Lit Ignorance is Bias: The Diversity Manifesto

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

  1. MercenaryAce Force Ghost

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    Aug 10, 2005
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    I think someone made the mistake of thinking that Adi's hat was not a hat and she had head tentacles. A lot of fans make that mistake at least.

    Especially given that the dark skinned, blue eye Crystophians were confirmed to be human after some initial confusion.
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  2. GrandAdmiralJello Emperor: Community & Lit

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    Well, so long as they don't make K'Krukh's hat part of Whiphid physiology...
  3. Rilwen_Shadowflame Force Ghost

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    Don't be silly, Jello. It's clearly another organism, in a symbiotic relationship with its Whiphid host, granting phenomenal talents for survival in exchange for nutrients.;)
  4. Skaddix Jedi Grand Master

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    That would make some sense
  5. Zorrixor Chosen One

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    So the Hat is the Star Wars equivalent of the Venom Spideysuit?!
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  6. Robimus Force Ghost

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    I'm just kinda toss ideas against the wall and see what, if anything, sticks. Its certainly a difficult issue. It could be that one Star Wars author, likely the one who creates a character, might have to take a bullet to get the description accurate in readers minds. Once one author clearly indentified a character as Asian all the authors writing that character in the future would be safe. All reference(good, bad or indifferent) would go back to that first description.

    I can totally understand why authors would be hesitant, or even unwilling, to do this of course.
  7. The Loyal Imperial Manager Emeritus

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    That depends largely on the context in which they are being used, I think. Certain choices of language might be acceptable in the context of a historical piece covering a period in which they would have been considered acceptable terminology, but would be better left untouched in a more modern work.
  8. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    It's not just historical works, though - think about something like American History X. Does Edward Norton gain or lose moral standing for playing a role like that?
  9. The Loyal Imperial Manager Emeritus

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    I don't think there's any particular moral standing involved to begin with, but if there was, I certainly wouldn't consider it a net positive.
  10. JediFreac Force Ghost

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    I've listed different solutions for writing characters of color in the 70+ pages of these three threads...they're not all perfect solutions, but they're just my amateur's take on how to write characters of color. This is a topic that is discussed to death in (diverse and aware) science fiction creative writing circles and workshops. Several prominent authors have written guides on how to diversify, like Hugo/Nebula nominated author NK Jemisin's three part tutorial on her blog. There are thousands of posts from RaceFail09 deconstructing the lack of diversity and analyzing how to write diverse characters. Even Science Fiction Writer's Association President John Scalzi has chimed in on the field needing more diversity, etc. This was something we discussed in creative writing workshops when I was completing my degree. This is a skill that is developed and talked about at writer's conferences. This is something that other authors have even written books about just to help other authors learn how to do it. It's a skill that authors have to learn, it takes a lot of practice and effort...but that continuous learning is part of most authors' drives to continuously improve their crafts.

    I just feel like for a science fiction author to say "so what is left?" or to concede defeat because they are not imaginative enough to figure out how to write characters of color is just so...sad and limiting. It's not an either-or situation where authors "try and do it poorly" or "don't try at all." There is option three, which is a lot harder--do it and try and do it right, and be open to being called out when it's not. That's part of what being a writer is, right? Learning new ways and sharing new ways to tell the same old stories.

    Hmm, good question. This is a literary trope, right? Aka: "We're going to show a character behaving in a ---ist way--to teach the viewer that ---ism is wrong!"

    I think it's going to really depend on who is doing it--on a meta level, too. Because to say, "You can never show someone being ---ist on TV or in a book etc. because that just reinforces racism" would mean that we could never make a movie like Milk or Selena or Thelma and Louise or about Martin Luther King Jr. or whatever. And it goes back to the "if we don't talk about it, then it isn't real" abstinence-only-education style approach to race that we have.

