Fisking the Guardian:
Somebody sent this to me on Twitter this morning and asked my opinion on it. My quick response was that it was more Social Justice Warrior nonsense and their never ending search for perpetual victimhood, but then I decided that because the ideas in it are so poisonous to the very people it is supposedly is trying to help, it deserves an actual fisking.
Basically I’m taking the time to write this because if you have to stamp out another artist’s existence in order to justify your own art, you are not helping art.
If you don’t feel like giving the Guardian any clicks, I’ve reproduced the entire article here. However in the interest of fairness, here is the original: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/09/move-over-hp-lovecraft-black-fantasy-writers-are-coming-through?CMP=share_btn_tw
As usual the original article is in italics and my responding comments are in bold.
Move over HP Lovecraft, fantasy writers of colour are coming through.
A stupid title. If you are so desperate to prove racism in sci-fi you’ve got to dig up somebody who has been dead for 77 years, your argument might be a little weak.
By Daniel Jose Older.
Normally when the Guardian tries to prove how horrible racist/sexist/misogynist/homophobic sci-fi or fantasy is they trot out village idiot Damien Walter. This time they’re using somebody who has actually published something. Good for you, Guardian. Way to step up your game.
Non-white readers and writers are falling in love with speculative fiction in increasing numbers –
which is why we need to remove its racist figurehead
You’ll note that almost all SJW articles start like this. Here is a good thing, but here is why you are actually racist because of it.
Last month I walked through the crowded corridors of Javits Center with tears in my eyes.
Maybe it is just because I’m a manly cismale gendernormative fascist who is required by the patriarchy to keep my feelings bottled up, but the only thing that made me cry at the Javits Center was the line at the food court.
It was New York Comic Con and around me flourished a sea of black and brown faces, many partially concealed beneath goggles, prosthetic zombie wounds or masks.
I was also at this very same convention. I gave out a couple thousand free paperbacks and talked to people for three straight days. But since I’m not a SJW I didn’t feel the need to keep a tally of what color, religion, or sexual orientation every single person I talked to seemed to be.
The people I talked to were people who liked to read books. If you are an author and you feel the need to subcategorize much beyond that, you are setting yourself up to fail.
For one of the first times since I started writing speculative fiction five years ago, I felt at home in my own genre.
I started seriously writing speculative fiction seven years ago so I’m assuming we’re about the same age and we’re dealing with the same industry. This statement is either horseshit or Older hasn’t been to very many sci-fi conventions.
I’ve been to dozens of them all over America. I attended thirteen in 2014 alone. Cons and fandom are usually about the most inclusive bunch you’ll find anywhere. Hell, they accept Furries… FURRIES. Your argument is invalid.
But SJWs love to look for invisible micro aggressions at cons. Here is one where I fisked a SJW who tried to make GenCon sound racist https://monsterhunternation.com/2014/08/19/no-tor-com-gencon-isnt-racist-a-fisking/ (short version, it isn’t).
Earlier this summer, the old guard of fantasy got very uncomfortable over a petition I started asking for the World Fantasy Award to remove the bust of HP Lovecraft as its statuette and replace it with Octavia Butler.
Uncomfortable? I don’t think that is a synonym for WTF.
A few things for those not in the loop. HP Lovecraft is one of the most famous authors in history, who basically created a whole genre. Authors commonly use the word Lovecraftian today to describe themes and elements that he popularized. Among the creators who list Lovecraft as a major influence are Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Joe Lansdale, Alan Moore, F. Paul Wilson, Brian Lumley, Clive Barker, Guillermo Del Toro, H.R. Geiger, John Carpenter, Mike Mignola, and Neil Gaiman. Plus thousands of other authors, artists, and film makers.
Have you heard of Cthulhu? Yeah. That guy.
Lovecraft has influenced video games, movies, comics, and more heavy metal bands than you can count. Almost eight decades after his death every nerd in the world knows who HP Lovecraft is. There have been thousands (not an exaggeration) of stories set in Lovecraftian worlds.
And hell, Lovecraftian is actually a word!
