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You have to be carefully taught

I rather envy porcinea's ongoing series of book reviews, because lately I haven't been reading anything that isn't from the local used-paperback store (going out of business in a couple months, alas) or Gutenberg. But a steady diet of out-of-copyright SF, mystery/detective and adventure fiction has really begun to make me think lately. And what I've been thinking is, "What the effing eff is it with these people?"

There's not a woman but she's helpless (perhaps comically so when she tries to be independent, cute little thing), not an asian but s/he is wily, inscrutable and possessed of arcane powers, not an african but s/he is superstitious, noble and reverent of the White Man's Greater Civilization or (if a villain) bestial, cowardly and envious of the White Man's Greater Civilization. If we're in the US, there's not a black person who speaks in anything but dialect that would make DW Griffith blush. Not a liberal who is anything but a dupe or a schemer. And whatever set of european stereotypes you might hold about the german, french, irish, scots, swiss: expect them in full bloom.

And it's not as if this kind of stuff falls naturally into plot or characterization. It stands out like a sore thumb, no, like Groucho addressing the audience for a strange interlude. I know that canonical literature -- even shappy crap as most of this is -- is supposed to reinforce cultural mores, but give me a break.

I can't think it's anything but anxiety that makes this kind of stuff so clumsy. That's not really a new observation, I know, but it's been taking me aback to see just how blatant it is. And I think anyone who read this kind of stuff at an impressionable age couldn't help being formed not only by the attitudes but also by their stridency -- if all these stereotypes are important enough to screw up the storyline and characterization for, then by golly the author must really believe in them and so should you...

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
selki
May. 3rd, 2008 07:43 am (UTC)
That is a good song.
Antidotes, or at least a bit of relief:
1) Women protags in *The Steerswoman's Road*
2) China Mountain Zhang, or The Bones of Time
3) hmm, can't think of one I'd strongly recommend ... maybe a couple by Charles DeLint?
4) Shakespeare's xxx (Landlord, Trollop, etc. mystery series -- minor but significant characters, black, US). Death Shall Overcome, also not the main char
5) Depending on the kind of liberal... Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird? Neal Stephenson's Zodiac?
flarenut
May. 4th, 2008 10:33 pm (UTC)
Re: That is a good song.
Thanks. I've got plenty of antidotes in my collection even in the unread pile (got four or five dozen books at the great used sf and mystery store in minneapolis by the medical center last fall, plus rereading of Laurie King and various others in my collection. It's just sort of sad to see how unreadable the older stuff has become.

(Albeit I really shouldn't have been surprised; what did I think I was in for reading H Rider Haggard or Sax Rohmer -- but still, shut up about how this that and the other whatever race is; you're already showing me.)

I'll definitely put these on my list. (And I gotta say some of the gutenberg stuff isn't so horrible at all, e.g. the "Queens own FBI series", which is dated and quaint but not full of gratuitous stupid.)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )