Lit Ignorance is Bias: The Diversity Manifesto

Discussion in 'Literature' started by CooperTFN, Sep 2, 2012.

  1. Ulicus Lit'ari

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    We'll all look silly when it turns out the Ming-Po have two hearts and/or superpowers beneath a yellow sun.
  2. Random Comments Force Ghost

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    Sep 25, 2012
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    No we won't. It'll be a retcon then.
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  3. Jeff_Ferguson Force Ghost

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    Mechalich, you're still completely bypassing the issue of the caricatured slanty eyes. You keep attempting to assert that the Ming Po don't match a physical stereotype, but that's blatantly false. You're accusing us of trying hard to form an association that's practically slapping us all in the face. The Ming Po are a clear combination of racial and cultural stereotyping, and that combination is even more problematic than either of the two would be on their own.

    As I said before, creating space Asians and then giving them green eyes isn't mixing and matching race or culture --- it's creating space Asians, but OMG they have green eyes. You're focusing way too much on the fact that the eyes and hair are differently colored than what you might expect and way too little on the fact that they're shaped like what you might see in an offensive Asian caricature. I'm really not sure why you keep willfully ignoring that very important detail.
  4. JediFreac Force Ghost

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    That's not what I am saying, what I am really trying to say is that in the United States, we (predominantly white people) have a tendency to label people who are "foriegn" as "aliens," this is something in our culture and it makes sense that it would be reinforced--literally-- in cultural artifacts like Star Wars, a franchise that has a tendency to make characters of color "aliens."

    Race isn't biological, it is a social construction. Phenotypes obviously result from genetics and biology. Race does not. It is socially constructed, and you could easily argue that the Ming Po fit the social construction that American culture has shaped around the concept of "Asian." Viewing race as biological is actually a really outdated framework.

    Race does include culture. In fact, to use a historical example, this was a huge part of race social policy in the United States in terms of getting Central, Southern, and Eastern Europeans to assimilate into whiteness. The belief was that they needed to become "acculturated" and "assimilated." They were not considered part of the socially constructed concept of a white race without the culture.

    I don't know what to say, other than uh, too...bad? (And not just too bad for fans who would like to believe that Star Wars is colorblind, also too bad for the fans who have to cringe at awkward racial stereotyping and gender issues and marginalization and invisibility in Star Wars just so they can enjoy it)

    Star Wars doesn't exist in a cultural vacuum. It is very much influenced by the culture of the United States, and part of that culture is race politics. The "race politics" of the United States is part of the reason why nearly all of the characters are white, the gender politics is why nearly all of the characters are male. United States culture is part of the reason why the Empire has British accents. Star Wars can't escape those cultural constructs or the culture in which it is being consumed. That doesn't mean it is constrained or trapped by it per say--but part of liberating Star Wars from being a product of it's time, part of trying to make Star Wars continually relevant, is being able to critique when Star Wars is doing something reflective of cultural problems in the United States.

    Naming this Ming Po thing as facepalm-worthy isn't trapping Star Wars, it's attempting to raise enough awareness to give the franchise more freedom to move away from the racial politics (eg. People of color as the alien other) it is currently reflecting.
    Last edited by JediFreac, Oct 30, 2012
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  5. Ulicus Lit'ari

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    There's no such thing as retcons, only the one, true, undiluted vision of the Creator Mickey Mouse that is revealed to us piecemeal.
  6. JediFreac Force Ghost

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    Mar 7, 2002
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    I feel like we've had this conversation before about having like, furry animal aliens and pink and blue skinned humanoid aliens versus aliens that look a lot like real life humans (who are people of color and coincidentally, not well represented on the human side of Star Wars.)