Octavia Butler was also an author. She passed away in 2006. I think I read a couple of her books as a kid but don’t remember anything about them. I’m certain she’s had some influence, but Lovecraft influenced orders of magnitude more.
Butlerian isn’t a word.
EDIT: It turns out Butlerian is a word, just not on Earth. And I’ve not read a Dune novel in a decade.
Lovecraft was an uneven craftsman at best – his stories clunk along, overburdened with adjectives and stale characters.
Wow, bold words there dude who has written a couple of books.
It’s his world-building and imagination that helped solidify his legacy, but even that is tainted by a failure of craft and humanity.
Yet, the atmosphere he set scared the shit out of millions of us, to the point that when we grew up and tried to write something scary, we used him as a template. Nothing is more human than fear. Pulling that off takes craft.
Really, most Lovecraft tales only consist of well-spoken New Englanders telling each other scary stories in the dark, but the man practically invented creeping dread in literature. But to be fair, Lovecraft said his influence was Poe, so we all learn from somebody.
He detailed his rabid, paranoid racism in many letters, and it permeates his mythos. Lovecraft peopled his fiction with hordes of swarthy, child-killing and abjectly stupid black and brown people, while women are almost non-existent.
Lovecraft was a product of his time.
I’ve written three books of alternative history set in the 1930s. I’m fascinated by this time period. I’ve done tons of research into those years. Racism was common, ugly, and rampant. And I’m not talking invisible micro-aggressions or college students lecturing people about privilege, I’m talking systematic, legal, subjugation of groups of people based upon their ancestors.
Yes, Lovecraft was a racist. He was a 1930s Democrat. It is actually kind of hard to find 1930s democrats who weren’t racists. Eugenics then was the “scientific” equivalent to Global Warming today. The “science was settled”. Proper good thinking folks didn’t question it and the world’s governments used Eugenics as an excuse for all sorts of programs that seem insane to us today.
In actuality Lovecraft’s racism veered a bit from the typical democrat’s “scientific” racism, and he was more into looking down on other cultures. Keep in mind that he was a snooty New Englander. If I recall correctly he believed that anybody could move up in the world, provided they learned to act like a proper snooty New Englander. He didn’t have nice things to say about southerners either, and as far as Europeans went, the only culture he liked was the Anglo Saxon one that spawned New England. He married a Jewish woman because she’d become “cultured”.
How Anglo was Lovecraft? He thought the American Revolution was uppity.
Yet despite being someone descended from those swarthy hordes on one side and degenerate backwoods hill folk on the other, I’m not personally offended. Dude could still atmosphere the shit out of a scary story.
As for black and brown people being dumb savages… It was the 1930s. Now I know this is really hard for somebody in 2014 to wrap their brain around, but to the average American most of the world was a mysterious, scary, alien place. Africa was a distant land of adventure. People were still expecting to find Shangri La. Hell, Lovecraft was a New Englander, by his standards Florida was a distant, scary, mysterious, alien land.
Read any periodical from this time, listen to the radio programs, you’ll find that this attitude of foreign lands being cloaked in forbidden mystery wasn’t just common, it was the absolute norm. You can pull up old news reels on Youtube and watch them to see what I mean. I watched a ton before writing Grimnoir. “Here is beautiful Japan! Mysterious! Look at the crazy shoes! They eat with sticks! How do these crazy yellow people do it? Scientists say the Asian can’t see well through their squinty eyes.” You think I’m exaggerating. I’m not.
As for women being non-existent, first off, not true. Second, don’t matter, because they’d just die a horrible death or be driven insane anyway.
Supporters of the Lovecraft statue point out his influence on the fantasy genre, and they’re right: today, we’re still struggling to unravel the legacy of racism and erasure with which he and other early speculative fiction writers permeated their work.
What does that even mean? Diagram that sentence. Yes, he was super influential, but all with racism, so we need to ERASE what came before? That doesn’t make sense. So I think maybe Older is trying to say that Lovecraft and other early writers erased non-whites? But didn’t you just say that he had non-whites, you just didn’t like how they were portrayed?
