Welcome to Smugglivus 2014! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2014, looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2015, and more.
Who: Paul and Renee of Fangs for the Fantasy, a blog dedicated to reviews and commentary on Urban Fantasy books, TV shows, movies and more, from a thoughtful social justice perspective.
Please give a warm welcome to Renee and Paul, everybody!
While this has been a year of many lows, one of the brighter points we’ve seen, at least in some circles, is #WeNeedDiverseBooks and at least a growing awareness (or possibly lip service. Yes, we’re cynical) to the idea that diversity matters and we really need to see more diversity in fiction.
At Fangs for the Fantasy, we’re pretty gleeful, since social justice reviewing is what we do (much to the frustration of some folks, it seems, who tell us so at length and with great vehemence) we’re glad to see it gain more traction.
Inclusive Ingrid is truly passionate about inclusion – apparently.
Inclusive Ingrid excitedly approaches us with her new book/her favourite book for us to read and review. Because it’s totally inclusive guys! She enthusiastically tells us about her minority protagonist and the minority main characters – and we eagerly pick it up.
Then we read it. And scratch our heads. And suspect Ingrid may, just may have been smoking some of the more amusing members of the plant kingdom. We send her a nice email back suggesting that, perhaps, she should be watering down her morning libation but no, Inclusive Ingrid is adamant, there is an awesome minority in this book!
After much back and forth (and more than a few visits to the drink cabinets ourselves) we find out that that that teeny tiny, briefly appearing-for-2-seconds character is the “major character” or even “protagonist” Ingrid thinks is the awesome inclusion. She has an interesting dictionary, we have to say. The best record for this is a lesbian who was billed as the author’s “favourite” character, who appeared for 2 paragraphs and is apparently awesome. She didn’t even speak.
Inclusive Ingrid has generous standards for awesomeness. Or a much better stocked drink’s cabinet than we do. In these cases we don’t even think (necessarily) Ingrid is trying to deceive us (though some are outright lying – and may they eternally be cursed with decaf for that), she just has such low standards that she gets excited at the slightest thing; she is the overwhelmed puppy who has been called a “good girl” and is now having paroxysms of ecstasy while we are the grumpy cat waiting for someone to open the tuna and actually give us something.
Even worse is when the character so hailed as awesome is trope-laden and offensive. Like the Black friend sassing away as the comic relief for a white best friend while her gay bff gives out fashion tips and obsesses over her shoes and can’t go two lines without declaring something “fierce” or “fabulous” (or fiercely fabulous – which sounds like a neon coloured tiger).
Of course, while the silent 2 paragraph person isn’t exactly a “character” even that can beat another of Inclusive Ingrid’s little tricks – the “ambiguous” (or, if I were feeling less
drunk charitable, damn invisible) character. Those lovely words “tanned” or “olive” will sneak into the text – somehow assuming that a public that read Hunger Games describe Rue very clearly as Black and STILL imagined a little blonde white girl will somehow read “tanned” as a POC.
Likewise, crafty Inclusive Ingrids can also give out a maker like “Black hair” or “dark eyes” and behold INCLUSION. Of course, for special bonus points (and to send us to that liquor cabinet again) we can get bonus pages of “creamy, porcelain, super-duper-pale” skin described as well because our Ingrid can’t get TOO carried away with that inclusion stuff (and how much “minorityness” do you really need for some exotic woo-woo anyway?).
In the age of the internet, Inclusive Ingrid has another recourse to ensure she showers us with Inclusivity (without, y’know, actually including any minorities): Author notes! Yes, if you go to the author website, Inclusive Ingrid will explain in detail how each character is a minority (it just didn’t quite reach the book for…reasons). Interviews, twitter, facebook – authors have all kinds of recourse for saying their book is positively overflowing with minority ninjas, stalking around in the shadows and spreading their stealthy inclusion cookies about.
Using historical figures is also a crafty little trick Inclusive Ingrid can pull – then she doesn’t have to describe them as minorities at all – just rely on the reader having a history book propped open at the same time (of course, as Ridley Scott’s Exodus shows, just because a person was ACTUALLY POC doesn’t mean media will depict them as such).
Occasionally, Ingrid will come to us passionate about a book that definitely deals with marginalised issues. Slow your enthusiasm folks, the key word here is “issues” rather than “people”.
Yes, it’s another book full of terrible oppressed vampires lurking in the closet and being attacked by religious hate groups (and biting and eating people… which Inclusive Ingrid doesn’t seem to consider a little bit of a shaky comparison for some reason. Or she has some odd experiences at Pride Parades), or natural werewolves who are being driven out of their homelands by evil colonists (and occasionally savagely eating people) or those poor fae who face what every character will repeatedly call racism (in between them stealing the odd child…). Somewhere along the line this shaky analogy manages to dodge the fact that hating creatures that hunt and eat you is less “bigotry” and more “survival instinct”. Oppression makes for such deep and interesting storylines but actual oppressed groups clutter up the place and makes people all mopey. Vampires are way sexier, and can eat bigots – behold the path to freedom! Pass the salt.
Of course, this is a very cynical view of Inclusive Ingrid (because we’re very very very cynical people – and you can make more drinking games when you’re cynical) when, sometimes she truly does have the best intentions at heart, cares about the issues and even understands them. Alas, that doesn’t make the resulting book necessarily a joy to read.
Sometimes Inclusive Ingrid wrote this book to tell us that racism/homophobia/sexism/ableism et al is bad, guys. Let me tell you how bad it is, because it’s really really bad. Have you not seen how bad it is? Don’t worry, this book makes it very very clear. Example after example, incident after incident all explained in detail. It’s a wonderful lecture on the damage and prevalence of prejudice!
Unfortunately what it isn’t, is a story. Inclusive Ingrid has sat herself down and written one long PSA, shoe-horned in some downtrodden vampires and a werewolf who wants to expound on their women’s studies notes, and neglected to actually include a plot. Or characters we don’t want to cheerfully beat to death with their own sociology 101 texts.
Some Inclusive Ingrids mean well – they’re just so desperate, so overwhelmingly positive (a crime we have, shockingly, never been accused of) or just not quite grasping the issues so they trip up. Others are, of course, trying to cash in on those of us who care about inclusion while not “alienating” those who are hostile – and still others are just Fanpoodles, fighting their yapping fight against anyone who does not hail their precious. In all instances though we need to be alert, because not everything that is hailed as “inclusive” can be read without a well-fortified blood/alcohol level.