    The litmus test for whether or not this is something to get "upset" (which, whoa, kind of a loaded word) over or whether or not this is something we should critique...goes beyond characters like these being bunch of CGI funny looking people getting slaughtered by white humans or whatever. The creation of this species was an artistic decision...Unfortunately it is one that reflects Star Wars's awkward handling of IRL racial and ethnic minority characters. The fact that there are Talz or ChandraFan or Zeltrons doesn't mitigate that, or change what is missing...
  7. Mechalich Force Ghost

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    An association slapping us all in the face? Funny, when I first watched the episode in which they appear, I didn’t initially see ‘Space Asians.’ I recall very clearly that my initial reaction was ‘why aren’t those Mirialians green? Do I have a settings issue? It wasn’t until later that I realized it wasn’t some kind of error and they were supposed to be something else. I wasn’t alone.

    So here’s a thought experiment: color the Ming Po green, turn them into Mirialians, but change nothing else. Are they still space Asians? Have we made Bariss Offee and Luminara Unduli into caricatures?

    I'll admit I was wrong in something though. I described the Ming Po eyes as being extremely slanted. That was incorrect, I wasn't properly looking at things in the context of TCW animation. Here's an example of the eye structure of every female TCW character from the StarWars.com Encyclopedia:
    [IMG]

    Among those images the most slanted eyes are probably those of Bariss Offee (a great departure from the appearance of her live action rendition by the way). The most Asian appearance overall is probably Queen Neeyutnee, even though she's established as White. Tryla's eyes most closely resemble Mina Bonterri and Steela Gerrera, especially in the eyelash structure, which is pretty inhuman for all three characters actually. My conclusion is that there's nothing especially Asian about Tryla's eyes, and thus Ming Po female eyes as a whole (the other Ming Po female faces copy Tryla's model) within the TCW context.

    Ming Po males do not have slanted eyes, but there is something unusual about them:
    [IMG]

    That close up of Pietr makes him appear to have golden eyes. That is a distinctly non-human trait. Not a particularly potent one admittedly, and not especially conclusive given its brief appearance, but the total appearance of the Ming Po is very brief anyway. They show up only in 'A Friend in Need' from 12:00 to 15:30, and are actually on screen for maybe half that, so there's less than two minutes of footage of the species in total. One trait is probably enough to define them as Near-Humans as opposed to a human population then, though this is fairly arbitrary anyway.

    from dictionary.com:

    Race
    /reɪs/ noun
    1. a group of persons related by common descent or heredity.
    2. a population so related.
    3. Anthropology .
    a. any of the traditional divisions of humankind, the commonest being the caucasian, Mongoloid, and Negro, characterized by supposedly distinctive and universal physical characteristics: no longer in technical use.
    b. an arbitrary classification of modern humans, sometimes, especially formerly, based on any or a combination of various physical characteristics, as skin color, facial form, or eye shape, and now frequently based on such genetic markers as blood groups.
    c. a human population partially isolated reproductively from other populations, whose members share a greater degree of physical and genetic similarity with one another than with other humans.
    4. a group of tribes or peoples forming an ethnic stock: the Slavic race.
    5. any people united by common history, language, cultural traits, etc.: the Dutch race.
    You appear to be focusing on #5. My focus is on #3, specifically b and c, though obviously since we don't have genetic markers for Star Wars populations we have to rely on observable morphology.

    Here's the thing though, regarding race and cultural vis a vis Star Wars. In Star Wars there is only one, singular, consequential human culture: the cosmopolitan space-faring culture. It's a mostly Western culture, more American than anything else, though with a dash of Eastern mysticism thrown in. Everything below such broad strokes breaks down to a planetary level where the populations identifying with such culture have no phenotypic traits held in common. Alderaanians, to pick an example, have members from every major Earth homo sapiens phenotype, in seemingly equal abundance. They are a colorblind group. TOR is very explicit on this (and the human populations of basically any of its planets). The space-faring population is also mixed, regarding people from all such phenotypes as equal members without any commentary on appearance, behavior, language, or any other cultural trait.

