Being seen by others

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  • orfeoorfeo Shipmate
    mousethief wrote: »
    orfeo wrote: »
    All writers have to write about people who are Not Them, unless every single character is identical which would be either boring or weird.

    They observe other people. Good writers are those who are better at observing so that the characters are more convincingly Not Them.

    The end.

    No. Not the end. They not only observe, they talk to people. They ask "did I get this right?"

    I don't know that they do. Especially not when these days, there is inevitably going to be some corner of the internet that will scream at you that no, you got it wrong.

    Outrage always spreads faster.
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    orfeo wrote: »
    All writers have to write about people who are Not Them, unless every single character is identical which would be either boring or weird.

    They observe other people. Good writers are those who are better at observing so that the characters are more convincingly Not Them.

    The end.

    This is true of many kinds of fiction -- writers who are observant, good listeners, pay attention etc can produce plausible fiction. In the same way that writers with a lively imagination can often invent worlds and characters that 'ring true'.

    And, as mousethief points out, asking questions and doing some research never hurts. Most novelists choose their mss readers carefully to give them feedback on whether a scene or character sounds right, to check details about location or historical period.

    Some times though, this may not be enough, and I'm wondering about public perceptions around the 'trauma narratives' driving much autofiction and contemporary fiction. For example, the controversy around Jeanine Cummins' American Dirt, a romance thriller about a mother and son on Mexico's migrant trail to escape a drug cartel.

    Briefly, American Dirt received a hefty advance, initial positive reviews and was chosen for her book club by Oprah Winfrey. Chicana feminist writer Sandra Cisneros and other Latinx writers liked the book. The author identifies as white, American and privileged but with a Puerto Rican grandmother. She herself was not Mexican or a migrant but had done interviews with Mexican border escapees.

    Then writers from Mexican immigrant backgrounds began to criticise the book as inauthentic 'trauma porn'. The publishers backed down, cancelled the author's book tour and accepted that something was wrong. The most interesting critiques argued that the key problem with American Dirt was not cultural appropriation or Cummins' whiteness and privilege as such, but poor writing: one-dimensional characters, unnuanced motivations or context, lack of sophistication.

    Other critiques had to do with genre: a subtle exploration of trauma and the thriller genre don't belong together. 'Trashy' pulp fiction thrillers and low-brow mysteries or romances trading in graphic violence deal in stereotypes. The author chose the wrong genre.

    So when is close observation and imaginative invention not enough?
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    lilbuddha wrote: »
    Not my intention. What I am trying to illustrate is that one's culture is a greater part of one's perceptions and that people do not completely see its effect on who they are. ...
    But that applies just as much of you're a first nation/native American, Nigerian, bi-sexual Guatemalan or from any other group of people whom it might have been claimed is under-represented in the literary portfolio.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host, Epiphanies Host
    lilBuddha

    People can rise above their privileged cultural roots into a place of greater empathy and objectivity. I think you recognise that. If what you are saying is that there is a need to keep a self-critical guard over the impact of cultural roots on our thinking I think that is true whether or not one comes from a privileged background.

    Writing as someone who was brought up in a working class socialist environment, I can well recall interpreting a remark by a middle class student as a put down (and riposting) only to discover after further discussion that my riposte was based on a misunderstanding.

    The argument that "your background may give you an unconscious bias" cuts both ways. Bias is normal. Or more accurately, the risk of bias is normal.

  • To reflect on a lot of this:

    No, I do not consider my audience when writing a novel. I don't even know what my audience will be. I'm sorry if you don't feel considered. But the next time you pick up a book or watch a movie or look at a painting, ask yourself "did the artist consult me before putting this out for public consumption?" If the answer is "no", then you were not considered. Your opinions and sensibilities were not taken into account, and your reaction to the art is independent of the creative process. You might, like the audience to the Rite of Spring, riot, but you have not altered a single note. If you are dissatisfied with the art presented to you, go and make your own. Because that's how I started.

    I have folders of research notes covering literally everything I might need, and so little of it ends up forward-facing in the book. If I'm writing about real-world cultures, places, and practices, that all goes in the research pot. If I'm trying to get a voice, a tone, a character, then there's a lot of reading involved. But no, I don't have a rainbow of ethnicities and genders on speed dial. The people who read my mss before publication are my agent and my editors. I'm often working to a tight deadline, so these days not even my wife gets to read them before I hand them in. I have never had a sensitivity reader, and would resist having one. Checking for factual inaccuracies is one thing - that's what actual editors are for, and if they don't believe they have the expertise, they can refer to someone who does. I'm highly critical of my own adjacent cultures. If I'm critical of yours, then be certain I've done my research and I mean it.

    I do not talk to people, unless it's to ascertain particular, unique, facts that I can't discover through other means. I read, I watch documentaries, I listen to interviews, I listen to what they say and how they say it. If I need artistic advice, I'll talk to my agent, or another writer.

    None of this is immunity from criticism or consequences. People can disagree with art as loudly and vociferously as they want. An artist is not required to accept their criticism as either accurate or valid. I have books that have garnered both positive and negative reviews, often detailing the exact same themes and characters as wonderful or despicable. I have to satisfy myself firstly, and my publishers secondly. That's it, or at least, that should be it. Publishers should have done their due diligence regarding a book, and be prepared to back it if they're going to publish it. The current furore around _American Dirt_ seems to indicate that it's not that well written, which is absolutely a problem, rather than who wrote it or its genre, which ought not be.
  • MaryLouise wrote: »
    Some times though, this may not be enough, and I'm wondering about public perceptions around the 'trauma narratives' driving much autofiction and contemporary fiction. For example, the controversy around Jeanine Cummins' American Dirt, a romance thriller about a mother and son on Mexico's migrant trail to escape a drug cartel.

