One of the most important lessons I ever learned about art was when I became a late addition to the editorial board for the literature part of my high school’s lit/art magazine, which nobody ever read.
Because I realized after a couple of meetings that my moments of baffled distress during them were centering around a pattern of our votes electing by majority to reject most of the good, interesting stuff and agree to publish the very bland.
So I was looking around this room of people I mostly liked or respected if not both, trying to figure out what the fuck when there was no reasonable way of asking, until the day we by majority vote sent definitely the best thing submitted all year back pending ‘revisions’ which of course would not be made, because the poet would definitely either become demoralized or know for damn sure she was too good for our stupid journal. I have no idea which it was; it’s a question of mindset, and the submissions were anonymous.
This good poem was rejected for two reasons, both of which were actually manifestations of it being good. One was that it had made a couple of the board uncomfortable–not by having any shocking subject material, mind, just by provoking emotions with unusual descriptive language and indirectness–and they’d transmitted that uneasiness throughout the group during discussion.
And the other, seized upon as an excuse in light of the first, was that by being complex in terms of both structure and notion it had drawn several of us in, interested enough to engage critically and respond in depth, and so we’d marked it up with lots of places we thought a word choice could have been a little stronger, a line break had been a little odd; ways we thought it could have been a more excellent version of the poem we perceived in it. None of them ways it was actually bad. Just places we felt it could have been better.
At the same meeting, we voted to accept a poem that was an utterly tepid rectangle of predictable nothing-in-particular, because no one could find anything in it to object to.
It wasn’t good. It wasn’t noticeably bad, either, though; it was one consistent level of mediocrity clear through, and thus no part of it stood out as a weakness, and therefore the committee found it more acceptable than the poem that was superior in every way, but which by being daring and interesting had left itself covered in vulnerable places.
The understanding I reached as a result of this experience was multi-layered and difficult to articulate, but the most important part, I think, to share is that the value and quality of a work are not, in fact, very well measured by how many negative things you can find to say about it.
An important thing I am learning is to remember to ask myself “Is there a better target for my anger?”
- Anger is a valid emotion; we have the right to feel angry. The world is unjust, there are many reasons to be angry
- But so much of media & culture (especial online) is about manipulating our anger, and re-directing it at the wrong targets
- Our anger is treated as a commodity, to be controlled & exploited by the powers that be
- So they have built a culture where we are not taught to examineour anger or where we direct it
- On a mass scale, this allows leaders to start false wars&manipulate elections
- On a more personal level, progressive spaces are torn apart by in-fighting, by the double-edged sword purity and harassment culture
- If anger is a sword, we were not taught to handle it safely, without cutting off our own fingers.
- Our enemies divided us, handed us weapons, pointed us at each other, and stood back to enjoy the carnage.
Be angry. But bewise. Pay attention to where you are pointing your sword. Pay attention to who ends up bleeding–and whether they are actually your enemy.
I went to a bookshop and I got dizzy at the amount of books on stuff like “astrological feminism” “reclaiming womanhood through numerology” and all that shit…… One was called “cosmic fanny” or for my french speakers out there, “foufoune cosmique”. I think the fight against patriarchy is going really well
“But I didn’t and still don’t like making a cult of women’s knowledge, preening ourselves on knowing things men don’t know, women’s deep irrational wisdom, women’s instinctive knowledge of Nature, and so on. All that all too often merely reinforces the masculinist idea of women as primitive and inferior – women’s knowledge as elementary, primitive, always down below at the dark roots, while men get to cultivate and own the flowers and crops that come up into the light. But why should women keep talking baby talk while men get to grow up? Why should women feel blindly while men get to think?”
Ursula K Le Guin, from What Women Know
For the people who are out there “fighting the good fight” and “trying to make fandom a better place,” I have two important questions for you:
1. Is the author dead? x
2. Is your baby in the bathwater? x
What do I mean by those things? Let’s start with #1. The Death of the Author is a type of literary criticism, the extreme cliff notes version of which is that art exists outside of the creator’s life, personal background, and even intentions. I’m using it slightly differently than Barthes intended, but that’s okay, because the author is dead and I’m interpreting his work through my own lens.
In fandom, the author is dead. In fact, the author was never alive in the first place, not really. The author has only ever been the idea of a person, because unlike published fiction, the only thing we know about a fanfic author is that which they choose to tell us about themselves.
Why is that important?
Because it might not be true. Hell, that happens in real life with published authors, who have SSN’s on file with their publishers, who pay taxes on the works they create and have researchable pasts. If the author of A Million Little Pieces could fake everything, why can’t I? Why can’t you? Why can’t the writer of your favorite fic in the whole wide world?
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: “you can only write about [sensitive subject] if [sensitive subject] has happened to you personally, otherwise you’re a disgusting monster that deserves to die!!” Or maybe “you can only write [x racial or ethnic group] characters if you’re [x racial or ethnic group] otherwise you’re racist/fetishizing/colonizing!”
You can play this game with any sensitive subject you can come up with. I’ve seen them all before, on a sliding scale of slightly chastising to literal death threats.
Now, I could tell you that I’m a white-passing Latina whose grandmother was an anchor baby. I could tell you that I speak only English because my family never taught me to speak Spanish, something which I’ve been told is common in the Cuban community, though I only know my own lived experience. I could tell you that I’m mostly neurotypical. I could tell you that I’m covered in surgical scars. I could tell you lots of things.
Are any of these true? Maybe! I could tell you that my brother has severe mental development problems, so uncommon that they’ve never been properly diagnosed, and that he will live the rest of his life in a group home with 24-hour care. Is that true? Am I allowed to write about families struggling with America’s piss-poor services for the handicapped now?
