies. She tried to defend herself in the most prostrate, submissive way and was of course savaged.
There is an assumption that anyone who portrays themselves as an activist or spokesperson is genuine and has pure motives. This is not always the case. There’s money to be made off stoking outrage.
*Note that my antagonist has now fallen out of favor with the ‘community’ after she started randomly attacking Native American writers with the same dishonest horseshit she tried on me.
If Activist A says, ‘write more POC,’ and Activist B says, ‘you can’t write any POC,’ why don’t you tell me just what the fuck the answer is? Because there are a whole fukton of writers who can’t square that circle. Come on, my smug friend, show me the path to righteousness.
That is a nugget of truth expressed with more economy than I’m usually capable of.
Ha. I’m also sure the response to his Twitter criticism was very measured, mature, and reflective — and didn’t fuel a pile-on with hysterical, profane, melodramatic ranting.
I’m sure the person in question would never play the martyr, mischaracterize critique, or hypocritically engage in the same bad faith he himself complains of — as we all have done, sadly.
If Twitter can cause a person to renege on his principles, I doubt that person was ever really committed to progress or allyship.
Jesse Jackson’s entire business model for the past several decades has been to “investigate” a company, find racism, and then offer to provide expensive consulting services to those companies to “educate them”. The threat is that if they don’t pay him he will go public. It’s just extortion. And retards progress by confirming in the execs mind that all this racism stuff is just a scam.
@DK: I’m sure very, very few are pure enough for you. And, of course, only the purest should be allowed to help. The rest must be “educated” by those who truly are pure.
Look man, I don’t doubt for a second that there are a bunch of sanctimonious assholes out there who say random shit.
But yesterday “cancel culture” was receiving flak for not writing a POC, and today “cancel culture” is receiving flak for writing a POC. This basically sounds like “cancel culture is social criticism I don’t like.”
More importantly, to what extent were you, in fact, canceled? “Joe” was a minor character in a 3,000-page series you managed to get published. That’s definitely more than a single book – and I assume “Joe” got disappeared in the first book of the series. Also, you can’t really get a series published without some decent sales.
I bet you didn’t get blacklisted by publishers.
Being annoyed is not quite the same as being canceled. Let alone that this is necessarily a pervasive social problem that needs to be addressed in the political arena.
I’m happy to be convinced otherwise.
@Michael Reynolds: Yeah, Spike Lee was mad that Quentin Tarentino made “Django Unchained” and thought he had no right. Whereas Sam Jackson thought it was fine and explained that Quentin was taken as a kid, by a black neighbor, to see blaxploitation films every Saturday in the Seventies.
There’s no escaping this kind of thing. I don’t have a lot of experience navigating this sort of thing in public and on the internet, but I have considerably more experience with it face-to-face.
I would never characterize you as not listening, by the way. I get accused of that all the time, but what is mean is something else. I think you listen, digest the content very quickly, and jump ahead.
What is going to be effective at cultivating good relations is the stance of “tell me more”. When someone comes at you, it is a very normal and natural reaction to lean in, to push back. That’s what I did. What is going to be effective is something different, though. One great thing about the internet is that it gives you a lot more time. You can (though people don’t always) think about how to respond strategically.
I mean a response of “Wow, you seem pretty upset about that, and I’d like to understand why.” will generate more response from someone, but it will also give them the impression that you care about them, or at least their complaint. I’m not saying you have to apologize for what you wrote, I can see that there is a Catch-22 which seems to have no right answer. And I’m well aware that POC disagree on what to do about it.
Just try to find out what the person in front of you wants – in detail – and they will feel a lot better about you. That one simple wisdom, if you can practice it, goes a long way. I don’t claim this is easy to carry out.
By the way, I like your combativeness. It serves well in some situations, just not universally.
@Michael Reynolds: “There is an assumption that anyone who portrays themselves as an activist or spokesperson is genuine and has pure motives. ”
You think so? Seems to me that the self-styled “activist” selling phony outrage was already a well-enough established trope 65 years ago that Meredith Willson could use it as Professor Harold Hill’s schtick.
I do agree that the young and naive — or those who force themselves into permanent naivte — might take this position, but that’s little different than Christians trusting the word of any conman as long as he says Jesus frequently.
“You are not at fault but you are responsible”
This is the phrase we use in counseling for someone who’s caused harm either accidently or through no malicious will. Think someone who has a stroke and accidently runs over a pedestrian as they crash; someone is still dead because of you even if it was through no fault of your own. Just because you didn’t intend to do it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It’s still important to acknowledge the harm happened and you were a part of it. Acknowledging someone else’s hurt or damage because you is not an admission of guilty but rather validation of the others’ concerns.
@Micheal didn’t mean to cause harm. He didn’t mean to fridge a minority as from what I understand of the plot, all adults died – it would be weird if minorities didn’t die in that case. He wasn’t singling out the NA character. It wasn’t malicious. However, that doesn’t mean that readers who were thrilled to see someone relatable die weren’t hurt. It doesn’t mean it didn’t upset them and it’s important to understand *why* it did. There’s a history of using women and minorities as plot devices who’s suffering and death are only to push the hero on. Oh, we have gays on our shows!!!….. and now they’re dead for “plot reasons”. It happens a LOT so it’s not unfair to arrive at the conclusion that’s what happened here.
I understand feeling attacked by critics over something you didn’t intend to do. It feels unfair and out of nowhere. @Micheal is right to feel he was incorrectly judged when someone who would have perished with the other side characters was only killed because of their ethnicity.
Still, get salty about it misses the point – it looks like a known trope that people see all the time and causes harm. What does it cost to acknowledge that yes, it looks like you fridged them even that’s not what you meant to convey? They’re incorrect but not necessarily wrong, that their feelings are valid and their perspective while arrived at incorrectly happens enough that it’s reasonable they would have arrived at it? You are not at fault but you are responsible.