So he was influential, but racist, so those of us he influenced learned racism by osmosis? Sorry, Dad, I can’t love you anymore.
Mainstream science fiction and fantasy narratives continue to center on white saviour narratives, as we saw recently on Game of Thrones.
Now hold on a minute, George R.R. Martin isn’t a racist. White savior narratives? Hell, any savior narrative is popular and powerful for the same reason that black vs. white/light vs. dark as a stand in for good vs. evil remains a constant in storytelling, and it has nothing to do with racism. Some themes are so deeply ingrained into humans that artists use them all the time. I can also think of popular “savior narratives” involving women, children, computers, aliens, and a Terminator.
Villainous, sexualised or helpless, rarely are non-white characters presented with the same humanity and depth as white ones.
How the hell does Older quantify that? Based upon the highly scientific study of pulling facts out of his ass? He might feel that way, but I disagree. But what do I know? I’ve only written a bunch of popular books where the main PoV characters aren’t white.
As Imran Siddiquee points out at the Atlantic, teen dystopias tend to have a glaring blindspot when it comes to talking about more complex issues of power and privilege: “While recent dystopias warn youth about over-reliance on computers, totalitarian rule, class warfare, pandemic panics and global warming, very few ask audiences to think deeply about sexism and racism …The results feel false, and undercut the films’ attempts to comment on the present day.”
All that paragraph says is that some movies are bad because they didn’t cater to some reviewer’s particular pet peeve topic. That would be like me saying that I really hated Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants because it didn’t have enough gun fights. Not everything in the world needs to be about whatever the hell it is you are personally hung up on. If you really want to have a story about Topic X maybe you should go write it and quit sniping at whoever wrote about Topic Y instead.
And while “urban” has become publishing industry code for books by and for black people, throw the word fantasy on the end and suddenly the characters and authors are very white.
Sigh… Again… This bizarre hang up on genres. Genres are just so book sellers know where to shelve stuff. I’m usually considered an urban fantasy author, but I think “contemporary fantasy” is more accurate, but hey, I don’t put things in the catalog for Simon & Schuster, so it isn’t my problem.
In this literary gentrification, the American city becomes either a goofy whitewashed playground, Girls with werewolves and vampires, or an abysmal urban nightmare. And like most dystopias, neither fictionalized versions of this city have much to say about the real-world conflicts threatening urban communities of color like police violence and gentrification.
What the hell did I just read? I’m not sure what any of this has to do with somebody winning a trophy that looks vaguely like HP Lovecraft, but because the marketing term “urban fantasy” stuck for books with magic and monsters set in the contemporary world, and some white people write books like that it equals Ferguson.
I had to look up Gentrification… Which for those of us who don’t live in democrat controlled cities means when they redevelop their inner-cities to increase the property values… And this is controversial because, hell, I don’t know… Stuff. Things like that are why I choose to live in a county with more cows than people.
Honestly, these Social Justice Warrior articles are like meaningless word salad. They throw out a bunch of buzz words about racism and injustice on top of some half-baked argument about equality. When you try to question it, they say you’re a racist and declare victory.
That’s why I skip right to mockery.
Unfortunately, this shouldn’t surprise us. According to a recent survey, Latinos and Asians make up 3% of the publishing industry each,
Hey, that’s me! Hi, guys!
while blacks come in at 1%.
This isn’t a conspiracy. It is actually very simple. Where do writers come from? Readers. Communities that have more readers are going to create more writers. Like I talked about in the linked article above about where gamers come from, same principle. Communities with more education, higher incomes, and leisure time produce more readers. Parents who read produce children who read.
Let me give you a personal example. I grew up in a very poor, immigrant, farming community. Of my 8th grade class half of us could speak English. Of those, half could read. Of my friends, I was the only reader. Where I’m from reading was for dorks, and what kind of sissy reads books about dragons and elves and shit? Most of your time was spent doing back breaking manual labor, and free time spent reading could better be spent “partying” (drinking yourself stupid and screwing around). Tough guys didn’t read (though having a nose in a book was a great way to get into fist fights, which explains a lot about how I turned out the way I did). Reading fiction was seen as lazy, effeminate, fluff.