Am I allowed to write about being Cuban? After all, I did just say that I’m Cuban. But is it true? Can I instead write a character that’s Panamanian? Maybe I really am Panamanian, not Cuban. Maybe I’m both. Maybe I’m neither. Maybe I’m really French Canadian. Should we require people to post regular selfies? I can’t count the number of times I’ve had someone come up to me speaking Arabic, and I’ve been told that I look Syrian. What’s stopping me from making a blog that claims that I am Syrian? Can you even really tell someone’s race and ethnicity from a photo?
Am I allowed to write about being a teenager? Am I allowed to write about being a college student? Am I allowed to write about being an “adulty” adult? Can I write a character who’s 40? 50? 60? How old am I?
All of this is to say: you can’t base what someone is or is not “allowed” to write about on a background that may or may not be real. No matter how good your intentions. And I get it - this usually comes from a place of well-meaning. You’re trying to protect marginalized groups by stopping privileged people from trampling all over experiences that they haven’t suffered. I get that. It’s a very noble thought. But you can’t require a background check for every fic that you don’t like.
If you say “you can only write about rape if you’re a rape victim,” then one of three things will happen:
Real survivors will have to supply intimate details of their own violations to prevent harassment
Real survivors will refuse to engage and will then have to deal with death threats and people telling them to kill themselves for daring to write about their own experiences
People who aren’t survivors will say “yeah sure this happened to me” just to get people to shut up
Has that helped anyone? I mean really - anyone??
So now let’s get to point #2: is your baby in the bathwater?
If your intention is to protect marginalized people from being trampled upon, stop and assess if your boot is the one that’s now stamping on their face. Find your baby! Is your baby in the bathwater? Which is to say: find the goal that you’re advocating for. Now assess. Are you making the problem worse for the people you’re trying to protect? Does that rape victim really feel better, now that you’ve harassed and stalked them in the name of making rape victims feel safe?
Let’s say you read a fic that contains explicit sex between a 16 year old and a 17 year old. Is this okay? Would it be okay if the writer was 15? 16? 17? Should teenagers be barred from writing about their own lives, and should teenagers be banned from exploring sexuality in a fictional bubble, instead of hookup culture? Is it okay for a 20 year old to write about their experiences as a teenager? Is it okay for a 20 year old to write about being raped at a party as a teenager? Is it okay for a 30 year old? How about a 40 year old? Is it okay so long as it isn’t titillating? Is it okay if taking control of the narrative allows the writer to re-conceptualize their trauma as something they have control over? Is it okay if their therapist told them that writing is a safe creative outlet?
Is your author dead?
Is your baby in the bathwater?
Now let’s take a hardline approach: no fanfiction with characters who are under 18 years old. None. Is the 16 year old who really loves Harry Potter and wants to read/write about characters their own age better off? Should they be banned from writing? Should they be forced to exclusively read and write (adult) experiences that they haven’t lived? Will they write about teens anyway? Should they have to share it in secret? Should 16 year olds be ashamed of themselves? Should we just throw in with the evangelicals and say that the only answer is abstinence, both real and fictional?
Let’s say that no rape is allowed in fiction, at all. None. What happens to all the hurt/comfort fics where a character is raped and then receives the support and love that they deserve, slowly heal, and by the end have found themselves again? Are you helping rape victims by banning these stories? Are you helping rape victims by stripping their agency away, by telling them that their wants and their consent doesn’t matter?
Is your baby in the bathwater?
Fandom is currently being split in two: on one side, the people who want to make fandom a “safer” place by any means necessary, even if that means throwing out all of the marginalized groups they say they want to protect - and on the other, people who are saying “if you throw out that bathwater, you’re throwing the baby out too.”
The whole point of fandom is to be able to explore all kinds of ideas from the safety and comfort of a computer screen. You can read/write things that fascinate you, disgust you, titillate you, or make your heart feel warm. This is true of all fiction. People who want to read about rape and incest and extreme violence and torture can go pick up a copy of Game of Thrones from the bookstore whenever they want. Sanitizing fandom just means holding a community of people who are primarily not male, not straight, not cis, or some combination of those three, to higher and stricter standards than straight white cis male authors and creators all over the world.
There is nothing you can find on AO3 that you can’t find in a bookstore. Any teenager can go check out Lolita, or ASOIAF, or Flowers in the Attic, or Stephen King’s It, or Speak, or hundreds of other books that have adult themes or gratuitous violence or graphic sex. The difference is that AO3 has warnings and tags and allows people to interact only with the types of work that they want to, and allows people to curate their experiences.
Are these themes eligible to be explored, but only in the setting of something produced/published? Books, movies, television, studio art, music - all of these fields have huge barriers to entry, and they’re largely controlled by wealthy cishet white men. Is it better to say that only those who have the right connections to “make it” in these industries should be allowed to explore violence or sexuality or any other so-called “adult” theme?
Does banning women from writing MLM erotica make fan culture a better place?
Does banning queer people from writing about queer experiences make fan culture a better place?
Is M/M fic okay, but only if the author is male? What if he’s a transman? What if they’re NB? Who should get to draw those lines? Should TERFs get a vote? What if the author is a woman who feels more comfortable writing from a male character’s perspective because she’s grown up with male stories her whole life, or because she identifies more with male characters? What about all the transmen who discovered themselves, in part, by writing fanfiction, and realized that their desires to write male characters stemmed from something they hadn’t yet realized about themselves?
How can we ever be sure that the author is who they say they are?
