Lit Ignorance is Bias: The Diversity Manifesto

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

  1. GrandAdmiralJello Moderator Communitatis Litterarumque

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    I feel divided about non-human protagonists. They shouldn't think just like humans, and I feel like they'd be written that way.

    it was fine for Piggy to think like an old white dude, because... that's basically what he is, even though he looks like a pig. It mightn't work for others.


    Just think about basic things like descriptions and metaphors. They would not describe or think of things the way humans do. And shouldn't.
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  2. Zeta1127 Force Ghost

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    I will never understand why people act like Thrawn is to quote anakinfansince1983, "the great blue god." Thrawn was written to do be a different villain than Sith in the films, a remarkable military commander that was extremely dangerous but still beatable.

    What Jello is saying is very much Zahn's reasoning for not having non-humans like Thrawn as point of view characters.
    Last edited by Zeta1127, Nov 9, 2012
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  3. instantdeath Force Ghost

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    In the Thrawn trilogy's defense, I would actually argue that aliens are more prominent than they were in the OT. In ANH, especially, aliens were mainly there simply to be exotic, to make Luke and the viewers feel the fish out of water. That remains for most of the trilogy, though we do eventually get the Mon Calamari in ROTJ. The biggest alien character, Chewie, is very much the lovable sidekick. In contrast, while the TTT does not have aliens as the "main" characters, they still do form a large basis for the plot, particularly the Noghri.

    Now that Star Wars has evolved, we definitely should be seeing more prominent aliens: very few franchises have this much established material simply waiting to be used. I don't demand that more works feature the more exotic brand of aliens as the main characters (though I wouldn't say no), but having more in the cast can't hurt, especially when trying to sell the idea that this is a galaxy far, far away. I consider Knight Errant an extremely diverse SW novel, and that features a white (whitish? She seems to darken on certain covers) human as the main character.

    Of course, I think where I differ from a lot of the regulars in this thread is that I don't really see lack of diversity as a crippling flaw to an otherwise well written work. I want to see more aliens, but I don't necessarily think it factors into making a novel/comic better or worse. Hell, I don't even remember Shatterpoint featuring any aliens (anyone want to fact check me on that?)
  4. TrakNar Force Ghost

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    At times, while reading the X-Wing books, I would have liked to crawl into Ooryl's head and see how his thought process works. I've seen what goes on in Zuckuss's head, and it's a mess, but he's mentally-ill, so that's excusable. But, I would like to see what goes on in a healthy Gand's head, how they perceive things around them. With Vaskau Farg in a Wizards campaign, we saw that he didn't like cold, and he really could not stand to look at Arkanians, as their skin was too white, their teeth were too straight, and they were "ugly, even by Human standards."
  5. GrandAdmiralJello Moderator Communitatis Litterarumque

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    I definitely enjoy seeing that, especially because it takes creativity to do it properly (the example you mention above sounds hilarious) but I feel like it can only be sustained for one-off characters, or short passages. I really can't see somebody being able to sustain it for a main character in a story, although if someone managed it that'd be great. It just seems like a LOT of work to do it properly.

    And I'd rather it not done at all if it couldn't be done properly.
  6. Likewater Force Ghost

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    How could things like basic discription be all that diffrent? the "Human" chracters in star wars are for all intents and purposes divorced from terran metephors. They are in every consevable matter alien to us, no more human than a batazoid, Pact, or a Time Lord.

    There are plenty of universes in fiction with Non Human protagonists, case in point Spock, Data, Worf. I mean Nom Anor was a very prevalent character in the new Jedi order as an Antagonist.
  7. instantdeath Force Ghost

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    Whenever Thrawn gets hit with the "Gary Stu" label, I really have to roll my eyes a bit. Of all the technical factors that go into the whole gary stu/mary sue designation (which is much more esoteric than most seem to think), the only one Thrawn can even possibly fill is the (and this one varies depending on who you ask) quirky hair style/eye color/skin color that's often used to give bland characters the illusion of personality (and this one is highly debatable when it comes to Thrawn; he's got red eyes, but it's far from the most exotic thing you see in Star Wars). Some like to throw the "everyone is in awe of him" thing around, but that's not entirely true; even from the villains, we know that C'Baoth barely even respects Thrawn, and sees him as a means to an end and nothing more.

    And, of course, some would say that it's technically impossible for a villain to be a Gary Stu, but that's a different topic. I also have not read Outbound Flight, so I have no idea how he's characterized in that, but in TTT he's at a very safe distance from omnipotent.

    Yep. "Mary Sue" and "emo". Two words that are guaranteed to annoy me if misused. Of course, I've had practice with the latter. It's music, dammit, not a fashion style (and not the music that's most often associated with it :p)
    Last edited by instantdeath, Nov 9, 2012
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  8. TrakNar Force Ghost

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    Another way for writers to write "alien" would be to give other senses precedence. Smell is a good sense to use, and authors need not know exactly how it works for animals to write it properly. Think of certain smells and the feelings that they invoke. Use your own experiences and elaborate upon them. Ask other people for their own takes.