    Yes the demographics of that culture don't match the demographics of humans on Earth. That's not surprising, there's an alternative historical baseline, the breakdown is, in-universe, utterly without meaning. So while the racial politics of the United States may explain, out-of-universe, why whites are the most abundant group, they provide no in-universe explanation for this fact and this historical fact has no in-universe impact. The fantasy just doesn't match the reality, that happens.

    Now, here's the diversity catch-22. Star Wars has only one human culture, a Western one traditionally associated with white people, and it is frankly too late to change that. Characters of different phenotypes can be blended freely into that culture without difficulty because it is a colorblind culture, but that means any culture elements associated with their phenotypes in Earth history get left behind. This holds true of just about every major minority character in the Star Wars galaxy from Lando to Boba Fett to Bultar Swan and on down. TOR, again, expresses this explicitly: the various companion customizations allow you to change the appearance of those characters, including to different races (turning Mako into a Caucasian woman was something often seen). Does doing so change their behavior, their storyline? Not in the slightest.

    That means there's limited ways to introduce elements from human cultures outside of the basic Westernized framework into Star Wars. One is to have aliens associated with those cultural elements. This ranges from strongly non-human aliens to closely Near-human ones. Both provoke outcries, whether its Ming Po or Nemoideans.

    Another way to do it is to have Western-culture persons boldly appropriate the traditions and designs of other cultures. Queen Neeyutnee, referenced earlier, is one very strong example. She is a white woman dressed in a Geisha costume, with face paint and all. Is that approach less problematic than the former? Perhaps it is, though I sure can't see it as being so.

    Finally, you can introduce a human ethnic group along with its associated cultural elements into Star Wars more or less whole cloth. This is tricky and requires some specialized juggling of backgrounds; you have to create a planet where the conditions could somehow produce both the physical and cultural traits in isolation, or at least claim to. This also carries the risk of creating a negative social connotation on its own, because you've taken a minority culture and remade it as...a minority culture. Imagine if the Ming Po data entry was written slightly differently. Let's say they were humans, just pale skinned Asians with an unusual mix of eye colors. Suddenly you have a bunch of small, weak (Visla calls them that outright), relatively primitive villagers being oppressed by a superior technological culture. That's not a strong message either.

    So there's a trade off no matter what you do. Inserting the Chinese aesthetic elements the Ming Po represent comes at a cost. I think it's a price worth paying.

    One of the reasons I feel strongly about this is that I place myself solidly in the shoes of the creative team on this. I have, as a Star Wars fanfiction novelist, created Near-Humans with a strong cultural inspiration. In my novel The People’s Armor there’s a species called the Nighten. They wear gothic-style armor that is physically bonded to their skin. Take that armor off and the only thing separating them from humans was red eyes and odd eyebrow structure. They were, culturally, French-oriented, and I even had them speak in a sort of reversed French. All of that was intended to honor the French medieval culture, it was done out of respect, not an inclination to caricature.

    That same novel also contains a female lead who is Chinese, physically and culturally, as best I could image it. You know which one is less jarring: the Near-Humans.

    This statement is, to me, revealing. You are essentially saying that there's a line to be drawn, that at some point the appearance of a group is too close to natural Homo sapiens variability as to designate as a new species. That, I would say is true. The problem is that line is inherently arbitrary – lumpers versus splitters. I'm a splitter, unabashedly. I'm a trained entomologist and have spent a considerable amount of time parsing species boundaries via tiny morphological characters and am well acquainted with the existence of morphologically indistinguishable species. Your position is that of a lumper. That's fine, it's perfectly defensible to view things that way and to push for designations accordingly. I would like to see, however, an acknowledgment that the splitter position is also a legitimate one, not one motivated by insensitivity or one that is inherently biased.
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  8. Esg Jedi Grand Master

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    Sep 2, 2012
    star 4
  9. JediFreac Force Ghost

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    Wow, did that really just happen?

    Because like...eye shape, really?