Who is allowed to write these stories? How do we enforce it?
Is it better for none of these stories to ever exist at all?
Have you killed your author?
Have you thrown out your baby with the bathwater?
this post is AMAZING.
I believe very strongly in “I didn’t say it was good, I said I liked it”
but what might be even more important is “I didn’t say it was bad, I said I hated it”
I just wanna say if you hate something good because it sends terrible messages that’s fine but you can also just hate it because you hate it. free yourself of the struggle to find a “good enough” reason. sometimes it doesn’t hit right.
“I hate this author’s writing style”
is not the same as
“this author is bad at writing”
the last bit is so hard to convey in casual conversation. like i’ll be grumbling about a fic i couldn’t finish because it was so overwritten, and someone will always have to pop up with “but i like flowery language” or “synonyms for said aren’t necessarily bad” and it’s like… my loves, i know this, and i support you. you are valid. it’s true that my personal taste is for the writing to vanish into the background and the action to seem to happen without conscious parsing of language, that’s the ideal i’m going for when i write. but some folks really enjoy reading deliberately written euphonious language and that’s awesome!
i wouldn’t complain about an appropriately and deliberately flowery piece of writing. that’s just personal taste, it’s really bad form to whine about something not being to your taste.
USE THESE REDDIT SUBS INSTEAD PLEASE FOR GOODNESS SAKE!!!!!!!!!
Hate Reddit if you want, but using these subs are your bestchance. People gather in these subs because they have charity to spare:
I never see anyone actually getting any significant donations on tumblr and to be honest, tumblr is the worst place to ask for assistance. Use it as your last resort, it frustrates me to no end seeing people begging for help, reblogging the same post over and over, the same types of posts over and over, to no avail, when people are waiting to help you on a different part of the web
GO TO WHERE THE HELP IS. IF YOU WANT DIRECT ACTION TO WORK STOP WITH TUMBLR AND USE REDDIT.
PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF SATAN REBLOG THIS SO WE CAN START REDUCING THE AMOUNT OF DONATION POSTS THAT GET STUCK FLOATING AROUND THIS WEBSITE
Note that r/legaladvice is for USA legal advice not donation requests.
It’s a question I see come up in this fandom againandagain: How the heck did Animorphs books make it into school libraries and book fairs across the country to be marketed to eight-year-olds when they feature drug addiction,body dysmorphia,suicide,imperialism,PTSD,racism,sexism,body horror,grey-and-black morality,slavery,torture,major character death,forced cannibalism, and genocide?
To be clear, I don’t actually know the answer to that question. It is, admittedly, a little odd to consider, especially in light of the fact that Bridge to Terabithia gets banned for killing one character (much less several dozen), The Witches gets banned for having a character trapped in the body of an animal (without even going into issues of predation or body horror), The Chocolate War gets banned for having moderately disturbing descriptions of violence between teenagers, Bird gets banned for dealing with the realities of drug addiction, Winnie the Pooh gets banned for having talking animals, Harriet the Spy gets banned because the main character lies to her parents, and The Secret Annex gets banned because Anne Frank describes normal teenage puberty experiences throughout her diary. And yet Animorphs was marketed to children as young as six nationwide, and (despite selling better than even some classics like The Chocolate War at its peak) no one ever bothered to burn those books or cry that they would rot children’s minds.
If I had to take a wildly inexpert guess, knowing as little as I do about the publishing industry and the standards parent groups use to determine whether books are “moral,” I would venture to speculate that there were several different factors at work.
- Grown-ups judge books by their covers just as much as children do. For proof of that phenomenon, just scroll through the Animorphs tag on tumblr, any relevant forum on Reddit, or any old post that uses that stupid meme. The book covers suggest that the stories inside will be silly, campy adventures about the escapist fantasy of turning into a dolphin or a lizard. People don’t look too closely at the books with the neon candy-colored backgrounds and the ridiculous photoshop foregrounds, especially not when they imply a promise that the novels themselves will be the most inane form of sci fi.
- There’s no sex. To quote the show K.A. Applegate most loves to reference: “I guess parents don’t give a crap about violence if there’s sex things to worry about.” The large majority of books that get banned from schools are thrown out for having sexual content: the freaking dictionary was banned from California schools for explaining what “oral sex” is,And Tango Makes Three was removed from shelves because apparently married couples are inherently shocking if they happen to be gay, and the list of most-banned books in the U.S. is full of books which explain in perfectly child-appropriate terms what puberty is and where babies come from. Animorphs, by contrast, never gets more explicit than Marco calling Taylor a “skank” or Jake and Cassie’s few stolen kisses. The only mentions of nudity are implied (and even then only when the kids are first coming out of morph), and the most explicit thing we ever hear about Rachel and Tobias doing is staying up late in her room to do her homework together. It becomes unbelievably obvious in retrospect that there’s a decent level of queer representation in the books (Marco repeatedly describing both Jake and Ax as “beautiful” or “handsome,” Mertil and Gafinilan, multiple characters casually morphing cross-gender), but it’s also possible to overlook the queerness if you don’t know it’s there. There might be explicit autocannibalism in this series, but at least it never uses the word “nipple.”
- There’s no profanity. Again, there’s a strong implication of profanity—Rachel and Jake especially often “use certain words to describe things” in a way that makes it incredibly obvious what they’re saying, and context clues tell us Ax says “fuck” at least once—but given that the strongest expletive that comes up with any regularity is “good grief,” this can act as an obvious (if dumb) heuristic for parents that a book is appropriate for children. People love to countthe swear words in Catcher in the Rye when describing why it should be banned (generally without, heaven forbid, reading the goddamn book). Other works such as To Kill a Mockingbird have been banned for using a single word, regardless of context. If a parent is looking to object to a single word or set of words as grounds that a book is inappropriate, the worst they’re going to find is half a dozen instances of “heck” and maybe a dozen of “crap.”