That’s how my Dad grew up. I don’t think he’s ever read an actual book. I’d guess he’s got about a 4th grade reading level. He didn’t like the fact that I read books as a kid. I can’t fault him for feeling that way, because that was the culture he was raised in. Luckily for me, my mom liked to read. She was an Air Force kid, and had grown up all over the place. Also, very luckily, my little town had a tiny old library.
When I discovered books, I didn’t care that the characters didn’t look like me. I didn’t care that they weren’t from my culture. In fact it was awesome that they weren’t like me. I didn’t need a fictionalized version of what I already knew, I wanted new experiences. I wanted gunslingers, rocket ships, and monsters.
My high school was a junior gladiatorial academy. My senior year we had the 2nd highest teenage pregnancy rate in America (curse you, Dade County, Florida!). We were well divided between Mexicans, blacks, Hmong, Laotian, poor farm kids of various ethnicities, and white suburbanites. Guess who I talked to about books or played RPGs with in high school? Yep, the white suburbanites. There was a single exception to this, and that was the Pena family. The mother and father had immigrated from Mexico, opened a restaurant, and worked their butts off. They pushed all of their kids to be educated as possible and to read like crazy. Their kids appreciated GI Joe, nunchuks, dirt bikes, and other things that made the 80s awesome so I loved going to their house. Those kids got into nerdy stuff, and if I recall correctly they were the first kids I ever played D&D with.
But overall, not a ton of readers from the poorer groups. I was an anomaly. Of the people I grew up with, I’m not aware of anyone else who because a writer.
Now compare that to where I am now. I moved to Utah. Utah has a culture of readers. Everybody reads here. Education levels are extremely high. Disposable incomes are relatively high. Leisure time is common. So how many writers does Utah produce? Tons. For a state with less than three million people we’ve produced an absurd number of authors, many of them extremely successful, way out of proportion to our population.
If you want to increase the readership in any given community, give them the opportunity and introduce them to books that they’ll find fun. That’s really what it is all about, and as a particular community gains more leisure time, you’re competing against entertainment with lower barriers to entry, like TV or videogames.
Of course, the way our education system does this is totally ass backwards, by shoving dense, impenetrable “classics” onto kids and then discussing what the author “really meant” until you’ve beaten all of the love of reading right out of them. You’ll note that SJWs never talk about entertaining or fun books, but rather socially conscious or enlightening (i.e. boring).
On the other hand, we’ve got the SJW answer:
As Publishers Weekly puts it: “the world of speculative fiction faces the same challenge as the rest of publishing: overcoming a long history of books being primarily created by, for, and about straight white men.”
So the reason there are fewer minority readers is the fault of existing white writers for writing to their existing audience. Naw, I’m going to stick with my answer gleaned from (un-privileged) personal experience rather than some gender studies professor’s bullshit hypothesis.
The racial makeup of the industry matters.
Nobody is stopping anybody from any particular group from reading or writing. In fact, we’re all encouraging as many people as possible to read and write. The more people buying books, the better! If you’d like to write toward a particular audience, fantastic. DO IT. Just don’t demand that other artists create art only in your approved manner.
For writers who aren’t straight, cis, white men, the already steep uphill road to publication is complicated by issues of cultural translation, representation, passive and microaggressions, rage, and assimilation, among others.
That is all total bullshit, and I’m not just talking difference of opinion, but I’m talking a flat out lie.
First off, for everybody the path to publication is extremely difficult. I think traditional publishing has something like a 99.99% rejection rate. I got rejected a ton of times. However, in none of my query letters did I ever specify my ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation, or shoe size.
Over the last few years changes in technology have caused a revolution in publishing. There are now far more opportunities for authors to publish independently, and because of the eBook revolution, even the tiniest niche market can be targeted, and often in an economically viable fashion.
