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Fantastically Disturbing Implications

This is more musing on my part than an educational – or ranting – essay.

 

Fantasy, as a genre, has become a tree of many different sub-genres and trends – all sprouting, according to most, from Tolkien’s magnum opus. Tolkien, however, based his work heavily on myths, epics, and sagas of real world cultures. In this way, it was inevitable that the genre would have a long history and a deep fascination with heroes and royals and, eventually, knights.

The strange thing, however, is that while most of fantasy has adapted to new, modern, ideas – which has given us all sorts of modern settings – fantasy in general has not parted with the morality to which that focus on heroes, royalty and knights belongs. In this way, we have “modern” stories set in medieval worlds where the female protagonists display cliché, shallow, and period inappropriate feminist ideas, but she almost always turns out to be a princess. That, however, is just one of many, many, examples of residual classism and racism in fantasy.

But the funny thing is, it’s more often the fans than the authors whose ideas display a backwards, classist, belief – one which, I suspect, they don’t even realise they are favouring. Here’re some examples.

In the A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones fandom, the most popular type of theory is the Character X is secretly a House/Noble Character Z. And that’s the thing, it’s always that they have secret noble (or nobler, in terms of going from one house to another) blood.

The High Sparrow – commoner leading a commoner anti-nobility religious movement? Must secretly be Lord Howland Reed advancing his liege lord’s family’s political goals. He can’t possibly be a lower-class person taking up arms because he’s sick of the nobility butchering the lower classes while they fight over a stupid pointy chair. No way.

The King Beyond the Wall, Mance Rayder: a wildling raised as a soldier by his people’s enemies, returned to his people to lead them to give said enemies a massive headache? Nah, he can’t possibly really be a savage/Pict wilding. He has to secretly be a white Westerosi nobleman. It can’t just be that he is one of many characters who parallel each other – which is a grand literary tradition – because that would mean the northern savages managed to get their act together and pose a real threat without a Mighty Whitey Westerosi to carry the white Westerosi man’s burden and help them. Oh, he is an almost perfect copy-paste-from-history of King Alaric of the Goths – who was once a Roman soldier – and the German national hero Arminius (who also was raised by Romans and proceeded to kick Roman arse)? And in a setting which is basically The War of the Roses + Magic + Sex? Nah, he’s still got to secretly be Prince Rhaegar or Ser Arthur of House Dayne. Otherwise the savages wildlings might not only be competent, but have elected a competent leader where all the noble blooded characters who inherit their power just keep fucking things up.

Likewise, Heroic Bastard Jon Snow can’t possibly really be a bastard. He must secretly have been legitimate (despite the legal impossibility of his father taking a second wife) or legitimised (but preferably legitimate). It’s not like real history has bastards becoming king. It’s not like people call William the Conqueror “William the Bastard” for a reason. Or like King Arthur Pendragon was the bastard of King Ulthor’s rape-by-deception of a foreign queen. Or like Martin’s own fictional history has bastard kings like the one who founded House Justman or bastards of kings who manage to incite half the realm into trying to crown them despite being bastards with legitimate half-brothers like Daemon Blackfyre. After all, he absolutely has to become king in the end, because it’s not like his entire plot line is about how the fight for the spikey chair is irrelevant or how bastards can be just as good as other people…

I think I need to turn the sarcasm off now, before we all drown in it, but I think you get the point.

And sure, you could argue that ASOIAF/GOT is focused on the nobility and has a major character revealed as secretly royalty (or, more correctly, a royal bastard) so it’s only natural that the fans would assume that everyone who has anything important to do – any real effect on the plot – must secretly have noble blood, but it’s not just ASOIAF/GOT fans.

After romance/porn, the second most common plot in Harry Potter fanfics was that Harry/Hermione/other discovers s/he’s secretly the heir of [Ancient Powerful Wizard/Family] or his mother was secretly not muggleborn/she’s adopted and that s/he’s therefore a pureblood… This, I might remind you, was a canon story where the pureblood elitists were the bad guys.