    And surely the dictionary is the best resource for learning about race.

    ...diversity catch-22.

    I'll take some popcorn, too.
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  10. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    You know, it's actually kind of heartening that this conversation has been in no way abated by the Disney news.
    Last edited by CooperTFN, Oct 30, 2012
  11. Esg Jedi Grand Master

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    I'm disappointed in the fact that I'm the coolest head in that thread and this one is getting less contreversey. I should have brought up a friend in need up earlier
    Last edited by Esg, Oct 30, 2012
  12. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    TCW.

    *stands back*
  13. Mechalich Force Ghost

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    It seems to have taken a turn for the mocking, though, which I do not appreciate, especially considering the effort it took to put that together.

    Jeff_Ferguson made a specific claim. I decided to take it at face value an evaluate it. What I found was not what I expected. I though the eyes on Tryla would conform to stereotype. Then I discovered that they are almost exactly the same as Mina Bonterri's. So I broadened the examination and discovered something that surprised me (and I would suspect others, since it's not exactly a common ting to look at). If you aren't willing to consider evidence presented in an argument, and potentially change your conclusions because of it, then you are not debating ideas on their merits but simply the ideology. Thank is, honestly, very dissapointing.

    Note, you want to challenge what I presented, do so, I'd be interested to hear it, but that response is not respectful.

    Thank you for misreading that completely. The point was that the same term could be used is a very different fashion. That maybe not everyone thinks about these matters in the same context you do.

    Did you even read the rest? I thought I was quite clear in illustrating how no-win scenarios can occur when introducing non-Western cultural elements to Star Wars. The Ming Po are an example. Humans or Aliens, the response from the majority of the people on this board would have condemned the portrayal of this design, there is no ideal way to produce something like 'Ming Dynasty Era Cultural Aesthetic' in Star Wars.
  14. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    I think one can use elements of real-world cultures without adopting an entire aesthetic. Earth can absolutely be a basis for interesting GFFA cultures, but even if the Ming Po were tall, pale and blonde, "nordic people in asian outfits" is maybe not indicative of a huge amount of creative effort.
    Last edited by CooperTFN, Oct 30, 2012
  15. Esg Jedi Grand Master

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    [IMG]
  16. JediFreac Force Ghost

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    I've kind of been wondering what the acquisition means for Lucasfilm. For example, Red Tails was a pet project of Lucas that was rejected by several studios (ostensibly including Disney) because, Lucas claims, it had too many actors of color in it. Lucasfilm was probably the biggest "independent" film studio; under Disney it is beholden to stockholders and profits. Disney's track record on diversity isn't great...for example, under Disney, Marvel is likely excising most of the women, women of color, and queer characters from Guardians of the Galaxy and they wanted to whitewash Runaways (this could be Ike Perlmutter's fault, and not a Disney problem, I guess...check out the awful things he said about Terrance Howardand Don Cheadle.) Still, Disney's track record for diversity is pretty generic and non-trailblazing...not that Star Wars's ever was.

    It does mean that there will be yet another layer of approval needed before Lucasfilm projects can take off. Under Disney, I don't know if Red Tails would have been made.

    $4 billion is a lot of money, which means Disney may want to take things conservatively when it comes to making back that money, which means Disney and may be less likely to experiment with diversity in the Star Wars franchise or with other franchises. Then again, there is always the chance that Disney will finally wake up and figure out that a huge percentage of their market share in the long term is going to be Latino Americans. So maybe we'll see more characters like Saw Gerrera
  17. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    I can't speak to Disney's internal politics, but I do think they'll make the $4 billion back in t-shirts and sleeping bags alone. One movie every 2-3 years doesn't exactly scream "we're handling this conservatively".
  18. Skaddix Jedi Grand Master

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    Feb 3, 2012
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    Yeah Perlmutter is a racist ahole from what I have heard. Well actually an ahole in general considering the lack of restrooms at Marvel and the spy cams watching employees.

