Author Topic: PC268: The Phoenix on the Sword, Featuring Conan the Barbarian  (Read 16124 times)

Scattercat

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Reply #50 on: January 10, 2014, 06:43:00 PM
I'm with Varda pretty much a hundred percent on this, and the fish/crap metaphor is particularly apt.  With "The Gods of the North," I honestly feel that the crap overwhelmed the flavor of the fish, although an open discussion up front about it would have helped put the whole thing in context; as Varda said, we should be able to discuss a story that has problematic elements as a story in itself, but the problematic elements need to be mentioned, even if only to say that we're not going to talk about those.  To do otherwise is to tacitly support Uncle Stanley and his dismissal of the chocolate in the fish.  (And even with the problematic elements mentioned, it is possible for someone to be justifiably unwilling to engage in the discussion on that level because they find the problematic elements overwhelm the story.  No one is obligated not to refuse to eat chocolate fish.)

I get wanting to "defend" a favorite author, and I get wanting to see the good rather than the bad or to not discuss concepts tangential to the main point of a given story, but I don't think attempting to minimize or justify an artist's problems is a useful or healthy thing to do.  As I said previously, they can be both a flawed (or horrible) person and a great artist at the same time. 

For example, Harlan Ellison is a pretty terrible person in a lot of ways, but he's also a brilliant writer.  I can appreciate his skill while acknowledging his sexism, his pettiness, and his general trolling.  Ditto Asimov (notorious horndog) or Resnick (dear sweet Cthulhu, that article) or any number of other people who have made good art while being assholes.  On the other side of things, there's, say, John Scalzi, with whom I am highly in agreement politically but whose books I find... okay.  Decent.  I've read most of them, been entertained.  You know.  But he's not revolutionizing fiction or forging new genres or anything, and they haven't set my soul particularly on fire.  The fact that I agree with him doesn't magically make his art more effective or meaningful to me.  And I'm not going to jump into a discussion about Scalzi's books to insist that everyone praise his writing because of his enlightened views (nor to intervene in the event someone mentions that they disagree with him politically and insist that he's not as liberal as all that).  It's something that can and should be acknowledged in a discussion about Scalzi, and it's also something separate from the quality of his output.



Varda

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Reply #51 on: January 10, 2014, 08:09:52 PM
Funny thing, I originally had "McScalzi's" at the end of my metaphor instead of "McKoontz's". :)

If you really want to see Uncle Stanley get his panties in a wad, then wait'll it's Chef Atwood's night. She cleverly serves everyone a delicious chocolate mousse shaped like a giant turd, which provokes uproarious laughter from anyone who's been eating crap up until then, but sets off Stan's epic rant about the decline of the genre and the unfairness that anyone dared serve him real crap.  ;)

Hey Bounceswoosh, I forgot to say this before, but I originally read "Ringworld" waaaaaay back when I was a teen, and somehow for years afterwards I thought it was in the same series as the "Discworld" books. It led to a lot of confusion when people kept telling me to read Discworld because it was awesome.

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DKT

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Reply #52 on: January 10, 2014, 09:33:32 PM
I feel like Scalzi is primarily writing to entertain, which is a fine goal in and of itself. I've read most of his books, and usually enjoy them. (Koontz is probably an apt comparison, though I've yet to be entertained by Koontz. Resnick works too, and I've heard somewhere that he has more Hugo nominations.)
« Last Edit: January 10, 2014, 09:36:00 PM by DKT »



Fenrix

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Reply #53 on: January 10, 2014, 11:17:22 PM

I feel like Scalzi is primarily writing to entertain, which is a fine goal in and of itself. I've read most of his books, and usually enjoy them. (Koontz is probably an apt comparison, though I've yet to be entertained by Koontz. Resnick works too, and I've heard somewhere that he has more Hugo nominations.)


Koontz did a great living toys thing with pictures called The Oddkins. My High School library had it and I haven't seen it since. I remember loving it and being painfully disappointed every other time I've wandered into Koontz.

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Fenrix

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Reply #54 on: January 14, 2014, 05:32:56 AM
The shit metaphor is hobbled by the fact that it is a metaphor, and like those of their ilk they break down it you take them too far. By using shit at the central portion of the metaphor, you've established a universally viscerally negative thing at its core. It establishes a dismissive framework for anything but negative criticism, and makes it easy to pile on and difficult to evaluate the work on its own merits.