    That was an interesting story. Not the book - I haven't read it, and it doesn't sound like my sort of thing at all - but the reactions to it. Starting, as you say, with Oprah, Sandra Cisneros and other Latinx writers liking the book, moving on to writers with a more personal connection to the subject matter denouncing it as 'trauma porn', and then a bunch of people saying "and it was bad writing anyway."

    I'm prepared to believe that some people changed their opinion on the subject matter when people closest to the subject matter started saying "actually, we don't think this is OK".
    Changing your mind when someone points out new information is a reasonable and sensible thing to do.

    I'm amused that writing that was being lauded is now dismissed as trash because it has been deemed exploitative. Both these positions cannot be true. Either the writing is bad (and the initial support was by bandwagon-jumping liars) or the writing is good (and the recent denouncements are by bandwagon-jumping liars). I don't actually care which - I'm just amused to see the dishonest marketing machinery take one in the eye.
    Other critiques had to do with genre: a subtle exploration of trauma and the thriller genre don't belong together. 'Trashy' pulp fiction thrillers and low-brow mysteries or romances trading in graphic violence deal in stereotypes. The author chose the wrong genre.

    Is that in itself not a stereotype? Why should low-brow mysteries be condemned to deal in stereotypes?
  • Ruth wrote: »
    lilbuddha wrote: »
    However, if this house is in one's neighbourhood, the Georgians look completely identical.

    This link gives me this error:
    Your client does not have permission to get URL /proxy/vL9Z62in3UKHWPyfEeU_ECrqpGfSb7trRvQeNbPn8gglei5vpYMdZeQvF058yM8zzdeT7Qg0gMRoLaB2vlKt5i7J9fQvTPa_tF_xiO6ooLqT5VMxc8QNf5FSoyxcLn0YurqACNM-WXQVuGMZKFQdW9gdApon80MWlc1k from this server.
    Sorry, should have ran that through tinyurl. This is the house.
  • orfeo wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    orfeo wrote: »
    All writers have to write about people who are Not Them, unless every single character is identical which would be either boring or weird.

    They observe other people. Good writers are those who are better at observing so that the characters are more convincingly Not Them.

    The end.

    No. Not the end. They not only observe, they talk to people. They ask "did I get this right?"

    I don't know that they do. Especially not when these days, there is inevitably going to be some corner of the internet that will scream at you that no, you got it wrong.

    Outrage always spreads faster.
    That is a cop out. Somebody won't like it, so I might as well not try.

  • Enoch wrote: »
    lilbuddha wrote: »
    Not my intention. What I am trying to illustrate is that one's culture is a greater part of one's perceptions and that people do not completely see its effect on who they are. ...
    But that applies just as much of you're a first nation/native American, Nigerian, bi-sexual Guatemalan or from any other group of people whom it might have been claimed is under-represented in the literary portfolio.
    It applies, but not to the same degree. Being in a minority culture raises the likelihood of awareness of one's own cultural mechanisms because one is confronted with the differences/conflicts between that and the default culture.
    Does that mean minorities are culturally perfectly self-aware, not even close. Just that the blindness allowed by being the default culture is greater than the blindness to being in a minority culture. Generally speaking, of course.
  • Barnabas62 wrote: »
    lilBuddha

    People can rise above their privileged cultural roots into a place of greater empathy and objectivity. I think you recognise that.
    Of course, I've said as much.
    Barnabas62 wrote: »
    If what you are saying is that there is a need to keep a self-critical guard over the impact of cultural roots on our thinking I think that is true whether or not one comes from a privileged background.
    A person in a minority culture will be made aware of their cultural roots whether they will it or no. It is much more difficult to ignore when society will not let you. "I am human first, colour/culture/etc. is not how I identify" is really only a privilege allowed to white people in our culture. Does this mean less privileged communities have no blindness? of course not. That is part of what is behind one disadvantaged community attacking another.
    Barnabas62 wrote: »
    Writing as someone who was brought up in a working class socialist environment, I can well recall interpreting a remark by a middle class student as a put down (and riposting) only to discover after further discussion that my riposte was based on a misunderstanding.

    The argument that "your background may give you an unconscious bias" cuts both ways. Bias is normal. Or more accurately, the risk of bias is normal.
    Bias is normal, yes, and everyone has it. But the effects are not perfectly even.
    When a white person writes a minority poorly, it will affect perceptions of minorities, it will affect minorities directly who've read it, etc. When a minority writes a white person poorly it will affect no one because it won't likely get published.
  • lilbuddhalilbuddha Shipmate
    edited February 2020
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    To reflect on a lot of this:

    No, I do not consider my audience when writing a novel. I don't even know what my audience will be. I'm sorry if you don't feel considered. But the next time you pick up a book or watch a movie or look at a painting, ask yourself "did the artist consult me before putting this out for public consumption?" If the answer is "no", then you were not considered. Your opinions and sensibilities were not taken into account, and your reaction to the art is independent of the creative process. You might, like the audience to the Rite of Spring, riot, but you have not altered a single note.
    The artist may or may not consider the audience when they create. That is there prerogative.
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    If you are dissatisfied with the art presented to you, go and make your own. Because that's how I started.
    That isn't how it works, generally speaking. Many people enjoy art with no desire to create their own. As someone who creates art, my creative process and my viewing of the art of others are separate things. (Mostly)
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    I have folders of research notes covering literally everything I might need, and so little of it ends up forward-facing in the book. If I'm writing about real-world cultures, places, and practices, that all goes in the research pot. If I'm trying to get a voice, a tone, a character, then there's a lot of reading involved. But no, I don't have a rainbow of ethnicities and genders on speed dial. The people who read my mss before publication are my agent and my editors. I'm often working to a tight deadline, so these days not even my wife gets to read them before I hand them in. I have never had a sensitivity reader, and would resist having one. Checking for factual inaccuracies is one thing - that's what actual editors are for, and if they don't believe they have the expertise, they can refer to someone who does. I'm highly critical of my own adjacent cultures. If I'm critical of yours, then be certain I've done my research and I mean it.
    Understanding the cultures one includes in a work is research. Understanding them is part of being correct. One could do a story which included a Hopi Wuwuchim and have no incorrect "facts", but still miss accurately representing what that ceremony means to the Hopi.
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    I do not talk to people, unless it's to ascertain particular, unique, facts that I can't discover through other means. I read, I watch documentaries, I listen to interviews, I listen to what they say and how they say it. If I need artistic advice, I'll talk to my agent, or another writer.
    People are more than facts. Cultures are more than facts.
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    None of this is immunity from criticism or consequences. People can disagree with art as loudly and vociferously as they want. An artist is not required to accept their criticism as either accurate or valid. I have books that have garnered both positive and negative reviews, often detailing the exact same themes and characters as wonderful or despicable. I have to satisfy myself firstly, and my publishers secondly. That's it, or at least, that should be it. Publishers should have done their due diligence regarding a book, and be prepared to back it if they're going to publish it.
    The publishers will be likely be as potentially blind to culture as anyone else.
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    The current furore around _American Dirt_ seems to indicate that it's not that well written, which is absolutely a problem, rather than who wrote it or its genre, which ought not be.
    The whole thing is a bit complicated, but there are definitely reviews about who wrote it, and they are justified.
    Here is one snippet from wiki:
    Myriam Gurba was one of the first reviewers to give a negative review. Originally requested by Ms magazine, her review was considered too negative but was ultimately published in Tropics of Meta. She says of the protagonist, "That Lydia is so shocked by her own country’s day-to-day realities [...] gives the impression that Lydia might not be…a credible Mexican. In fact, she perceives her own country through the eyes of a pearl-clutching American tourist."
    A Mexican, from Mexico, would not be as likely have that problem. A non-Mexican author who had done the work to gain proper understanding, would not likely make that mistake. One that had only done fact-checking might well make it.
    This is not to say majority authors cannot write minority characters. Or that every black, brown or gay character has to be distinctively black, brown or gay. But when aspect of being black, brown or gay are part of the character, they should be authentic. And that is not as easy as many authors think it is.

    One of the arts I do is photography. The genre most analogous with what we are talking about is street photography. It is a controversial thing, because one is invading privacy in a way that the subject doesn't typically give permission to do. And when photographing the homeless, it becomes even more problematic.
    Is street photography wrong? No, not in itself. It is in how it is approached. In the respect and intent in which it is done. Same with writing. Understanding one's relation to the subject is part of that respect.
  • Can we please talk about actual depictions in actual books, per the OP ?
  • lilbuddha wrote: »
    And that is not as easy as many authors think it is.

    You keep going back to this, but no author has said it's easy, only that you think authors think it is. It's not easy. It's difficult. It takes time and effort and practice and it puts the author in a vulnerable position if they fuck it up.

    So please stop saying authors think it's easy. Start saying "I think authors think it's easy, even when authors tell me otherwise."
  • Doc Tor wrote: »
    lilbuddha wrote: »
    And that is not as easy as many authors think it is.

    You keep going back to this, but no author has said it's easy, only that you think authors think it is. It's not easy. It's difficult. It takes time and effort and practice and it puts the author in a vulnerable position if they fuck it up.

    So please stop saying authors think it's easy. Start saying "I think authors think it's easy, even when authors tell me otherwise."
    No one needs to say it is easy when enough get it wrong for it to be obvious that they don’t understand the problems.
    I suppose some just don’t care, not sure that is any better, though.
  • Can we please talk about actual depictions in actual books, per the OP ?

  • RooKRooK Admin Emeritus
    lilbuddha wrote: »
    No one needs to say it is easy when enough get it wrong for it to be obvious that they don’t understand the problems.

    This continues to be wearyingly-vague assertion-based discussion. Perhaps you can give us a specific example of what you mean? Before @Doublethink writes terrifyingly-convincing murder-porn focusing on members of a discussion board.

    Meanwhile, as tedious as it might be to point it out, if you mean to present your assertions as a hypothesis, all we need to do is find one counter-example to make your assertions very hard to take seriously. Maybe you would like to add some qualifiers?
  • lilbuddha wrote: »
    No one needs to say it is easy when enough get it wrong for it to be obvious that they don’t understand the problems.

    It's not a question of authors thinking it easy. It's a question of authors failing to reach the high mark required. That they are attempting it at all is laudable, even if you find it laughable.

    I'm trying to think of characters in well-enough known literary works where such failings are obvious, but for everyone who hates X, there will be someone who loves X. I can just say what works (and doesn't) for me.

  • orfeo wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    orfeo wrote: »
    All writers have to write about people who are Not Them, unless every single character is identical which would be either boring or weird.

    They observe other people. Good writers are those who are better at observing so that the characters are more convincingly Not Them.

    The end.

    No. Not the end. They not only observe, they talk to people. They ask "did I get this right?"

    I don't know that they do.

    I do.
  • Doc Tor wrote: »
    To reflect on a lot of this:

    No, I do not consider my audience when writing a novel. I don't even know what my audience will be. I'm sorry if you don't feel considered. But the next time you pick up a book or watch a movie or look at a painting, ask yourself "did the artist consult me before putting this out for public consumption?" If the answer is "no", then you were not considered. Your opinions and sensibilities were not taken into account, and your reaction to the art is independent of the creative process.

    Total bullshit. Just because I wasn't in a focus group doesn't mean there are no focus groups, or that they are not representative of people like me.
  • RooK wrote: »
    lilbuddha wrote: »
    No one needs to say it is easy when enough get it wrong for it to be obvious that they don’t understand the problems.

    This continues to be wearyingly-vague assertion-based discussion. Perhaps you can give us a specific example of what you mean? Before @Doublethink writes terrifyingly-convincing murder-porn focusing on members of a discussion board.

    Meanwhile, as tedious as it might be to point it out, if you mean to present your assertions as a hypothesis, all we need to do is find one counter-example to make your assertions very hard to take seriously. Maybe you would like to add some qualifiers?
    One counter example would not disprove anything, especially as I have stated that writers of the default culture can write minority cultures convincingly. I've added that qualifier several times.

    If one counter example is all it takes, then racism doesn't exist and the Nazis were good people. It is a ridiculous standard. Seatbelts save lives. But, it is likely possible to have a situation where not wearing one saved a life. Would you then propose that this invalidates wearing safetybelts?

    Uncle Tom's Cabin is an example of the author having the best intentions, actual ex-slaves to confer with and still getting the depictions of black people a bit off.
    A more modern example would be The Help.
    Ida E. Jones, the national director of the Association of Black Women Historians, released an open statement criticizing the film, stating "[d]espite efforts to market the book and the film as a progressive story of triumph over racial injustice, The Help distorts, ignores, and trivializes the experiences of black domestic workers." The ABWH accused both the book and the film of insensitive portrayals of African-American vernacular, a nearly uniform depiction of black men as cruel or absent, and a failure to acknowledge the sexual harassment that many black women endured in their white employers' homes. Jones concluded by saying that "The Association of Black Women Historians finds it unacceptable for either this book or this film to strip black women's lives of historical accuracy for the sake of entertainment."
    Mike Resnick’s book A Miracle of RareDesign is about the cultural intersection of Western and African cultures, but misses how the dominant culture is also shaped by the minority culture.
    Ray Bradbury's Way In the Middle of the Air Explores racism and how white people defined themselves though their interactions with black people. But does so using stereotypes.
    I am not lambasting their misses. Indeed I laud and applaud their intent and effort. But their being part of the default culture explains where they where just off the mark.

    I can give a wonderful counter example in a white person who got it right. In 1940 no less.
    Carson McCullers and her book The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
    Richard Wright, of The New Republic wrote:
    To me the most impressive aspect of “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” is the astonishing humanity that enables a white writer, for the first time in Southern fiction, to handle Negro characters with as much ease and justice as those of her own race. This cannot be accounted for stylistically or politically; it seems to stem from an attitude toward life which enables Miss McCullers to rise above the pressures of her environment and embrace white and black humanity in one sweep of apprehension and tenderness.
    Richard Wright was a contemporaneous back author.

    Again, I am not saying that people from the default culture cannot write characters in minority characters well.
  • Doc Tor wrote: »
    lilbuddha wrote: »
    No one needs to say it is easy when enough get it wrong for it to be obvious that they don’t understand the problems.

    It's not a question of authors thinking it easy.
    Of course some authors think it easy. Authors after all, are people. There will be varying levels of awareness and concern.
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    It's a question of authors failing to reach the high mark required. That they are attempting it at all is laudable, even if you find it laughable.
    If you read my reply to Rook, you will note that I do think the attempt can be laudable, even when it fails to reach the mark.
    Even great authors with good intentions can fail to hit the bull, dead in the centre. Because who one is obscures who others are. And the less one has to confront that, the harder it is to see.

  • RooKRooK Admin Emeritus
    @lilbuddha , Thank you for elaborating with specific examples to describe what you meant. I found it very helpful.

    It seems to me that you are not actually arguing against the ideas people are discussing (despite previous appearances) so much as you are trying to reign them in to what you believe is a more realistic level.

    Which means that, unless I'm mistaken, your actual point is that "people aren't perfect".
  • MaryLouiseMaryLouise Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host
    edited February 2020
    lilbuddha wrote: »


    One of the arts I do is photography. The genre most analogous with what we are talking about is street photography. It is a controversial thing, because one is invading privacy in a way that the subject doesn't typically give permission to do. And when photographing the homeless, it becomes even more problematic.
    Is street photography wrong? No, not in itself. It is in how it is approached. In the respect and intent in which it is done. Same with writing. Understanding one's relation to the subject is part of that respect.

    This is so pertinent to the question of 'being seen by others' and representation or 'bearing witness' to micro-history. The first images showing black people from colonial Africa are now defined as 19th-century ethnophotography and a form of 'Othering' because of the exoticising and intrusive way it was a) carried out without the informed permission of the subjects, and b) because the composition of such images was contrived to appeal to Western voyeurism (naked women) and notions about primitivism then prevalent.

    Many of the most iconic images of South Africa under apartheid were taken by black photographers working in dangerous underpaid conditions: Santu Mofokeng's shots of ordinary people travelling on overcrowded trains, or Peter Magubane's images of Soweto in 1976. The work of David Goldblatt, in contrast, focused mostly on whiteness, the contradictions and unvarnished realities of whites living in bizarre settler privilege.