    Disney usually lets their divisions be fairly autonomous so I don't think diversity will necessarily be horrible. Which is why Pixar is still an open creative environment and not like marvel.

    Still lets get real it would take real effort for them to do worse in the new trilogy then the Current EU Lit (Lando and Chance are the only non white humans). So I am not necessarily worried.
    Last edited by Skaddix, Oct 30, 2012
  19. Mechalich Force Ghost

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    Regrettably the studio prognosticators were right not to produce Red Tails. It was a fun (if corny and flawed) film and I liked it well enough, may even rent it some time, and had a wholesome pro-diversity while being pro-America at the same time message, which is probably the safest approach you can take with a project like that (I mean they were killing the Nazis, there's no better villain in the history of human history).

    It also lost money. It made 50 million on a 58 million dollar production budget, plus advertising, and had limited, if any, foreign box appeal (can't find the numbers, der).

    Now, a stronger film would probably have done better, though even perfect direction would have had flaws - mutliple air battles necessitated by the storyline make the pacing choppy, there's a reason all the Star Wars films include only a single major space battle, but it's still a commentary on the American market (and the probably more explicity prejudiced global market). Studios, in our corporations as psycopaths modern capitalist world are not obligated to do anything other than bring in the dollars, and I imagine Disney would have a fine eye on the bottom line.

    My expectation: reduction in background character modeling in digital productions. So more Force Unleashed type experiences (every rebel soldier looking exactly the same) and less TOR type experiences.
  20. Skaddix Jedi Grand Master

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    Honestly, Its a hollywood action movie so that means you can expect a toke minority see Avengers. U want a well developed one well that is different matter entirely.
  21. Robimus Force Ghost

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    Jul 6, 2007
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    I can't seem to wrap my head around this Ming Po situation so let me ask this.

    Would it be a bad thing if the Ming-Po were as a collective whole a group with asian characteristics? Would it be bad if they basically were a group of Star Wars asians?

    I mean we have had books where we see nations and planets with predominatly black populaces. I don't recall anyone being bothered by those, so I'm just wondering what if?

    Wouldn't it be a good thing if they were? And thats in no way saying that their couldn't be other Star Wars Asians in a galaxy far, far away - but it would establish a go to point for this discussion. Does an author want to get across that he's written an asian character? Perhaps to do this including Ming-Po in the character bio would be easier than fiddling with difficult character descriptions that are considered borderline offensive?
    Last edited by Robimus, Oct 30, 2012
  22. Charlemagne19 Chosen One

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    I maintain the big issue is not the Ming-Po are stereotypical Asians. It's just that they're the first significant group of them we've seen in decades.
  23. Skaddix Jedi Grand Master

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    Well given star wars love of monarchies stereotypical look is not exactly shocking.
  24. Charlemagne19 Chosen One

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    I don't mind the Ming-Po as Mongolians in space. It's no different from Feudal Castles in Space and Lord knows we've had plenty of those.

    It's just that there's a sordid history with Asians in Space.

    Ming the Merciless wouldn't be racist if there were NON-Racist Asians in the world and not always played by a white guy.

    Personally, I don't even think the Ming-Po are racist save a little. It just touched a nerve.
  25. Mia Mesharad Force Ghost

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    Sep 2, 2012
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    From my point of view? No, not at all. But the difference between the Korunnai and the Ming Po is that the Korunnai are still human, albeit a group that has throughout the ages apparently grown to be predominantly black. The Ming Po are explicitly non-human, and without any further details of any differences they may biologically have, apparently simply because they were too Asian to be human.

    That's an interesting idea were it not for the point of them being non-human. Personally, when I read that a character is Korunnai, my mental image does definitely go to black if it wasn't there already. Having a similar sci-fi base for Asian wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, but I think we'd be barking up the wrong tree as far as Ming Po go.
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