@MarkedMan: I didn’t mention purity…you referring to water? Or virgins? Like many queer millennials I prefer my intimate partners be as slutty and experienced as I am, so I don’t know what you mean.
“There’s a history of using women and minorities as plot devices whose suffering and death are only to push the hero on.”
You’re quite correct in this observation. It eventually became sort of a joke with movies where the female lead would do something absolutely brainless so she could be rescued by the hero. And of course Black people were almost always the hapless foils.
But–not to be too Pollyanna-ish here–things have surely changed for the better in recent decades.
Sums up most of Twitter, tbh.
Leading to the trope popularly known as The Black Dude Dies First.
Yes. Even when I was a kid I noticed that, and it bothered me.
So now, with your position badly undermined by, you know facts and logic, you have to assume I’m either a liar or a drama queen.
Your thought process mirrors that of MAGAs: My side is always right, and if one argument falls apart, and then another, well time to either go ad hominem or invent a conspiracy theory.
@Jay L Gischer:
Exactly what I did when some autistic fans reproached me about an autistic character I’d handled too cavalierly. They explained their position. And I said, “You’re right. If this ever gets adapted, I’ll fix that.” And when I sat down to think about writing a pilot script, that’s what I did.
So naturally I was attacked. By whom? Well, apparently there are fissures within the spectrum community and I had made peace with the wrong faction. And this was absolutely my fault for not having spent a few days researching the internecine politics and then choosing a preferred faction.
@Michael Reynolds: Because lord knows how you’re always the first around here to admit when you’re wrong, how you eschew ad hominem attacks like calling others “smug,” illogical MAGAs.
Nothing but calm, measured, sober discourse from you here, on Twitter, and everywhere. Right.
My “position,” as stated above, is that we all (myself included) should take deep breaths and self-reflect rather than being reactionary. This is hardly controversial — except to those whose default posture is defensiveness, anger, bitterness, hypocrisy, and crankiness. Refusal to even consider how they might contribute to their own distress.
Good luck to those people.
@CSK: Or when the pendulum swung and you had the magic negro as a staple. Steven King loves that trope
But it’s always someone else’s fault is so much easier.
No one – literally not a single actual reader – gave even a fractional fuck about Grandpa Joe. By the time he appears, 100% of readers knew exactly what was going to happen to him. No one gave a shit. They cared about his granddaughter who – surprise – was also part Indian and a major character who (spoiler alert) survives the whole series. Nor were readers ‘hurt’ by the male writer who confessed he didn’t understand female characters as well as male. Nor were they hurt by the writer who was branded a racist on the basis of pure fabrication.
Let me explain something: none of these attacks ever come from readers, because, see, unlike the loud activists they actually read the book.
You don’t get it. You’re so absolutely sure your side must be write and the old White dude must be wrong that you are incapable of reaching reasonable conclusions.
I haven’t read any recent Stephen King, meaning in about 20 years, so I had to look the “Stephen King/magic Negro” trope, but yes, that’s correct. That also makes me cringe.
So, all your arguments in ruins, you double down on ad hominem. For the record, bullshit, I always admit when I’m wrong. Always. Prove me wrong and I am utterly helpless to resist. I actually welcome being proven wrong because that makes me smarter. It’s free education.
@CSK: @DaveD: King has in more recent times basically acknowledged and apologized for his past use of magical negro characters. (I think the ultimate example I can remember from his books is Mother Abigail from The Stand, though in terms of movie adaptations, the best-remembered example is John Coffey from The Green Mile.)
Just like you always don’t descend to angry insults, cussing, chip-on-the-shoulder ranting, and “old White men are the true victims” at the first sign of pushback. It’s simply not possible you did any of that when your writing was attacked on Twitter, worsening the situation.
You were the innocent and blameless target of ageism, racism, and misandry, and that’s it. Because you’re a veritable model of self-awareness and online maturity. Anyone who reads your words here will surely see that lol
We all need to grow and do better. Only some of us have the humility to admit it.
I asked you how you’d square the circle and you deflect.
Seriously, that’s your conclusion. It’s my fault if I can’t reconcile two opposed factions of Lefty critics that you won’t even attempt to reconcile. Couldn’t be the critics haven’t really thought things through, now could it? That would suggest error on the Left. Oh no!
Not just me. Direct quote from a very senior editor: “I can’t buy anything from a White male, period.” I wasn’t even pitching that person, just schmoozing. You don’t know what you’re talking about, and I do. It’s as simple as that.
Let’s recap, shall we? I’ve claimed for quite some time now that cancel culture was a political problem. For years what I got here was, ‘No it’s not, it’s not even real, it’s made up!”
Then came the polls showing 80% of voters think it’s a problem. Some grudgingly took that on-board. So, I guess I was right about that. Anyone willing to admit they were wrong about that? Anyone?
Now we’re down to talking about the chilling effect – you all remember that, right? The thing that was very real when it was the Right doing the chilling? So, now many of you want to tell me what I have experienced, and what the people I know have experienced cannot be true because the reality I live does not conform to your prejudices and assumptions.
Amazing. I had a similarly stupid argument with our old friend @Guarneri at a different blog. I claimed that high taxes actually motivated me to be more productive. He argued, nuh-uh because um, in school I learned this theory, see, so your actual experience must not be real.
That’s right, you’re down to debating at @Guarneri’s level. And I’m the one who can’t admit he’s wrong?
People, I’m done with this debate. Game, set, match and I’m dropping the mike. Feel free to find some more angels to dance on the heads of your jesuitical pins, but you got nothing. The reason you got nothing is that I’m right, and you’re wrong.
You are dishonest. You can’t handle me so you’re inventing straw men to battle. What a perfect example of what passes for thought amongst the CC community. You must be right because you’re just ever so virtuous.
Also, ‘cussing?’ Really? In 2022?
Hehe. Nothing smug here.
Anyway, regarding this “80% think it’s a problem” canard — as many across the political spectrum noted, the NYT push polling was problematic and certainly not determanitive. You can generate 80% level support for many things with vague, non-specific, ambiguous push questions.