    For example, the television shows Mad Men and Game of Thrones both show characters being terribly, terribly awful to women due to sexism and misogyny. Both are shows that some people I know don't feel comfortable watching--I've heard people say things like, "because I see enough sexism in real life," or "because this sexism is being artificially selected to be included in this show," etc. Here are some things that I think might distinguish Mad Men from Game of Thrones, though.

    When Mad Men shows a character doing something sexist, there is an assumed underlying metacommentary critiquing that sexist action as problematic, dated, backwards, historic, repulsive to modern sensibilities.
    When Game of Thrones shows a character doing something sexist, there is an assumption that this is part of the fantasy world, part of world building, part of the grimdark thematics and kind of twisted.
    The writing staff of Mad Men is mostly comprised of women and some of the incidences of sexism on that series are based by actual incidents of misogyny that were perpetrated on them in the work place.
    The writing staff of Game of Thrones is almost all men, the executive producers have repeatedly said squicky things sexualizing their actresses, and the sexism is supposed to be in service of the story or something.
    And I guess the thing is...we can watch these shows that use sexism to teach us how sexism is wrong. Or we could create shows that model how to do gender right.
    We should be doing that, too, more often than we are creating stories simply depicting the --ism so audiences can shake their heads no.

    To me, there is something a bit more problematic when the --ism is just in service to the story and not part of some deeper metacommentary. Even if the intention thematically is to critique the act...it can still be problematic.

    People who have experienced what it is like to be triggered or reminded of a real life, shitty experience based on systemic discrimination from media might know what I'm talking about. Yellowface isn't just a thing that I was taught was bad. It was something used to really harm people who looked like me in the United States. It helped inspired schoolyard taunts and racialized sexual harassment and slant eyes and all this other affecting bullshit that has been a part of my experience. And it's still used to take opportunities away from Asian actors in the United States. When I see yellowface, I cringe inwardly. I leak a little adrenaline. I have to brace myself a little. When I see someone call a character a "c*nt", even if it is in the service of the story, or used in a meta way to demonstrate how calling people "c*nts" is mean, I'm still wincing.

    I mean, I can still say it's "acceptable" to depict this in a movie in order teach people who don't know what it is like to be called a c*nt or a f*g or a n*gger that it's just soooo mean to do it. But if you're trying to teach someone that it's bad and you're doing it yourself...there's just something reductive about it. Something that makes me want to shake people and be like "you're hurting your cause!!!!"
  11. Mechalich Force Ghost

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    Feb 2, 2010
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    Mad Men is a historical drama. It has a strong liscense to do things in the service of historical accuracy. Metacommentary or otherwise, attempting to depict events in a realistic historical fashion within the confines of the narrative limits is an important aspect of historical fiction and frankly ought to trump any sort of desire to frame things in accordance with modern sensibilities. If your depiction mirrors how things actually were, within some reasonable degree of dramatic liscense then there's no grounds for criticism and the onus is on the viewer to recognize that the depiction is a historical one. If that depiction makes someone uncomfortable that's just the way it is, no one is under any sort of obligation to watch depictions of periods with values they find troubling.

    Now if Mad Men were somehow written as honoring the values of the 1960s and 1970s that it depicts and suggesting they were better, in some fashion, than they are now, that would be very different, but I don't think anyone would reasonably argue that to be the case and there are few if any shows currently airing on national popular media doing such a thing (now on regional and niche productions targeted towards an evangelical audience there's a different metric at work).

    Game of Thrones is different, since it's a fantasy. That also makes it much more comparable to Star Wars, which is also a fantasy. It's also trickier because the politics of sex are a major theme of the series (books and TV). In many ways the Song of Ice and Fire is a rumination of the forms of power, how it is obtained, how it is held, and how it is lost. Sex is a big one Martin took a swing at, probably right behind force in Game of Thrones universe, and at some points ahead of it, considering the obsession with lineage in the series.

    The series also tries to make complicated points about power and about the brutality of the pursuit of power. It contains very few people with high moral standards and spends a great deal of time portraying such standards as a weakness, so that such characters, from Ned Stark on down tend to end up dead, betrayed by far more ruthless people they trusted.