    For example, some people can smell snow. When the Nor'easter came up earlier this week, I could smell the snow in the air. The night before, I could smell ice. When Sandy made landfall, I could smell the salt in the air. And I live in Gettysburg. The thing about those smells, though, are they're not a concrete "smell" as one would think. It's an indistinct taste that sits in the back of your throat, and a scent that tickles the inside of your nose. Snow has a crisp smell to it, and ice smells damp. Salt is a taste that you sense in the back of your throat. Surely a writer with better descriptive talents than I could fashion that into a sensory map for an alien character.
    Last edited by TrakNar, Nov 9, 2012
  9. instantdeath Force Ghost

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    Not alien, but Stover did a fantastic job in writing a thought process so different from his own in R2D2. I was very impressed.

    Actually, that makes me wonder... do droids count towards diversity? :p

    Too bad, though, that despite Stover being really good at writing alternative viewpoints (in Blade of Tyshalle, he writes wonderfully from the point of view of an injured god; the way he manages to write such an odd viewpoint and make it both relateable and compelling for the reader is damn impressive), doesn't seem to feature a high number of aliens in his work.
    Last edited by instantdeath, Nov 9, 2012
  10. GrandAdmiralJello Moderator Communitatis Litterarumque

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    @Likewater, franchises where everybody basically acts like humans with wrinkled noses aren't the best example here. Yes, it's done often. I aver that it's done poorly.

    It's about more than just referencing real life objects -- it's about a way of thinking, a way of viewing, an internal value system. Call it human privilege, if you want, though the term is inadequate. We see things through our eyes and therefore it's only natural aliens think the same way. But they shouldn't, and it harms the authenticity of the universe to portray them as doing so.

    @TrakNar, yes. I think that's definitely one way to do it. If somebody could pull it off, I'm all for it. I just think it'd be a really tall order, is all.

    A Mon Calamari protagonist, I think, should have heightened tactile impressions--being used to water and the like, things like air currents should matter more to them. A lot of their basic descriptive vocabulary should reflect their nature. For example: "The battle was going swimmingly, which led Ackbar to conclude that it was, in fact, a trap."
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  11. Likewater Force Ghost

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    You realise thats the point, there is no real diffrence

    Zhaan was for all intents and purpose as human as John Chrition execpt when you put her int intense sunlight and she wigged out, or she got hungery for too long and she hulked out. Its not about simulating some sort or semi realistic aliens mentality. we are them they are us. its is essentially about the human condition. That Empathy is the connective point between people and it dosent matter what you look like.

    I have never smelled the snow in the air or tasted the rain like Traknar, I am a martial artist, it is a very important part of my life. as such the croch of my pants is aften the first ting to go as i Practice my stances whenever I can. I meet personal confrontation head on, I find my self either focusing on someones eyes or their soilders but keeping a non vocused view of peoples torso and upper bodies often looking for movement, position, posture. Sounds such as rythimic motion, breathing, footsteps, the swoosh of displaced air take 1st place in the way I precive the world. My Sense of taste and smell just dosent notice weather changes, yet despite that we share alot incommon case in point a fandom for starwars. what we have incommon out weighs our diffrences, that the pont of having non monsterious (xenemorph, the thing) aliens

    Same species, same cultre, very diffrent ways of perception. But I bet our similarities out weigh our diffrences by far, aliens are just a way of telling that narrative.
    .
  12. Mechalich Force Ghost

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    Actually Thrawn is instructive here. The reason Thrawn is not a viewpoint character is very simple: Thrawn is a certifiable military genius. Timothy Zahn is not and is smart enough to know that.

    When writing a genius-level intellect and not being one yourself (which is pretty much inherent, otherwise you'd presumably be doing that thing not making up fictional characters about it) you have to cheat. You can't show the thought process directly, you can only show its effects. Thus, Thrawn looks at art, this art criticism somehow allows his mind to parse key psychological traits at the species and individual levels that he can then exploit. We don't know how he does it and neither does Timothy Zahn, but Thrawn does, so Thrawn's viewpoint cannot be shown.

    Being a genius is a form of psycological barrier in storytelling, in many ways the same as being an alien. Properly writing an alien perspective will generate unusual gaps in the narrative where they act on a motivation that simply does not exist in the human experience. The best example I can think of comes from the Black Fleet Crisis trilogy, where Nil Spaar is occasionally a viewpoint character. He comes off as a surprisingly pragmatic and reasonable being, but this is the same sentient that is leading a massive xenocidal campaign against helpless sentient populations and asks random crowd-members to sacrifice themselves to fertilize the incubation of his children!

    Reading those passages can be a bizarre experience. That's the point of course, but a properly done alien perspective is going to make the reader deeply uncomfortable and to an audience with a low level of artistic literacy, will often be disliked even if its well done. The Star Wars novel audience is, lets be honest with ourselves, not the most literarily astute reader base, and the publishers have tended to take that further by pandering to it (thus the continual dominance of the big three). So the overwhelming majority of viewpoint characters are going to be well within the comfort zone.