To truly determine how much a ‘political problem’ cancel culture is or isn’t, you might instead ask voters questions like “What top 5 issues are most important to you?” or “A candidate’s stances on which 5 issues are most likely to decide your vote?” Then you would collect and tally the responses. You might even include 15 choices.
In that kind of survey, it seems unlikely ‘cancel culture,’ an issue with maybe no political solution, would come out ahead of abortion, taxes, healthcare, public safety, climate, Ukraine, COVID, etc.
I’m sure you’re a nice enough person in real life, but likely also a hypocritical, bitter manchild with an anger disorder and a hilariously bloated ego.
It is probably too late for you to change, but it’s also not surprising you’re having cultural change adjustment distress. Especially on Twitter.
And you’re still here? I thought you dropped the mic and stormed off to bask in your rightness lol
I agree with you but say you should be open to the possibility someone was bothered by it and not be rude to them and I still get insulted and “literally not a single actual reader cared”. You are not psychic – you don’t know that. You assume that – likely true but still an assumption. You immediate jumped to “I’m being attacked because I’m a White Male” instead of actually reading to what I said.
If this is how you react to someone sympathetic, I can see why you’d get “cancelled more times then you can count”. Who wants to deal with this kind of aggrieved BS? Sure, sure it’s all the progressives’ cancel culture out to get you and nothing to do with the fact that you really cannot seem to take any sort of criticism or critique well.
I’ll scratch a Pragmatist itch and point out another way we talked past each other. Some said cancel culture isn’t a big deal. Others said cancel culture is a big political problem. They are both right. They’re just using different definitions of cancel culture. In the one case it’s actual incidents of someone being substantially and unfairly harmed just for saying something. In the other case it’s the perception of cancel culture fed by the Mighty RW Wurlitzer. Just like CRT, the meaning is in the eye of the beholder.
As Led Zeppelin wisely said, “sometimes words have two meanings”. Or many meanings, shifting and overlapping. For instance, if we speak of Republicans, we should specify just which Republicans we’re referring to. Charles Krauthammer made a good living off this sort of thing. Hayek didn’t say what people think he said about socialism. He very carefully defined socialism as central planning and explicitly endorsed a lot of things we would regard as socialist. I often put words like conservative in scare quotes to flag that in context this word may not quite mean what Funk and Wagnalls say it means. Many arguments evaporate if we’re careful to define terms.
Some people do the compliment-sandwich, but I prefer the condescension sandwich. It’s more fun, and it’s not like people listen anyway…
I will drag out this bit of another comment I made on that thread:
Michael Reynolds doesn’t have first hand experience with not being represented. He underestimates the value that it has and the emotional response it creates.
(As a bisexual white man, I understand a tiny glimmer — bisexual men basically didn’t exist in popular culture when I was growing up, and when they did it probably would have been better if they didn’t. But, there were plenty of white men…)
No wonder these guys were canceled!
Here is (I think) the criticism that Michael was talking about re: his depiction of NA character(s).
It doesn’t (IMO) fit neatly into either his description or into his critics’ depiction of the likely exchange. Anyway, a couple minutes of Google and several more minutes reading gave me a better understanding of the situation. If any of you care, here’s the link: https://americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com/2016/11/dear-michael-letter-to-michael-grant.html
Michael tells stories for a living.
There are people for whom a story is more important than the facts — especially if a story illustrates the real facts. The story bends the truth and through retelling it becomes the truth. We all do it to some extent, and those who don’t tell really boring stories.
I wouldn’t assume Michael’s characterization is entirely accurate without checking it carefully. Especially since it has become illustrative of a larger issue.
I also wouldn’t trust anything I say or write to be accurate. I’m not saying you shouldn’t trust it, I’m saying I wouldn’t trust it. What are a few minor factual details in comparison to a good story? My whole family is like this, drove my father’s wife crazy for a while until she got used to it — less family history, more family folklore.
@Grewgills: Holy crap but Debbie comes off as a complete lunatic. She parses stray words into complex thoughts, has the process explained to her pretty throughly as basically keeping the story moving, and doubles down on the charges because the juggling clearly had deep-seated motivations.
@Neil Hudelson: I read only the comments that were not either by or in response to MR because I was fairly confident that only non-MR comments would contain new/useful information. In the future, I’ll probably start treating “cancel culture” the same way I treated “gun control” and skip the topic entirely. So far this thread has been interesting, tho.
Truer words were never spoken. Steven’s definition of CC is very different then mine. I think what he says about CC is completely correct according to his definition. Also, in addition to arguments going off the rails because of failure to agree on definitions, there is also often a disagreement about what is important. When I talk about CC I tend to focus almost exclusively on the “Cancel” part, i.e. I’m debating on whether people have been cancelled for trivial or invalid reasons. When Steven talks about it he focuses on the “Culture” part, i.e. he is debating whether the the level of cancelation has risen to the point it can be defined as a “culture of cancelation”. I find the unjust cancelation part to be the most interesting so I talk to him about that. He finds the culture part to be most interesting so he talks to me about that. It is easy to fall into an argument because we are not addressing what each other finds interesting.
The “culture of cancellation” is interesting to me in the abstract. The consequences of cancellation are of far more import to me.
@Kylopod: Don’t forget the Shining which combines both tropes
@Gustopher: “Some people do the compliment-sandwich,”
One thing I remember from my first couple of years of college teaching was that many of my students noted that they’d had their fill of compliment sandwiches (pun intended) and would rather just have the negatives and positives delivered unembellished.
Whoa. Too true. I gave up. Basically it came off as:
Debbie: Here’s what you were thinking when you wrote these details in the the story
Michael: No, this is what I was actually thinking
Debbie: You don’t know what you were thinking. I know what you were thinking. Let me lecture you about what you were thinking
Maybe not a lunatic but certainly a complete tool.
