Book Premise FAIL, or, Some Books I’ll Never Be Reading

So I dithered about posting on these because I don’t like bringing the authors any additional publicity.  For many books, the worst enemy is obscurity.  But I had to share my pain, folks.

Remember Victoria Foyt and Save the Pearls?  Remember how we all wondered how any author could hit such serious WTF territory?

I bring you the latest Foyt-esque forays from two other authors.  You’re welcome.

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In Which I Ponder a Lily-White Les Miserables Movie

I’ve been a fan of Les Misérables since the 90’s.

Like, a big fan.  When I was a kid I had 5, count ’em, 5 different cast recordings.

As long as I’ve been a fan, every production that’s striven to be a definitive cast has included people of color.  The Tenth Anniversary Dream Cast (meant to be the best of the best) included Lea Salonga as Eponine.  The Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Concert included not only Salonga as Fantine, but Norm Lewis (whom we all love in Scandal) as Javert and Iranian-Canadian Ramin Karimloo as Enjolras.  The Complete Symphonic Recording, which strove to be international as well as definitive, cast Kaho Shimada from the Japanese production as Eponine.  Les Mis has been around for a long time; it’s been performed in a huge number of countries; and more than many other musical theatre productions it’s understood to be about content and story instead of about people’s skin color.

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Character Versus Narrative: Arrow’s Diggle

(spoilers for the CW’s Arrow ahead)

I’ve been watching and enjoying Arrow lately.  And one character, Green Arrow’s bodyguard / partner / sidekick John Diggle, has made me think a lot about the way characters are presented in-universe versus their actual role in the narrative.  Specifically, I started thinking about this in regard to race.

And getting mad.

In a lot of ways, I love how they present Diggle.  But then I look at that presentation from outside the show, and I hesitate:

How the show presents him: He’s black and Oliver Queen / Green Arrow’s not only white, but a white rich kid son of a billinaire whom Diggle is initially hired to protect . . . and this doesn’t go unmentioned.  Diggle’s sister-in-law specifically asks him about following a couple of rich white boys around, in a conversation that clearly places these people as central to their own lives, and not characters who look for white employers to attach themselves to.  Which I like!
Except: In the show, his character does work for the Queens, and he is a secondary, supporting character to the rich, white Oliver Queen, who is the protagonist of the show.

How the show presents him: He’s a military veteran who cares deeply about his country.  When Oliver compares the two of them, Diggle has nothing but contempt: he tells Oliver that no matter what happened when Oliver was shipwrecked, he’s NOT a soldier, and will NEVER know what it means to be one.
Except: Oliver’s the one who starts the social crusade first, and is portrayed as the one who figured out how to make a difference and from whom Diggle needed guidance to do the same.  After his initial resistance, Diggle joins Oliver on his crusade, implicitly granting credence to the idea that Oliver has found the right way to make the world better.

How the show presents him: Diggle explicitly tells Oliver when he joins him that he’s not there to be a sidekick.
Except: On the show, Oliver is, again, the protagonist, and Diggle is supporting, so his role in the show is as sidekick.  Oliver’s the one who founded the whole operation and has been the one spearheading the plans and dictating the way they operate.  He invites Diggle to join him like he’s favorably rewarding a good puppy, and shuts down his suggestions because this is “his” operation.  Also, Oliver’s the one who kills the man who murdered Diggle’s brother (without any acknowledgement thereof), taking a good chunk of Diggle’s agency away from one of his own storylines.

How the show presents him: Diggle emphasized again in the latest episode that he’s there to work with Oliver, not for him.
Except: Diggle doesn’t actually join Oliver for any of the action in the episode; Green Arrow always goes in alone.  Also, Diggle has to push and manipulate Oliver into taking the case, which Oliver only starts to care about after it intersects with his own goals . . . and only then does he become invested.  As always, the narrative does not punish Oliver for this behavior.

How the show presents him: Diggle served in Iraq, is a personal bodyguard, and can kick every type of motherlovin’ ass.
Except: Because he’s the hero, Oliver always has to be shown as being better at kicking ass.  Not only does Green Arrow get more amazing action sequences, but Oliver beats up Diggle every time they go head to head (before they team up, and later while sparring) with a physical superiority that borders on humiliating.

I feel like I see this a lot in media.  The female character is vocal about being able to take care of herself, but the narrative still puts her in a position from which she needs to be rescued.  The minority characters might be shown to be just as competent as the white characters, but they still somehow end up dying first.  The character of color calls the white lead out on being selfish and thinking the world is All About Him, but because he’s the lead, the show is All About Him.

Just look at the African-American Police Chief trope—in all of those shows, the black guy/gal has done better and advanced farther than the white protagonist in universe, but still isn’t allowed to be the hero.  Gah!

As much as I do want writers to make women and characters of color equal through characterization, it’s lip service when the plot and narrative still put those characters in second place to the white men.

Link: Once Upon a Time and Family-Friendly Relationships

I feel a little odd posting this here because I haven’t even seen enough of Once Upon a Time to follow all the excellent meta that’s been posted here already; I’ve only seen a handful of episodes.  But I thought it was worth sharing:

“They’re Not Going to Kiss. It’s a Family Show.” (link to my blog)

But seriously, we live in a world in which we can have a show that vomits romance and True Love and Kissing Solves Everything Even Dark Magic(tm) all over the screen and when I say I want a certain romance to happen on that show, when I say, “Man I want those two characters to kiss already!”, the response can be . . . “Nope, sorry, it’s a family show“????

