There is a saying “Personal isn’t the same thing as important” which goes with a certain type of character. It’s not right, but it illustrates the type of character who is utterly devoted to something to the exclusion of self beautifully.
In the same way, there should be a saying that “important isn’t the same thing as political” because it’s true, and because thinking it is drives me bonkers and also prevents any grown up conversations which actually do need to happen, in favor of shouting slogans in our faces and treating us as evil when we reject them.
Look, the right also politicizes things it shouldn’t. For instance, I found out that A Few Good Men is woke, and that only the gay characters are good people from the right. Who obviously were reading a book hetched inside their eyelids, after they closed their eyes not to read the real book. Because in the book the characters are gay partly to illustrate how any totalitarian regime treats minorities, and partly because it’s a minority and oft despise characteristic, but one that can be hidden, which then connects with the whole hidden stuff. Also makes Luce’s story plausible without giving him some kind of degenerative disease. (And no, I didn’t think of that when I started it. That’s not how the writing works. I just knew what it was. But as the book unrolled, it became pretty obvious.)
However we do that partly in reaction to the left making everything political and chasing us everywhere, from work place to hobbies screaming slogans and telling us we’re awful if we disagree.
But — It’s not right. And it’s hurting us. By us in this case I mean humanity and civilization.
This started because one of you posted something on literary criticism using the old “the curtains are blue” comment, on discord.
Now, I’m not outing her. She can if she wishes, but she seemed to think the original poster (I think a tweet) had a point, in that writers are trying to say or do something by specifying the color of the curtains even if they’re not doing it consciously.
I started rolling my eyes, and then the sapient pearwood soap box got under my feet when I got to the point where this tweet-er informed us that people who said that science fiction and comics didn’t use to be political are just stupid because it was always political, and people who thought it wasn’t just thought it was kid stuff.
At this point, I had a fine growl growing in the back of my throat consisting of “This is not how any of that works!” and my hand was actively seeking the axes given to me by the Minotaur (Thanks Ox!)
Because…. well, that’s not how any of that works.
The beginning with “but the critic has a point, otherwise the writer wouldn’t have put in any color at all” or whatever was merely stupid. Not actively poisonous, but short-bus special.
You put in details like the color of the curtains, because they build realism in the readers’ mind. If you just have something vague and fluffy like “the room had drapes” the scene will feel insubstantial and blah.
Look, it’s a fine dance and part of the craft of my profession to give just enough detail for the story to feel like it really happened while not spending your entire time describing the weave on the rug under feet. Depending on the importance of the room and the decor for the story, you might get away with “there were multicolored curtains on the windows” but if you’re trying to illustrate the character’s taste, or the particular world culture, it might be “There were bright pink curtains on the window. Interesting choice.”
So, does that mean the curtains’ color is deeply meaningful and blue curtains symbolize the open sky or possibly the Virgin Mary? (One of my idiot professors was obsessed with blue being the Virgin Mary. Weird for an atheist.)
Oh, heck no. And thinking it does is short-bus special.
It can mean that, or whatever if you are you know writing literature-class bait. But literature class bait is a genre to itself, and you have to start by assuming no one will read it if not assigned. (But lots of people will lie about reading it)
However, in your normal average book (or above average book) written by your normal average writer, who wants to be read, sure, the blue means something, most of the time (not always. Sometimes you just drop it in to add some realism.) But what it means is that the room is restful, or that the room was decorated by someone color blind, because all the colors clash. Or the character likes blue, so later on when everything in a room is red you know it’s not his/her room. Whatever. But it’s usually not some kind of deep symbolism.
In fact, figuring out how to get stuff like the curtain colors to do work with the character and the plot was pretty difficult for someone like me who had studied literary analysis, and kept thinking I had to put symbolism in it, and thereby bollixing the entire proper signaling of the color.
It can also have deep symbolism, of course, but if it does the writer doesn’t know it, and I challenge the critic to figure it out.
You see, each of us has a deeply-inlaid set of significants in our mind that are often completely unique to us. Say, for instance, you once had a vacation and stayed in a completely white room when you were like two, so for you it means rest and fun.
This is why criticism, back before Marx fouled the waters (more on that later) involved spending a lot of time deep diving into the author’s life.
It’s nonsense, you know? SOMETIMES you can get somethings from the story that tell you about the writer’s life and knowledge — like Shakespeare was obviously (eh) shaky on geography and at least in the beginning had not a single clue what went on in royal circles — but at the level of “why are the curtains blue” unless the writer left a long log of letters or a day by day diary and one of them mentions that the curtains in his mom’s room were blue, it’s also nonsense and often pseudo-Freudian nonsense at that. (As though real Freudian weren’t bad enough.)
