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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    Well, the Chiss actually are human offshoots. The Arkanians are near-human, but is there any indication they came from Republic colonial populations or sleeper ships?
  2. Mia Mesharad Force Ghost

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    I did feel the need to say a few words there after you brought it up, though my general disinterest in everything to do with all this new movie business may keep me from returning any time soon.
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  3. TrakNar Force Ghost

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    Wherever they came from, their skin is too white, their teeth are too straight, and they are ugly, even by Human standards. :p
  4. Skaddix Jedi Grand Master

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    Also far to quick to label everything a near human in Star Wars EU. Chiss and Zeltrons are a yes. Korunnai though are a no.
  5. Esg Jedi Grand Master

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    Who knows. Seeing how they see themselves as genetic perfection would they even admit to it?
  6. Esg Jedi Grand Master

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    They aren't categorized as that though

    Their no less different then the Yasanna. A distinct indigounus Human culture made of decedents of shipwrecked Jedi
    Last edited by Esg, Nov 12, 2012
  7. GrandAdmiralJello Moderator Communitatis Litterarumque

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    What's good for the goose is good for the Gand, I guess.
  8. Robimus Force Ghost

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    To me there isn't any question, there are gay characters in Star Wars - but I suspect that would be met with a wall of G-Canon/D-Canon mumbo gumbo :p
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  9. Mechalich Force Ghost

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    Okay, first off, Star Wars is a Space Fantasy setting. It is not a 'science fiction' setting in the same way as truly speculative SF universes like David Brin's Uplift or Ian M. Banks' Culture universes, or even Star Trek. It has much more in common with medieval fantasy than those (and Star Wars EU novels are, by and large, written by authors with a primarily fantasy background).

    Likewise writing within a shared universe is not a highly specualtive form of literature, since it means agreeing to play by a certain set of rules someone else has already laid out. This requires a particular set of creative skills, one not all author's possess, which is why some of the most famous entries into the Star Wars universe are some of its most muddled (cough, Rogue Planet, cough).

    However, the overall point I was trying to make is that people who originated in a white-dominated social setting see that as normal. They won't see the highly white setup they put together as unusual or lacking in diversity subconsciously, and therefore they won't change it. Someone else has to come along and point it out, in much the sme way that no writer can properly serve as their own copy editor. This is particular to the novels, by the way, which are the least diverse of the Star Wars media, because the authors aren't seeing their characters, are and completely reading over race along with just about all other visual characteristics ninety percent of the time, and letting their default, which happens to be white, fill in the rest.

    Yes, retroactive decisions to introduce pro-diversity choices in the novels can be made, by the editors. Infrahuman variances in physical appearance are largely meaningless from an in-universe perspective, and so far as there's suitable descriptors to edit them this can be done easily enough. Of course this is an area where Star Wars is different from many settings, and so I suspet Del Rey (and Bantam before it) never really figured out how they wanted to handle it.

    Of course, retroactive decisions regarding ethnic physical appearance traits are also made by the illustrators, and perhaps, in the case of the novels, that should actually be the focus point for this particular diversity issue.
  10. GrandAdmiralJello Moderator Communitatis Litterarumque

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    Oh, silly me, I hadn't realized that fantasy writers lack imagination.
  11. Mechalich Force Ghost

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    Sigh.

    The point is that the genres do different things. Science-fiction is a boundary pushing, highly specualtive genre. Fantasy is actually a rather conservative form.