Bottom line, Michael’s description of the interchange was totally fair.
I actually was thinking of The Shining when it came to another famous example of a magical negro in King’s fiction (and Scatman Crothers tended to play roles like that anyway), but it didn’t occur to me that it was also an example of Black Dude Dies First–though in fairness, he doesn’t die in the book, so that isn’t on King.
You didn’t understand Debbie (i.e., Michael’s criticaster) at all.
She basically said (and I’m paraphrasing): “When he was writing, Michael was unconsciously stereotyping people of color. He should be more aware of this and avoid such stereotyping in the future.”
Perhaps, in certain cases, a writer has a slightly bigger responsibility than “basically keeping the story moving,” no?
And contrary to what you claim, she never said that these stereotypes came from “deep-seated motivations.”
In fact, this is what she wrote:
I think it is quite possible that even unconscious stereotyping can be problematical. Don’t you?
Or should she simply shut up about it because “the process [was] explained to her pretty thouroughly” and Michael had no “deep-seated motivations” anyway?
That is a take, I guess.
But apart from that, Michael was being invited to participate in a dialogue. That’s not really cancel culture, is it?
To clarify, I’m not even saying that this Debbie character was right.
I’m saying that she very well could have a point.
Because if you do something that is unintentionally hurtful, shouldn’t you at least consider avoiding such actions in the future?
Crazy thought, I know.
@drj: Dialog? From my reading Debbie had no intention of ever engaging in a dialog. She wanted to lecture Michael and expected him to take her revealed truth as correctives to be obeyed. She didn’t acknowledge Michael’s replies other than to tell him he didn’t understand his own motivations but, of course, she did.
There was no dialog. Michael tried to engage in a dialog. She ignored what he said and lectured at him. She was being the most obnoxious type of critic: “We have no need of the author here. I will reveal the truth about what the story was about and his motivations in writing it.”
But if you read far enough you’ll find that Michael did acknowledge she had a point.
But Debbie is not interested in that. Debbie strikes me as a performance artist whose schtick is grievance. She constructs ever taller and shakier towers built of all kinds of “deduced” motivations and prejudices on the part of various authors, and an actual author showing up to point out her theories are just a house of cards doesn’t affect her in the least. I suspect most authors have the good sense to ignore her. But Michael (being Michael) engaged, and pointed out that basically everything she had deducted about why he had written certain descriptions was wrong. And Debbie ignored everything he said, except to tell him that she knew his motivations better than he did. She’s a troll. And like all trolls, it’s a mistake to engage. What she wants out of an interaction is completely different than what she pretended to want.
She was right.
So what happened is this:
Debbie: “You’re using hurtful stereotypes. Please change.”
Michael: “Didn’t plan to, sorry!”
Debbie: “But now you know. Could you please change?”
Michael: “Why should I? I’m definitely not racist.”
Debbie: “But perhaps you’re a little bit racist on an unconscious level. We’re all products of our environment, after all.”
Michael: “I’m being canceled!”
Per the title of the OP: Talking past each other.
@drj: “I think it is quite possible that even unconscious stereotyping can be problematical. Don’t you?”
Sure. But in this case the stereotype was that an old Native American who has lived his life on the reservation has brown and leathery skin. Even if this is a stereotype, isn’t it one that’s drawn from observation? And even if it’s a stereotype, where is the harm? What is problematical about it? And pointing with his chin? Even if that somehow had fallen into the lexicon of NA stereotypes — which seems pretty far-fetched to me — how is this negative?
I get the impression that Dr. Debbie Reese was looking for something about which she could be aggrieved.
@drj: I find it fascinating that you give Debbie saintly motivations in this exchange. Of course, it helps your narrative that you elide all the parts where she erroneously described Michael’s thought processes to her readers (ex: ‘He obviously researched this characters Chumash background’). You berate Michael for refusing to accept her correctives, but don’t even acknowledge that she refuses to accept his.
You read her stuff and conclude she is a fount of enlightened knowledge, gently and patiently explaining to a benighted clod. I read her stuff and conclude she had no interest in listening to anyone but herself and the people who agree with her, to the point that she doesn’t even listen to the actual subject she is writing about. To me she’s a troll and a time waster. There are lots of people who could provide valuable criticism to an author. But she’s not one of them. She’s not a real critic, or a real academic, or a real intellectual, she’s just an actor. A troll. And grievance is her schtick.
That and his drinking problem. And, of course, he talks like this:
Also, his half-Native American granddaughter has healing powers and is able to communicate with animals.
Might be a bit much, no?
Perhaps not enough to raise a stink about it, but it is also quite predictable. Perhaps even stereotypical. (Which isn’t altogether surprising for someone who claims not to devote too much thought to the context in which his characters exist.)
@drj: Oh, come on. His explanation for why the character existed and how he uses his characters was incredibly detailed and completely plausible.
Ah, but the Native points with his nose! A deep cultural insight!
Hmm. I didn’t know that! I just had him do it because he had his hands on the steering wheel because he was, umm, driving a truck.
Then she reads tropes into another half dozen things and he says, no, the other character in question wasn’t Native but a Latina with an Elvin middle name to connote that she had magic.
No, she was Native and it was a trope! Also, she talked to animals! Another trope!
But, you see, it’s a science fiction story and after the Big Event all of the youth have this ability.
No, you’re actually a Native-hating bigot and are so consumed with White Privilege that you just don’t realize how much you secretly hate us.
And …. Scene.
It’s a very sad fact that alcohol abuse is a serious problem for Native Americans.
Lana’s a healer because the novel is fantasy.
And what’s wrong with “dark, seamed skin?
Still missing the point, I see.
This is not about Michael having malicious intentions, but about his unconscious use of racial tropes – which, if you hear him describe his approach to writing, is also completely plausible.
Plausibility nor deliberate intent is the issue here.
Quite a nice straw man you have constructed there.