So, you know, that was my first point of getting really upset at the post.
But the growling and trying to get axes point was the “This is so wrong, it’s not even wrong” idea that sf/f and comics were “always political.” and PARTICULARLY the bizarre, head up colon idea that if something doesn’t have politics it is (or we think it is) “kid’s stuff.”
What the actual blue curtained hells of the overlords of the fucked up universities of Marxiana is going on in this special snowflake’s scrambled sheep brains? (The original poster, not the person who echoed it, I think, because she didn’t suffer through literary criticism in University or try to have a writing career in the early oughts, so superficially it sounded okay to her.)
Look, first, first, on the less wrong point “Science fiction and comics were always political.”
True, although until the last ten years or so, only the clumsy ones done by exceptionally stupid authors were clumsily political.
Now what those politics were say in the tens or twenties might have given the snowflake the shock of his insular life. Most of the books from the twenties or even tens, particularly the ones written by self-proclaimed socialists had some reference to racial hygiene or eugenics. GLOWINGLY approving references.
After WWII, of course, those went away, but also Marxism became super-trendy and oozes from any analysis.
Now, the question is: were these novels (and comics) political because they wanted to be political, or because they came from the author’s assumptions?
Waggles hand. SOME of them. I’m sure this snow flake, if interrogated (I favor the iron maiden for this) would burp something to the extent that of course the books and comics were socialist because that’s only smart. And only smart people write books.
The fact, though, is that there was a filtering system back then: from at least the forties, and probably to an extent before (and through a process I don’t have time to go into) a lot of the publishing world was controlled by Marxists. Therefore, if you wanted to break in and be considered “serious” you had to have Marxist talking points, or at least the occasional genuflection towards the Marxist revelation.
You can tell how serious an author is about it by how much they intrude in the story, or whether they’re just the occasional throw away line.
This only solidified throughout the rest of the 20th century, as universities basically became wholly Marxist, and therefore Marxism became identified as “being smart” so that if you wanted buzz, and good reviews and your editor to take you seriously and give you push, you had to have some in.
Thing is: in the good books (which mostly weren’t taken seriously or got any push) the stuff either was woven skillfully into the assumptions of the story, so you might hate the ideas, but you enjoyed the story nonetheless,(sometimes, honestly because it didn’t say what the author or particularly the editor thought it did) OR they were the occasional sentence or phrase dropped in, and you shrugged and went on.
With indie, it’s different. We mostly write for the story. Yeah, okay, there is a political substratum to a lot of my novels, but it’s not because they’re political. Or at least they’re not political in the manichean sense.
Note this is where the critique of AFGM by the “I iz offended” right went astray, because they assumed that “Gay means woke.” and “Gay means that hetero is devalued.” There is a word for this….. give me a minute…. oh, yeah imbecilic.
It’s also called “Playing the game on the left’s terms.” Because that’s how the left “thinks” for lack of a better term.
Politics for Marxism, at least since WWI showed that the workers of the world WOULDN’T unite, and in fact were pretty nationalistic, thank you so much, has been a game of “finding causes” and “finding peons” to use as cannon fodder to destroy capitalism, so that, according to their ignorant, grifter prophet, paradise will arise from the ashes.
So, you know, they view politics as sort of a complex game of claiming “chips”. The race chip, the woman chip, the third world illiterate peasant chip, the gay chip, and recently the transsexual chip. They pick these chips and wave them around like a Catholic sprinkling holy water, to prove they have the right think and are okay with holy Marx.
We don’t have to play the game the way they play it. Even more importantly we shouldn’t.
Which brings us to the depths of stupid, a well so deep that you can’t see a glimmer of light from above.
Keeping in mind that “politics” for the left is signaling “I stand with correct thing in the correct way today”, you come across the casually dropped thing that — projection — we think science fiction and comics were for “kids” before, because they didn’t have politics.
So, you know, something doesn’t have the correct signaling, it’s stupid and for kids. Again this comes from THEIR belief that intelligence equals belief in Marx. So, to be intelligent and for adults, you need to put in the chips in the correct way to signal “I stand with the correct thing in the correct way” which makes you smart and grown up.
Or, you know, a brain-washed useful idiot, who can’t think. It’s one or the other, and if you read any of these people’s pride and joy, you know which one it is. Which is why the left can’t create, just like they can’t meme.
The problem with this is that “politics as the left understands them” does not belong in books. (There is a question of it belongs anywhere.)
It particularly doesn’t belong in science fiction books.
Because science fiction books should be for grown ups — note I don’t say “adults” which means something different. Heinlein wasn’t wrong when he said he wrote for teenagers, because teenagers were grappling with the big questions. He missed that a certain type of mind grapples with those their entire life, in an effort to understand, and those people are grown up but not ossified — and they should take on the big questions.
