May 2nd, 2008

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...