So there is literally nothing stopping you from submitting to publishers and agents. There is nothing stopping you from going independent and producing your own books. If you’d like to very specifically write a book about trans-whatever-queer-cis-binary-polar bears in the space future-past, knock yourself out. There is probably an audience for that.
Next, the bit about being shunned for that big old word salad list of gender studies terms, flat out wrong. Be some type of minority and show up to an agent with a sellable, readable manuscript, and the first thing they’re going to think about is going to be how much money they can make by marketing you as special, distinct, or whatever else separates you from thousands of other competing authors. Anything that can help market you to a specific audience is wonderful, because the agent wants to GET PAID.
In the time I’ve been doing this, I’m only aware of a single incidence where a publishing house discriminated against an author because of their sexual orientation. And it was a tiny publishing house. Immediately the entire author community condemned them. In fact, even the ultra-evil right wing International Lord of Hate (that would be me) reached out and put them in contact with his publicist because that sort of attention is marketing gold. https://monsterhunternation.com/2013/08/21/publisher-cancels-book-contract-because-the-writer-is-gay/ With all of the added attention, in short order they found a new, far bigger publisher, and got a much better contract.
Come to think of it, the only authors I know of who’ve actually been sabotaged in major publishing houses because of their political beliefs have been conservatives, and the mainstream Manhattan publishing industry is overwhelmingly liberal. Strange…
Maybe these ragey assimilators think they’re being held back from being nominated for prestigious awards… Nope. Not in recent years. They’ve been tripping over themselves to show just how Social Justice they are. And again, the group that gets attacked, sabotaged, maligned, and slandered when it shows up are conservative authors. https://monsterhunternation.com/2014/04/24/an-explanation-about-the-hugo-awards-controversy/
Well, he listed Rage… Because… Shit… I don’t know. I got an accounting degree. I can’t wrap my brain around this gender studies tripe.
It’s impossible to know which of our truths will unsettle the privileged sensibilities of one of the many gatekeepers we face along the way.
Frankly, that is just narcissism right there.
Speaking of gatekeepers, anybody want to make any bets as to who has pissed off more of publishing’s traditional gatekeepers, me or this Daniel Jose Older?
“Why Butler?” people asked me when the petition went up, and I remembered how entrenched we all get in our own corners within the genre. Butler’s prose soars where Lovecraft’s stumbles. Her characters live and breathe, confront complexities of power and privilege amid fantastical, terrifying dreamscapes steeped in history and nuance.
Good for her. Get back to me when her nuance gets its own beer.
My SFF community is mostly black and brown, and Butler inspired many of us to start writing in the first place.
I’m all in favor of anything that gets anybody writing, so good.
These folks congregate more often than not in online communities like the Nerds of Color,Black Girl Nerds and the Fan Bros, because outside of ComicCon, SFF cons have historically not been safe spaces for women and people of color.
That simply isn’t true.
They always throw this victim stuff out there, because to SJWs being a victim grants them super powers. You can find a handful of anecdotes of bad things happening to a handful of people at various cons over the years, but considering that these are events that happen constantly, all over the country, the number of incidents is absolutely tiny. You are way more likely to get harassed at a pee wee football game or a Bar Mitzvah.
Fandom is cool. Many of them are the ones who grew up being picked on. The way SJWs keep maligning good innocent people really offends me.
Again. Furries… Holy shit. Fandom accepts FURRIES.
These are the online communities that signed the petition in the thousands, which is what transformed it from being just another attempt at dethroning Lovecraft as the face of one of fantasy’s highest awards (there have been several) to a global conversation with coverage in Salon, the Guardian, NPR and countless blogs.
The Salon, Guardian, and NPR? Well then. That is settled! I know when I think of unbiased, critical, hard hitting journalism I think of SALON!
Ultimately, the Lovecraft statue must go. He may be replaced by Butler, or Carrie Cuinn’s sea serpent wrapped around the world idea or any of the many other options,
Or how about a grey, formless, blob? That would be sure not to offend anyone.