So it’s totally cool if you say that she comes across as a total lunatic, but if I write that she could (note the conditional) have a point, I’m suddenly assigning “saintly intentions” to her? And somehow I’m the one who is insufficiently critical and fails to argue in good faith?
Sometimes negroes are magical. Are you claiming only white people are magical?
You see, all my black characters are incredibly articulate (and also demolition experts). And my Asians are all good at math.
Can’t you see that there just might be a bit of an issue?
This point was made repeatedly in yesterday’s thread, where I lurked but did not comment until the major combatants had retired for the night.
The lack of a shared, specific definition for cancel culture (and “wokeness” *gag*) makes “80% think cancel culture is a problem” an overstatement. The NYT push poll questions were vague and broad to point of uselessness.
Cuomo, Cosby, Chappelle, Rogan, Rodgers, Rowling, random social media users, authors, college students, college speakers, college teachers — all claiming to be targets of cancel culture. Of course 80% think it’s a problem when they’re all using the term ad hoc.
Cancel culture and its political solutions are yet to be defined and proven prominent in the hierarchy of political issues. “80% support universal heathcare” until defined as one thing or another (single payer? ACA+?) and attached to details on tax rates and regulations. “80% support universal background checks” but is a candidate’s views on that more salient to voters than abortion, energy, guns, healthcare, education, climate, taxes, Russia/NATO etc? Meh.
@Gustopher: Only Jesus and Santa Claus are magical, and both are white. Obvi.
@drj: It’s impossible to falsify a charge of unconscious bias. But I find MR’s explanation for his process completely plausible and tend to think a plausible explanation for one’s thinking should suffice. That most characters are there to set the scene is not controversial. And, in a novel where the whole premise is that every single adult is GONE instantaneously, I don’t think we need to think very hard about why MR killed off one particular adult.
Confronted by the fact that he’d killed off the one Native character in the story, MR says, ‘Well, shit. I see your point. Clearly, I should be more mindful of including more diverse main characters in my stories!’ Which, I suspect, he actually internalized and followed through on.
All of us not-young, straight white dudes need reminders of our blind spots. But accusing people of bad faith when they’re engaging with you in good faith is just decidedly unhelpful.
Big deal. Trump said his African-American was better.
And can’t you see that there’s a big difference between one elderly male character having “dark, seamed skin” and saying “all Asians are good at math”?
As for the “magic Negro” trope, you’re comparing apples to oranges in this case. This is meant to elevate, not denigrate, however misguided it may be.
I know your comment is snark, but there’s an important point that often gets lost when people talk about magical negroes. A lot of people seem to think it refers simply to any black character with actual supernatural powers. What it really refers to is a black character whose entire role in the story is to help the white protagonist, and who doesn’t have much of an independent existence outside of that role. Often this involves literal magic, but not always. When Spike Lee popularized the term, his prime example was Morgan Freeman’s character in Driving Miss Daisy, a story with no supernatural elements. But in my experience the first example people tend to think of with Morgan Freeman is his playing God in the Almighty movies, a type of role done by countless white actors before him (e.g. George Burns in the Oh God movies). Was that a magical negro role? Perhaps to an extent, but it’s very far from being among the most egregious examples.
I get the impression that she has a chip on her shoulder, and ran into someone else with a chip on his shoulder, and the result wasn’t pretty.
Doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have real points that a less emotionally invested person could have made better.
Our friend Michael Reynolds wrote a throwaway character that happened to hit upon mannerisms and stereotypes that he never really thought about because it wasn’t important to him. She spend a lot of time thinking about the mannerisms and stereotypes — too much time? maybe!
And the stereotypes and tropes for the grand daughter as the healer who can talk to animals are… unfortunate. Both in the “ugh, not this shit again” sense and the “it was basically an accident, the character could have been Philipino, white, Latino, black, whatever…” sense.
So much of the Latino culture in the Americas is part Native American — Conquistadors conquistadated! — that the character that Michael considered Latina with a Native American grandfather is almost certainly a massive minefield of easily messed up cultural sensitivities.
I don’t think the answer is to make everyone white because that’s all you know, but to put a little effort into understanding the stereotypes and revisit and adjust things. Have a diverse group of early readers that includes people of the ethnicities being referenced. Often, the ethnicity is just window dressing anyway, basically irrelevant to the plot.
Lana has an American Indian grandfather, and is a healer who talks to animals? How about Indian Indian? Or the descendant of the Chinese laborers who built the railroads, mixed six ways to Sunday?
I didn’t see this Debbie making any such accusations.
Look, I don’t really want to defend this Debbie person. I haven’t read the book she criticizes, so I can’t judge whether her reaction is really proportionate.
Having said that, I do want to stress, on a more general note, that stereotyping – even when done subconsciously and without malicious intention – can be harmful and should, if possible, be avoided.
To that extent, at least, Debbie is right, IMO. And it is not necessarily wrong to call people out for such behavior and ask them to do better next time. (Which is why I wrote that she could have a point.)
In any case, even if it would turn out that Debbie was overzealous, nobody, as far as I could see, actually got canceled. Annoyed perhaps. But that is rather a different thing.
Are you sure about that?
From where I’m standing, Morgan Freeman’s character had to have some pretty powerful magic to salvage that movie, and it went on to win Oscars.
@drj: Look. You and are come from very different perspectives on this, but I respect that you genuinely try to engage and make an effort to see the point of view of the person you are arguing with. So… when I make the point I’m about to make, I don’t mean it as a gotcha.
I was frustrated during an exchange we had above when you accused Michael of not even considering that she might have a point, and I replied with a quote from the exchange itself where Michael explicitly conceded she did have a point, and… you just ignored that. James just brought it up again, and you ignored it again. There is no chance of legitimate debate if your response to a valid objection is to change the subject.
@drj: “Perhaps not enough to raise a stink about it, but it is also quite predictable. Perhaps even stereotypical.”
With all due respect to Michael, though, what you’re describing is just lazy writing. (I suspect he’d call it efficient writing, since he’s just tossing this character off to get on with the story.) His critic is claiming a moral failing.
