the superior and the inferior sorts of reader

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A while back Nick Mamatas talked about the superior sort of reader and the inferior sort of reader, which got me to thinking a bit (and no, not just because he sorted me into the “superior” category, but thanks, mister).

At Astrogator’s Logs Athena Andreadis writes about The Dark Knight Rises and The Bourne LegacyFresh Breezes From Unexpected Quarters.

I detest Christopher Nolan’s ponderous dourness. The only film of his I found remotely intriguing was The Prestige. Auteur pretensions aside, the closest relatives of Nolan’s Batman opus are the abysmal Star Wars prequels. The two trilogies share pretty much everything: the wooden dialogue, the cardboard characters, the manipulative sentimentality, the leaden exposition, the cultural parochialism, the nonsensical plot, the worshipping of messiahs and unaccountable privileged elites, the contempt for “mundanes” and democratic structures, the dislike of women and non-hierarchical relationships. To be sure, Nolan’s second Batman film boasted the unforgettable performance of Heath Ledger’s Joker. But TDKR should have been called Bat Guano or Darth Vader Meets the Transformers.

Abigail Nussbaum also has a thing or two to say about The Dark Knight Rises:

The Dark Knight Rises extends Batman’s authority past crime, into technological progress, and even into social welfare–when Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Officer Blake, a Batman believer who is one of the first to uncover signs of the film’s villain, starts his investigation by following up the murder of a homeless teen, he learns that the boy was kicked out of his group home because the cash-strapped Wayne Foundation has stopped funding it.  In other words, it’s not just the police that needs to be augmented by a caped crusader, but every level of government that must be replaced by private enterprise and private philanthropy.  And when that private benefactor is mocked, derided, hobbled in his efforts to keep his community safe and even hunted down for those efforts–why, then he will retreat from his obligations, and the result will be disaster.

Fine pieces of criticism. Now I would like to take a look at some reviews for a bunch of assorted things.

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fight! fight!

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Caitlin Kiernan is angry with me because I said “lol,” which she perhaps feels was unsuitable to the gravity of our discourse, twitter being a sacred symposium. My bad, Ms Kiernan, I do so apologize that I never capitalized my tweets to you either. Next time I promise I’ll speak real serious. Kari Sperring notes

And I am uncomfortable that so many of [requireshate’s] attacks are aimed at women, rather than men.

This is in response to a post that’s in turn a sequel to a previous post where Kiernan repeatedly singles out this demographic as the cause of all things intolerable on the Intertubes–

There is an ever growing contingency of people online (and, presumably, offline) – largely, it seems, young, college-educated white women/girls in the Echo Boomer/Homeland Generation age bracket* – who are so astoundingly, viciously, humorlessly hyper-politicized that they are incapable of approaching a given work of fiction as a work of fiction.

I’m not sure how Sperring squares “she attacks women rather than men and that makes me uncomfortable” with what amounts to a blanket dismissal of humorless feminists in almost as many words (and an automatic conflation of caring about politics with naivete) to go along with the rather gendered “shrill screeds.” At a guess it would be because I said something to Sperring and she said something about me making her an example “imperialist bitch.” The “bitch” is hers in assumption (or hyperbole), not mine. You can see parts of that exchange here.

There’s a bunch of fun straw men in Kiernan’s post, so enjoy!

I will also point out that the individual who considers Silk racist also made statements like “goddamn 99% of white people should break their keyboards and their hands period unless they promise only to write about whites.” No, truly. I’m not making this up. “jesus white people really can’t write China for shit. or Thailand either.” And “white people writing fantasy China give me the creeps.” Okay, so. If I am of whichever many, many Caucasian lineages (many of which readily qualify as people of color), I should never, ever write Thai or Chinese characters, unless I want my hands and keyboard broken. Because, by this person’s estimation, in so doing, I shall inevitably commit “racefail.” Does this mean they advocate torture and censorship? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be an outlandish conclusion to draw, based on their comments. Should Caucasian Americans never write about any other people in any other country? Or an American member of a race other than one’s own?**** Is that forbidden?