    Star Wars, after all, is a telling of the absolutely oldest and most archetypical story there is. While the setting was original when it was produced, the themes were and are as old as the hills.
  12. Skaddix Jedi Grand Master

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    It maybe be Fantasy but the key point is its Space Fantasy. Now while most Fantasy at least in the US is based on Europe to some extent (lets ignore the fact that trade amongst the continents in the Old World did not start in the 1600's its been going on for several millennium). Standard excuse is its based on Medieval Europe therefore all white. That does not apply to star wars which is in no way restricted to one country or one continent, its not even restricted to a single planet. Its a whole galaxy. So while I agree that the writers bring in their real world bias, the conservative nature cannot in anyway be applied to Star Wars because characters are in no way geographically restricted. Also everything is an archetype nowadays, how good a story is boils down to execution and setting.
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  13. GrandAdmiralJello Moderator Communitatis Litterarumque

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    Assuming for the sake of argument that your premise (fantasy is conservative) about the genre is true, that doesn't say anything about the individuals who write within that genre. Just as you can have really dull and generic sci-fi writers, you can have creative fantasy writers -- I'm sure we can think of some anecdotal examples.

    Moreover, if we're judging on the standards of the material rather than on the creativity of the individual writers in question, then I have to wonder how conservative Star Wars really is. Recall that this is the film that -- almost forty years ago! -- had a female main character who literally took things into her own hands (a gun, no less!). That was huge, and trail-blazing. Where did that go? Somehow we're judging the material by the standards of the 1850s now (oh sorry, 1960s? basically the same thing).

    As for the suggestion that writers grew up in a world with different assumptions about race . . . I'm not going to speak for anybody else, but I'll say that as a child, the only time we ever thought about homosexuality was as a pejorative tag (oh, that CD is so gay!) and that was about it. It's not exactly an emblem of tolerance. Yet I feel that -- y'know, being something called an adult -- I'm perfectly capable of fairly writing a decent homosexual character or at least being aware that such a mindset exists with different assumptions than my own. I can do this despite not being an individual paid for my creativity and imagination.

    I completely reject your argument, @Mechalich , and find it to be something out of Mad Men -- if not the middle ages. The world has moved on, and the notion that people are locked into the assumptions they had when they were growing up is patently offensive. Were that the case, nothing would have EVER changed and half of the people on this board would be slaves or working in kitchens.

    And finally, if I -- the arch-Imperialist whose only thought of aliens is that they smell -- can deal with it, everybody else can too.
    Last edited by GrandAdmiralJello, Nov 13, 2012
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  14. instantdeath Force Ghost

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    I'll hope that's in no way a crack against Mad Men :p

    Nice save, for a moment I thought you were breaking character again...
    Last edited by instantdeath, Nov 13, 2012
  15. Likewater Force Ghost

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    I think you are selling fantasy short, I mean Conan the original howard stuff had a very harsh view of colonization and empires, and the view of Technological superiority equaling spiritual/intillectual/moral superiority.

    And A song of fire and Ice pushes boundries, especially when it challanges long held general tropes. And Isnt Avatar the last Airbender and its universe fantasy? Isnt Codex of Aleria Fantasy? both asked hard question. Airbender about Morality and upholding the ideals of one culture under dire situations.

    And Aleria never glossed over the uglyness of slavery, the evils of a class based sociaty where might determins ones position, and how it can limit creativity and revolutionary ideas.
    Last edited by Likewater, Nov 13, 2012
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  16. instantdeath Force Ghost

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    I don't necessarily believe the fantasy tends to relegate more towards a conservative style, and science fiction a liberal one. Science fiction is progressive by nature, absolutely, but not necessarily liberal. One of the most noted modern sci-fi writers, Orson Scott Card, is very conservative in areas, and it reflects in his work.

    I could see how fantasy could pick up the conservative tag, though, with people like Terry Goodkind leading the reigns [face_sick]. Still, even some of the more flawed series, like The Wheel of Time, tend to be all about how people need to change, to adapt, if they want to survive.

    But screw you guys, I'm supposed to be finishing a paper that's due in two hours...
    Last edited by instantdeath, Nov 13, 2012
  17. GrandAdmiralJello Moderator Communitatis Litterarumque

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    I. As a show? No, it does a wonderful job showing how backwards people could be in that era of change social upheaval. I highly enjoy it.

    Admittedly I was partly cribbing from political commentators who described the GOP electoral loss resulting from it being a "Mad Men party in a Modern Family world."