    Portraiture photography has been transformed by the startling queer images of Zaneli Muholi and there are numerous street photography exhibitions here showing urban decay or gentrification in a rapidly changing society. One of the white South African photographers whom I believe really gets street photography right is Guy Tillim, who has created a series of cityscapes from Luanda in Angola to Libreville in the Congo and Hillbrow in downtown Johannesburg. His work is unobtrusive and ethical but he doesn't shy away from what comes across as surreal or terrifying in war-torn suburbs or monumental hubris in toppled statues and ruined palaces. His accountability is always to what is there, the integrity of what he sees in the moment.
  • orfeoorfeo Shipmate
    lilbuddha wrote: »
    orfeo wrote: »
    mousethief wrote: »
    orfeo wrote: »
    All writers have to write about people who are Not Them, unless every single character is identical which would be either boring or weird.

    They observe other people. Good writers are those who are better at observing so that the characters are more convincingly Not Them.

    The end.

    No. Not the end. They not only observe, they talk to people. They ask "did I get this right?"

    I don't know that they do. Especially not when these days, there is inevitably going to be some corner of the internet that will scream at you that no, you got it wrong.

    Outrage always spreads faster.
    That is a cop out. Somebody won't like it, so I might as well not try.

    Doc Tor has responded to this better than I possibly can but here goes anyway. It's not a cop out, it's a serious reaction to the futility (if not stupidity) of going on a constant box-ticking exercise in order that everyone can give their tick of approval in "their" box.

    I have actually heard of people doing writing courses basically being told that their story was great except that it lacked a character of some group or other. Which is just a complete misconception of the difference between systemic issues and individual cases. The fact that certain groups are underrepresented or poorly represented in stories does not mean, and cannot mean to anyone who is remotely rational about this stuff, that each individual story is required to represent those groups in an approved manner.

    It's not the job of any one author to fix these things. If anyone it's the job of publishing houses and other gatekeepers. THAT is who should be asking questions as to whether different kind of voices are getting represented. Asking individual writers to do the job is just completely misconceived.
  • mousethief wrote: »
    Total bullshit. Just because I wasn't in a focus group doesn't mean there are no focus groups, or that they are not representative of people like me.

    You think I have a focus group? You think authors in general have focus groups? You think painters or sculptors or embroiderers have focus groups? Indie film makers have focus groups?

    (Narrator: they do not have focus groups.)
  • orfeoorfeo Shipmate
    edited February 2020
    It's like the Bechdel test, which was only ever intended to be a commentary on the lack of films with meaningfully independent female characters. A systemic issue.

    What it became was a box to tick. Do we pass the Bechdel test? Hooray, our film is okay! Doesn't matter if it's still essentially a male-driven story like all the other essentially male-driven stories that are still tending to dominate the industry, we've passed the minimum standards! Tick!

    These issues aren't solved by getting individual creators to shoehorn what they're doing so that each class of person can be satisfied with it (a question about which members of that class are almost inevitably going to disagree, and no-one's ever quite figured out who gets to speak for the class, so it's most likely whoever makes the most dramatic noise of dissatisfaction).

    The issues are solved by those who act as gatekeepers to the relevant industry ensuring that the range of creators invited to create is sufficiently diverse such that, when each individual creator gets to tell the stories they want to tell, the overall systemic effect is a range of representation.
  • I'm currently being pelted by online commercials for a new film version of "Call of the Wild". I read it when I was young, and I like Harrison Ford, but really? There's hardly a shortage of "boy and his dog" stories out there. No shortage of colonization-as-self-discovery (Genocide? What genocide?) stories either. I'm not going to waste my money on that tired old shit; I'm going to see Harley Quinn instead.

  • RooKRooK Admin Emeritus
    I'm currently being pelted by online commercials for a new film version of "Call of the Wild". I read it when I was young, and I like Harrison Ford, but really?

    I do admit to a very-doubtful curiosity about the film:
    Are they really going to kill off Harrison Ford in the penultimate act?
    Are they really going to show Buck (the canine protagonist) tearing the throats out of people before disappearing into the woods?
    Or are they going to invent a "Hollywood Ending" more suitable to the projected desired "values" asserted for hoi polloi?
  • RooK wrote: »
    @lilbuddha , Thank you for elaborating with specific examples to describe what you meant. I found it very helpful.

    It seems to me that you are not actually arguing against the ideas people are discussing (despite previous appearances) so much as you are trying to reign them in to what you believe is a more realistic level.

    Which means that, unless I'm mistaken, your actual point is that "people aren't perfect".
    We, no. Because that phrase spreads the problem equally and pulls the teeth from the efforts to improve things.
    My actual point, one that I've actually stated more than once is:
    Privilege created a blindness to itself. And that has ramifications for those who do not share that privilege.
    Everything else in the discussion flows from this.
  • orfeo wrote: »
    Doc Tor has responded to this better than I possibly can but here goes anyway. It's not a cop out, it's a serious reaction to the futility (if not stupidity) of going on a constant box-ticking exercise in order that everyone can give their tick of approval in "their" box.

    I have actually heard of people doing writing courses basically being told that their story was great except that it lacked a character of some group or other.
    It is situation dependant. Lisa Dunham's Girls television show is set in Brooklyn, which is 50% not-white. And yet the cast is significantly more white than that. Not just the main cast, but those they interact with as well. If it were set in Coaster's Retreat,* then fair enough. But it is set in Brooklyn.

    *Very white Sydney neighbourhood.
    orfeo wrote: »
    Which is just a complete misconception of the difference between systemic issues and individual cases.
    Individual and systemic are not so separable. It is very difficult to track the path of an individual with complete accuracy but very easy to track the path of a crowd. Crowds are made of individuals. Individuals are part of the force that move the whole. In other words, individual cases contribute to systemic problems.

    orfeo wrote: »
    It's like the Bechdel test, which was only ever intended to be a commentary on the lack of films with meaningfully independent female characters. A systemic issue.