This trend – of justifying how awesome characters are by ‘revealing’ them as having some ancestry of rank and privilege – is disturbing. It’s also prevalent in just about every fantasy fandom (except the children’s fantasy of My Little Pony, where being a Princess is something you explicitly earn by being awesome at friendship).

 

Fantasy is the genre we run to when we want to escape from our world – where luck is a major factor in whether or not you succeed – and go to a place where the world values us based on what we think it ought to value. What does it say about us, as a society, that our escapist fantasy is not about succeeding because you are talented, or worked hard, or were kind, but where you succeed if you are born of the right – elite and wealthy – bloodline?

How is it that we, as fandoms – as a society – talk of equality and inner value, but our fantasies still support the idea that if you don’t have the right blood you aren’t really worth anything?

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Posted by on July 4, 2017 in On Folklore, On Writing

 

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Contrast, Foreshadowing, Mood, Ice and Fire

Something that’s been driving me nuts in the A Song of Ice and Fire fandom lately is all the jokes about how George R.R. Martin includes so many food descriptions because he is fat. Somehow, fans have convinced themselves that those two things go together – because “obviously” writers who aren’t stick figures can’t possibly have self-control or the capacity to tell when one of their interests does not belong in their story. /sarcasm.

Now, most fans aren’t doing this, but an annoyingly large amount of them are and it’s them that are driving me batty. But I digress.

During the first few books of ASOIAF there has been a long summer (so there is plenty of food), and only a few wars. Towns are sacked and burned – destroying valuable crops – but famine is a man-maid phenomenon (siege-warfare) and it is only in the very north, beyond the Wall, that lack of food is already an issue. The main characters are all rich and therefore, even in a siege or famine, will be fed first – with extravagent and lavishly described meals which give the readers the feeling of decadence and how much food is available (Arya, the one wealthy character running around outside of her aristocractic background, in comparison is eating worms).

By the end of the last few books (that are currently published) only three out of nine (really ten) areas in The Seven Kingdoms have not suffered lossed crops – due to burnings and armies scavenging, and a lack of workers to collect the crops, which then rot – and of them, Dorne does not produce much food (due to it’s water shortage) and the Vale and Reach cannot support the entire surviving population of the continent – even with all the deaths from the wars. Up at the Wall, there are far to many mouths to feed and not nearly enough food for even the Watch alone to survive a winter. At this point in the story, the rich are STILL described as eating lavishly – because, again, they are rich and have hired knives to take food from the poor – while the poor are mostly starving. Meanwhile, on the eastern continent, Dany’s war on slavery has destroyed the agricultural supplies of Slavers Bay – meaning that, regardless of who wins, three cities there are dangerously close to starving.

In the two unpublished books we can predict some things: mass starvation will become enough of a problem that it will affect the rich, the combination of war in the east crushing the (slave based) economy and the series of wars – causing debt and starvation – in the west WILL result in those between the west and east (The Free Cities) being able to sell food for a massive profit but being unable to keep up with demand, and their will be more war – with more crop burnings and other starvation inducing horrors (remember: armies march on their stomaches) – before the winter even has a chance to properly arrive.

We can guess that in The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring the food descriptions are going to be very different. Because there isn’t going to be food anymore. Not even for the aristocrats who make up the main cast.

It’s not technically foreshadowing, but by lavishly describing food while it is available – and describing the lavish meals the rich enjoy while the poor starve, and while the rich fail to understand what starvation really means – Martin has prepped the readers’ mood. He’s prepared us to expect food to be there, to be plentiful (for the main cast), and to sound attractive. That’s going to be one hell of a sucker-punch for the readers when the true depth of winter and famine set in and the rest of the cast have to join Arya with her worms and Bran with his, ehm, “long pork”.

There is no better way to describe the lack of something – and make the readers feel it – than to first contrast it by describing that something in abundance.

I don’t live in his mind, so I can’t tell you for sure, but I’m pretty sure Martin is writing about food so much because he is writing about a world which is about to undergo a terrible winter and an even more terrible mass famine, not because his weight somehow makes him incapable of controlling what he puts into his work.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2017 in On Writing

 

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How Viewers of Inside Out Got the Message Upside Down

There’s a reason that I used the word Rants in the title of this blog. This post is full of strong opinions, italics, bolding, and ALL CAPS. I also had a bit of fun with the colours.