- Some of the worst content is context-dependent. As I pointed out above, at least five or six different characters (Tobias, Arbron, Alloran, Tom, Allison Kim) attempt suicide over the course of the series. At least three or four species that we know about (Hork-Bajir, Howlers, Nartec) get largely or entirely annihilated. However, in order to understand that any of that occurs, you actually have to read the books. Not only that, but you have to read them closely. Cates pointed out that some of the most disturbing passages from #33 are, in a vacuum, just descriptions of blinking diodes and weird hallucinations. The description of Tobias attempting suicide is just a long list of mall venues that flash by as he zooms full-speed toward a glass wall. Even the passages with Rachel threatening David (or carrying out those threats) don’t make much sense unless you know how a two-hour limit on morphing works. For the parent skimming these books looking for objectionable content, nothing jumps out.
- The books are, in fact, appropriate for children. This quality is what (I believe) prevented parents like mine from taking the books away from us kids even after reading several entire novels out loud to us before bed. The books contain violence, but they sure as hell don’t condone it. They touch on subjects such as drug addiction and parental abuse, but they do so from the point of view of realistic-feeling kids and don’t fetishize that kind of content. Most of the lessons contained within are tough—that there’s no such thing as a simple moral code, that people with the power to prevent atrocity also have the obligation to do so, that members of the hegemony aren’t actually all that special, that the world is a scary and violent place for most people who have to live in it—but they’re also important lessons, and good ones to teach to children. I would be comfortable with my own children (assuming I had any) reading these books at the same age I started reading them, in first and second grade.
- You have to understand the fictional science to understand (most of) the horror. Trying to describe some of the most horrifying passages in Animorphs is like “and then they flushed the pool for cleaning, but the pool was full of slugs!” or “but she explained to her son that she had to have a parasite in her brain so the parasite’s friends wouldn’t be suspicious!” or “and then the hawk ate a rabbit, as hawks are wont to do!” while one’s non-fandalite friends stand there and go “… so what?” The laws of Applied Phlebotinum in the series turn those earlier moments into a war crime, an assisted quasi-suicide, and a loss of identity, respectively; however, you have to understand the laws of applied phlebotinum in order to know that. For anyone not reading closely, the horror can be overlooked. For those of us who are reading closely, phrases such as “host breeding program,” “fugue state,” “eight minutes too late,” and “the howlers are all children” (or any mention at all of people being injured while taxxons are in the vicinity, for that matter) are enough to chill your blood. But again, for that to happen, you actually have to read the books. Which we can assume most of the people skimming for curse words do not.
- Some of those exact same premises wouldn’t be horror at all if handled by a different author. K.A. Applegate subverts the “wake up, go to school, save the world” trope; normally premises that feature teen superheroes fighting aliens are considered appropriate for all ages (e.g. Avengers Assemble, Kim Possible, Teen Titans) because they feature bloodless violence and gloss over the question of whether aliens are people too. The utterly arbitrary standard that kids should be allowed to see violence but not blood allows for justification of movies like Prince Caspian, Night at the Museum, and Ghostbusters to feature characters getting murdered in all kinds of ways in PG-rated movies. “Violence” and “sci-fi violence” are two different categories according to the MPAA rating system; guess which one gets a lower rating. Of course, there’s acraptonofscience showing it doesn’t make the tiniest bit of difference to kids whether or not they see blood, they’re still gonna learn violent behaviors and potentially be traumatized, but again where the arbitrary standard persists. Therefore, if most of the premises of Animorphs books don’t sound horrifying, they must not actually be horrifying. Right?
- The books are almost as light as they are heavy. Part of the reason I have comfortably loaned my copies of the early books to friends with ten-year-old kids is that it’s not primarily a downer series. Animorphs aren’t R.L. Stein books, which always end on (the implication of) the protagonist’s death. They’re not uniform horrorfests like Dolls in the AtticorScary Stories to Tell in the Dark. Applegate doesn’t fetishize violence the way that Cassandra Clare and Ransom Riggs do. The most-quoted passages from these books are the ones that are funny, not horrifying. These are stories about the joy of aliens discovering Volkswagen Beetles, about the wonder of being able to fly away from one’s life, about friendship and the power of love being enough to make the gods themselves sit up and pay attention. The whole saga tells the story of six kids sacrificing more than their lives to save their families, and of how that sacrifice brings down an empire. I suspect that many parents were either paying so little attention they didn’t realize these stories could be classified as battle epics or as kiddie horror, or else were paying so much attention that they concluded that this series is a battle epic worth reading.
Then again, maybe there was a whole other set of market pressures which accounted for the lack of censorship which I don’t know about. If so, the economics side of tumblr is encouraged to enlighten me.
Speaking from my experience as an (ex) public librarian here, I’d say that all of those are valid points. But, ultimately, I think that they - and a few others I was going to add (around the value of science fiction and the lack of formal study or requirement to read) - come back to a single factor:
The people most likely to complain are least likely to read.
I’ve never encountered a wowser who was well-read. And by well-read, I don’t mean ‘well-versed in the English Literary Canon of Dead White Dudes’. I mean someone who has read, who reads, who takes enjoyment from reading. Someone who reads because it is a pleasure to do so.