    What it became was a box to tick. Do we pass the Bechdel test? Hooray, our film is okay! Doesn't matter if it's still essentially a male-driven story like all the other essentially male-driven stories that are still tending to dominate the industry, we've passed the minimum standards! Tick!
    The Bechdel test is one indicator of a problem, A first step, not a complete solution.
    Passing or failing the test is not necessarily indicative of how well women are represented in any specific work. Rather, the test is used as an indicator for the active presence of women in the entire field of film and other fiction, and to call attention to gender inequality in fiction. Media industry studies indicate that films that pass the test perform better financially than those that do not.
    Bold mine.
    orfeo wrote: »
    The issues are solved by those who act as gatekeepers to the relevant industry ensuring that the range of creators invited to create is sufficiently diverse such that, when each individual creator gets to tell the stories they want to tell, the overall systemic effect is a range of representation.
    Individual creators have always been telling the stories they want and yet the problem with representation persists. Most of those individual creators are white men and because of the way the system works, that means they remain mostly white men. By calling out individuals who fail, it calls out the system and has resulted in progress.
    The gatekeepers are overwhelmingly white. And so are less likely to notice problems. And they have been historically reluctant to change from the formulas that perceive to have made them money in the past. Often they ignore things that have made them money if they do not fit their preconceptions of what will make money. In other words, films with strong female and/or minority representation often do very well at the box office, but what is greenlit after is predominately white and male.

    Is every creator called to fix the problem? No. They are asked to not be part of it.
  • Barnabas62Barnabas62 Purgatory Host, 8th Day Host, Epiphanies Host
    When your upbringing is both privileged (compared with much of the rest of the world) and underprivileged (working class poor in a deprived part of the UK) privilege can seem rather a binary term.
  • Some actual data.

    Two observations:

    An author is a sole trader. They cannot be anyone else.

    The overwhelmingly female editorial teams across publishing is problematic to the (supposed) lack of female authors.
  • RooKRooK Admin Emeritus
    lilbuddha wrote: »
    RooK wrote: »
    @lilbuddha , Thank you for elaborating with specific examples to describe what you meant. I found it very helpful.

    It seems to me that you are not actually arguing against the ideas people are discussing (despite previous appearances) so much as you are trying to reign them in to what you believe is a more realistic level.

    Which means that, unless I'm mistaken, your actual point is that "people aren't perfect".
    We, no. Because that phrase spreads the problem equally and pulls the teeth from the efforts to improve things.
    My actual point, one that I've actually stated more than once is:
    Privilege created a blindness to itself. And that has ramifications for those who do not share that privilege.
    Everything else in the discussion flows from this.

    As usual, I perceive (dimly) that we are well-aligned in terms of perceived reality, but struggling with semantic edges.

    While I tend to see you as try to "improve things", it should be reflected that much of your contribution feels more like "situation impossible; you (collectively) can't possibly help". The reactions provoked from no-brainer concepts such as "we are all limited by our circumstantial perceptions" are probably more spawned from defensiveness than philosophical disagreement.
  • Barnabas62 wrote: »
    When your upbringing is both privileged (compared with much of the rest of the world) and underprivileged (working class poor in a deprived part of the UK) privilege can seem rather a binary term.
    That is part of the perception issue. A poor white man will find it more difficult to see what he shares with the rich white man that a black or brown person does not share.
    It is a variable thing but not an even one.
  • Doc Tor wrote: »
    Some actual data.

    Two observations:

    An author is a sole trader. They cannot be anyone else.

    The overwhelmingly female editorial teams across publishing is problematic to the (supposed) lack of female authors.
    It is not a "supposed" lack and gender is only part of what I am talking about.
    Despite the presence of female editorial teams, such as yours, SF still is predominately male as far as authors. The numbers in your link don't paint a picture of pure equality. One, the genre affects the percentages and the best seller list reflects both genre bias and gender bias. But it is good to see women doing progressively better over the years.
    But again the male/female ratio is only one factor in this discussion.
  • mousethief wrote: »
    lilbuddha wrote: »
    Cameron wrote: »
    I find the idea that “being a white british male comes with the bulk of the culture” is open to some critique. My reasons are fourfold:

    1. A lack of homogenous culture. Can we consider, for example, Jacob Rees Mogg and Johnny Vegas as having the same cultural formation?
    Of course they do. Posh and working class are variations on one culture, not different cultures. Walk into a pub and you might have a number of choices, but they are all British beer. Quite different from Bolivian Pisco sour
    You might taste a bitter and say that it is a different thing to a stout. But a person who doesn't drink beer will see the similarities and call them the same.
    Cameron wrote: »
    2. Language. There are three possible native languages that white british people may speak, in addition to numerous dialects. Following the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and the work of Gadamer, this will be an important influence on formation.
    I think SW is incorrect. Culture shapes language. If I learn Mexican Spanish, it doesn't confer Mexican culture onto me.
    Yes, there are variations in culture between Scotland, Wales and England. But they share a great deal as well. A Scot and Welshman and an Englishman are sitting in a pub and in walks an American. The barman tells a joke and all three Brits laugh whilst the American stares blankly.
    Cameron wrote: »
    3. Family and relationships. Many of us could point to a sister(s) that we have been close to our whole life, and the majority of us had a mother during our formative years. Added to which, for the majority of men their most intimate relationships are with women and have day-to-day lives (e.g. work) that are populated with both women and men. Whether men reflect on this or not, the idea that we are not in relationships of mutual influence and completely lack understanding of other gender positions would make it impossible for most of these relationships to ‘go on’ successfully. As a result, I speculate that a male person might find it easier to write from the perspective of (someone like) his sister than from the perspective of (someone like) Jacob Rees Mogg, despite sharing a gender.
    Loads of assumption here. Every single man who doesn't understand women has a mother. Many of them have sisters as well.
    Yes, it is possible for a person to write from another perspective and do it well. I am not disputing this, I am saying it is not as easy as many authors think.
    Cameron wrote: »
    4. Outsider positions. Differences in income, class, sexuality or disabilities can give an individual an outsider perspective on (at least significant aspects of) their own cultural context, which opens it up to critique.
    A gay male Briton is still British. They are outside the default straight part, yes, but they get the rest of the culture. Being an outsider does give one insights into how their outsiderness works against the default. But that doesn't pull them from the base culture completely. There are still many things that provide commonality.
    A goth teen slouching on the pavement in London watching the norms go by might feel disconnected from the culture, but still shares more culture with them than s/he does a goth teen slouching on the pavement watching the norms go by in Gaborone.