    The books and TV series both have a number of strong, well-written and compelling female characters, and the series' ultimate heroine happens to be a young woman who insists on taking power in her own right rather than having a man wield it in her name even though that would be infinitely easier in such a male dominated (read: physical force dominated) world. So if there's really any statement Martin was trying to make it was that medieval life was pretty-f-ing awful and especially so for women and that fantasy writers should stop being so romantic about it.

    Now, HBO has 'sexed up' the TV series in certain, HBO typical ways, notably by adding explicit sex-scenes in several areas where they are not written into the text. This has always struck me as a very deliberate pander and it's a common HBO tactic (it's in the Wire too, where it makes even less sense as a use of screen time). They have, perhaps, beautified some female roles, notably Ygritte (who in the text has bad teeth), but they have also made some female roles, notably Shae, considerably more rounded, so it's maybe a wash.

    So, at the bottom of the Game of Thrones situation, I think it is an attempt to depict society according to a certain set of conditions, and Martin felt that this society would result in often immense levels of sexism. That might not be entirely accurate, there's a legitimate criticism that the society depicited in Westeros is entirely too bloody considering what we know of history, but it certainly was not done out of any desire to be sexist.

    Star Wars though is different from many other forms of science fiction or fantasy. A character of color in Star Wars is not written differently from a white character in any way shape or form. They simply have a different appearance.

    Robimus, I believe, was making the point that, in a purely prose format, without visuals, this can be difficult to convey. The Fetts are a good example. Describing Temuera Morrison in a way that would definitively convey that he is 'not-white' is extremely difficult, especially doing so within the confines of an ongoing narrative.

    Here, I'll offer an example from my own work:

    Guesses?

    This character's name is Jia Ji, and she's fully 'Chinese' insomuch as a Star Wars character can be, but the though the description desribes her alternate ancestry it's impossible to reference anything more refined than that. This was a major character an I could devote a significant amount of description to her, but lesser characters will never get to the level of detail you need. That's the challenge of Star Wars.
    Last edited by Mechalich, Nov 7, 2012
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  12. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    "Ancestry different from his own" opens up an interesting new avenue, actually - relating race via comparison to characters whose race we do know. If Han, say, was looking at a Tem clone, his thought could be something along the lines of "the man's skin was light, but with more of a flat brown tone than Han's own". Normally any instance of the word "light" is going to slam the character in the white box, but specifically contrasting him with Han could be a just-subtle-enough way of saying "not white".
    Last edited by CooperTFN, Nov 8, 2012
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  13. Skaddix Jedi Grand Master

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    Feb 3, 2012
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    Nope you cannot ever be subtle because even when you make it obvious and beat the readers over the head some white people will still miss the obvious. Rue from Hunger Games. Cho Chang in Harry Potter.
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  14. Random Comments Force Ghost

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  15. The Loyal Imperial Manager Emeritus

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    Put non-white people on the cover? Novelty!
  16. Random Comments Force Ghost

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    Put minor characters on the cover? Unrealistic!
    (Major characters, of course that might work (depends on the artist), but what about all the less major characters in the stories?)
  17. The Loyal Imperial Manager Emeritus

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    Honestly? We need Important Non-White Characters much more than we do nameless or otherwise forgettable characters who wouldn't warrant even a small place on the cover, anyways.