Someone who doesn’t read will simultaneously under and overestimate the impact that a book can have on its reader. That’s human nature, cognitive bias at play. In particular, we have interplay between:
- The Dunning-Kruger Effect
People who don’t have the skills to properly engage with a text will overestimate their ability to do so, and underestimate others’
- The Third Person Effect
People perceive that media has a greater impact on others than themselves
- Trviality Bias
People latch onto minor, incidental details of something because they are easier to understand.
- Empathy Gap
People are very bad at judging their own emotional states, and the states of others
In other words, wowsers who don’t read imagine themselves to be expert readers when in reality they’re not engaging with the text very effectively at all. What they’re doing instead is latching onto trivial controversies - a mention of sex, a swear word, talk of the Dreaded Gays, Are You There God, it’s Me Menstruation - which trigger a visceral, emotional reaction. And then, because they imagine themselves to be well-adjusted experts, they presume that everyone else will have an even more extreme reaction. Ban that Book!
But because they don’t have the skills to engage with the text in anything more than a trivial fashion, they don’t understand subtext. At all. Anything that isn’t obvious, there on the page (and some of the stuff that is) - that shit just flies right on over.
Meanwhile, librarians tend to be both expert readers and good judges of reading competency in others. And being experts and good judges (these two things don’t necessarily go hand in hand), a good librarian knows that reading expertise, and the ability to engage with a story beyond what’s just written on the page, is something that is developed over time. A reader can only engage with a book to the extent of their expertise.
An eight-year-old who reads Animorphs and thinks it’s a rollicking adventure with cool aliens is reading at an appropriate age level. A twelve-year-old can read the same book and realise it has themes about suicide and talk about it with their friends will be reading at an age-appropriate level. An adult can that same book and realise that it’s not just suicidal themes, but that the text has a densely layered narrative that’s fundamentally about what it means to be human, both physically (through the continued and sometimes extreme use of body-horror) and metaphysically (is it human to sacrifice?). And that adult will be reading at an age-appropriate level too. Same book, appropriate for multiple audiences, separated by their expertise in reading it.
Books and their readers are self-selecting. Wowsers select ignorance.
I try to stay away from a lot of fandom discourse, but since I’ve been seeing this on my dash again and in tags, I feel the need to make a statement on this, particularly for any young fans who follow me that might get drawn into this mindset.
Stay away from purity culture. Warn your friends away from it too, if you see them starting to fall for it. It’s very easy to get drawn into it
Almost always, it starts with one of three roots, pedophilia, incest and/or abuse. Usually it’s pedophilia. Funnily enough, that’s also what congress usually uses to try to justify passing bills that undermine online privacy & security. Because it’s an easy, extreme target, and when people attempt to argue against it, it’s nice and easy to say “Oh so you likepedophilia” rather then actually engaging with their argument.
The logic goes like this, although there’s many forms of it.
- “Pedophilia is bad.” -> Obviously, you agree with this. You’re a reasonable person, and the idea that anyone would do something like that to a child is horrible. This is a normal human reaction.
- “Because pedophilia is bad, all fictional explorations of it must be equally bad.” -> Here you might hesitate, but it adds up, doesn’t it? The thought of pedophilia in any context probably gives you a bad feeling, that makes you inclined to go along with this logic.
- “Anyone who creates content with a fictional exploration of pedophilia is also bad.” -> Maybe you pause here, or maybe you don’t. But still, it adds up, it’s a very easy flow. After all, we’ve decided that that is Bad, so why would anyone Good want to create something like that?
- “Since people who create content with a fictional exploration of pedophilia are just as bad as people who engage in pedophilia in real life, it’s okay to harm them.” -> Here’s where you might pause again. The argument might not win you over entirely, you might not be willing to do harm yourself, but you may be a lot more willing to turn a blind eye to harm being done to someone. Or to consider it ‘justified’.
- The pattern now repeats for anything else that’s considered “morally impure”, and “pedophilia” is expanded and expanded, often to ridiculous points, such as merely shipping two underage characters. “Abuse” becomes any ship that the person pushing doesn’t like, for any reason. And so on and so forth.
This is the foundation of “anti” culture, and it’s important to be aware of it so you can catch this false equivocation. Fictional explorations of something, are not the same as the thing itself. Fictional explorations are fiction. The characters are not real people. There is no actual harm being done. Equating fake harm and real harm is a dangerous, slippery slope, which leads us to fundamentally flawed ideas of moral purity. It’s a form of controlling people & making them feel guilty for their very thoughts, rather than holding people accountable for their actions.
A very handy trick for when you encounter this sort of argument, is to replace whatever the selected purity term is with murder. After all, we can all agree that murder is bad, but at the same time, we understand that a murder in a book =/= a murder in real life.
Let’s see that argument again, shall we?
- “Murder is bad”
“Because murder is bad, all fictional explorations of it must be equally bad.”
“Anyone who creates content with a fictional exploration of murder is also bad.”
“Since people who create fictional explorations of murder are just as bad as the people who commit murder in real life, it’s okay to harm them.”
Hopefully, it’s now easy to see why the above argument is fundamentally flawed.
Keep your eye out for purity culture in your fandom spaces, and when you see it, refuse to engage with it. Warn your friends if you see them falling into the same traps, although try to be kind about it; this is a very easy thought pattern to fall into. I don’t recommend trying to argue/debate anti’s. The attention only feeds them. Block them instead. Don’t let people control or shame you for what you create or consume, and don’t control or shame others for what they create or consume.