 

This has been bothering me for a while. It doesn’t bother me that often, but every time I see a theory article, comment, or youtube video asking why there were mainly negative emotions in Inside Out, and every time I see a fanfic which “fixes” things by adding another emotion – almost exclusively: lust/desire, love, or surprise – it makes me furious. As in: it makes the little Anger inside my headquarters not merely burn hot enough to roast marshmallows, but actually burn hot enough to turn metals into gas (like on the sun).

I have yet to meet a child who did not understand the basic message of Inside Out – that all your emotions, even if you don’t understand them, are necessary for your health. And yet, almost no adults seem to understand what the movie was about, despite the fact that the message was all but spelled out for them and the intended audience – some of whom are young enough that “not needing diapers anymore” is an important achievement – did get it. What I’m saying here is that adults are clearly idiots. Well, no, that’s a bit too mean, but it’s still extremely frustrating to see so many people not get it. Urgh.

The point of Inside Out IS that there is no such thing as negative and positive emotions: it is how the emotionals are handled which gives positive or negative results. Come on, people this was literally explained in the prologue and the rest of the movie was about the discovery that this applied to Joy and Sadness as well as Anger, Fear and Disgust. Heck, the movie could easily be summed up in the phrase “sometimes you need a good cry”!

Emotions are like magnets. Magnets have a North and a South pole – but if you chop a magnet in half you do not get one which is totally North and one which is totally South: you get two smaller magnets, each with their own North and South poles.

The emotions shown and dealt with in Inside-Out are – as per the psychological theory the film was based on – what can best be described as Primary Emotions. Like primary colours: if you divide pink into its basic components, you get red and white (or negative green, depending on how you look at it, since pink doesn’t technically exist). If, however, you try to divide red into its component parts you get …red. Red is the colour equivalent of an atom: it cannot be broken down into further pieces. Likewise, anger is a primary emotion; it is not created by mixing two simpler emotions. If you mix anger and sadness (in the right amounts) you get bitterness. If you mix nothing with anger you just get anger. If you mix anger and joy you (can) get vindictive glee.

So what does this have to do with magnets? Well, to the outside observer – unable to remove their own filter which divides things into separate categories based on whether they cause positive or negative results – these emotions seem to be double-sided. They aren’t: it’s just that we give different names to the different results and expressions of them. Nevertheless, if you chop them in half to separate the “good” from the “bad” you just end up with two smaller bits of the same emotion – just as the magnet will become two smaller magnets, rather than an all-positive/north and all negative-south.

This is made explicit in the prologue, when Joy is talking about her fellow emotions and what they do.

Anger is the one who “keeps things fair”. That is: Anger and a sense of Justice or right and wrong are the same thing.

Fear is the one who “keeps Riley safe”. That is: Fear and self-preservation/common sense are the same thing.

Disgust is the one who “keeps Riley from getting poisoned – both physically and socially”. That is: Disgust and comfort/non-sexual desire – and the ability to discriminate between things which are good for you and those which are not, the ability to dislike and like things – are the same thing.

The rest of the movie is about Joy figuring out what Sadness’ purpose is and learning not to be an egomaniacal tyrant. But the answer to that question is shown in the first minute or so of the prologue, when Sadness’ actions are what alert Riley’s parents that something is wrong when she can’t say anything (the baby cries to indicate it has needs). There is really no excuse to have missed it.

Sadness is the ability to empathise. Sadness is the sympathetic emotion. Sadness is what allows us to cope with all the terrible things that happen to us and the ability to give a damn about the suffering of others. Sadness and caring are the same thing.

So what about Joy? It astonishes me that so many people keep insisting that Inside Out should have had more than one “positive” emotion in it, given that Joy – as I already mentioned – spends most of the story as an ego-maniac who selfishly terrorises the other emotions because she’s convinced of her own superiority. It’s only when Joy experiences sadness that she is able to feel or express compassion. When Bing-Bong looses the one thing he cared about most (besides Riley) Joy is annoyed with him for getting in the way of her happiness.

