Open thread: Excuses for fiction that need to go away

(idea by lonespark, written by chris the cynic)

First off, sorry lonespark, you suggested this AGES ago and I never got around to posting it.

Second, the prompt itself:

All fiction is problematic but that doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t enjoy it or that every time someone says there’s a problem in a certain work of fiction the work of fiction has the problem in question.  So you get people defending fiction against claims it has problems.  So far so good.  Some such defenses are bullshit.  Some such defenses are frequently used or excessively annoying/offensive/assholic bullshit that really needs to stop for all time.  This thread is for talking about those.

For those who want an example, historical accuracy as a defense in fantastical settings was the one Lonespark gave.  Thus:

P: This work is painfully lacking in diversity.
A: That’s because it’s historical that only white people were around in Europe at that time.
P: Ok: a) That’s not true.  b) It has dragons in it.
A: But historical accuracy–

And: Vox Day: My orc and troll fighting game won’t have any women in it, because that wouldn’t be historically accurate

So, you know, what are some excuses you want to see less of?

[As a reminder, open thread prompts are meant to inspire conversation, not stifle it. Have no fear of going off topic for there is no off topic here.]


22 thoughts on “Open thread: Excuses for fiction that need to go away

  1. Firedrake May 27, 2014 at 8:44 am

    The inability to say “yeah, I can see those problems, but I still enjoy it; apart from anything else I first read it when I was twelve, so it has nostalgia value”. (Which I’m definitely saying about Dragonflight, by the way. OK, maybe fifteen.) I’m a regular reader at FlickFilosopher, and it seems there’s no action or comedy film so worthless that it won’t get someone out of the woodwork to defend it, seemingly because if someone else believes that Your Favorite Film is bad, that must mean you’re a Bad Person for liking it.

    But actually the one I really want to see go away is “just turn off your brain and enjoy it”. It’s a horrid enough idea in itself, even before it ties into the American anti-intellectualism complex.

    Meanwhile there is a flock of juvenile bluetits on the bird-feeder outside my window.

  2. alexseanchai May 27, 2014 at 10:09 am

    The thing where diversity is placed in opposition to enjoyment. Because the enjoyment-of-this-media of the straight white cis abled male target audience is more important than the potential enjoyment-of-this-media of black trans men, lesbian Latinas, and disabled Asian women, all of whom have a few dollars that they’d be delighted to spend on this piece of media if only the piece of media’s creators, y’know, acknowledged that people other than straight white cis abled men exist.

    I begin to suspect that for all that money is supposedly fungible, it’s not really, and money currently in the possession of someone marginalized is actually less valuable somehow than money currently in the possession of someone not. That would certainly explain the phenomena of shitty tipping, minimum wage below living wage, and wage theft.

  3. depizan May 27, 2014 at 10:56 am

    CN: airplane malfunction

    “It’s realistic!”

    No, no it’s not. Or rather, almost anything is. Reality is a varied and diverse thing. Sometimes it’s wildly unfair, sometimes things happen that would be scoffed at as over the top in even pulpy fiction. (Would you believe a one-eyed airline pilot safely landing a plane on a levee in the middle of a storm so bad it knocked out both the plane’s engines? No? Well, it happened – TACA flight 110, in May of 1988.)

    And yet, strangely it’s never things like that that people defend with “it’s realistic.” It’s always the same kind of stuff they defend with “it’s historically accurate!”

    I think people just want to excuse having shitty stuff happen to marginalized groups. :\

  4. Aibird May 27, 2014 at 11:19 am

    All of humanity will become one monorace in the future. As in white.

    “But with all the interracial marrying, we’ll all become less diverse over time anyway!”

    I don’t even know what to do with such a claim. BAH. It’s so wrong on so many levels. Yes, diversity will exist in the future. And no, it is not realistic to depict only one race for all of humanity when writing science fiction.