Also, as a note, let me be clear about something. If you are uncomfortable with any of the above discussed things, or anything in general in fiction (ie, underage ships, murder, incest, abuse, penguins, needles, etc), that’s perfectly fine (it’s also called a squick, for those that haven’t heard that term before). Absolutely control your fandom experience by blocking people, filtering tags, unfollowing, etc. However, just because you are uncomfortable with something, does not give you the right to control other people. Other people have no right to control what content you create or consume, and you have no right to do that to them either.
I think there are two other important arguments antis use that should be debunked. They will say that fiction should be censored if it could either 1) be used/leveraged towards harm or 2) causes harm itself.
The typical example of the first argument is usually about abusers using fiction that depicts pedophilia or other abuse in order to groom a victim. It is true that abusers have used fiction as part of their grooming tactics. Antis will say that this means that that fiction should be censored to prevent this. This is a bad argument for two reasons. First, it misplaces the blame for abuse from the abuser to the tool/method of the abuser. Second, it misunderstands the fact that even “vanilla” or “non-problematic” things are used by abusers as part of their grooming tactics.
The typical example of the second argument is usually about traumatized people being triggered, “re-traumatized”, or otherwise very distressed about certain fiction. It is true that certain fiction can cause real emotional/psychological harm to certain people. Antis will say that any such harmful fiction should be censored for this reason. This is a bad argument for two reasons. First, whether a piece of fiction is harmful is dependent upon the individual, i.e. no fiction universally causes harm. Second, things that are considered “problematic” are not the only things that are potentially triggering–anything can potentially be a trigger, no matter how “innocuous” it is to people without that trigger. When it comes to topics that are more frequently distressing/triggering, the solution to preventing harm is to use tags/warnings so people can avoid topics that will harm them.
Describing gender as a spectrum implies that there are people whose gender cannot correctly be displayed in digital media because it falls outside the RGB colour gamut.
Shrimp genders are 100% valid, but that’s not quite the analogy I was going for.
It’s like… okay, everybody knows how human colour vision works, right? We have three types of colour receptors in our eyes: one responds only to red light, one responds only to green light, and one responds only to blue light. Thus, any colour that humans can see can be modelled as a combination of red, green, and blue light in varying intensities. Simple.
The trouble is, that’s not how it works at all.
In reality, each of the three types of colour receptors in your eyes responds to a range of wavelengths. In some cases, those ranges can be very large:
As shown in the preceding diagram, they don’t even peak at red, green and blue; the peak sensitivity for L (”red”) receptors, for example, is somewhere in the yellow-orange range, while S (”blue”) receptors’ sensitivity peaks at deep purple.
Red, green and blue were chosen as primary colours simply because those are the three colours that most effective “isolate” each type of colour receptor. That is, if you wanted a colour of light that gets the strongest response out of the L receptors, with the least amount of spillover to the other two kinds of receptors, you’d pick red.
The upshot is that the RGB colour model is merely an approximation of the visible spectrum. It can display lots and lots of colours. However, there are also lots and lots of colours it can’t display, because there’s no combination of red, green and blue light that produces quite the same reaction in your colour receptors that the true colour would.
So how good is that approximation?
In the preceding diagram, the grey semi-ellipse represents the range of colours that a human with typical colour vision can see. The inset coloured triangle represents the range of colours that the RGB colour model can approximate. If you tot up the areas, that’s pretty stark: the RGB colour model can approximate nearly seventeen million distinct hues and still excludes the majority of the visible spectrum.
Like, these aren’t colours that only shrimp can see. There are probably objects within arm’s reach of where you’re sitting whose colours cannot be approximated by the screen you’re reading this post on.
Now consider the gulf between “the range of genders that exist” and “the range of genders we have the language to describe”. I’m not saying it’s a good analogy, but it’s one that hits home for me!
This was so obvious when I realized it, but I think most people miss it, because we’re so desensitized by D&D-style magic with immediate, visibly, flashy effects, rather than more subtle and invisible forces of magic. When Gollum attacks Frodo on the slopes of Mount Doom, Frodo has the chance to kill him, but he doesn’t. Instead, he says:
Frodo: Go! And if you ever lay hands on me again, you yourself shall be cast into the Fire!
Frodo’s not just talking shit here. He is literally, magically laying a curse. He’s holding the One Ring in his hands as he says it; even Sam, with no magic powers of his own, can sense that some powerful mojo is being laid down. Frodo put a curse on Gollum: if you try to take the Ring again, you’ll be cast into the Fire.
Five pages later, Gollum tries to take the Ring again. And that’s exactly what happens. Frodo’s geas takes effect and Gollum eats lava.
On further reflection:
All the other people in the franchise who were offered the Ring declined to take it because they were wise enough to know that if they used its power – and the pressure to do so would be too great – they would be subject to its corruption.
Frodo uses the power of the Ring to lay a geas, and then five minutes later at the volcano’s edge, succumbs to its corruption. The Ring has gotten to him and he can no longer give it up. Because he used its power.
On further further reflection: I’d have to read the section again, but I recall that after throwing Gollum off and laying the geas, Sam observes that Frodo seems suddenly filled with energy again when previously he had been close to dead of fatigue. He hikes up the mountain so fast he leaves Sam behind – and doesn’t even seem to notice that he’s left him behind.
Could he have been drawing on the Ring’s power at this point in the story? At this point in the story we’re relying on Sam’s narration, and Sam doesn’t know what’s going on in Frodo’s head, so it’s hard to say for sure.Having used it once, after spending so long holding out against it, was that the breach in the dam?
Which means that the moment that Frodo succumbs to temptation is not the moment at the volcano – it was already too late by then. The moment he is taken by temptation was when he used the power of the Ring to repel Gollum.