I guess my point is — has prejudice against Native Americans so completely vanished in this country that it’s worth anyone’s time to get upset about this insignificant character in a juvenile entertainment?
@Gustopher: “I get the impression that she has a chip on her shoulder, and ran into someone else with a chip on his shoulder, and the result wasn’t pretty.”
I think another — possibly more generous — way of looking at it is that it seems to be her career to search out negative portrayals of Native Americans in the culture. So to her, this is a zillionth example of what she’s paid to look for, while for Michael it was a throwaway character in a short scene.
Personally I suspect that Michael is contributing more to the world than she is, but that’s just my point of view.
@Gustopher: “Have a diverse group of early readers that includes people of the ethnicities being referenced.”
I gather that some in YA do this. I would rather die.
@wr: Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration. When I wrote a pilot about a Native American FBI agent and her Latino partner, I had consultants who were a Native American former FBI agent and a Latino former FBI agent.
But there’s something about the idea of the panel of sensitivity readers that just creeps me out. I want to get it right… but I don’t want to make sure that everyone in the world feels good and empowered at every point in whatever I’m writing.
The very nature of the English language makes precise definitions difficult and makes it far too easy to talk past each other. I don’t know about James, but I at least am getting a pretty good snicker over the title of this post and the absolute proof of it’s correctness in the comments.
I’m also quite sad to see the level of personal attacks on this site continue to increase. Apparently without some right wing trolls to beat up on we’re perfectly happy to turn on each other even if we agree on 80% of the issues. The worst thing in our toxic political culture is the way we can’t disagree without attributing moral flaws to our opponents, as if a genuinely different point of view is simply impossible or something.
@wr: Fun Fact: On Star Trek: Voyager the character of Chakotay was carefully crafted with the input of a Native American consultant to make sure that the writers were respectful of the cultural aspects of the character.
This link pretty much tells the story:
The article inside is probably fine. I don’t remember where I first learned of it, and there are dozens of articles about it now. The Native American consultant was just making it up as he went along.
Anyway, I was thinking less of a Diversity Board, and more of an actually diverse group of early readers. A difference in tone and expectations — a Diversity Board is going to have to find something to justify their existence, but mostly you want to check for big blind spots.
In software, there is a common problem of teams with no women writing customer facing applications that no woman would want to go near — there are lots of things about privacy that men don’t get because they don’t get nearly as much harassment. It’s pretty easy to add a few diverse voices to a software team and catch a lot of that stuff before it gets too far (not that it gets done, but in principle it is easy). With books? They are less collaborative, but there are likely spots to get different views giving feedback in the process.
The quote (which notably came at the very end of their exchange):
The way I read this is that only at the very end of their exchange he pretty much concedes her point (the Native Americans are either perfectly stereotypical, i.e. lack individuality, or physically disappear and thus – in both cases – turn out to be a “bunch of nothing”), while still maintaining that he was being treated unfairly and that she was wrong, etc., etc.
So in my view, he was trying to have it both ways. Basically, you can’t really have a discussion, maintain that you are right and the other person is wrong, ultimately (but very briefly) concede most of the point, and then keep maintaining you are still right and the other person continues to be wrong and is trying to cancel you.
In my book, that’s still (mostly) rejecting the other person’s point of view.
I didn’t mean to be unreasonable about it.
For the last four years, I’ve worked on a series with a predominantly African American cast, telling stories from that perspective.
We are constantly attacked by people like Debbie (and by extention your defense of her) for the most picayune issues.
“Charaacter’s A’s Hair isn’t authentic.”
“Character B would never wear that.”
“Why is character C talking like that? That’s not correct.”
“Character D would never drive that car/live in that house”.
Here’s the rub:
Our showrunner? African American woman.
Her #2: African American man.
Her #3: An African American woman.
Our head hairstylist: African American man
The rest of our Hair Department: African American men and women.
Our Script Coordinator; African American woman.
Our writer’s room: 5 Black women. 2 White men. Three African American men.
Our Directors: Out of 3 directors: One white man. One latino man. One white women. 4 African American women. 4 African American men. Yes. That’s not 13, because one male African American director and one female African American director each did two episodes.
So in your mind, all the critics would have a point, because….. feelings. But the fact is they DO NOT HAVE A FUCKING POINT. These writers are writing from their personal experiences. They write what they know and what they have lived. Anyone can criticize their work for it’s quality if they want, but they have zero right to criticize something someone has lived and written about as being not authentic.
You are way off if you can read a screed like what Debbie wrote and think she has a point. Way off.
Ugh. No edit button.
That should be 13 directors, not 3,
The minute you start writing in a manner to please everyone, you please no one. And your script/book/story/essay/post will suck.
Actual conversation I had over 20 years ago. I’ve never forgotten it.
Black crew member: Why aren’t there ever any positve portrayals of black people in movies?
Me: What about Danny Glover in the “Lethal Weapon” series? Good family man. Solid cop. Upstanding citizen.
Black crew member: He was an Uncle Tom. A cop? GTFO here with that.
Me: What about Sidney Poitier?
Black crew member: Who?
Me: Black actor who won the Oscar in the early 60’s.
Black crew member: 1960’s? GTFO How about this century?
Me: James Earl Jones, Samuel L Jackson, Laurence Fishburne, Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, Morgan Freeman. Cuba Gooding Jr (nd a few others. All I can remember how, but there were more.)
Black crew member: walks away…..
My point being if someone wants to see problems, they’ll see problems. Even where none exists.
Why does employing a sensitivity reader to help an author spot potential issues mean that the end product will suck? Why does it mean that you are writing to please everyone?
Do you feel the same way about editors? or script doctors? Or anyone else who is paid to review something to help make it better?
Do you really think it is inconceivable that there could be a valuable and useful sensitivity reader? Why?