    II. Tolerance and liberality are the hallmarks of the Imperial system, which posits the belief that all individuals, regardless of species, gender, or creed, ought to be given an equal opportunity to serve His Imperial Majesty.

    Moreover, Imperial academies often stress the very real differences between species, which we ought to all be mindful of. This is an essential tenant of belief. Let us not imagine all species think the same way.
    Last edited by GrandAdmiralJello, Nov 13, 2012
  18. instantdeath Force Ghost

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    Ah, so Daala was just crazy after all :p

    (I still maintain that giving Daala brain damage was the greatest retcon ever)
  19. GrandAdmiralJello Moderator Communitatis Litterarumque

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    Well, the position of Betl Oxtroe as a highly prominent admiral and member of the Imperial Court (indeed; according to cut content, inducted to the Order of the Canted Circle prior to Tigellinus and Thrawn) puts the lie to Daala's claims. Given that her record is that of sheer incompetence, and her talent only ever theoretical (Warfare suggests she was a good video gamer), her testimony is completely unreliable.

    So yeah, let's ignore Admiral Dalliance.
  20. Zorrixor Chosen One

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    I risked a glance at that discussion on the Episode 7 board...

    ...I was grateful the board crashed before I could get to Page 3.
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  21. Mechalich Force Ghost

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    conservative: traditional in style or manner; avoiding novelty or showiness.

    See, when I was talking about fantasy being a 'conservative' art form, that was the sense I was using the term. This is a broadly true reality of fantasy, it stresses tried and true themes and stylistic mores across the whole of the genre (yes, you can find anecdotal examples that break with this trend, but that has absolutely no bearing on the point I was making). Amazing how everyone seemed to jump on the idea that I was saying fantasy was somehow politically conservative. That is very frustrating because it makes it appear that many are not reading my posts so on this subject so much as deliberately looking to attack them.

    Insofar as the fantasy is a conservative form point applies to Star Wars - the key here is that you can take a method for writing a medieval fantasy set piece, and drop that into Star Wars and change absolutely nothing about the themes or general characterization methods and it will still work. Has no one else here read Troy Denning's Forgotten Realms material? I have. He does not write any differently between the universes.

    Clearly you missed the point in the above post about subconscious assumptions. People are influenced by their environment, both during early life stages and whatever their current one happens to be. Yes any individual can make a conscious decision to make various character choices, but I was not speaking to that. The idea is that, across a group (and Star Wars authorship is a group of people, since it is a widely shared universe) this influence will be felt. Generational turnover in viewpoints is a very real thing (election results anyone?). When ethnic identity is not a point of storytelling value, the average group of Generation X or Baby Boomer authors will choose to make characters gay, or black, or hispanic, less often than they average group of millenials. Most readers on this board would fall into the later group, while most of the authors would fall into the former.

    Look, I am not saying, and have never suggested that we should support this sort of thinking, but it needs to be acknowledged that these influences exist. The title for the thread is "Ignorance is bias," but if that's true, I would say that just shouting it into the face of the powers that be is not a viable solution. You have to figure out why there is ignorance, what produced it and why it continues, why it applies differently across different media, and what specific publishing policies should be encouraged to reduce the problem. That requires looking at the issue with an in-depth analytical gaze that sometimes makes people uncomfortable.
    Last edited by Mechalich, Nov 13, 2012
  22. Likewater Force Ghost

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    Conservative as it dosent push boundry or break the mold, or adhere to a formula? I think most of us got that but simply don't agree with you.


    Its like say Cooking is as an art from conservative because people use tried and true recipies. While that is true, alot of cooking is about experimentation and challanging notions about ingredients, seaonings, styles even culture.

