kate_nepveu: text: "The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head." (lies inside your head)
Kate ([personal profile] kate_nepveu) wrote2013-02-13 09:43 pm
Entry tags:

Arisia: Facing the Prejudice of Giants & How To Be a Fan of Problematic Things

I am sitting in my car dealership while my car gets its oil changed, and apparently they no longer offer free wireless, so you all get a panel report instead of more Con or Bust work (it's endless).

These two panels had a great deal of overlap—though, as moderator of both, I tried hard to make them not identical—and I was really happy with both of them.

Facing the Prejudice of Giants

Description:

The World Fantasy Award is a statuette of H. P. Lovecraft's head. Yet, as many have pointed out, Lovecraft was deeply racist and anti-Semitic. More than the rest, women, people of color, LGBT, and other minorities must deal with the uncomfortable truth that many of the Giants we honor hate(d) us, or employ problematic stereotyping in their work. How do we reconcile these contradictions? How do we respond? When should a work's status as "great literature" be reconsidered in light of its flaws?

Mark L. Amidon, Brandon Easton, Kate Nepveu (m), Daniel José Older, Julia Rios

A couple days before the con, a racist troll had said, on a public Internet venue, how much they were looking forward to coming to this panel. A thoughtful bystander brought it to my attention, I wrote to Arisia's programming & security email addresses, and in under two hours the relevant con staff had talked it over and agreed to have someone from programming advise the troll that if they came to the panel and said the kinds of things they were saying, they'd be immediately asked to leave (citing the appropriate sections of Arisia's code of conduct.

Racist troll was a no-show.

Which was good, because while I was prepared to deal with racist troll, I also checked into my hotel room ten minutes before the panel started and made it down to the appropriate room without so much as a piece of paper to scribble on. (A kind audience member gave me one.)

Despite my discombobulation, the panel went great, thanks to the other people on it. I structured the panel around three roles that we might be in where we have to react to the prejudice of giants: a reader, a writer, and a community member.

(I'm paraphrasing in all of these, to the best of my recollection, and welcome corrections or expansions from others.)

For reactions as readers, people said there's often a difference in their reactions when they discover problematic stuff in a work when they're reading for the first time as opposed to when they recognize it after the fact. Some panel members (they were all awesome but at this remove I mostly don't trust myself to remember exactly who said what) said that they're usually bracing themselves for racism or other kinds of prejudice when reading a new book anyway. The down side of this, of course, is when for some reason they weren't braced, then it's worse. Another reaction, especially to the retroactive realization, was that "so-and-so doesn't get to take this book from me." Generally people agreed that it's very contextual and very personal.

For reactions as writers, I was asking those who wrote fiction how they approached the realization that writers whose works were influential on them held problematic views, that might have seeped into the writers' works. I think it was Daniel who said that he imagines giving Lovecraft etc. the finger: working in the parts of their shared tradition that he likes but peopling his stories with characters that Lovecraft would never dream of. (He was working on an essay on Lovecraft, which I'm not sure is public yet; I didn't see it on a quick look at his site.) I also asked what concrete things they did to keep stuff out of their writing that they wouldn't want to be there. Only one person, Julia, mentioned beta readers, which surprised me a little because it was the answer I was expecting. Brandon said that he imagined how a film or show he was writing would be received by an all-white audience; what would an audience of white people see in the black characters he was creating?

For reactions as community members, I asked Julia to describe Nnedi Okorafor's blog post re: the World Fantasy Award statue. A couple of relevant things we discussed: 1) the depressingly sound strategic choice Nnedi made to ally herself with China Mieville in order to get heard and reduce some of the knee-jerk reaction; 2) that the reaction from WFC has been, IIRC, the sound of crickets chirping. (I didn't follow the discussion at the time, so I don't know if anyone put forth a serious defense of keeping Lovecraft's head; there's certainly no argument to be made on aesthetic grounds. Make all the jokes you like about the phallic nature of the Hugo, at least it's not a person.)

I'm afraid I don't remember much about the audience questions. I know they were good—oh! I think this was the panel where I told someone who was asking about a particular work and the extent of its problematicness, "Look, this is going to sound mean and I'm sorry, because I really don't intend it that way, but there is no Magical Minority Fairy who can tell you whether or not it's okay to like something." (The person was gracious enough to come up afterward and say that they'd not taken offense.) I mention this principally because I wanted to thank [personal profile] oyceter for the concept, which was one of those things I didn't know I needed until I heard it, and now can't do without.

(There was also a white-haired person waaaay at the back of the room who had their hand up for a good deal of the panel. I told them once or twice that I wasn't doing questions until the end (because I was trying to limit possible troll damage), but they left before I got to questions, which I regret. I really was going to call on you first, person in the back!)

The only other thing I have in my quick notes to myself post-panel is "evil albino." Somehow we got to talking about The Hobbit [*], and we mentioned the distinct change in the appearance of the orcs from LotR, from blue-black with dreds to albino. I said, "yeah, I know the evil albino is a thing, and I'd rather the movies didn't use visual markers of evilness at all, but still, on balance I'm glad." An audience member said that, well, people are being killed today because of the stereotypes about albinos; in discussion later, a friend pointed out that those stereotypes aren't sourced in European or American-derived cultural beliefs and have an independent existence from/are not being reinforced by Hollywood depictions, which I thought was interesting.