If so, this ties in neatly with discussions I’ve seen about how Tolkien subscribes to a “not even once” view of good and evil – that in many other works it’s acceptable to do a small evil in service of a greater good, but in Lord of the Rings that always fails.
Re-reading Fellowship of the Rings, and I got to this passage in Lorien:
‘I would ask one thing before we go,’ said Frodo, ‘a thing which I often meant to ask Gandalf in Rivendell. I am permitted to wear the One Ring: why cannot I see all the others and know the thoughts of those that wear them?’
‘You have not tried,’ [Galadriel] said. ‘Only thrice have you set the Ring upon your finger since you knew what you possessed. Do not try! It would destroy you. Did not Gandalf tell you that the rings give power according to the measure of each possessor? Before you could use that power you would need to become stronger, and to train your will to the domination of others.’
In other words:
Frodo asks Galadriel, herself carrying a Ring of Power, “Could I, hypothetically, use the power of the One Ring to do something magical aside from turning invisible?” and Galadriel replies, “Yes, hypothetically, you totally could, assuming the magic you want to do involves laying compulsions on others, but I strongly recommend against it, because it would fuck up your brain.”
This was in the first book. At the end of the third book Frodo uses the Ring to fuck Gollum up, forcing him to throw himself into lava if he disobeys Frodo’s commands.
Talk about a chekov’s gun.
Got to this point in my re-read and uh. This was a lot less subtle than I remembered it.
‘Down, down!’ [Frodo] gasped, clutching his hand to his breast, so that beneath the cover of his leather shirt he clasped the Ring. ‘Down, you creeping thing, and out of my path! Your time is at an end. You cannot slay me or betray me now.’
Then suddenly, Sam saw these two rivals with other vision. A crouching shape, scarcely more than the shadow of a living thing, a creature now wholly ruined and defeated, yet filled with a hideous lust and rage; and before it stood stern, untouchable now by pity, a figure robed in white, but at its breast it held a wheel of fire. Out of the fire there spoke a commanding voice.
‘Begone, and trouble me no more! If you touch me ever again, you shall be cast yourself into the Fire of Doom.’
Then the vision passed and Sam saw Frodo standing, hand on breast, his breath coming in great gasps, and Gollum at his feet, resting on his knees with his wide-splayed hands upon the ground.
Interestingly, I feel that there is another layer to this, and that is Frodo’s mercy (mirroring “the pity of Bilbo” which Gandalf said would prove significant) at play, tangled up in his use of the Ring and the chain of events that would play out.
Frodo is sparing Gollum’s life here, and shaping that into his curse. He is only cursing Gollum—can only curse Gollum—as an effect of this mercy; if Gollum were dead, he could not be cursed by Frodo or the Ring; his survival makes the curse possible and serves as payment for the curse: they are in effect making a bargain here, wherein Golllum’s life and his sentence of dying in the Fires of Doom should he take the Ring again are as one, a package deal, which Gollum “accepts” by retreating with his life.
Then, once Frodo comes to Mount Doom, he cannot cast the ring into the fires; the Ring has him in thrall, since he has used it. Now into the picture again comes Gollum, whose greed for the Ring has surpassed his love of his own life—even having been cursed with death should he touch it again, he craves it and demands it for himself, taking it from Frodo by force.
Thus we see the Ring’s power divided against itself—it has defeated both Frodo and Gollum, and its defeat of Gollum inspires Gollum to fight Frodo for it, invoking the curse. And thus Sauron, who has it, now, by virtue of both its erstwhile Bearers falling under its (and therefore its Lord’s) sway, is cheated out of it by the effects of Frodo’s act of mercy.
Frodo spared Gollum, and used the Ring’s power to set a curse, and when Frodo faltered, it was Gollum whom he spared who took the Ring from him and invoked that curse, falling into the Fires of Doom and, due to the same greed that defeated Frodo, taking the Ring with him.
If there had been no sparing Gollum, there would have been no curse, and Frodo would have had the task Isildur failed at—destroying the (beautiful, useful, lovely ring)—set before him alone, and he may have succeeded, or he may have failed, or he may have tarried too long in the struggle for Sauron’s destruction to come in a timely fashion, or the resolution and the Ring’s destruction may have hurt him far beyond the loss of a finger.
Instead, there was Gollum, in thrall to Sauron yet doomed by Frodo, to take from Frodo both the Ring and the burden of destroying it. Frodo, in his mercy-tinged use of the Ring, effectively shifted the impetus behind the Ring’s destruction from himself to the doom laid on Gollum—and Sauron’s hold over Gollum made it a near certainty that the doom would come to pass: Gollum would die, and not surrender the Ring, and thus the Ring would fall with him into the fires of Mount Doom.
And Frodo … like Indiana Jones in the Chapel of the Holy Grail, could avoid falling himself by either a willingness to let go, or the presence of a loved one to hold him back. Or, y’know, Gollum deciding to bite rather than just grab. A few more options here.
This really hearkens back to old Celtic mythological geasa, and how so often someone dies because of a forced contradiction of a geas’ rules. A geas essentially allows for an easy setup of a no-win situation.
The warrior-poet-king Cú Chulainn was, eventually, brought down because he was bound by a geas. His geas was to never eat the flesh of a dog (I believe by Culann, but I’m not sure on that). Well, he got served some dog stew. He couldn’t eat it, because it was dog. But he couldn’t noteat it, because that would be extremely rude, according to cultural custom at the time - a custom so strong, it might as well have been a geas on its own. Either way, he was breaking a geas’ rules, and this magically weakens him before an upcoming battle. He - and his charioteer and horse - are slain
So, yeah, this all tracks with how geasa work. Gollum had such a strong desire for the ring that he, quite literally, had no choice but to attack Frodo for it. But, in doing so, he contradicts the geas Frodo laid upon him, and so falls.