Plus a lot of infants shitting themselves in joy in the comments that someone–AT LONG LAST!!!–steps up to protest those dreadful PC police. But seriously, that’s waaaaay too many fucking words just to say what amounts to “stand and fight against POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD, BRAVE WARRIORS! DEFEND YOUR ART. ART, MAN, ART.” I’ll note here that when the first word you reach for to describe an East Asian girl is “exotic,” that’s lazy shorthand, not art. Unless your idea of art is lazy shorthands, in which case what more is there to say? The best part is that I don’t think Kiernan actually read my rather mild review of her book, though even if she does she may not be happy that I ultimately declared Silk an unreadable clusterfuck of flat plot, unscary horror, and uncompelling characters. Yes, that’s a dreamcatcher on the cover art that features a white girl, why did you ask? Yes, it appears in the novel. She makes one to protect her friends against her demons, if I recall correctly. Madam, let us say that your committing racefail is not a thing in potentia, y’know what I mean? Even if we ignore that Silk is a pretty awful novel for reasons having nothing to do with its politics.

While defending herself from clearly spurious charges of racefail (MADE BY DUMB, NAIVE, HUMORLESS WOMEN WHO MAKE SHRILL SCREEDS ON TWITTER–MOST OF WHOM ARE WHITE AND COLLEGE-EDUCATED… except the third party who called her a troll is, in fact, a woman of color), Kiernan goes on to defend Heart of DarknessAnd Dr Doolittle.

Well…I have, and I would [encourage people to read Dr. Doolittle]. We saw a wonderful exhibit at the Peabody Museum of Natural History in the winter of 2008 or 2009, which displayed Hugh Lofting’s original illustrations and manuscripts and letters. The exhibit also discussed the inherent racism (and other issues) within the context of the time when they were written. We cannot toss out all literature before the emergence of more equal and educated Western societies. They exist, many are powerful and important (despite their social weaknesses), and we cannot pretend otherwise.

Could not make up a better caricature if I tried. It’s so amazing that I can’t be offended. It’s just, man, how do you even do that? Is there any piece of western literary canon she won’t defend because it’s “powerful and important”? What does she think of Lovecraft given that she’s a horror writer? She also seems to believe that criticism equals stifling and banning, a bit like how Richard Morgan likes to throw his toddler tantrums about “fatwas” because he writes rapetastic grimdark. When was the last time feminist or postcolonialist readings cast something out of her precious literary canon or resulted in effective public condemnation…? I didn’t realize minorities wielded such fearsome power!

One might be compelled to ask “Powerful and important to whom?” but perhaps that is irrelevant to Ms Kiernan, college-educated white individual (and I emphasize these qualities because it is funny that she jeers at those with the same), who’ll insist simply that it’s ART, MAN, ART and never you say otherwise because fuck you, hater of love, freedom, and all things ARTISTIC. She seems mostly interested in “Western societies” and a “polarized America” anyway, so that’s that. Let us then leave her to her America and her Westernlandia, where–it is to be hoped–she will forever stay. No worries, madam, despite your martyr complex nobody’s out to “brand” you. If Elizabeth Moon’s, Paolo Bacigalupi’s, Jay Lake’s and Dan Simmons’ careers never suffered on account of racism, why would yours for insisting that Dr Doolittle and Heart of Darkness are above criticism?

Click here to read Nick Mamatas’ post about writers and readers, part of which has to do with the Kiernan entry that started it all, and part of which has to do with Samuel Delany’s Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders, which everyone has been daring me to read.

EDIT: And this

The problem is that a PoC will say “you know, that dialogue’s a little stereotyped”, and the white author will hear “RACIST! SHUN HER! KILL THE RACIST BITCH!” And everything goes to hell. Seen it repeatedly in discussions on Romance blogs and in fandom.

Plus this:

Telling someone they shouldn’t be hurt by it doesn’t make it not hurt. If it did, this would be a much easier life for all of us.

I can’t help but think you are descending into special pleading here, Victoria, and running a little too close to privileging your ‘hurt’ over the hurt of authors of colour being unable to market their books to white audiences, or people of colour unable to routinely see characters like themselves in romance books or other genre fiction. I appreciate that you are trying to write more CoC, but you are heavily insulated by white privilege from any real consequences from screwing up in doing so, and the imaginary consequences far outweigh any actual problems you will face.

When writing Characters of Colour, white authors have much more to fear from readers when they are lousy at their craft than for simply writing outside their race. It’s more than time to call bullshit on this ‘risk’.