But the thing is, the trophy is actually irrelevant. If it wasn’t this trophy, it would be something else for SJWs to get all outrage sputtery over. Any disagreements will be met with allegations of racism or sexism, so that you can be dismissed. Since most people are nice and don’t like being attacked as vile things that they aren’t, they give in. Keep in mind that whenever you are dealing with these people, they simply want you to be wrong somehow so they can browbeat you until you apologize, because then they own you. From then on your opinions can always be safely dismissed.
but the fantasy community cannot embrace its growing fanbase of color with one hand while deifying a writer who happily advocated for our extermination with the other.
Hey, doesn’t Salon, the Guardian, and NPR also think winning the Margaret Sanger Award is awesome. BWA HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAAA snort.
Read Lovecraft, be inspired by his wild imagination, repelled by his heinous worldview, learn from his mistakes – I certainly have. But the lionizing, sugarcoating and kneejerk flurry to defend and silence uncomfortable histories has to stop if we are to move forward.
Yeah, I’m not seeing a lot of sugarcoating from anybody other than the SJW crowd, who like totally wants equality (as long as you aren’t one of those evil privileged white cis-males) and diversity (as long as you are diverse in exactly the approved manner).
Lovecraft was a racist. He held racist beliefs. So did many icons of that and earlier eras. You can try to erase them, or you can be an adult that realizes that throughout all of human history people have believed things that were wrong or different, including those who accomplished great things.
While we’re on the topic of sugar coating, have you SJWs quit showering Marion Zimmer Bradley and Sam Delaney with praise yet?
People of color have been fantasy creators and fans for a long time; we’re not going anywhere. The We Need Diverse Books campaign took the internet by storm this year and is still going strong.
Good. You should go write some.
Writers of Color? I’m sorry, but this whole People of Color thing is absurdly racist. I’m technically a Person of Color, but fuck that noise. It was racist back when it was Colored People. You can’t just flip Colored People around backwards and it suddenly be cool.
And honestly, you’ve got way more in common culturally with a white American suburbanite than you do with a Mongolian shepherd or a West African villager, and I’ve got more in common with you than I do with an Azorean dairy farmer, so can we just knock this stupid shit off and get back to writing stories and entertaining people?
Networks executives have started to take notice.
He must have missed that NPR story I fisked where the only ethnic group underrepresented on TV was Latinos, and that was only when we forgot to wear sombreros for easy identification. https://monsterhunternation.com/2014/08/07/fisking-npr-about-latinos-in-the-movies/
More importantly though, we’ve stopped asking permission and begun finding ways of making our voices heard.
Again, the only people you had to ask permission from before were Manhattan liberals. Now you’ve got indy publishing. Playing the victim card is getting kind of silly when the people running your industry have been on your side.
Social media revolutionized fandom in ways few saw coming, and content creators of color find ourselves with unprecedented access to audiences. We’re entering a new time – one not so enraptured by the same tired hierarchies – and the genre itself will be stronger for leaving its oppressive tropes behind.
Help! Help! I’m being oppressed.
Out of curiosity when I was writing the paragraph about this author having more in common culturally with an American suburbanite, I googled Daniel Jose Older to see if he had a Wikipedia page that said where he was from:
Heh… Check out the Google images of him. He was walking around ComicCon in tears because there were people who looked like him? If they made a movie they’d cast Morgan from Criminal Minds to play him. Meanwhile, I look like the giant swarthy love child of James Gandolfini and Khalid Sheik Mohammed and they’re lecturing me about being profiled, privilege, and micro aggressions? 😀
In the interest of full disclosure, my writing has been influenced by HP Lovecraft, because if you don’t like giant sky squids, there is something fundamentally wrong with you. I also share a birthday with Lovecraft and Ron Paul (yes, I know, this explains a lot). In actuality I’m more of a Robert E. Howard fan than a Lovecraft fan. I once got a negative review that said “though Correia uses some Lovecraftian themes, he is more of a modern Robert E. Howard” and he meant it as an insult. Personally, I wanted to use that as a cover blurb.