    Outsider is a relative term.

    I think what you're describing is intersectionality.

    Or the fractal nature of culture.
  • For a variety of reasons, I have been spending time recently with Polish people living in Norwich.

    Some of you may be aware that on Brexit Day, racist notes appeared in a local tower block. Link to Independent Newspaper

    In Norwich, the notes have been widely understood as directed at the East European population in the tower block.

    The response in Norwich (a historic city of welcome) has been overwhelming.

    The Polish people I speak with feel that their stories are not seen and heard by others. From Generalplan Ost through to present day experiences - I have been told that their stories are not being told or being heard.

    But I can't think of any recent positive English language stories that encompass Polish identity .Stories of modern slavery and gang stories, sure.

    Thing is though, these people are white, so they must be privileged. The majority of them are men - they must be part of the problem. They must be part of the same culture as the white people who leave racist notes.

  • Gee DGee D Shipmate
    As Coaster's Retreat has a population of well under 50, it's not really much of an example.
  • Gwai wrote: »
    We have been having a long discussion about whether sci-fi and fantasy portray women well or not. I think that can be applied to other traits too. How is the portrayal of race, disability, or queerness done when written by others. Does anyone who is not a straight white able male see themselves portrayed well in most fiction?

    @asher have you read any books, or been told about any books, with depictions were felt to be good ?
  • asher wrote: »
    The Polish people I speak with feel that their stories are not seen and heard by others. From Generalplan Ost through to present day experiences - I have been told that their stories are not being told or being heard.

    But I can't think of any recent positive English language stories that encompass Polish identity. Stories of modern slavery and gang stories, sure.

    Thing is though, these people are white, so they must be privileged. The majority of them are men - they must be part of the problem. They must be part of the same culture as the white people who leave racist notes.

    I don't think that people also appreciate that the Polish community in some parts of the UK has been here since the 40s, having come over to fight the Nazis and stayed to avoid the Communists.

    I work in NHS screening. There is a big drive in screening programmes about reducing inequalities and ensuring everyone can access screening. As part of that we've been looking at the ethnic makeup of our area to see if there are ways we can spread the message to people whose first language is not English. It's slightly frustrating though that in order to anonymise the data for publication, GP practice ethnicity percentages generally just have 'White' and not a split of White British and White but not British. That does rather mask the population sizes for different groups.
  • asher wrote: »
    But I can't think of any recent positive English language stories that encompass Polish identity .Stories of modern slavery and gang stories, sure.

    _Enigma_ by Robert Harris has the
    Katyn massacre
    as a central plot.
  • Gee D wrote: »
    As Coaster's Retreat has a population of well under 50, it's not really much of an example.
    Sorry, Australia is massively white, so any random neighborhood would likely have worked. Doesn’t affect my point.
  • lilbuddha wrote: »
    Doc Tor wrote: »
    Some actual data.

    Two observations:

    An author is a sole trader. They cannot be anyone else.

    The overwhelmingly female editorial teams across publishing is problematic to the (supposed) lack of female authors.
    It is not a "supposed" lack and gender is only part of what I am talking about.
    Despite the presence of female editorial teams, such as yours, SF still is predominately male as far as authors. The numbers in your link don't paint a picture of pure equality. One, the genre affects the percentages and the best seller list reflects both genre bias and gender bias. But it is good to see women doing progressively better over the years.
    But again the male/female ratio is only one factor in this discussion.

    No. Women represent 78% of publishing (in the US - it seems no one has collated figures for the UK). This is not just SFF, this is children's books, romance, non-fiction, mainstream fiction, every genre. If anything publishing has a massive gender imbalance against men. Likewise, romance and historical fiction, YA fiction, are largely, or overwhelmingly, written by women. Are you going to start agitating for better representation of men in these categories? Asking questions as to where all the men are in publishing? That a small corner - science fiction (and by sales, it is a small corner, even if its cultural impact is larger, due to adaptations) - is slightly more male than female is not explicitly a cause for concern, unless you think that every genre/sub-genre should have equal representation. (For the record, I don't.)

    Publishing is also overwhelmingly middle and upper class. This goes for those who work in publishing, and for the authors. It also (anecdotally) goes for broadcasting, acting, producing and directing, for the good reason that poor people struggle to find the time to create art, and do not consider careers in the arts. That's largely hidden.

    I'm not going to argue that BAME authors have, and do, face extra difficulties getting their stories to publication. I've never argued otherwise.