    Further, it takes time, meaning significant word volume to properly build up the behavior set of an alien species so that you develop something convincing and not a quickly accumulation of stereotypes. There simply isn't room in any given novel to treat lage numbers of characters that way. So most works, and even whole trilogies, will get at best one or two fully articulated alien presences. In Dark Nest, for example, it's the Killiks (even though Denning completely fails at his understanding of eusociality, but that's a different rant). In Coruscant Nights its the Sullustans and the Zeltrons, in Black Fleet Crisis it was the Yevetha (and maybe the Quella, in a weird, post-mortem kind of way), in the NJO it was the Yuuzhan Vong. This sort of thing is incremental, and while every major work ought to be doing it, not just some of them, it's still a slow, careful process.
  13. Skaddix Force Ghost

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    Look I will worry about alien representation after they fix the human problems. As someone who is not a white male, I can safely say I don't give one **** about alien rep compared to the current human issues of total white male dominance.
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  14. instantdeath Force Ghost

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    The art thing that Thrawn does gets its share of criticism, but I actually think it has at least some plausibility in the SW galaxy. In fact, when I first read the TTT, I thought Zahn was actually parodying Star Wars and science fiction in a way (back then, I did not know Zahn :)). The long standing trope that, in sci-fi, all the alien races have a few binding characteristics, and all generally act in the same manner, where humans are the oddballs in the galaxy in that they're highly diverse. Like it or not, that's very much true for Star Wars, though some more recent works have been working to subvert that a bit.

    Besides, I never got the impression that Thrawn ever garnered any detailed tactical analysis from the artwork of any species, just general perceptions about said species. Of course, that makes me wonder if he's ever able to garner anything from human artwork [face_sigh]
  15. TrakNar Force Ghost

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    Thrawn will look upon the vast amounts of hentai and conclude that we're a bunch of sickos. :p
  16. instantdeath Force Ghost

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    Thrawn could take a lesson from Solid Snake in defeating the humans. Leave porn lying around everywhere. Everyone, men and women, will stop and stare at it, and become totally oblivious to anything around them. Easy targets.
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  17. GrandAdmiralJello Moderator Communitatis Litterarumque

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    And what of the Thrawn porn fanart?
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  18. TrakNar Force Ghost

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    Those artists will contracted to draw more nudes of him, so that he may look upon them and bask in the glory of his naked beauty.
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  19. Jeff_Ferguson Force Ghost

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    That's a perfectly valid complaint for 1200 pages. :cool: They could have done so, so much more in that trilogy, but the search for Zonama Sekot ended up amounting to sitting in a library and looking through old paper books. "Hello, we're the Chiss and this is Grand Admiral YAWN

    Agreed. Some SW novels I've read recently are Daley's Han Solo Adventures. They feature a diverse cast, and their non-Human characters are all very non-Human. I'm reading Lost Legacy now, and Han & Chewie are traveling with a sentient caterpillar and hitching a ride across a lake with a sentient seal. Descriptions of aliens throughout the series, even ones who make the briefest of appearances, have emphasized just how alien they are, giving them enriching details and really bringing them to life inside the reader's head. Whenever there's a crowd of people, Daley makes some sort of mention of "arms, tentacles, and various other kinds of limbs" doing something. This kind of world-building really brings a story to life and makes it seem, for lack of a better word, realistic, at least within the setting of the SW universe. I'll take introducing new and exotic species and bringing them to life with rich descriptions over "The heroes encountered a Twi'lek, a Rodian, and a Bith, yet again" any day.
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  20. TrakNar Force Ghost

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    I will give Rogue Planet credit. It had a sentient caterpillar.
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  21. FatSmel Jedi Grand Master

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    So the issue you have isn't actually with the books/authors at all.

    It's with the guys who draw the pictures?
  22. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    Smel, if you read the OP, I talk about how it's no one person or group's fault - it's an accumulation of tiny problems that have gotten more and more obvious as time goes on. Though yes, one big part of it is an artistic tendency to draw people as white in those situations where a text description doesn't specify race - the Reader's Companion had a good bit of this.

    Speaking for myself at least, I don't think lack of diversity ever automatically cripples a story dramatically. It can, especially in a setting that's supposed to be so exotic, but it's a philosophical problem (with humans) and a plausibility problem (with aliens), not a quality problem. I think a lot of people who have negative reactions to this thread think we're thumbing through Shatterpoint, say, thinking "bah! Where are all the aliens??" and tossing it aside--obviously, the needs of a story are paramount, and Shatterpoint doesn't need aliens because it basically takes place within one largely isolated human community. Sure, Lorz Geptun, I suppose, could have been an alien, but I don't think anyone here would argue that it would've made the book better in a clinical sense.

    Star Wars doesn't need diversity to be good anymore than Vonnegut or Hemingway or Shakespeare does.
    Last edited by CooperTFN, Nov 10, 2012
  23. GrandAdmiralJello Moderator Communitatis Litterarumque

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    I disagree. There weren't enough Ghanans in Hamlet. Why must Denmark be full of white people?
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  24. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    Well, that's a real-world problem than can be easily taken care of with a handful of warheads. [face_thinking]
  25. _Catherine_ Chosen One

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    Chalk from Shatterpoint, although they fixed that aberration in the ERC by just giving her brown hair.