Friday, July 29, 2011

Fan Mentality and Rose Tinted Glasses

I'm going to assume that 60% of you are writers. As a writer, one of the most important things I've had to learn is how to accept criticism. It's difficult to realize that you are not your work, that your work is not a baby, a smaller version of you, or a reflection of your soul. It is a book that you produced and while it would be absurd to suggest that you should not feel any emotional attachment to it, said book is not you.

Now that we've established that, I think it's fair to apply this to every book and every author. JK Rowling is not the Harry Potter series. Stephen King is not Carrie or Misery or The Stand. Stephenie Meyer is not Twilight.

And, to stretch this analogy further, a fan is not the book either.

Eight months ago, I was probably the biggest anti-twilight fan you'd ever meet. If you were a Twilight fan, I assumed that your intelligence was less than mine. I've ceased that thought process as I've come to understand the mentality of the fan. Because you like a work, that doesn't mean that you are the work. If a book is sexist, homophobic, or racist, that doesn't mean that you're sexist, homophobic, and racist. But, to a fan, who wears the rosiest rose tinted glasses, when you point out the flaws in their beloved series, they take offense, as if you've personality insulted them.

I have first hand experience with this. While I wasn't old enough to be part of the Harry Potter fandom, and since I didn't care for Twilight fandom, I was a member of the Avatar: The Last Airbender fandom. For those of you who aren't familiar, it was created by Michael DiMartino and Brian Konietzko, who I will collectively refer to as Bryke for the duration of this post.

There are many flaws with AtLA, but when I was in full blown fan mode, I actively excused them and attributed it to Bryke's genius. They purposefully portrayed this in that way because they were superhuman writers, incapable of doing any wrong. Thankfully, I was able to reverse that sort thought.

But now, as we approach the end of the Harry Potter franchise, I'm left with lingering doubts. To a certain extent, I've always been aware of its flaws. I abhorred the treatment that James showed Snape, the way that James was portrayed as rich, handsome, and privileged (not unlike Tom Riddle), but, because he was in Gryffindor, he could do no wrong. I disliked the way Cho Chang, Dean Thomas, Viktor Krum, and the Patel twins were used as "beginning" dates for the various white members of the cast, only to be tossed aside and forgotten. But, I was willing to forgive these flaws, and, in fact, attribute them to JKR's genius. After all, she was creating a realistic world. She did this on purpose to highlight the flaws in our society. But how did I know this? Was I personally acquainted with JKR?

I made up excuses for why certain things were portrayed in certain ways. While my parents were actively supportive of my "Potter" craze, they weren't shy to point out things that bothered them, such as the lack of PoC who had main roles, or roles of importance. And, as I ventured into the archives of the HP fandom, I discovered essays that unveiled the suspicions I'd had about the role of women and house elves in the HP world. At fifteen, I didn't want to think I was racist or sexist.

A few weeks ago, Hannah Moskowitz wrote a review for Thirteen Reasons Why, one of my favorite contemporary YA novels. While I gave it four stars, she gave it one and gave some pretty good reasons to explain her rating. Reasons that made me feel somewhat guilty for liking the book to the extent that I did. But, I came to a realization. Just because I liked the book, that didn't mean I couldn't acknowledge its flaws. A younger me would have attributed that to author genius.

As a writer, I can tell you it's probably not true. I've had beta readers pick up all sorts of unintentional things in my stories, or blow things completely out of proportion. I am not a genius. Perhaps I was a child prodigy of sorts, but definitely not a genius.

Writers are not amazing, special people. Well, some of us are, but the majority are not. We're regular people who're often placed on pedestals and seen as unable to commit a single wrong in their work. And if we do, it was intentional and meant to point out a flaw in the real world. How many of you would love for that to be true about your own work?

As I discovered the internet, I was astounded to discover that people could dislike Harry Potter. Twilight was one thing, but Harry Potter, the beacon of my childhood?

Two days ago, Katya wrote a review on the fourth Harry Potter book and announced that she wasn't a fan because she disliked the way Hermione Granger was treated. I'd never taken much issue with sexism in the HP world. As a minority, I'd always focused on the not so subtle racism. For me, Twilight was sexist, but HP? No way.

I asked Katya to post it because I found myself agreeing with her throughout much of the review. Then I decided to see if others felt the same way. Type Harry Potter + Sexism into Google and a wide range of articles will appear. To my less educated self, a shrill feminazi could spot sexism in anything. They were thinking too hard. But that train of thought only enables sexism and racism to continue.

As a black person, I will notice racism against myself far more than the average white person. I still get "may I touch your hair" on the bus, but the average white person will not think they are insensitive in their request. A few weeks ago, I had a Native American character who owned a casino. After a little research, I discovered that many Natives took offense. I re-wrote the character because, honestly, that was laziness on my part and I could do much better. It wasn't a "realistic" commentary on social inequality. It was me not doing my research.

I didn't know that "retard" was offensive until last month. I threw the word around quite a bit, albeit, not online. Sometimes, I still find myself saying it. But, like "nigger" and various other slurs that I'd rather not include in my work unless they must be there, I've decided not to use it as an insult. Sure, people use "fag" and "slut" as insults, but, unless I'm trying to make a point, I won't use them in my books. I honestly don't think JKR is sexist or racist, and, since I doubt that she's a genius, she unintentionally put racism and sexism into her books. It's easy to say someone is a feminazi or that they're crying foul like Jesse Jackson, but it's much harder to analyze yourself and come to the conclusion that you might have unconsciously glazed over a flaw. I've seen this happen to Glee fans all the time.

It's taken a while for me to able to accept the flaws in my favorite books. Some fans never will. They'll say "you're ruining it for everyone" and sometimes, much worse. There are certain parts of the Twilight series that I enjoy, though none of them are related to Bella Swan. Even I glazed over certain, questionable parts. I was, and still am, a Jacob Black fan. But I constantly made excuses for his behavior in Breaking Dawn and Eclipse. After all, he wasn't as bad as Edward. I was no Twihard. Eventually, I accepted the fact that Jacob Black did indeed "mouth rape" Bella. I stopped blaming the victim, as much as I hated her. Was I a bad person because I sided with Jacob over Bella? I hope not.

Two of my friends on GoodReads love the Mortal Instruments series. I can't stand it. Does that make me better than them? No. They're able to acknowledge that the series isn't perfect, but they still like it and sometimes, they joke about it. I used to like Eragon. I still like parts of Eragon. But the writing is shit and it's a complete rip-off of Lord of the Rings, which is also full of racism and sexism. I still like them. Honestly, if anyone has a perfect book, give it to me. Until then, I'd appreciate it if we stopped telling people that they're thinking too hard or that the author is a masterminded genius who intended for their work to be seen that way. More often than not, it just isn't true.

Note: You don't have to agree with me and, more importantly, I don't expect you to agree with me. I'm not attacking you for liking Harry Potter, Twilight, Lord of the Rings, or any popular series. I'm only asking you to stop and examine the criticisms that are brought up against them. Not all criticism are valid, but if you have that gut feeling, it might have some merit. And, even if you can't bring yourself to say that this is sexist or this is racist, I only ask that you acknowledge the reasons why someone might feel that way. And, on the other side, don't demean someone for liking a book that you don't like. My sister likes Death Note and I used to like Death Note. It is a manga filled with sexism. Just because she likes it, that doesn't give me an excuse to debase her opinion on matters of sexism or taste. Everyone is different and if we all liked the same things, the world would be a boring place. Though, at least we'd never have shipping wars.

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