[*] I do not agree with the assertion of someone on the panel that The Hobbit is more racist than LotR. But I failed to recognize at that moment the issues with the dwarves and anti-Semitism (which I consider a different thing than racism, though I recognize they share some pertinent traits); I have a discussion of this in the upcoming reread post, so look for it this Thursday at Tor.com.

Anyway, great panel, awesome panelists, no troll, was super happy with it. And then I was falling over because I hadn't actually had any dinner, and got food at the hotel's Irish pub with [personal profile] oracne and then shuffled off to prepare for my early early panel the next morning.

How To Be a Fan of Problematic Things

Description:

Lord of the Rings. A Song of Ice & Fire. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Many of us like things that are deeply problematic! Liking these works doesn't (necessarily) make you a jerk. How can we like problematic things and not only be decent people, but good, social justice activists? How does one's background matter? How does one address the problems? This panel will discuss how to own up to the problematic things in the media you like, particularly when you feel strongly about them.

Erik Amundsen, Woodrow "asim" Hill, Kate Nepveu (m)

I may have driven some people away from this panel when I set out my rules; I saw several people leave early. Um, oh well?

Those rules were: no personal attacks, which includes that criticism of a work isn't an attack on the creator or anyone who likes it (I said something similar at the prior panel); people could give a brief description of why they thought a particular work was problematic, but I didn't want to get bogged down in debating problematicness, if people didn't agree they should just substitute some thing that they agreed had problems; and I would take questions along the way, but please wait until I asked because I wanted to get to reasonable stopping points.

(I don't moderate all panels so firmly! This one seemed to need it, or potentially to need it. Though I suppose compared to the "go down the row and each answer a pre-written question" style of moderating, it wasn't that strict at all.)

I do have my paper notes for this panel, which consist of the following outline (heavily drawn from the blog post it was inspired by):

  • How do you react—your immediate in-head feeling—when you discover something is problematic? Is it different for you if it's a revelation about something in the past or something in-progress now?
  • How do you decide if you're still a fan?
  • What then?
    • Acknowledge the problem, to yourself and others.
    • You are not the boss of other people's brains.
      • People are allowed to have different opinions, different degrees of intensity.
      • Don't have to jump in (either to defend things or to point out problems, I think), but don't shut down discussions.
    • "Favorite" rhetorical moves? E.g., "Don't be so serious"—especially combined with "but that's realistic!"

Here is where I apologize for doing something poorly as a mod. My example of feeling defensive and upset when someone pointed out a problem in a work I loved was The Blue Sword. And someone near the front made a face. Which I asked them about, if they were having the same reaction as me, but they declined to say anything. Which is entirely their right! But I was a little hyper and had slipped into conversation-mode not person-behind-table-mode and asked them a couple more times if they wanted to say something over the next few minutes, which was rude. I should not have put them on the spot like that, I apologize, and I will try not to do it again.

As for my outline, we got through all of it, I think, but I only have one additional note on paper and am completely drawing a blank on anything else from my memory, other than that everyone was thoughtful and said useful things (helpful, I know, I'm sorry). So I'll skip to the bit where I was possibly unkind to Erik.

Erik, early on, had said that there was a story of his that contained some problematic things that he didn't catch before it was published, and he wasn't going to say what it was. It was a bit off-topic, so I waited until the end and put him on the spot: why not say which one it was? This is a panel about, basically, owning your shit.

He was very gracious about it, and said that no, I was right; it's only available in print, in (X which I didn't write down, but I got the impression it wasn't easily available) and so people were unlikely to stumble across it unknowingly. He hadn't wanted to name it because he wasn't proud of it and wasn't entirely sure even now how it had got past him (other than it was a culture shock story, which is always tricky).

And—to shift time frames abruptly!—two sentences and all the links ago was when my car was done, so now I have to post this and do eight million other things. What do you all think?

cofax7: Toph smiling (ATLA - Toph)

[personal profile] cofax7 2013-02-14 03:54 am (UTC)(link)
I think that I would have very much enjoyed attending either or both of those panels!

I swear, someday you & I will be at the same con the same year...
cofax7: climbing on an abbey wall  (Default)

[personal profile] cofax7 2013-02-14 04:04 am (UTC)(link)
Sadly, I don't think so. I'm already booked for a trip in June and one way or another I'll be starting a new job within the next few months and then (hopefully) putting my house on the market. Wiscon on top of that is likely to be too much.

Pity, though, since I feel like I've been reading a lot more new genre fiction this last year and it would be great to be there to talk about it! Sigh.
coffeeandink: (Default)

[personal profile] coffeeandink 2013-02-14 02:29 pm (UTC)(link)
Oh, no! I was hoping to see you.
thistleingrey: (Default)

[personal profile] thistleingrey 2013-02-14 04:39 am (UTC)(link)
Thanks muchly for these! The poor-choice-as-mod examples are useful, too, as models for avoidance; I could easily have done them, too, and now I will try to remember not to.