Joy and selfishness are the same thing.

Anger-Justice, Fear-Self-Preservation, Disgust-Comfort, Sadness-Compassion, Selfishness-Joy. These things are one in the same. They’re magnets. You can’t take the selfishness out of joy. Joy is an inherently selfish thing. Anger always comes from a sense of justice (no matter how warped that sense can become). Fear is always about protecting the self and those things which the self has deemed important. Disgust is always from and part of the ability to discriminate between what is comfortable and what is unpleasant. And all Sadness is inherently about the ability to sympathise – sometimes with your own circumstances, sometimes with those of others. Someone who is incapable of feeling sadness is also incapable of feeling sympathy, because they are essentially the same thing. There are words for that, often which begin with psycho- or socio- and which typically end in –path. I AM NOT SAYING THAT RILEY WAS INSANE. If Riley had been insane in that fashion, she wouldn’t have had a Sadness in her head at all.

Which brings me to another point which the adult viewers, in general, have fundamentally failed to understand even though their toddlers got the message: Sadness and Depression are NOT the same thing. The main reason people keep not getting this, I think, is that there is a tendency toward exaggeration in language. The deeply grieved and sorrowful person who keeps bursting into tears and eats three tubs of ice cream wails “I’m soooooooo depressed”. No. No you’re not you fuckwit. You’re SAD. Deeply, deeply, grieved and sorrowful – but those are intense forms of sadness, not of depression.

As so brilliantly illustrated in the film when the console stop responding to the other emotions and turned dark (the lock out), truly depressed people don’t feel anything. They don’t feel. They’re hollow, worn through. The depressed cannot feel sad. They can’t feel anything – they are apathetic. To give you an example: my mother used to work in a psychiatric hospital and one of the patients there was truly and severely depressed. She was, literally, too depressed to move: she sat all day, every day, for years, in the same chair, staring out the same window – never talking, never moving. She wasn’t sad. She wasn’t anything. That’s depression. It is the purpose of sadness to keep that from happening. Only sadness can lift a person from depression, because sadness is what allows a person to accept that terrible things have happened and then move on.

We live in a society which has falsely labelled happiness as the only “positive” emotion – a society which claims all the other feelings are negative. But, as shown with Riley, when a person tries to be happy all the time – even when it’s inappropriate, even when they desperately need to feel Anger, Sadness, Fear, or Disgust – they only ever wear themselves out and become empty, depressive shells. Depressed people, at least those who aren’t quite dead inside yet and still can be bothered to move about, are terrifyingly good at pretending to be happy. In fact, if a person who has been depressed for a long time suddenly starts being happy all the time, it is often – but not always – a sign that they are preparing to commit suicide. Depression and Sadness are not the same thing. Sadness is the cure for depression, because it allows the feeler to then move on.

 

Now for the other thing that’s been really pissing me off: the fans who feel the need to add an additional emotion to the primary five. STOP IT. Yes, in the psychological theory the film was based on there was a sixth: Surprise. But surprise as a character would have been a gibbering idiot because every moment of everything would have been a complete shock to him. The filmmakers knew that would never work and so combined surprise with Fear. Yes, surprise is one of the “primary emotions” but it was cut for cinematic reasons.

JOY, SADNESS, ANGER, FEAR, DISGUST, SURPRISE. There are no other Primary Emotions. All other emotions, in the psychological theory the film was based on, are made by combining those primary emotions – just like other colours are made by the painter who combines the three primary colours on their palette. “Love” is one of the more popular additions, but has absolutely no place in headquarters because Love is a COMPLEX emotion made by combining the others in uneven amounts (Joy/Selfishness, Sadness/Compassion, and a hint of Disgust/Comfort, most likely). Even HATE is more complex than the basic Primary emotions. Hate is a combination of Anger and Disgust.