    Fantasy is no more rote than Scifi, as there is brainless by rote cheesburger fantasy there is brainless by rote cheesburger sci fi. Just like now cashing in on the vampire craze there is alot of by the number modernfantasy out there.
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  23. instantdeath Force Ghost

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    I was using the word "conservative" in both its traditional meanings; regardless if you're referring to someone as conservative politically or conservative in other areas of life, the larger connotations are the same. I did read your post, and I usually enjoy reading them, as you tend to put a lot of thought into all of them, I just happen to disagree with this one. I mentioned Orson Scott Card as an example of the conservative science fiction author, and I would very much argue that his conservative standpoint carries over into areas of his writing that have nothing to with politics. A persons view of politics are, of course, informed by their own viewpoints on practically everything else, so it's not surprising when those things correlate so closely.

    And I would fiercely disagree that fantasy is more guilty then science fiction of adhering to standard forms and archetypes: let us not forget that Lord of the Rings was once as unorthodox as Dune. Sure, across most fantasy works, you'll find swords, sorcery of some kind, perhaps exotic races, a proto medieval setting. But in most science fiction works, you find space ships, advanced technology, some kind of commentary race and/or caste systems, and so on. These are common tropes, absolutely, but with both genres it's the differences, the subtleties, that make or break everything (unless you want to argue that only sci-fi/fantasy works that truly make attempts to innovate or deconstruct can be considered liberal, in which case you would have to say 95% of all fiction should be considered conservative)

    These works tend to be set in a specific type of world, absolutely, and follow specific rules; but no more than works of fiction set in our own world follows a specific set of rules. It is true that you can read many of the most well known fantasy series and come across several recurring, or if you're less kind, redundant themes and devices, but I see this less as a desire for the author to want to keep it safe, familiar and profitable, but simply a world in which an author sees the ability to tell a new story, or make a specific point, in the same way that at least 90% of popular fiction is set in our own world: an author has the power to do anything in the context of their own story, and most choose to set it in a familiar world, so what's in the realm of possibility if firmly established to the reader. Just like with everything else, fantasy and sci-fi each have their own separate branch of expectations and customs that serve as springing boards for writers, even with the ones that make a point of brutally deconstructing them, like Joe Abercrombie. Though it is true that science-fiction does often make a greater effort to analyze real world issues and comment on the evolution of the human race, I don't ultimately believe that different methods of FTL travel, different technology, weapons and spaceships, and different speculative planets are inherently more creative than the development of fantasy races and culture, different magic systems or creatures.

    I bolded the last piece because I wanted to stress that I believe methods of writing ultimately come down to the writer. I do agree that Star Wars is much closer to a fantasy than a science fiction- if anything, it's a fantasy set in space- but I imagine the similarities between the two are due to Troy Denning's style, and because with Star Wars, he's in no way attempting to write hard sci-fi.

    Quoted for truth
    Last edited by instantdeath, Nov 13, 2012
  24. JediFreac Force Ghost

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    I think we all have biases (based on where we grew up, the society we live in, our ability to empathize, imagine, and be self aware, etc.) and that there are some authors who are willing to view continued self awareness and development of diversity as part of their professional responsibility and continual professional improvement and some authors who are less willing to do so. I would hope, for example, that authors who are open and curious would research how to write diverse characters and even if they ran up against snarky and "self-righteous" articles, be able to handle it (if you are a published author and too thin-skinned to handle justified criticism and anger...good luck writing for a high profile franchise like Star Wars.)

    So, off the top of my head, there are authors like Martha Wells (writing the new Leia novel, did some research and learned a lot about her work and role as an ally, etc.) There are authors like John Scalzi who listened to snarky feedback, reevaluated it, and integrated these new insights into his work as a writer and as SFWA president. I'm also thinking about Joe Abercrombie's recent response to criticism that his writing was sexist and stereotypical. Might answer one of Coop's earlier questions about depicting -isms in writing. Here is his take:

    Abercrombie accepted criticism of his writing with good grace, and went on to try and include better women characters in later books. He could have easily instead said, "Well, that's what I was exposed to when I grew up" or "the tone of this criticism was unacceptable to me."
    Last edited by JediFreac, Nov 13, 2012
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  25. CooperTFN TFN EU Staff Emeritus

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    Could not agree more.