    But please, accept the actual data. Women dominate every layer of the publishing industry, and in several of the most lucrative genres, author most of the books.
  • GwaiGwai Epiphanies Host
    I don't see how female textbook writers--cough cough this is what I do for a living--do anything to help representation in say fantasy writing and so forth. So I am not sure that collecting all of publishing is very meaningful. If women are underrepresented in STEM writing (fiction and/or nonfiction) then their over representation in romance does not affect that. The fact is that women are generally overly represented in less-respected fields, which probably includes romance writing and less represented in fields that pay more or are considered more 'serious.' I imagine this goes double for PoC though I do not have the numbers on that.
  • EnochEnoch Shipmate
    @asher I'm not the only person who found that story deeply horrifying, and ashamed that somebody should behave in such a way. I'd also instinctively assumed that dreadful notice was aimed at Poles or Eastern Europeans generally. When you say
    "The response in Norwich (a historic city of welcome) has been overwhelming."
    do you mean that the average Norwich citizen is disgusted by the behaviour of one of their fellow citizens, or that whatever the official view, the average Norwich citizen, for all its being a city of welcome, overtly or secretly identifies with him or her?

    Has anyone managed to find out who the perpetrator is?

  • Gwai wrote: »
    We have been having a long discussion about whether sci-fi and fantasy portray women well or not. I think that can be applied to other traits too. How is the portrayal of race, disability, or queerness done when written by others. Does anyone who is not a straight white able male see themselves portrayed well in most fiction?

    @asher have you read any books, or been told about any books, with depictions were felt to be good ?

    I'm blushing to admit I'm on a grimdark bender....so no one is represented well.
    .
  • Enoch wrote: »
    @asher I'm not the only person who found that story deeply horrifying, and ashamed that somebody should behave in such a way. I'd also instinctively assumed that dreadful notice was aimed at Poles or Eastern Europeans generally. When you say
    "The response in Norwich (a historic city of welcome) has been overwhelming."
    do you mean that the average Norwich citizen is disgusted by the behaviour of one of their fellow citizens, or that whatever the official view, the average Norwich citizen, for all its being a city of welcome, overtly or secretly identifies with him or her?

    Has anyone managed to find out who the perpetrator is?

    Immediate vigils, artwork from schools next day, all shops carrying signs for welcome, multifaith response.
  • Gwai wrote: »
    I don't see how female textbook writers--cough cough this is what I do for a living--do anything to help representation in say fantasy writing and so forth. So I am not sure that collecting all of publishing is very meaningful. If women are underrepresented in STEM writing (fiction and/or nonfiction) then their over representation in romance does not affect that. The fact is that women are generally overly represented in less-respected fields, which probably includes romance writing and less represented in fields that pay more or are considered more 'serious.' I imagine this goes double for PoC though I do not have the numbers on that.

    I don't have any data to prove it, but I suspect publishing has a similar gender bias to librarianship. Something like 75-80% of entry-level librarians and staff who work directly with the public are female, but library boards and administrators tend male. The higher up the pay scale you go, the proportion of men gets higher and higher. So the profession appears heavily female from the outside, but a lot of the decision makers are men.

    Here's a Twitter thread from an African-American journalist: Things that white screenwriters often get wrong in movies about black people. They're details that you probably wouldn't notice unless you have close relationships with black families and neighborhoods - which most white Americans don't.
  • Gwai wrote: »
    I don't see how female textbook writers--cough cough this is what I do for a living--do anything to help representation in say fantasy writing and so forth. So I am not sure that collecting all of publishing is very meaningful. If women are underrepresented in STEM writing (fiction and/or nonfiction) then their over representation in romance does not affect that. The fact is that women are generally overly represented in less-respected fields, which probably includes romance writing and less represented in fields that pay more or are considered more 'serious.' I imagine this goes double for PoC though I do not have the numbers on that.

    Women are under-represented in STEM subjects as a whole. This is true. Men are under-represented in YA and children's publishing (extraordinarily lucrative), romance (ditto), and historical fiction (ditto). This is also true. And women, I believe, buy two-thirds of all books.

    Women should absolutely be encouraged to take up STEM careers and write STEM books and write SFF. And if you include YA SFF, they are already in the majority.

    I can't do anything about the 'seriousness' with which genres are taken. But if you go by raw cash (and you know as well as I do, what publishers care about more than anything is their bottom line), children's, YA, historical and romance are killing it.

    The problem is, what concerns me most is me getting another book published. That goes for every single author. All working away, on their own, their little one-person business, trying to sell the art they're making. I'm trying to make my novel the best it can be, and hand it in on time, while juggling the rest of my life. I'm sorted until early 2021 contractually, but I'm always having to plan ahead, or my income drops off a cliff.

    The systemic, critical problems that face publishing are ones we haven't even discussed yet - that of pay. Poor author pay excludes a great many people of any and every gender and colour. It excludes poor people.
  • DoublethinkDoublethink Shipmate
    edited February 2020
    That thread reminds me of a review of a novel by Anne Widdicombe where the critic pointed out you could tell she’d never married, because she had the man of the house sitting down to eat in the evening whilst still wearing a tie.

    Those domestic details are exactly the things you don’t know about lives different from your own.

    I wonder how many male writers, writing women, know to have the woman take her bra off at the earliest opportunity when she gets home. On which theme I strongly recommend the twitter account @men_write_women if you want to know how not to do it - they cite real poor examples (mainly of over sexualisation) but it also sparked a series of spoofs.

    The archetypal parody being:

    Cassandra woke up to the rays of the sun streaming through the slats on her blinds, cascading over her naked chest. She stretched, her breasts lifting with her arms as she greeted the sun. She rolled out of bed and put on a shirt, her nipples prominently showing through the thin fabric. She breasted boobily to the stairs, and titted downwards.
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