Moreover, the idea of these primary emotions, and of the film, is that these are the basic emotions which EVERY SANE HUMAN BEING HAS. Which is why the other most common interloper who fans try to “fix” things by adding is so absolutely disgusting and offensive.

I’m talking about Lust/Sexual Desire/Desire/other name. Usually, as the fanfic cliché goes, this one turns up in Headquarters after the Puberty button gets pushed. This is especially egregious, given that many fans of Inside Out believe that Riley may be some form of Intersex or Genderqueer because she has both male and female emotions. In other words: most fans are aware that people who are not cis and straight can still be sane human beings, but somehow they still feel it is acceptable to try to “correct” Riley’s mindscape to feel lust. Because “obviously” everyone must feel lust.

How dare you?

Especially given how many of you know about the genderqueer, intersex, and so forth. How dare you?

I think I speak for every Asexual person here when I say: lust is NOT a fundamental part of human nature and we aren’t broken or in need of fixing.

Now, I’m not saying I think Riley is an Ace. I think Riley is a preteen girl. But that doesn’t mean Lust has any place as a primary emotion (things all sane humans are supposed to have all of – meaning that if you insist Lust should be a primary emotion you are saying you think asexuals are either not sane or not human). Lust is a physical sensation. To use a metaphor: if emotions are paint colours on a canvas (primary colours = primary emotions, complex emotions = mixed colours) then lust (like hunger and physical pain) is a bottle of perfume being sprayed around. Not everyone likes or wears perfume. And even those that do don’t add it to a canvas and call it a colour!

In other words, “dear” Inside Out fanwriters, I don’t care if you “didn’t mean to” – by adding Lust to the primary emotions you are engaging in the erasure of Asexuals by encouraging your readers to think of those people who do not lust* as broken or insane. KNOCK IT OFF.

 

*Lust is, by definition, sexual attraction (save when used in terms such as “wanderlust”) and as Asexuality is the orientation of not feeling sexually attracted to anyone, the two are mutually exclusive – regarless of whether or not the ace in question is nonlibidoist, although there is a distinct gray area of Gray-A aces.

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2016 in On Writing

 

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Dear AO3, That’s Not What ‘Transformative’ Means

“But authors of original works are always copying off each other by having things like archetypal characters!!!1!”

Think of it this way: a painter, a stick figure artist, and a fan of the painter each paint a house.

The painter makes a marvellously detailed house in crème colour with a green lawn and blue sky. It’s their house (of course it is: most houses are white, most lawns are green, and sometimes the sky is blue, but this is specifically their house that they live in).

The stick figure artist makes a stick figure style representation of a house, which is white, and has a rough representation of a green lawn and the word “Sky” written above it in blue. This house is distinct from the painter’s house. It’s the stick figure artist’s house, which they live in.

The stick figure artist is not copying or ‘transforming’ the painter’s house because both of them acknowledge that houses are often white-toned, lawns often green and the sky sometimes is blue. They are both houses, but they are separate houses which are not copied off the other.

But then there’s the fan of the painter. The fan could paint a picture of their own house, but they don’t. Instead they decide to make a paint by numbers of the painter’s work. So instead of putting a huge amount of effort into design like the painter and stick figure artist, they trace the painting so they can make an exact duplicate, then they paint this to be an almost perfect colour match for the painter’s picture and proclaim that what they’ve created should be considered just as original as the painter’s work because “obviously” the painter was just copying the stick figure artist.

But the fan isn’t making transformative art. The fan has made a forgery.

This, essentially, is the problem with Archiveofourown.org/the organisation for transformative works’ claim that all fanfic is transformative. But most fanfic is no more transformative than the above forger’s slightly off colour recreation of the painter’s art. There is a MASSIVE difference between using accepted literary tropes in original works and writing fanfiction. Comparing the two only proves how little the person doing so actually understands the art of writing and the effort that goes into it.

The idea of a being who can enter people’s dreams is a Trope.

Freddy Kruger is a character from a copyrighted work, who is a being who can enter people’s dreams.

…So is Princess Luna of My Little Pony.