Why are you making the leap from having someone with a different perspective read what I wrote to see if I missed any implications for another community to making “sure that everyone in the world feels good and empowered at every point in whatever I’m writing”?
Do you not use/have an editor?
To answer your question as simply as I can… if you’re going to have people nitpicking every story for sensitivity, it’s going to suck. If you write an African American serial killer story, must you worry about someone being triggered because the killer is African American? If I write about a Jewish banker, am I feeding into a negative trope? If I write about a Latino husband who beats his wife, am I demeaning all Latinos? No. No. No. But in front of certain snowflakes, each of those will be bashed as a negative stereotype even if writing NON-FICTION.
There are African-American serial killers. There are Jewish bankers. There are Latino men that beat their wives. To tell me that I cannot write about these things because they create negative stereotypes or that I have to run them by a sensitivity reader is bullshit. Complete and utter bullshit.
@SKI: I could see where bringing on a consultant could be useful. And major TV shows and movie productions can probably afford it. But I suspect 99%+ of authors could not.
In any case, it would have to be a professional, someone who understands what it takes to get a show made and sees themselves as part of the process. Because if the consultant were like this Debbie character, basically a grievance pump, it would just waste everyone’s time.
Regardless of the merits of the criticism… Gone was published in 2008 and MR continued to publish at least until 2019, so how is this a cancellation?
What if 75% of depictions of Jews in film involved them being bankers, and greedy, and having large noses? You can always fall back on the excuse that “there are really people like that.” That type of explanation could be used to justify any racist depiction–and often has been. It wasn’t that long ago that most black characters in Hollywood movies were pimps or gang-bangers and spoke heavy “jive.” It wasn’t that long ago that gay men in movies almost always acted effeminate, spoke in a lisp, and were into fashion. You can always say “there are real people like that.” So what? Does that mean the issue can be just blithely swept aside? The point isn’t that you should never include a character who might fall into some stereotype; the point is that it is worth being cognizant of how ubiquitous the stereotype is and how you might be contributing to it.
Wow, what a bizarre post and thread. I feel dumber for having read it all.
Let’s review some facts.
“Gone” according to Wikipedia and stuff I googled up, was published in 2008 – that’s 14 years ago for the math challenge. I don’t have sales figures, but it seems it’s sold at least in the “tens of thousands” range. I’m sure Michael has real numbers, but overall the book and series was, by all accounts, very popular and sold well.
14 years later, there are people (mostly white people, BTW) here talking about the supposed “harm” flowing from the depiction of a character that is not central to the story and then pontificating about how Michael, the author, should have written it differently to somehow assuage this harm.
The problem with all this is that the book was published 14 years, ago, has been read, and apparently mostly enjoyed, by tens of thousands. If this book was “harmful” to native Americans because of Michael’s supposed ignorance or malice, I think we would have seen some evidence for it by now. Instead, we have Debbie Reese “debating” Michael eight years after the book was published and eight years after that here at OTB we have some White Knights (some who are actually white) playing the role of woke “allies” and confidently declaring how sure they are this depiction is terrible and pontificating about what might happen when a young NA person reads that passage and how it will affect them. What arrogance to presume that any of us knows fuck-all about what any Native Americans, much less a YA Native American might think on reading this passage. The presumption that Native Americans would be as concerned about this as the white saviors are here really says it all.
14 years later what evidence do we have that any Native American besides Dr. Reese is offended, much less harmed, by the depiction of this character? No evidence is presented, it’s just taken as an article of faith by the White Knights who now advocate for neo-Maoist euphemisms like “sensitivity readers” to root out these fictional perils and supposed harms to fragile Native Americans.
Here’s another idea. We have this thing called a “market” for books where the books that people like and are good get bought and read and the books that people don’t like and aren’t good don’t get bought and read. That seems to be a much better way to weed out bad and offensive fiction. The idea that we need to pre-clear new novels to purge them of microaggressions and unconscious bias while continuing to publish Mein Kampf, Huckleberry Finn, and thousands of other books that would never pass the judgment of overly-sensitive and self-righteous censors is absurd.
Despite the clear and stated desire to censor authors under the guise of “sensitivity” and despite the mountains of evidence that informal censorship actions are working to cancel books and authors for – at best- dubious reasons, there will still be useful idiots who claim that it is all much ado about nothing and the only reason anyone would object to the wisdom of editorial decisions driven by the Twitter mob or “sensitivity” committees is that they must be racist.
First, mea culpa for finding and linking the criticism that MR complained about as ‘canceling’ or attempting to cancel him.
A couple of points though,
The supposed attempted (and astoundingly failed if it was attempted) cancelation happened in 2016, well after publication, but well before now.
The person, Dr. Reese, was (is) Native American and from all appearances, her gig is reading children’s and YA lit looking for positive depictions of Native Americans to recommend for Native Americans and people that want to support Native American culture.
Like many people deeply involved in a cause and surrounded by like-minded activists she can be a bit strident and can be off-putting, rather than productive in her criticisms.
Her basic criticism was that the Grandpa character in MR’s book at first blush appeared to be well researched (it apparently wasn’t) and she was happy to see him in the book and was prepared to be pleased with his inclusion… then he ended up being a throw-away character and she was disappointed. Further, he and his granddaughter showed what appeared to be some lazy NA tropes (alcoholic, communing with animals, supernatural healing, etc).
It also looks like she came it him hard when that wasn’t a necessary or productive way to frame her criticism unless the point was just to rile up people already sympathetic.
He, being the crotchety old fart (I think he’d find that accurate and would self-characterize similarly) that he is, got defensive and initially fought back (prior to the exchange I linked above). The heat was up and neither was in a mood to back down.
In the linked exchange MR, more calmly and reasonably than I expected, explained how he had come to write the characters as he had and why Grandpa Joe disappeared, but kind of missed the point that even when there is no ill intent and in fact even when the intent is positive and inclusive, that stereotypes and what appears at first blush to be lazy tropes, can hurt or offend. He did acknowledge this later, with caveats.
