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Lit Diversity in SW Lit - Coop's Temporary Whining Thread

Discussion in 'Expanded Universe' started by CooperTFN, Apr 8, 2012.

  1. CooperTFN Jedi Grand Master

    The day I started reading Apocalypse was the day the boards went down. I was gonna just hold off until the full version was back up, but I wanted to get people's reactions to the current Hunger Games controversy. Mod-type folks, I'm hoping this discussion's background will earn me the benefit of the doubt if it doesn't overly involve SW right off the bat.

    For those of you who are unaware - since the release of the Hunger Games movie, certain people have been tracking a phenomenon wherein fans express surprise, or, in some cases, anger upon realizing that two of the main characters are black; despite both being very clearly described as such in the book.

    This adds a very interesting new dimension to the discussion we've been having in the old thread, in that we've devoted a lot of attention to the ways in which prose can communicate a character's race accurately without becoming distracting, or using unpleasant terminology like, I dunno, Epicanthix. Now we have a case of characters being White Until Proven Black - being described in no uncertain terms as having dark skin, and people still expressing shock when later confronted with a black face.

    In what way should this change the terms of our earlier discussion? Should - could - Suzanne Collins have done anything differently, or should she just not even have bothered?
  2. GoodValors Jedi Master

    I've not watched it, but the big controversy I kept reading about in the British papers a few weeks ago was mothers being all up in arms at the film's violence apparently traumatising their kids in the cinema. But then there are others who are just worked up about the characters being black?

    I'd use a rolling eyes emoticon but it wouldn't do things justice. :rolleyes:

    Cal Omas could turn out to be bright green and I'd not particularly care. (Would make the endless wait worth it, in fact! :p)
  3. GenAntilles Jedi Master

    I think it's due to the reader visualizing people when no image is available. People have to imagine the character on their own and they usually assume the character looks like them. When I read and the appearance is vague I assume they are all white with dark hair, because that's what I look like. I don't think it's intentional though, more of subconscious. I don't go around reading and saying 'this character is white, this character is white' I just assume and go on with out even thinking about it.

    The problem arises when an actual image does come out and it goes against the image we developed in our heads. To use an exaggerated example, we don't know what Cal Omas looks like but if the official image for him had him be a 3 foot man with asian features with an afro we'd all go into a 'what?' mode when processing that with the image in our heads.

    And in a lot of cases the description of characters features is rather vague or comes after the character is introduced and people have already put an image of them in their heads. I think the only way to combat this is to have images provided or make descriptions of characters clearer upon first meeting them so the image we put in out heads of them is the authors image.
  4. CooperTFN Jedi Grand Master

    Well, there are two things there; one is that, to my understanding, the phrase "dark skin" is used at least two different times to describe Rue. That could mean a lot of things, but not white.

    The second thing is that...
    ...I would argue that what you're describing in the first sentence is the problem. If your mental image is directly contradicting the text, that's hardly the creators' fault.
  5. manisphere Jedi Master

    What??? What is this, 1962? I had no idea about this one.

    For me, the violence couldn't get me in the theater or to buy the book. I'm hating distopian fiction when we're already in a distopia.

    Well then, why not compliment all fiction with illustration? Next we can reduce the words to text message acronyms.
    A writer has no obligation to do anything other than tell the story as they envision it. There should be no hand holding the reader to each point in fear that they'll be confused and thus, angry.
  6. shepherd492 Jedi Master

    Maybe it is because the type of mainstream readers that read Hunger Games (not saying EVERYONE who reads it is this type, but that for a book to become this popular, the majority of the audience pretty much fits this description) have read about 10 books in their lifetime, all of which have made into movies and are digestible enough for a 4th grader to be able to handle.

    In no uncertain terms: Idiots with no reading comprehension skills.
    manisphere likes this.
  7. GoodValors Jedi Master

    Without knowing what Hunger Games is about, my uninformed question would be: is the colour of their skin relevant to the story? If so, then fair enough; if not, then my response to them being black, white, or a blue skinned alien would pretty much be the same as to whether they were fat or thin, blonde or brunette, as when it comes to film adaptations, characters always are going to take a few liberties and never correspond to "the" perfect image in a reader's head, so uproar at them being black is just...

    Voldemort didn't look how I'd pictured him when he crawled out the cauldron in GOF. I saw more of a snake, we got more of a Falleen, but to each their own... though maybe this sort of thing is easier to accept when you're a fantasy or sci-fi fan and so more used to depictions rarely matching your own image of what things look like?