  5. Lonespark May 27, 2014 at 11:38 am

    The “don’t think, just be entertained” dichotomy drives me effing nuts. Like once I made a list of my favorite websites and blogs and it had like, Racialicious and Shakesville and Captain Awkward and Epiphany 2.0 and many other things of that ilk… And my friend was all “I don’t like to think hard about social justice in my free time,” or something like that. Which, first of all is actually not true of her in the way I took the meaning, but aside from that… I don’t like do engage in difficult thinking in my free time, often, although sometimes I do. I like to engage with content I find really interesting and awesome, and also with community that feel supportive and on a similar wavelength…

    It’s kind of like the idea that white people voted for Obama mostly to prove how not-racist we are, because otherwise how could we be comfortable voting for our own interests or those of our friends and loved ones? And every. single. movie. with a female lead that makes bank is an anomaly. Bleh.

  6. Lonespark May 27, 2014 at 11:43 am

    Oh, I forgot the original thing I was going to complain about, which was not updating stuff in remakes because the original thing was progressive for its time, or a beloved classic. LIke Star Trek. Gods forbid there be more than one important black character. Or more than one important woman character. (I only saw the first one…)

  7. christhecynic May 27, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    One of my teachers uses the term “hyper-realism” when discussing ancient art.

    When looking at classical art, there was a time when things were very stylized in one direction. Then the pendulum swung toward realistic, and then the pendulum kept on swinging until things were as unrealistic as they ever were before, but in the opposite direction. (And, of course, it later swung back, because pendulums do that, but that’s not important right now.)

    Rather than avoiding flaws and such, for example, they’re emphasized and exaggerated to an absurd degree.

    Hyper-realism is just as unrealistic as idealized art, but it’s in the opposite direction. It takes the things that distinguish realistic art from idealized art, and it cranks them up to 11. Which is presumably the thinking behind the name. (The name means beyond realism.)

    I think a lot of the things defended as, “It’s realistic!” are hyper-realism. They’re not realistic. They’re not even close to realistic. But if you’re used to idealized things then you probably recognize their traits as things seen in realistic art. They’re in the direction of realism, they just overshot it and landed as far away from realism as the idealized art on the other side.

    (Idealized art would be hypo-realism, I guess.)

    Of course, the truth is that both are working around an ideal, it’s just a different ideal. In one ideal you take the bad things of real life away, in the other you multiply them. They’re equally stylized, just in opposite directions.

    Now there’s nothing wrong with liking anything on this spectrum (or off this spectrum) but when the people go to, “It’s realistic,” to defend hyper-realism they’re being dishonest with themselves and whomever they’re talking to. Grimdark is no more or less realistic than fluffylight.

  8. depizan May 27, 2014 at 12:58 pm

    Relatedly, just for once it would be nice if “reality ensues” meant that the step mother turned out to be a wonderful woman who worked hard to make the blended family work, the vizier was a wise adviser, the orphaned prince/ss’s uncle helped them grow up to be a well loved king, diplomacy worked, or any number of other things that are just as realistic as the cliches but in an optimistic sense.

  9. christhecynic May 27, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    Author: And then reality ensues.
    Reader: So the bad guy got therapy rather than going on some bizarre crusade of evil, the hero was arrested for being a vigilante, and the insurance payout allowed the family to rebuild the farm?
    Author:… what the fuck?

  10. froborr May 27, 2014 at 2:34 pm

    Related to the “reality ensues” thing, can I say how INCREDIBLY happy I am about the fact that I saw, not one, but TWO action movies in the theaters this week that BOTH ended with the heroes talking the villain down without killing anyone? (To be fair, in the latter, the villains killed a LOT of people, but, y’know, they’re VILLAINS.)

    Movie titles ROT13’d for spoilers: Gur Yrtb Zbivr naq Qnlf bs Shgher Cnfg.

  11. froborr May 27, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    As for excuses for fiction, “I don’t like mixing politics in fiction.”

    As I tell people in my Analyzing Anime 101 panels, “ALL fiction treats some political ideas as true and some as false, and therefore ALL fiction is political. If a work seems apolitical to you, that’s because you agree with it.”

