When I was very young I used to think that stories where everyone died, or stories where pointless but sad things happened were about the best thing ever. They were profound and so different from every other story I’d read till that time which were all boys-aventures or fairytales that ended well and with a moral.
If You Were A Dinosaur my Love’s win bothered me at a level I can’t begin to explain, and it still bothers me, like an aching tooth to which the tongue keeps returning. It’s not just that could have been written by me at 12 and would have got, from my middle school teacher, exactly the sort of praise it got from science fiction professionals.
It’s the ideas packed into the story that are truly disturbing.
A story that reveals a total lack of knowledge of an entire class of people (manual laborers) and instead others them as sort of scary all purpose evil that will beat to death anyone who doesn’t look/act like them won an award voted on by – supposedly – adult professionals. Not only that, but adult professionals who keep claiming their tolerance and love of the “other.” What’s more, adult professionals who would almost certainly embrace “Marxism” as a good or at least correct idea. When did Marxists start loathing and fearing the working class? And admitting it?
It made perfect sense for ten or twelve year old me to write and love that sort of thing. The only working class people I knew were in the village and I’d seen movies like everyone else where working class LABORERS were sort of beasts unleashed. But the movies aren’t real and every adult knows that, right? Every adult knows that people are just people and that intellectual prowess is not an indicative of goodness or moral right, right?
The only way to think that all manual laborers are a sort of painted devil to scare readers with is to never have met any. I rather like people who work with their hands and who do real, often difficult and dirty work.
I didn’t raise my kids in mixed (there was always some gentrification pushing in) neighborhoods by choice exactly. It was a combination of what we could afford and the fact I don’t like driving and most of the older, walkable neighborhoods are a mixed bag.
Kids grew up with children who were the children of the local police chief, or the local chef at a greasy spoon (Robert’s best friend to his early teens), or the occasional child of a college professor.
We never found anyone less than polite or nice. They might think we were weird as heck, with our paintings of dragons, our house groaning under the weight of books (though you know I once got a 20% discount on appliance purchases from Lowes because I wrote for Baen, which tells you workaday people read. The clerks gathered around to shake my hand, not because of my writing – I hadn’t been published by Baen yet, I just mentioned I wrote for them – but because I knew Drake and Weber.) But none of these people were even impolite to us – not even to the foreign chick with the accent. And after the normal precaution of coming over a couple of times with the kids, they’d let the kids flit in and out of our house as though they’d known us all their lives, and would take our kids fishing and have them stay for dinner as though we were family.
We went to Lakeside (immortalized as riverside in Noah’s Boy) on our weekends off. Lakeside is a low-rent amusement park and part of the reason we went there is that I don’t go on rides or at least not on most of them. We wanted a place where I could get in for $5, we paid $15 a piece for the kids to have a full ride pass, Dan got $10 in tickets for the rides he liked, and we could spend the whole day having fun. My fun was to read a book outside the rides the guys were on.
That park would have been a dead zone if you could have dropped a bomb that killed only manual laborers. We’d have been the only survivors. And if a bomb killed only Spanish speakers, only about one third of the park would still be alive.
It was a safe and fun place for the kids and – remember I understand Spanish, too – not once did anyone say “Hey, look at the dork chick reading a book,” much less “let’s beat her up.”
In fact, it wasn’t till we could afford as a treat, to go to Waterworld, a playground for children in our own “class” in terms of parental education that we found people were rude and made horrible remarks. (Not unexpected in feral children raised mostly in daycares, but a shock, nonetheless.)
Thinking about this, I figured that the people who write and vote awards for these sort of stories are people who have never come in contact with laborers or working class people and who never even deigned exchange three words with the clerk totting up their order.
They assume – since they assume they’re the most “evolved” of all people. All their teachers told them they were closest to the progressive ideal, and they’ve learned all the right opinions, after all – that working class people must be stupid or a sort of less evolved form of themselves.
It would probably shock them to death how many phds do manual labor, either out of inability to deal with life or because they come to the same conclusion I did about relative politeness and decide they don’t want to deal with bullship office politics anymore.
Instead, they imagine everyone not a college professor as a sort of grown up feral highschool student crossed with the worst stereotypes from older books and movies.
They imagine beneath their enlightened selves a lumpen mass of troglodytes who hate anyone who is different, and particularly anyone who is LEARNED like them. They think working class automatically means racist and sexist and anti-intellectual.
These people have had no experiences as adults with other adults. They have never bothered wandering off the safe lighted path even enough to LOOK at how the other people live. They probably mistake muttering mental homeless for members of the “working class.” They were maybe called “lady” by a repairman and have been scarred ever since.
Maybe it’s that I had the advantage of my grandfathers being carpenters and of having been a curious little girl who grew up following repairmen around to see how things are done. I can do most of the tradesman level work, except I won’t mess with electrical and plumbing.
I can tell you though, that when prepping houses for sale, the tradesmen that come in and see me work never say “Hey look it’s a chick doing men’s work. Let’s beat her.” Instead, they go from amused to respectful and end up teaching me some stuff I didn’t know. (And two have offered me jobs.)
No wonder they can’t interpret criticism of their choices as anything but “they’re afraid of women and gays writing science fiction.” I mean, what else could it be, when these fine hothouse flowers of academia know for a fact they are the most enlightened human beings alive?
It’s not strange that they should think this. After all, the aristocracy in every time period has tended to be a little isolated and make a lot of assumptions about other people. They probably think we should eat cake and shut up already.
What is strange is that we’ve let such people dominate entire fields of mass entertainment, designed to appeal to the very masses they despise. What is strange is that we allow them to turn entire classes of people off reading, and to preach their silly nonsense just enough to inspire civilizational self-hate.
It’s time this stops.
Read, write, buy decent books, and for grins and giggles vote on awards, too.
It’s time grown ups too over the business of entertainment. The kids have left half melted pink crayons and chewed crackers everywhere.
Bring in the vacuum, roll up your sleeves. It’s going to be time-consuming and tiring, but we, the grown-ups must take over.
For their own protection.
In the end, we win, they lose. Be not afraid.
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