The Weird Tales imbroglio yesterday got me thinking a bit this morning about the intersection of personal tastes and problematic entertainment. Ramblings follow the cut.
I’ve never had my finger on the pulse of what could be collectively known as speculative fandom. I don’t go to conventions, I don’t lurk in the comments sections of the right blogs, I don’t–and I hesitate to admit this–read widely in the genre. I’ve got a few favourite authors and I stick to them–Cherie Priest, Aliette de Bodard, Kim Newman, among others.
But it’s rare these days that I’ll pick up the latest and most fantabulous science-fiction or fantasy novel to grace the shelves–I like mysteries, mostly and history books (I’m reading Roger Crowley’s excellent City of Fortune right now). I don’t read Locus, I’m not a member of any club or organization. In short, I’m mostly out of whatever loop there is these days, even with the internet.
I do, however, enjoy a lot of older spec-fic stuff–I like Lovecraft, Howard, Wellman, Quinn. I like Burroughs and Moorcock. All of it, to one degree or another, is what you might call problematic. Some of it’s racist or misogynistic or both, among other things. I love Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin stories, but they’re all kinds of messed up: in one of the longer ones, de Grandin gets the local Klu Klux Klan chapter to help him wipe out some Voodoo worshippers, and I can’t even try and pretend that’s any sort of a-okay.
I don’t bother to rationalize it or to defend it, because what’s to defend? It’s problematic and that’s that. I still enjoy the other stories, even if I try and pretend that one didn’t happen.
At the base of it, I think folks should be able to enjoy what they like without fear of persecution, as long as they recognize that what they like might not be to everyone’s tastes and that criticism is occasionally well-deserved, whether you agree with said critic or not. It’s not so much about believing that all opinions carry equal validity, but simply about recognizing that other opinions do exist and sometimes, folks will share them, whether you want them to or not.
Like now for instance.
Like the thing yesterday. As soon as I hit ‘publish’ on that post, I got to wondering why it bothered me so much, because, let’s be honest, it ain’t just the golden oldies that are problematic. Racism, cultural appropriation, misogyny…all of that still pops up in modern spec-fic with depressing regularity. There’s loads of offensive crap out there and I’d never felt the need to say anything. So why’d I share my opinion? No one was clamouring for it. Nobody knows who the hell I am, and my opinions have as much weight and interest for the masses as a feather caught in an up-draft.
I said it, I think, because it was personal–it was Weird Tales, and WT means something to me, where a lot of the other stuff doesn’t. I hit the intersection of personal and problematic. It doesn’t happen often to me, because I’m a straight white dude so the world, barring any sort of massive socio-cultural reorganization, is my oyster. I can say what I want, to who I want, when I want, and, by and large, not get punched in the snout or ignored. My life is on the lowest difficulty setting.
Other folks, however, reach that intersection a whole heck of a lot faster than me. They hit that point where something goes from ‘eh’ to ‘wait, what?’ sooner and more often than I do. And they talk about it.
The problem is, sometimes those who haven’t reached that intersection don’t want to listen. More, they don’t want those who have reached that point to say anything, lest it ruin their enjoyment. They rationalize, they defend, they bark, they growl. ‘How dare you insult this thing I love, how dare you point out the obvious flaws in this jewel I consider precious?’
And of course, these same barkers and growlers will happily and eagerly jump on the next bandwagon, when their particular, personal, problematic intersection is reached. Hands across the water, my enemy, my friend and all that jazz. ‘I hate that you said my favourite author is homophobic, but I’m right there with you on this one being a dude-bro misogynist’, et cetera ad nauseum.
Everyone should be free to enjoy what they enjoy, but they should also have the self-awareness to look clearly at that thing that they enjoy and go, ‘Yep, I can see why that offended some people…’ and the self-possession not to blindly argue about it with the folks in question.
Suck it up, admit that that thing you like is problematic for others and then move on from there. Like what you like, but be aware that others might not be so much with the liking and opine thus-ly. That’s my opinion that nobody asked for.