deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
Justine Larbalestier just posted "The Problem with Gone with the Wind", which talks about something which is a real issue of mine, both with students and with discussing media with friends: admitting that something you love is flawed, and loving it anyway. I've never been a Gone with the Wind fan, but I've loved plenty of other media which were racist, sexist, or in some other way chock full of fail. As I tell my students, my favorite three movies are Casablanca, The Muppet Movie, and The Princess Bride -- none of them a bastion of feminist ideals. And as far as race goes, that leaves me with two movies lacking any people of color, and in the third, the interaction between SeƱor Ferrari, Rick, and Sam is not, shall we say, made of as much win as it should be.

I'm teaching Twilight tomorrow, so of course this is on my mind. There's always a couple of people who believe that if they love the book they need to make it fit all of their stated ideals. They need to make it feminist, they need to make it not racist. But trying to describe a sexist, racist text (and as much as I enjoyed the Twilight series, it is absolutely both of those) as neither sexist or racist it acutely harmful. It redefines sexism and racism. It says neither is dangerous if they are in an otherwise beautiful context, or if they are associated with something else positive. In Larbalestier's example, the racism should be ignored because acknowledging it detracts from recognizing the strong female figure of Scarlett.

It's okay to love something broken. It's okay to find the breakage in things you love. It's even okay to find the breakage in well-meaning texts that were themselves trying to fix that breakage; I find Larbalestier's own Liar to be immensely problematic along race/gender intersectionality lines, and I know she was trying.

It's also okay to ignore the problematic parts of the texts you love, sometimes. Yes, to be a good citizen of the world, you need to be aware of bias and systemic what-have-you when you see them, but you don't need to do it every second of every day. If ignoring Buffy's race problems makes it easier to enjoy Buffy, that's fine, as long as you don't keep your rose-colored glasses on all the time, every day. Unless you are looking at the text academically, you don't have to harsh your squee every day. Walk away from discussions that make you sad, there's no problem with that.

But what's not okay is to deny the problems when you see them. If you have a coherent argument against the problems, then by all means make it. Convince me the race representation in Gone with the Wind actually subverts 1930s racial stereotypes, convince me that Buffy's sixth season doesn't undercut all of the Strong Women messages it had spent five years building. But don't say that we shouldn't look at racism in a text because the female characters are so strong. Don't say we shouldn't look at sexism in a text because the female characters are so strong (cf. both Gone with the Wind and Buffy season six). Don't say a text is unproblematic because we know and like the author, or because the author claims to be antiracist, anti-sexist, etc. And under no circumstances say that a text is unproblematic because we love it.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I'd probably not have leapt to read Justine Larbalestier's Liar so fast if not for the cover kerfuffle, so I suppose I should be grateful for it. But I am frustrated at how many expectations of the book I had because of various information revealed during the brouhaha. The book premise, packaging (with either US cover), and characterization set me up for an entirely different story, and many of the narrative's reveals might have come differently to me had I not been reading with expectation in mind.

That being said, I loved the book -- and I can't even talk about the two most interesting reasons it struck me particularly with where I am in my literary interests right now, because the briefest discussion of why it made me so thoughtful will give you the same spoilery experience it gave me, grr argh. Maybe once its nature is more generally known, or more of you have read it. I will go so far as to say that today before and during class we had some interesting discussions about varied types of unreliable narrators, and I will leave it at that.

One thing I can say is that having read it, Melanie Cecka's defense of the original cover rings a lot less true to me. I'm unwilling to attribute bad faith argument to anyone in the industry -- I've never yet met a children's literature person who didn't want to do the right thing -- but I can't imagine how any reading of Liar could leave the heroine's race and nappiness in doubt (or at least, any more in doubt than, say, her age, her gender, or her existence). As it is, the cover's not a great represntation of her, though it's more marketable than a more accurate represntation would be.

Okay, I can't say *nothing*. As unspoilery a comment as I could make it, and really, if you read the same articles I did, no surprises )


Side note: Any class discussion which leads me to make the note "Xander:Willow :: Meg:Charles Wallace" has got to be great, eh?
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