The rant is more about society than it is about the show itself: the way OUAT has set itself up with the “family show” label, and the double-standard that means they can show gobs and gobs of opposite-sex kissing but the chance of a same-sex relationship is slim to none.

Which, what?  Why does a show have to be “edgy” for even a sweet, non-explicit same-sex romance to be likely?  Why can’t we apply the same standard to same-sex kisses that we do to opposite-sex ones?  Why, when I watch a show overflowing with couples, is the one romantic pairing I like dead before it started, just because it happens to be two women?  What the fuck is that?

I don’t mind that OUAT wants to give itself a “family” label.  But I feel infuriated that “family” somehow means, “keep the queer out COOTIES!!”  It’s homophobic and shitty and really just stupid.

(Note: I’m not privy to OUAT’s marketing strategies, so maybe I’m totally off base and idiotically assuming and they don’t consider same-sex couples to be taboo at all.  Maybe they’ve been building up the couple I like from the beginning.  It’s possible.  I will gladly, GLADLY proclaim I am wrong on this one if that happens.)

Do You Feel Like *Educating* Today?

Yeah, I know, it’s not our job to educate straight white cis men on this stuff.  Or people who aren’t straight white cis men but still need a clue-by-four.

But if anybody has blog posts on racism/sexism/other -isms in SFF fandom, and you want to signal boost ’em, fantasy author Jim Hines wants to give us a platform.  Not because he wants cookies, but because on a previous post of his someone pointed out how fucked-up it is that a straight white guy who writes about the lack of inclusiveness in SFF gets close to 100 comments while the actual people being marginalized blog about it ALL THE FUCKING TIME and hear crickets.  And someone else suggested that he push his audience to read some of those more marginalized voices, since he has that well-read platform and all, and so he is.

For anyone not familiar with him, in my opinion Jim Hines is a legit ally who always tries to own his privilege and fail better, and blog about it.  I already dropped a link to Ars Marginal there, but if anyone else wants to signal-boost either your blog or individual posts that you’ve read or written that relate to SFF inclusiveness, he has a lot of readers in the greater SFF community (his blog won the fan-writer Hugo this year).

10 Reasons Martha Jones Is Awesome

I promised a Martha Jones salute in my intro post, and people seemed enthusiastic about it, so here it is!  (warning: Rose gets compared mildly unfavorably a few times, for those who would be bothered by that)

Martha Jones Looking Badass

I’ve recently been watching New Who with a friend (her first time through), and I’ve been struck even more strongly with how Martha has the best companion character arc in the entire series so far.  The best.  And this despite the show constantly and inexplicably treating her as second-class to Rose!  But one of the greatest things about Martha is that in the final tally, how the Doctor treats her isn’t the most important part of her life, because unlike a lot of the other companions, Martha is so much more than her period of traveling with the Doctor.  She’s not defined by him.  After traveling with him—even before traveling with him—she’s got kick-ass narratives all of her own, and she’s going to live her life on her own terms (now alas, if only we could have seen more of her story on the show, but we see enough to know it is there).

I give you:

10 Reasons Martha Jones is Awesome,

in Roughly Chronological Order

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Hello from a Hollywood Math Geek

Hi there!  I’m a new contributor here at Ars Marginal. My pop culture habits are definitely in the nerd demographic, so you can expect posts from me that explore why Martha Jones is awesome or are recommendations for queer-normative fantasy.  Being a numbers geek, I’m also fond of doing the math on institutional racism / sexism / other -isms in media, which is useful whenever people tell me I’m either making things up or, alternatively, that it doesn’t matter if the straight-white-male narrative dominates. *stabstab*  Yeah.

I also work in Hollywood, and am faced daily with how backward and behind the film industry is.  Popular media might be shaping people’s attitudes in fundamental ways (heck, Racebending’s recent review of Red Dawn pointed out that 28 percent of Americans rarely or never interact with people of Asian heritage, leaving movies their only exposure to Asian-American diversity), but that responsibility never even crosses the minds of the majority of writers / directors / casting staff here in Los Angeles.

Anyway, I thought I’d introduce myself by linking to a few posts I’ve written recently on institutional racism:

Why Is the “Normal Television Family” Always White?

It pisses me off that Hollywood only allows diversity in families that aren’t the two parents, 2.5-kids-and-a-dog, white picket fence American “ideal”:

But, of course, the family who moves into the alien development, the “normal” human family we’re meant to contrast the aliens against, is all white.  Because white is normal.  And human.  It’s the weird alien family who cry tears of green goo out their ears who have people of color among them; diversity is acceptable there.  Why not have had the human family be mixed-race, or Hispanic, or Asian?

An Open Letter to John Scalzi

John Scalzi is a science fiction writer (and current president of the Science Fiction Writers of America) and runs the popular blog Whatever, where he’s made positive posts before on gender and race.  Which meant I was sorely disappointed with his recent Star Trek parody novel Redshirts:

[Y]ou made close copies of exactly the five white men in Star Trek’s main cast—and only them, because for some reason the two crew members you chose to excise were the black woman and the Asian-American man.

How could you possibly think this was okay?

[…]  Mr. Scalzi, I’m sorry to say this, but you did worse than a show that was written in the sixties.

Scalzi stops by in the comments to respond and offer his reasoning for doing it, saying that he was going for a commentary by deleting all the diversity.  I tell him I do not think it worked.

Anyway, this is already longer than I meant an intro post to be, so hi, thanks for having me, and I’m excited to be here!  (And if anyone would like me to put together a post here on anything specific that relates to the math of popular media and/or Hollywood behind-the-scenes, feel free to drop me a comment and let me know!)