  12. Firedrake May 27, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    depizan: Frozen‘s treatment of gur unaqfbzr cevapr. And about time.

    Sometimes I’m not in the mood for having to engage in political thought while consuming entertainment, and since I’m white/cis/hetero/male I have the option of avoiding it without severely limiting my choices, but the idea of never doing so is quite disturbing to me.

  13. alexseanchai May 27, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    Aibird: “But with all the interracial marrying, we’ll all become less diverse over time anyway!”

    You’d think they’d never seen the picture of the fraternal twins born to biracial parents. One’s very black, one’s very white.

    depizan: Check out Anne B Walsh’s Homecoming.

  14. lonespark42 May 28, 2014 at 4:06 am

    “If a work seems apolitical to you, that’s because you agree with it.”

    Yes this OMG.

  15. lonespark42 May 28, 2014 at 4:16 am

    I think the hyper-realism is a super-good point. And it’s so telling what kinds of “realism” people want to include. It’s really damn obvious when they’ve got misogyny, racism, and dragons, or whatever… But a lot of the time it will just be choosing to include, say, heroes with minority religions… who just all happen to be straight cis white people. Or whatever. Like, I only engage with complexity on certain axes, which is crap.

    Also, the thing about lack of representation is that is prevents realism and complexity. You can avoid being all “POC are bad guys” or “Heroic women act like men” or whatever by having a whole lot of the marginalized group in question. (And then giving them a range of personalities and circumstances and buy-in to a the power structure or whatever… “I put 75 women in this chapter and they’re all hot warrior chicks with virtually the same personality” doesn’t cut it. Unless they’re clones? But still, where are your non-clone women?)

  16. Silver Adept May 28, 2014 at 9:09 am

    The idea that a man and a woman who have affection for each other must have romantic or sexual attraction to each other is an abomination unto Nuggan. I’m looking at you, Warehouse 13.

  17. DawnM May 28, 2014 at 3:43 pm

    “don’t think, just be entertained”

    That one come up a lot in my family. I really don’t get it. A lot of the fun from consuming good fiction is in thinking through the implications of what was presented. A lot of the fun from consuming bad fiction is when you can rip it to pieces with your friends.

  18. Lonespark May 28, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    OMG, Silver Adept. That brings out my Rageasaurus for sure.

    It’s so ridiculously unrealistic, and it tries to get by with “sure it’s not realism, it’s fiction shorthand so we don’t have zillions of characters!” but no. The implication that people of different genders can only have one kind of relationship, or that if they have any other kind of relationship the audience won’t be, or shouldn’t be, interested. UGH.

  19. Lonespark May 28, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    You know, I’d love recommendations for works with other kinds of relationships between men and women. Teacher and student. Teammates. Siblings. Parent and child. Friends. Enemies. Something in between. Enemies who used to be friends. Professional rivals. Etc., etc.

    I can think of many good examples, but also many relationships that would have been good examples except someone thought a romance should be crammed in.

    A related thing I hate is where if characters begin a relationship that becomes the focus of all their screentime and character development. Even in universes that are focused on other interesting things. Grrr.

  20. froborr May 28, 2014 at 11:53 pm

    Firedrake: Revolutionary Girl Utena shredded the handsome prince almost 20 years ago, so way past time, I’d say. 😉

    (Sorry for bringing that show up so much lately, but it is IMO the best anime ever made and it’s the current Double Feature at Mark Watches, so it’s been on my brain.)

  21. lonespark42 May 29, 2014 at 6:35 am

    Well, I think it’s specifically noteworthy that it’s Disney doing it, when they did a lot to codify the trope in the first place. It’s certainly been played with recently. And it’s not like princes save the day in most fairy tales…

  22. Shannon May 30, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Asa for the shredding of the handsome prince in children’s literature, my favorite will probably always be The Paper Bag Princess. The princess saves the prince from a dragon and then when he turns out to be an ungrateful brat, she calls him a “bum” and promptly leaves to go have her own happily ever after.

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