Further, it undermines a message of taking the work on its own merit by passing judgement on the artist. Just because I'm not black doesn't mean that my "Rats in the Wall" sandwich does not contain a turd shaped like a terrible pet name. But it's hard for everyone to not love the Haunter in the Dark Chocolate Mousse.

The question I find more interesting is how much flagellation is required in front of a story with problematic elements? How much is needed to break the conversation past the dismissal and into a discussion of the story's merits and how the problematic elements interact with those?


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Varda

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Reply #55 on: January 14, 2014, 12:08:23 PM
Hey Fenrix, I don't know whether to answer you here or on Facebook. :) Let's go with here - more conductive to long-windedness!

(For all the rest of you, I blogged about the Classics Cafe metaphor specifically yesterday, mainly because I've been looking for a way to explain this particular problem for so long that I wanted a convenient way to link to it in the future. It's not nearly as in-depth as this conversation is here, but limitations of blogs and all that.)

Obviously, the metaphor's just a metaphor. If we actually went a place where a racist chef served our friends shit, we 1) wouldn't expect anyone to eat that and 2) we'd never go back. But I used something that outrageous because I think discrimination is a shitty, shitty thing to experience. Even a little bit is too much, and furthermore, it has a tendency to feel far worse than it looks.

This kind of stuff is so, so hard to explain. I've been trying for years to find words for it, because the word "privilege" itself is extremely loaded. I would imagine people who fall into the "straight white male" category have their own visceral reaction to it, because it's a label that describes something completely outside of anyone's control.

What I do like about the crap/food metaphor is, at least for me, it allows me to separate the artist from the work. So Lovecraft might not serve crap every week. even if we all know he has a tendency to do so. When he writes something that lacks racism, he has served zero crap to the people of color. Conan the Barbarian is not always rapey, and the stories that aren't don't require a discussion of what the author hasn't served up. Lovecraft definitely held racist beliefs, but that doesn't mean all his stories are racist. By the same measure, an author like Ken Liu seems to me like a class act all around who doesn't hold sexist beliefs, but I wasn't impressed with his treatment of sexual assault in "Maxwell's Demon", so having detected a hint of what tasted like crap to me, I brought it up in the story discussion.

How much flagellation is required? I'd prefer just "acknowledgement". That's all. To use my example of "Hyperion", if I were recommending it to a friend, I'd say, "Hey, read this great book! Don't expect good female characters, but otherwise the book's amazing!" If it's a Lovecraft story with racist elements, "Hey, you've got to read this great HPL story! But just so you know, fair warning, the story's a bit racist because HPL was utterly terrified by non-white people." Just let your friends know what they're in for, and let them make their own decisions.

And unfortunately, even given the warning, sometimes friends and fellow forumites won't be able to move past dismissal. Which sucks when you're in the group that really enjoyed the story and wanted to discuss the merits. But it might be helpful to note that the people who truly dismiss something will probably never show up on the forums to discuss it (or read the book). Those who DO show up to say how much they hated a story because of the racism/sexism/etc are really only trying to show their friends their plates and point out they got served a portion of crap. They're just looking for acknowledgement. If we all just acknowledge the crap without trying to explain it away, there's no argument. Unfortunately that's not how these conversations tend to go down.

I went back and read the "Gods of the North" feedback thread after DKT and Scattercat brought it up in this conversation. I remembered the episode, but it predated my lurking days. That thread is a great example of the problem we're discussing here. There were a couple of people on the thread who basically said, "There is a giant serving of crap in this story, and I'm not able to enjoy it as a result." And instead of just nodding and saying, "Yeah, I see why you tasted that," people wanted to argue about whether the crap was really on that particular person's plate or not. That's not helpful. If a person says they tasted crap, it's not suddenly going to taste like chocolate just because we tell them it's all in their head. It's possible for the crap to be on their plate and not ours. The wrong assumption is that because we all heard the same story, we all got served the same thing. It seems like this should be the case, but it's not, because we don't live in a vacuum, and the circumstances of our lives shapes the meaning of the story. Otherwise we'd always agree with one another 100%. :)

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Scattercat

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Reply #56 on: January 14, 2014, 01:40:48 PM
Nobody is asking Lovecraft to don the sackcloth and ashes (though it would be an interesting partial vindication of him if he managed it, given how long he's allegedly been dead).  And no one expects any fans of problematic material to do likewise.  Acknowledgement is not flagellation; it's not about penalizing people, but rather about making sure that everyone understands the other various factors that can influence a work of art beyond the text itself.  Art doesn't exist in a vacuum, and responses to art don't either; pointing out the problematic aspects helps to inoculate against them, and is therefore a good idea.