Saying that “all fanfic is transformative and therefore fair use because original authors use tropes” (the basis of A03’s arguments) is saying that Princess Luna is a fan’s representation of Freddy Kruger because OMG they can both dream-walk.

Likewise, Glen Cook’s Garrett (of the Garrett P.I. series) is definitely inspired by Chandler’s Philip Marlowe but – and here’s the critical thing – neither TunFaire nor Garrett ARE Chandler’s setting and character. If you compared Garrett and Marlowe, or TunFaire and LA, the differences would be too enormous to consider them the same place or person. They’re too transformative.

Plucking Marlowe – specifically Marlowe, not merely a hardboiled detective, but specifically Chandler’s Marlowe – down in a fantasy setting is not transformative.

But that’s all beside the point because, dear AO3, that’s not what transformative legally means.

You see, to be transformative it must – and I get this from the US government’s copyright department’s legal information pages “add something new, with a further purpose or different character, and do not substitute for the original use of the work” (emphasis mine). Oh, and that’s “character” as in the nature of the work, not the people in the story.

Do not substitute for the original use of the work.

The original use of a work of fiction – film or book or tv show or webcomic – is to entertain.

The original use of fanfiction is to entertain.

Do you see the problem here? Fanfiction does not fall under fair use law. Fanfiction is not transformative. By the time fanfiction is different enough from the original work to count as legally transformative, it is so different from the original that it might as well be completely original.

And here’s another important thing: alternate character interpretation – no matter how many big issues like sexual orientation you drag into it – is not transformative. Why? Because you’re only changing one little thing. After all, if you’ve alter the character completely because of their orientation they aren’t the canon character anymore, they’re a Mary-Sue with the character’s name and vague appearance.

Parody is transformative because it holds the original up to ridicule. Parody – true parody – takes the ENTIRE work and holds a mirror up to it. Messing with one character’s ethnicity or orientation is not transformative. It is changing things, but it is not transformative.

Oh, and the argument that fanfic “should” be considered fair use because of how many minority groups it helps bring to light when straight, white characters are made into anything but that? That’s not a proper argument. Self-publishing (whether freely online or for profit) is fairly easy to master. If it matters that much to you that there aren’t enough non-straight, non-white characters out there, write some original ones of your own and start changing the norms of what main characters in original works can be. That would ACTUALLY make a difference. And you know what? Everyone should be able to eat, but that doesn’t mean we should be protesting laws that make it criminal for someone to break into our homes and offices and steal all our food, or make themselves at home in our pantries. There is no reason that respecting an author’s right to control the art they laboured to make and, oh yeah, is their living would make the benefits of fan communities and fanfiction impossible everywhere.

Here’s the thing, fans, an author only has one or two canons to live off. A fan who can’t express themselves in one fandom because there’s a fanwork ban? They can just move to a different fandom and there are THOUSANDS of them to choose from.

So, no, AO3/OTW, you haven’t done good. You’ve done fucked up. Why? Because you’re teaching fans to be entitled brats with no true understanding of what “Transformative” legally means and are campaigning to take the control of all authors’ livelihoods out of their hands. And for what? For the sake of fans who put “ORIGINAL CHARACTER DO NOT STEEL” in their summaries when they have major OCs, who think it’s not “Fair” that they can’t profit off someone else’s copyrighted work, and whose oh so ‘original’ fanfiction is all too often more akin to plagiarism than copyright infringement given how many scenes get lifted out with almost no textual changes.

And you know what, AO3? If it weren’t for ‘fans’ like you trying to take control of the original creators’ intellectual property away from them, a LOT more original creators would be open to allowing fanfiction. You have a privilege. Stop acting like spoiled brats with entitlement complexes and calling it a ‘right’.

If only fans and fan organisations, like AO3, could go into fandom with an attitude of “Gee, I’m glad this canon’s author is cool with us doing this” when fanfic is permitted and of “oh well, there’s always other fandoms” when it is not, fandom and fanfiction would be a lot better off. But no, instead they insist on acting like two year olds who’ve got the Gimmies.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2016 in On Writing

 

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