In many ways we live in a science fiction world. Not because all the big questions have been answered (they haven’t. And using that excuse for sf not selling is the bullsh*t publishers pulled in the early oughts) but because they haven’t, and because tech is impacting our life every day at an extremely personal level.
Now, take the transsexual question (Please. I don’t want it.) Sex change isn’t actually possible with the tech we have. What you can do is mutilate someone to look like the opposite sex. In extreme disphoria cases this is psychologically helpful, but in most cases it is just castrating/sterilizing someone while lying to them about what you did, or how close a solution is. There are also troubling cases of “cluster decision” and “infection” which are the result of social media, which is tech hitting our lives. And these cases are poorly understood by medical providers who by and large didn’t grow up with social media. Fine.
There are lies about it being possible some day soon. It might be possible, but not someday soon. And mostly likely only possible if done at the gene manipulation level, so you’re born the other way anyway, which means no help for the dysphoric.
I happen to be writing a book series which deals with a modified-humans hermaphrodite species. I full expect the right-who-is-fightin-with-lefty-chips to decide I’ve gone woke. I also fully decide the left to hate it, because the books I wrote set in this world in my twenties sent them raving insane.
So, why am I doing this? Um…. mostly because at fourteen I read The Left Hand of Darkness and went “This is not how any of that works, and did you read about hermaphrodite species in our world? Or study how humans acquired “roles” without injecting feminist narrative?” And then I went to bed and woke with this world in my head.
I tried to do a run at it at 20 and it … I didn’t know enough of HOW to write, and knew too much about the world, so it made no sense to people. However, interestingly the publishers’ problem with the world was that I called hermaphrodites “he.” There was a reason for this, yes. And it came from a bunch of biological and psychological extrapolation. In the early nineties, I was told a house would publish it if I changed the pronouns. I didn’t because it conveyed the wrong image.
Anyway, yesterday while talking to people in my fan group I half jokingly said it explores deep set questions of human sex, gender identification and orientation.
Half joking, because I was trying to sound like a lefty literary critic. But the thing is it is — or I hope it is — actually true. It explores things like: if we could completely change children pre-birth would some people do it? Would people do it expecting their kids would thereby be truly equal? Would they do it because they think they’re curing women of the burdens nature landed on them?
And then the other questions — which require a lot of studying the biology of apes. No really — which secondary characteristics are needed, and which are decoration and evolutionarily selected because pretty?
And always most importantly: How would it actually turn out in reality, and what price would you pay?
One of the prices my people in this world pay is sky-high child mortality because their design necessitates extremely “premature” kids who, though more equipped for survival than our premature babies are still tiny and very fragile, in a barbaric society. (Another price they paid came from their creators trying to start them out tabula rasa, with none of human history or culture AND a synthetic language.) Another price is that grouping together is not natural, partnership is not natural and marriage is not natural.
Is any of this written in stone? No, I’m exploring it with my understanding of it. Including a lot of articles I read that said family and band formation in early humans came from women being relatively helpless in later pregnancy.
Am I “right?” Well…. I don’t know. I know I’m writing entertaining stories from the premises and hopefully they will get people to ACTUALLY think and dig into issues of gender/sex/orientation.
Because since the pill sliced those issues off “reproduction” we’ve been scrambling. And while we can’t create viable hermaphrodites and might never be able to, or at least not for millennia, these issues are always going to matter to society.
So, you know, first I’m writing what I hope is an enormously entertaining adventure, making my characters people you empathize with despite everything, and getting this world that’s been in my head for 46 years out of it before I die.
Second, if it can make people think, and question things — not just the orthodoxy but all the Marxist chips being waved around — and start actually talking and exploring the questions, I’d like that. Because it’s needed before we come up with real genetic engineering and artificial wombs and stuff.
But that’s it.
It’s not “political” in the way of saying “I support the current thing” and it’s definitely not (I hope!) for kids, though it has no explicit sex, and teens might find it interesting, who knows? I wouldn’t have let my teens read it without telling them to come and talk to me after, but I was always more close-supervising than most parents.
Saying that if a book doesn’t have political slogans and “I support the current thing” is for kids, is bizarre and bizarrely stupid.
And thinking that the politics in science fiction are what made it good is also bizarre and bizarrely stupid. Often the questions it raised had nothing to do with the occasional slogan the author threw in, or even the author’s incidental obsessions.
When everything is political, nothing is. We need spaces where “I support the current thing” isn’t demanded and where we can explore the really complex and difficult questions without someone reeeing in our faces.
And I think that’s what we’ve been saying for a while.
And in my case also trying to walk the walk.