Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

Archive for October, 2007

The Default Reader Attitude

Posted by hyperpat on October 22, 2007

John Scalzi, over on his Whatever blog, comments again about his lack of racial markers for his characters in his novels, a certain ‘color-blindness’ that no one really paid attention to, until the point was made that the average American reader, faced with a lack of such markers, defaults these characters to ‘white’. At this point, John has indicated that he knew what color his characters were, but didn’t find this characteristic germane to his work, focusing more on the character’s social, economic, and educational background. With J. K. Rowling’s announcement last week that Dumbledore is gay, this has led to more comments about ‘out-of-novel’ announcements by the authors about their works, which has upset a few people who have had their conceptions about these works suddenly modified.

Which brings to mind several things:

1. Racial bias is, in the main, both unconscious and pernicious. As the song ‘You’ve Got to be Taught’ in the musical South Pacific indicates, it really starts at a very early age, as children absorb the attitudes (often never directly stated to the children) of their parents, and is reinforced by their peer groups and the general culture in which they grow up. And almost always, ‘different’ is equated with ‘not as good as I am’. This attitude is very difficult to eliminate once it is in place. As the American general culture is ‘white’ biased (and has been almost since Columbus’s time), this does mean that the default picture most have when reading about fictional characters is also ‘white’, absent any overt markers that the character is ‘other’. Does this then mean that authors have a responsibility to sprinkle their works with characters who are clearly marked as ‘other’, just to avoid reinforcing the concept that only ‘whites’ are deserving of being protagonists? Certainly not. Loading up a book with such racial (or sexual orientation) material, when it is not germane to plot or theme of the book, is a bad mistake, as it means that now people will be looking for why such characters were given such characteristics, and how closely they conform to the reader’s stereotype of how such people should act and talk, which merely deprives from the focus on what the book is really about, whatever that is. It is not the author’s responsibility to correct the reader’s mindset, it is the reader’s.

John goes into some detail about his high school years and the influence it had on his attitudes, where the school he attended was very racially heterogeneous, but quite homogenous in terms of wealth and class, to where he says that ‘people like him’ pretty much conform to that school structure. I’m not sure if that really holds, as the attitudes about such things seemed to be formed at a much earlier age than high school (not that I’m saying that his attitudes about this are anything other than what he describes – merely that they they were actually formed much earlier).

Nor can I say that my own attitudes are color-blind. I spent a great proportion of my very early years in England, Australia, and then schools in Michigan, West Virginia, and Ohio, and all of these places were very strongly ‘white’ both in composition and attitude (especially so at the time I was there). These formative years have influenced me – in general, I find (if I think about it all), that when reading the characters do default to ‘white’ in my head (so that it came as something of a shock when I discovered at the end of Heinlein’s Starship Troopers that Juan Rico was not white). And it is also somewhat ironic, as in investigating my genealogy I’ve found that I’m part American Indian, along with Irish, English, Scottish, French, and German (during the Civil War some lines in my family could not fight in the regular regiments, but had to fight with the ‘colored/mixed breed’ ones, as we had too great a proportion of Indian blood). But this is my problem as a reader; the authors should not be tasked with crusading for racial equality.

2. Political correctness is still running rampant throughout the discourse about many things in this country. While it may be of benefit to not use derogatory terms to describe any class of people, it has reached the point that no matter what you say, someone will take you task for being insensitive and Neanderthal for your statements. I mean, ‘height-challenged’ in place of ‘short’?! That’s taking it a little too far.

3. You take from a book what you see in it. It may not be what the author had in mind, but that’s actually immaterial. If the average reader’s vision is far different from what the author intended, it may indicate a failure on the author’s part to make clear what he was trying to say, but if the points of difference between author and reader’s view differ only in things that are not the main focus of the work, then the author should not be under any obligation to ‘correct’ that view, though he/she (more PCness) may wish to, as Rowling has done.


Posted in Politics, Writing | 2 Comments »

The BBC production of Broadway: The American Musical

Posted by hyperpat on October 19, 2007

Watched this over the last several nights. Once again, the BBC proves that they produce excellent material. The analysis of what’s happened on Broadway over the last 100 years is both insightful and nostalgic. Ninety percent of the various productions they cover in detail, from Oklahoma to West Side Story, will bring back fond memories of what truly qualifies as real entertainment. These are true classics. And the few they cover that you might not remember were often groundbreaking works that had great influence on later works that you definitely will remember. The portraits of the various great composer/lyricist teams like Rogers and Hammerstein are fascinating. And I defy someone to watch this and not end up singing along with a least a few of the songs. A must watch.

Posted in documentaries, music | Leave a Comment »

Chess and Luck

Posted by hyperpat on October 19, 2007

I played in the Western States Chess Open in Reno this last weekend. For a change, I played in the Class A section, figuring I was strong enough to do reasonably well there. Apparently not a good assumption, as I ended up with one win and three losses, even though I thought I played well. I had no obvious blunders, I calculated the tactics well, but strategically I was just outplayed – although one of the losses probably should have ended in a draw if I’d handled the end game slightly differently. But it was a good tournament, with something like 19 GMs and IMs in the open section, a large overall attendance, well run, with no big controversies (at least that I was aware of ), a pleasant playing hall, and friendly people. Plus it never hurts that when the chess game is over, the other games are right there, just waiting to grab your money.  I suppose you can be lucky in chess, but skill’s the thing there, and I think you need to save the luck for those other games (not that I was very successful there, either).  But it looks like I need to go back to the books again, and do some real work if I want to do better on my next outing.

Posted in chess | 1 Comment »