That’s FASCINATING, and also, “I was in a social situation with no good options so I just died” is a Very Big Mood.
do you ever read about clean eating and intermittent fasting and cleanses and all that shit and just think about how good the wellness industry is as repackaging dangerous and disordered eating habits as shiny wellness routines and become literally enraged
my boss was talking about how he’s intermittent fasting and i said sarcastically “well NOW it’s cool and trendy but when i was doing it they called it an eating disorder” and my partner cracked up but my boss didn’t know what to say and i’d say the look on his face was priceless as he realized the similarities
this has become such a problem that there’s a name for it - orthorexia. while it hasn’t been officially added to the dsm, there is a push being made by psychologists to make more people aware of the disorder and the dangers of “clean eating”
La-HA! hit me like a fucking drug.
this is what every social interaction feels like when you’re neurodivergent
I looked up the menu for the restaurant this is based on and i wanted to die.
i actually know abt cafe gratitude, u have to order by SAYING “i am [menu item]” it’s fucking insane
googling this to laugh at the website and finding out that one of the 5 locations of this restaurant is 10 minutes away from where i live is the most horrific feeling i’ve ever experienced.
One of the desserts is just an almond joy bar
$17 for likely under $5 worth of things in a bowl and they still ask for an extra $2 if you want some avocado in it
IT WAS FOUNDED BY A CULT
this is seriously what interacting with neurotypicals in the workplace feels like when you’re autistic lmao
Low key I’m kinda bored of and annoyed by the preponderance of works that have Boring If Not Outright Malevolent Angels on one side and Nuanced, Charismatic, And Honestly Not Evil Demons because it just seems like a perpetuation of the idea that good is fundamentally flat or banal or not even good at all, that Goodness is something performed to achieve something else, usually power or control. In fact, I don’t object to nuanced demons so much as the imbalance (only the “evil” side is allowed to be anything approching, well, approachable.)
But then I’m like “well identification with monsters is something that marginalized groups often feel because it forces us to question what is monstrous, so the idea of finding compassion and humanity in those deemed inherently unforgivable is actually very powerful and subversive”
But then I’m like “but is it subversive or is it laziness? It’s hardly revolutionary at this point, it’s like people making children’s toys scary. It’s supposed to have a tension between what something should be (childlike, innocent) and making it wicked. But now it’s so common that dolls are often considered inherently creepy. So where’s the subversion in a creepy doll? There’s none. Where’s the subversion in mean Angels or angels who have no interest in or love for humanity?”
But then I’m like “well but aren’t angels traditionally destroying cities and saying Be Not Afraid?”
And I’m like, again just to myself as I pace my kitchen, “I mean YEAH but they’re also like flaming wheels or whatever, I’m not sure how much these works are genuinely interested in angel mythology”
Then as I make coffee for myself, I think, “angels represent the traditional hierarchy, the traditional Christian dogma, and therefore are stand ins for the authority that we must question”
But then, as I realize we are out of sugar and my coffee is therefore ruined and am thus more susceptible to thinking there are demonic forces at work in this world, I go, “but demons in these stories aren’t systemically kind. They’re just cool. They’re individuals and help individuals if they feel like it. In these stories, there’s no mass concern for all of humanity really.”
And then I conclude, “maybe angels are written cruelly because the world seems cruel and therefore there cannot be a Divine force involved in our daily activities looking out for us. Demons are by their nature doomed to fail which makes stories where they try to do Good have a more natural conflict and also explains why things in the world aren’t better. For if there were angels, a legion of angels, always at work, shouldn’t things be better? But we don’t know how the world could otherwise be. But it seems hard to argue that this is in fact the best of all possible worlds. So demons make an easier to identify with protagonist while also being powerful and having cosmic impact. I believe many stories doing their own take on angels and demons would benefit from truly trying to imagine angels and beings of love, rather than the cold and distant figures I often see in fiction, but I understand the framework behind that conception.”
Then I add to myself, “of course since I’m mostly talking about like urban fantasy, it might also be that people just wanna fuck demons more.”
so i’ve thought this over and here’s my conclusion: TV and movies have to get funded and produced through the same kind of entrenched power structures that any genuinely involved, chaotic good, reformist angel character would challenge.
angels as a faceless, remorseless, uninvolved mass of Hierarchic Authority is boring but totally acceptable. heaven is a bureaucracy. god is unknowable but also non-negotiable. this divine schema asks very little of you but compliance, however half-hearted or resentful. established churches, established societies, established authority, is only ever served by entrenching this idea of what god and his forces are. this doesn’t rock the boat at all.
so many movies have the moral, ‘things aren’t great but could be a little better if we were nicer to each other :)’ and leave it at that.
so what about biblical angels? what about the ones that show up as heralds of genuine change, of harbingers of the collapse of unjust systems, angels who scare the shit out of kings because you don’t getangels if your people don’t need them? angels who are here to wreck your shit? angels who are the messengers of a God who is ready and willing to negotiate? angels who are ready to tear apart your city, your society, your kings, your temples, because you didn’t heal the sick, you didn’t feed the poor, you didn’t welcome the stranger, you didn’t talk to god, you talked forhim, and now his voices are walking your streets and talking with your people and ready for the next chapter of history?
you’re not going to see those angels on TV.
you have to write them yourself.