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Oh, Really?

First, my report on Wizard World comic con is up. The tl;dr version: I went to a wine convention, where all they talked about and consumed was wine. I was shocked to find they did not offer a reward for Beer of the Year.

Second, over at another site, I got in an argument about whether the new novel Karen Memory was "social justice warrior shit." At the time, I hadn't read it. I have, it's good, and a review will be forthcoming. In any event, the novel is set in a alternate-history / steampunk 1880s in a city that's a mashup of Seattle and Portland. The narrator is a prostitute, who works in a high-end bordello, there's a (real) black US Marshal, and some of the characters have alternative sexual preferences.

Now, at first glance, none of this screams social justice. Bordellos in the 19th century were like gas stations in the 21st - ubiquitous, and catering to every social and economic stratum. The inhabitants of said bordellos perforce had to fend for themselves, largely because society as a whole wasn't of a mind to help. Moreover, homosexuality was not invented in the 1950s. In short, no problem and (socially, at least) historically accurate.

But, by the standards of those I was arguing with, this was full of "social justice." Any story in which non-straight characters, or characters with unconventional moralities (aka "soiled doves" in the story's vernacular) was unacceptable. In the comment section to the post, people were complaining that gay characters were "thrust" upon them in other media merely by the character's gayness being identified. On this blog, I was told that because the author had picked a black US Marshal as a character she was somehow in the wrong.

In short, what the various critics were seeking was not historical accuracy, but rather historical inaccuracy. They wanted history "cleaned up" to support their preconceived ideas. Sometimes we don't get what we want.


( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 9th, 2015 04:49 pm (UTC)

You've missed the point:  WHY were these particular aspects chosen?  Were they truly necessary to the story, or were they - as it sounds - pasted onto it to make it Correct and approved reading?

In Gene Wolfe's brilliant novella “The Eyeflash Miracles,” the main character is blind because it's essential to the story.  If the story were artificially rigged to make him (or more Correctly, her) blind merely to avoid charges of “ableism,” or to correct a perceived overbalance that “marginalizes” blind folk, that would be an entirely different thing, wouldn't it?

Yes, there were homosexuals in the 19th century.  There were blacks out west, too.  …  So what?

Update:  R Lupoff's 1973 short stories “After the Dreamtime” and “Sail the Tide of Mourning” are another good case in point:  It just so happens that the only humans who can, because of their genetic background, survive cosmic radiation for any length of time are Australian aborigines.  Like the native Americans - who are they, Mohicans? - who just so happen to have no ingrained fear of heights and who thus dominated high-rise construction crews for a time, this meant that “space sailors” were all Australoid blacks.  Yes, this cause did have effect; there were societal results to this - but they not being White Anglo Saxons™ was not the point.

Conversely, there was a justly-forgotten novella I tried gamely to read in the early 1990s where the main character of the story was a non-white (of course) non-male (of course) whose dysfunctional daughter (of course) was fathered quite literally by a passing stranger (fathers being dangerous and unnecessary, of course) and there was absolutely no reason for any of this in the narrative.  It was, again, simply pasted in to make it approved and Politically Correct reading.

If your characters are something specific, it needs to have a bearing on the story - like A Norton's The Sioux Spaceman, where being a Lakota Sioux had a direct bearing on the plot.  If it's done merely to be fashionable, that's what your correspondents were talking about.

Edited at 2015-03-09 05:17 pm (UTC)
Mar. 9th, 2015 05:53 pm (UTC)
If it's done merely to be fashionable no, actually you're missing the point. The point is there are other than straight white Anglo-Saxon Protestant men in the world. Those other people contributed to society, and here in the 21st century, those other people would like recognition of that fact.

From a business point of view, those other people would like to see characters like themselves in fiction, much like you. Also from a business point of view, those other people's money is every bit as green as yours or mine. Rule #1 in business is to appeal to the largest possible market.
Mar. 9th, 2015 06:10 pm (UTC)

I can't quite see how alienating your core market to court a fringe demographic is a good business decision.  Of course, “business” = capitalism and that's very much NOT what Political Correctness is about, is it.  If PC sold, court-ordered coercion would not be necessary!

Anyway, you say you read it, so tell me: Why was the US Marshal black?  What did that accomplish that being white would not?  Why were the “alternative sexual preferences” even mentioned?  What, within the story, was the point?

Mar. 9th, 2015 06:17 pm (UTC)
First, an addendum to my previous response - having straight white males as characters is every bit as much a political decision as having "others."

alienating your core market - speak for yourself, Kemosabe. I'm a straight white guy and was not alienated. Nor, frankly, do I know many SWMs who were alienated.

Why was the US Marshal black? well, so he could credibly be threatened with lynching and so have to hide for part of the story. Why were the “alternative sexual preferences The bordello bouncer was a gay man specifically so he wouldn't hit on the girls. They had a male transvestite who switched back to being male so as to rescue a prostitute. Also, having male strength helped. The narrator was a lesbian, which was needed for her to care enough for another girl to help said girl rescue her sister. (Rescuing girls from "crib" prostitution was a key plot point.)
Mar. 10th, 2015 01:36 am (UTC)
Given your comment above, I am idly curious:  Inasmuch as you've just admitted that the nonstandard characters depicted in the story are there not because the story requires them, but are included merely to redress a perceived “imbalance,” that is, for the sake of justice, and as such are simply socialist propaganda - in short, that they are indeed “social justice warrior shit” - what were you disagreeing about?
Mar. 10th, 2015 01:48 am (UTC)
Bullshit! I explained why the nonstandard characters were there. Not only did I explain them, I pointed out that they were historically accurate. Your 1950s TV westerns weren't accurate and painted an incomplete history of the era. It is not "social justice" to be accurate, merely truth.
Mar. 21st, 2015 02:22 pm (UTC)
Or "social justice" *is* merely truth.
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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This is the personal blog of Chris Gerrib, and all opinions expressed here are solely his own. Commenters are welcome; however please be polite to me and my other readers. I reserve the right to delete comments that are rude, inappropriate or otherwise objectionable at my sole discretion. The opinions expressed in a comment are not necessarily mine, and if I do not delete a comment that should not be construed as my agreement with the commenter.

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