    I reserve the right, however, to start a hate campaign if Cal Omas turns out to be a redhead.
  8. The Loyal Imperial Census & Games General Manager

    I can't claim to have read the books or seen the movie, but I don't see why she should. Pretty sure the entire point of this thread so far has been that having to beat it into your readers' heads over and over again that a character isn't white is a bad thing.
  9. Jedi Ben Jedi Grand Master

    There's an interesting comment on how imagery can change the way a character looks:

    Here's an image of Talon Karrde:

    Here's Zahn's description from HTTE 20th Anniversary Edition:
    "a slender man, thin-faced, with short dark hair and pale blue eyes."

    Plus comment:
    "Somewhere along the line, one of the artists tackling Karrde either missed this description or else ignored it, drawing the man with long, flowing hair and a goatee. That's the image that has now stuck for him. Which is fine with me. Karrde is the type who would probably find it useful to change appearance every so often anyway, and by the end of the Thrawn Trilogy he could very well have looked like that."

    Interesting, no?
  10. CooperTFN Jedi Grand Master

    But how many more fans would've been upset if she hadn't described her at all?
  11. GenAntilles Jedi Master

    Then I misspoke. When I read about a character and the physical description is not detailed enough to create an image in my head or nonexistent then I seem to default to seeing them as someone that looks like me. I would never recommend going against the author in terms of appearance. Once I have the description that is how I see the character.

    I meant could be done not should be done. And authors shouldn't be upset if their readers see characters and locations differently if they didn't provide enough description.
  12. The Loyal Imperial Census & Games General Manager

    Then we'd be looking at a case of both simply avoiding the problem and a book unfortunately lacking in character descriptions. And a movie with a different cast.
  13. CooperTFN Jedi Grand Master

    This is meant to be a broad discussion, but I guess what I'm asking with regard to HG specifically is, should this incident be taken as a sign that writers should be handling race differently? Or is it just hopeless?
  14. The Loyal Imperial Census & Games General Manager

    I don't think it's any particular kind of sign to writers, other than that their readership isn't paying particularly deep attention to the details of what they write. Hardly a new problem.
  15. shepherd492 Jedi Master

    It's probably hopeless for these kinds of books. Always going to be people who read stuff to be cool and fit in, skimming through and absorbing as little of it as possible. It's a good problem for Collins and her ilk to have, imo.
  16. Jedi Ben Jedi Grand Master

    Where are you going with this?
  17. Lord Grey One Jedi Knight

    There's two issues here, and the really problematic of those is the racism one. The "white until proven black" angle isn't that surprising to me seeing how you can easily read past the expression "dark skin" (some kind of sun tan maybe?) and just go to your default image, especially if it's just mentioned once. I think I missed a few things comparable to this in my life as a reader, for example I don't think I ever had a mental image for Karrde before I saw the comic book. In the white/black discussion, you've also got to see how general fiction "casts" attributes like that. I'm through six Potter books by now, and I can only remember one student being described as black (and he was one of the jerk house!). All the others - might be, but might be not. I don't think you're racist just by imagining fictional characters based on your experience. For example, someone growing up with kids from all kinds of ethnical backgrounds might imagine his characters much more varied than someone who's just relying on stereotypes and stereotypical media representation. All in all, I agree that it's somewhat scientifically intriguing - what's the psychology making people jump to these conclusions?

    The thing that stands out here is, of course, the fact that these twitter users sound disappointed when finding about the ethnicity thing. Which shows you that the world still has a long way to go in accepting differences. But if it's any consolation, in absence of ethnic differences, I bet people like that start fighting based on any other differences they can find. The kind of clothes you wear, whether you're rich or smart or listen to Lady Gaga.
  18. Dr. Steve Brule Jedi Master

    Arthur C. Clarke toyed with this in his novel Imperial Earth. The main character is descended from the founding family of the Titan colony. More than half the book goes by before the narration casually mentions that the character (and thus the social elite of the Titan colony) is black. He did it precisely because of the issue raised here, that he knew most of his readers would assume a character was white despite having no reason to.

    On a similar note, Clarke also casually dropped partway through the book that his main character is bisexual.
  19. shepherd492 Jedi Master

    Just saying that it's a good problem to have. It's a sign that she has successfully tapped into the most illusive of reading demographics- the racist, barely literate people who rarely pick up books. Not a personal slight against the author at all, just an observation that it is better to have a super popular book that idiots don't understand (but at least they bought it) as opposed to a run of the mill book (in terms of popularity/sales) that only fairly dedicated readers get a hold of, and that you make less money off of.
  20. Jedi Ben Jedi Grand Master

    Ah, thanks, had wondered if you were wanting the book to have been written in such a way as to prevent any misreading which, no matter the skill of any writer, probably isn't possible.

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