I think their exchange is emblematic of what this thread is about. Had she been less strident and accusatory in her critique MR might have been receptive and had MR’s response been more along the lines of what he said he would have said had she been less strident, it all would have been a non-issue and there would have been no real blow up. It would have ended more like his description of his encounter with kids on the spectrum, coincidently re the same series.
Anyway, too much time has probably already been spent on this.
Pfft. As if that were possible.
(Why do people set themselves up like that? I mean, Jesus f-ing Christ on a pogo stick…I thought you were smarter than that, but obviously not… what? Did you think “reading that made me stupider, let me go read that three more times?”)
Anyway, if you spend any time listening to women or minorities, what you will discover is that representation matters. It might not matter to you, because white dude is the default, but it matters to them. They get emotional about it.
Are you praising Mein Kampf, or dissing Huck Finn?
Also, that reminds me of this:
I’m positive Øygarden was trolling his friend.
Also, I don’t think anyone wants books pre-cleared. But if you want the largest market possible, you need to avoid stepping in a pile of shit on accident. Some form of diversity in the process can help prevent that — choose editors and proofreaders, and early readers* who will notice and feel comfortable saying “dude, maybe don’t use the phrase final solution?”
It’s a product, plain and simple. Maximize potential audience.
*: I briefly worked at a publishing house, in the soft core erotica department, and there were always early copies being sent off to get blurbs for marketing and to get reviews in the can before publishing. And even way back then they were trying to get diverse copyeditors — fix the typos and tell you when you accidentally committed a racism. Most of the authors actually didn’t want to commit a racism.
Also, one of the best selling writers of “Women’s Fiction” at the time was a fat guy with a thick New Joisey accent who farted a lot, who sent his wife to do book tours. He worked in a recliner, while watching sports.
@Assad K: “Gone was published in 2008 and MR continued to publish at least until 2019, so how is this a cancellation?”
I think there are two different issues here — the entire notion of “cancel culture,” and Michael’s experience with a zealot. It’s the conflation of the two that leads to mischief.
@Andy: Thank you, Andy, for completely undercutting the hysterical comments you’ve been making about “cancel culture” over the last few days. For all your speeches about how terrible it is that lefties are censoring books, when we actually see the facts of this case, no such thing happened. As you happily point out, six years after publication this person objected on a blog and Michael responded, and they argued a bit. But no one stopped the book’s publication, and there’s no evidence at all this affected sales in any way.
So now you’re reduced to shouting that anyone daring to criticize a book for reasons you don’t approve of is engaging in censorship.
Meanwhile in Texas, public librarians — not school librarians, but the ones who work at public libraries — are being fired for refusing to pull books from their shelves that conservative politicians object to. And yet from the great free speech warrior, crickets.
Because “cancel culture” hysteria isn’t about censorship. It’s about having to listen to the little people thinking they have the right to criticize their superiors.
I had certainly gotten the impression from MR’s posts that he had gotten hounded by online mobs much like Sacco and been driven out of writing books. But I’m relatively new here…
What special authority do you, white dude, have to speak on behalf of women and minorities? Especially considering women and minorities are very diverse groups. How many Native Americans are you really speaking for when criticizing Michael’s portrayal of a character in a science fiction novel? Who are you to declare that something will be offensive or harmful to them?
“White dude” default is also being a patronizing know-it-all.
I’ve listened to plenty of women and minorities and, in particular, Navajo in S. Utah and N. Arizona. Their views, as relayed to me, do not remotely resemble the views you utter on their behalf. But I would never claim to represent them or their views because it’s not my place, but also because their views are not homogenous. They are not fragile infants who need a “white dude” like you or me to protect them or their interests.
This is like arguing that attempted rape is no big deal because the rapist didn’t succeed. The fact the efforts to cancel people can and do fail doesn’t mean that efforts to cancel people don’t exist. It’s not exactly surprising that attempts to cancel people with money, influence and power usually fail. The people without money, influence and power aren’t so lucky
As far as I’m aware, the issue with librarians that you’re talking about hasn’t been discussed here on OTB (I don’t read every thread, much less every comment on this blog), and I didn’t read about what’s going on with Librarians in Texas until last evening, yet here you are criticizing me for supposedly being silent on it, thereby implying that I somehow approve – because “crickets.” That is a really dumb attempt to accuse me of hypocrisy, even for you.
As I’ve repeatedly said, if you are ever confused about my opinion on an issue, all you have to do is ask. The fact that you never do ask, and instead take the tack in the quoted portion above, suggests your motivations are probably not about learning or even caring about my views on this, or any, topic.
One or two times I messed up my language and got challenged.
It was not meant to be demeaning, but I inadvertently offended someone.
I stopped immediately. I gave a sort of a pro forma apology because I was unaware of what I said was objectionable or else I would never have said it.
After I learned what was objectionable and hurtful I apologized for that specific thing.
Never confuse a blanket apology for a specific one. Apologize for the specific harm, always.
After being called out take it to heart and change your behavior or speech in a positive way.
Not always. One person accused me of being dismissive. I was being dismissive. It was the appropriate response – that person was a blowhard idiot.
Be nice to people you encounter. That’s a good rule.
@Andy: Yup. Criticizing a book on a blog six years after that book’s publication is just like trying to rape someone or something.
So many drama queens who weren’t canceled playing the victim of cancellation.
It wasn’t. It was a drama queen with anger issues and a massive ego not being able to handle critique.
The are, and have always been and will be, rare instances of unfair, hysterical targeting. And then there’s “cAnCeL cULtUrE” aka “some random nobodies criticized me and because I think I’m infallible, I had a meltdown instead of ignoring it.”
I’m shocked, shocked that far from an example of cancellation, it was exaggerated, tempest-in-a-teapot melodrama from an egoist who loves to play victim, can’t handle critique without profane meltdowns, and is incapable of honest self-reflection.
Who could’ve seen that coming, from such a sober, humble individual?