(Heh, likewise, someday we will meet in person. I've never been to Wiscon and the East Coast is far away, but sometime.)
feste_sylvain: (Default)

[personal profile] feste_sylvain 2013-02-14 04:52 am (UTC)(link)
Pretty good summary, Kate. I especially appreciated your summary (and link) to Julia's story of Nnedi Okorator's own World Fantasy Award.

Some things about the panel that stuck with me (which you omitted) were:

1) A common excuse for prejudices of people, especially those
long-dead, is that they were "people of their time". Brandon
correctly observed that this is no excuse; even people in 1950 knew that lynching was wrong. While this is true, others observed that (for example) Gene Roddenberry's prejudices against homosexuals were informed by his time's contemporary description of homosexuality as a "mental illness". Moreover, Roddenberry's works never denigrated nor advocated oppression, in great contrast with the more recent rants of Orson Scott Card.

2) I was the one who, very late in the panel, raised the issue of
Tolkien's work having racism at its very core; it wasn't just a
passing piece of imagery in Jackson's film adaptation. I did use, as illustration, the fact that Mussolini's fascist government hopped on "The Hobbit" as an excuse for creating "Hobbit camps" to train children and teens in the fascist racist philosophies. I did not mean to imply that "The Lord of the Rings" was somehow _less_ racist than "The Hobbit".

3) Brandon brought up a brilliant question early on: "What are our descendants going to think of _us?_"

[personal profile] auriaephiala 2013-02-14 05:14 am (UTC)(link)
Thanks for the synopses, Kate. As someone who couldn't attend the con, I was glad to see them & found they raised very interesting issues which I have encountered myself in my reading.
oyceter: (not the magical minority fairy)

[personal profile] oyceter 2013-02-14 06:11 pm (UTC)(link)
Thanks for the write up! (Icon in solidarity!)
hebethen: (Default)

[personal profile] hebethen 2013-02-15 01:29 am (UTC)(link)
I'm a bit puzzled by the "all-white audience" strategy. Isn't that what most content creators do anyway, especially if they're white themselves? Doesn't that just get white gaze all over yet another work?
tessercat: notebook with pen and ink (Default)

[personal profile] tessercat 2013-02-16 08:34 pm (UTC)(link)
As I recall (and it may have been another similar panel, I saw him on a couple that touched these themes), Brandon expanded on that by making a point about being the one PoC in an otherwise all-white audience, and how that changed his reaction (he was giving a personal example of watching Django Unchained in a particular theatre), and how he tried to be aware of that dynamic when writing. So not just "how would an all-white audience perceive it" but, how would the one PoC in that sea of whiteness perceive it and what would they see reflected back at them?


hebethen: (Default)

[personal profile] hebethen 2013-02-16 11:53 pm (UTC)(link)
Ah, I see.
tessercat: notebook with pen and ink (Default)

[personal profile] tessercat 2013-02-16 08:37 pm (UTC)(link)
I don't think it was your rules that scared people off, but possibly your added comment that: if you were at the other panel last night, some of this may be familiar but we'll try to make it different.

Having been at both panels, I think those who left missed out, as they were both distinct and interesting. :) You did a great job moderating, I thought.
Edited 2013-02-16 20:38 (UTC)

[identity profile] starshipcat.livejournal.com 2013-02-24 02:26 pm (UTC)(link)
One complicating factor for some people is the existence of a bullying mode by which a person who doesn't have a problem with what you're enjoying, but who does have a problem with the fact that you are enjoying it, sits there and slings criticisms of the work solely to make it impossible for you to enjoy it (usually with the subtext that you're somehow defective or objectionable for enjoying it). And if you try to object or to request that they be quiet and let you enjoy the movie or tv show or whatever they begrudge you the enjoyment of, they'll tell you why you're wrong to object, and then increase the volume and intensity of the sniping comments against the thing that you're enjoying that are in fact are intended solely to ruin your enjoyment of it.

If you're a survivor of that kind of bullying, and especially of a lot of it (as it it happened pretty much every time you tried to sit down and enjoy something in a situation where they could insert themselves into it, even if they had to go to great lengths to do so, and the more intensely you enjoyed something, the more determined they became to ruin it), hearing any criticism of something you're enjoying can be intensely triggery. Even if the criticism is legitimate, you're not going to hear it intellectually, but emotionally, with the hindbrain, as an attack on you, an attempt to ruin your enjoyment of it out of pure spite, or to score social points with others present by positioning you as lesser by the fact that you're enjoying it while they sit smugly superior in their disdain for it.

I'm not going to try to lay down the law as to how much responsibility bullying survivors need to bear for overcoming those triggers (we hear a lot of Just Get Over It, and it gets annoying at times) and how much responsibility critics need to bear for being aware that criticism may get heard as "I'm ridiculing you for enjoying this so that I can get my jollies by grinding you into the dirt" rather than "I'm raising a legitimate criticism of this work, nothing personal."