    Or hire Tsuyoshi Nagano to do more of his wonderful covers with half the book's entire cast on the front and back combined.
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  18. Random Comments Force Ghost

    Member Since:
    Sep 25, 2012
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    That's the Japanese cover artist?
    I'd be fine with that.
    And yes, we do, but one of the problems is that characters are all assumed white unless otherwise stated in these books.
  19. The Loyal Imperial Manager Emeritus

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    Making a bunch of minor non-white characters and trying to figure out how to properly convey that through the text isn't going to solve that problem, though. Making them the main characters and shoving their non-white faces in the reader's face will, however.
  20. Esg Jedi Grand Master

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    Sep 2, 2012
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    Why is that a reason you can't ever be subtle? Who cares what a few backwards people who can't even read a book correctly think? I would hope you don't assume that would translate to the editorial. Granted they aren't terribly good with diversity I don't think their that stupid.
    Not that I disagree with this either
    Last edited by Esg, Nov 8, 2012
  21. The Loyal Imperial Manager Emeritus

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    They are disturbingly more common than you might think, and they continue to spawn and increase their numbers further. That's why we can't afford to be subtle.
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  22. Esg Jedi Grand Master

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    Moar examples please
    Last edited by Esg, Nov 8, 2012
  23. The Loyal Imperial Manager Emeritus

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    Of the kind of people who don't like having non-whites in significant non-negative roles? They're not exactly uncommon. It's not really a reading comprehension issue: do you think there'd have been even close to as much of a reaction if it had been the other way around, a non-white character made white for the big screen?
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  24. Reveen Jedi Grand Master

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    Oct 4, 2012
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    In the case of Harry Potter and Hunger Games I kind of put some of the blame on the writers. not on a YOU SONOVA manner, but more that they didn't really have whole lot of reason to do a soft touch approach in terms of establishing race.

    Hunger Games takes place in a racially sgregated (by implication) dystopic America, so the concept exist probably exists in some fashion, I don't think there'd be a whole lot of problem with Katniss looking at Thresh and Rue and pondering about how she's never seen black people before. Race established. Done. Once these characters are made sympathetic the really odiously prejudiced "fans" will move on and you wont have to deal with them.

    Harry Potter exists in the real world, except with a secret wizard world that Harry only recently became a part of, so Harry definately knows what asians and Chinese people are. So he could just note that in italicized thought-text or something. If there are some people out there who think that pointing out what race people are is in itself racist then I haven't met them, and I don't this soft-touch subtle styway or doing things has a lot of truck in YA and/or Pulp Space Opera books.

    For Star Wars, it's miore tricky. I think they thing they really have to do is take control of character appearence. We've gotten, like, 10 different faces for Jaina, and Ben can look like anything from a redhead Justin Beiber to a skinnier, teenage Randy Hickey. With HG and HP it's understandable that the author might try to leave character appearence up to the imagination. But for a collab universe like Star Wars they should have some kind a info-package for writers that tells them exactly what the appearence is (body type, hair color, face structure, nose size, whatever), so we don't have writers giving us shapeshifting characters and when they do another art book we can give writers the memo so they don't go "eh, whatever" and just draw them white.

    And bring back ensemble covers, if only because I'm really starting to resent the photoshop minimialism we've been getting lately.
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  25. Skaddix Jedi Grand Master

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    I would say more ensemble covers is good. More main characters is good as well. Especially among the Jedi right now we are at OT Levels of diversity. Look at the council in the PT, we had 2 white males on the council, 1 black male and a whole bunch of aliens although gender balance was a bit weak. Now its the opposite a whole bunch of white males, a few white females and even less aliens. Its absurd.

    Also subtle is not just a problem for readers, you don't want another author to come by and make the character white. I mean lets look at it this way if the character has blonde or red hair they will be automatically white regardless of if this is always true in the real world. Black or Brown hair though means the option list is long but usually they will be made white. This is less of a problem if the character is black but it does not need mean it will not be missed. So no point in being subtle when making it as obvious as possible still manages to fly over people's head.

    I am sorry I am not sure how you can blame JK on the Cho Chang Front. Its hard to get a more obvious Chinese Name and its not like British People have never heard of China before. Same goes for the American Audience. Which is honestly what makes Star Wars more difficult, there is no earth countries or roughly earth based countries to fall back on for descriptions like say in Star Trek where you can just say Chinese Ancestry, Slavic, etc.
    Last edited by Skaddix, Nov 8, 2012