let's get the seven lines. (bookshop) wrote,
let's get the seven lines.

lately i feel like my new fandom is literary politics.

...joking, of course, and not meant to trivialize in any way the stir of debate and controversy that is swarming all over us at the beginning of 2009. but there are just so many points being raised right now about privilege and diversity and literary integrity, and i am obsessively thinking about a lot of this lately.

Monday tl__dr and i got into a lively debate: she wanted me to watch Big Love.
Some points: I've heard so much high praise for this show; I'm very aware that everyone thinks it's powerful, moving, and subversive, incredible, etc. Also, Chloe Sevigny is my favorite living actress. I'd watch her read the phone book. But I won't watch this show.

The reason is because I feel like the entire premise is appalling and offensive. I was inundated with the initial marketing for this show on Showtime before it premiered, and the premise was basically marketed as humorous: tee hee! let's watch as bill paxton tries to control his harem of wives. It felt extremely gimmicky to me, and I hated it.

I know that the whole point of the show is to subvert that misogynistic trope. Epon explained its work very well, and I respect the good intentions behind the writing.

But from my perspective, I feel like the trope itself (the harem, the mormon with multiple wives) is so shallow, offensive, and sexist that to watch it for the sake of subverting it gives it a legitimacy it otherwise would not have.

That's the best way I can explain my approach. And the reason I took the time to tell you all that is because I think it leads directly into my reaction to another gimmicky phenomenon: homosexuality as a ~shocking plot twist~.

I recently mentioned that I've read a bunch of books lately where incest and/or surprise familial relations served as the big book/series/show/episode shocker. I talked about how unsatisfying that was for me as a fan, but it was primarily because it felt like a plot cop-out, a gimmicky, cheap, and easy way of serving up a story with a cheap twist.

However, I've also been reading a lot of books lately, mostly intermediate teen and young adult, where the big plot twists involves revealing a character's homosexuality.

I find this extremely disappointing every time it happens, and part of me thinks that I shouldn't.

One reason it disappoints me is that I'm a slasher, so of course I always figure out that X character is gay halfway through the book, and then I read the entire book hoping very hard that X character's gayness will just be quietly presented and taken for granted.

And it never is. It's always, oh, you get to the ending, and guess what you never suspected! they're GAY!

There have been moments when I really, really, really wanted to like a story that did this. But I inevitably reach that point and feel exploited. No matter what the context, even when the author is trying to out character X supportively, it inevitably feels exploitative to me - because character X's gayness is being used as a convenient plot device, to be revealed when the story demands, and often not at the behest of character X themselves. In fact, most of the time it's happened in novels I've read recently, someone else other than character X has done the big reveal for character X, who is prevented from having a voice at that moment (for whatever reason).

This has always been a huge deal-breaker for me. To me, I find it really hard to come back from that moment. Because I want so desperately for gay characters to just be gay, and for that to be okay, without there being any kind of reason for their gayness other than to, you know, reflect reality, where gay people exist, apart from functioning as convenient shock devices or plot twists when an author wants one.

But. but. but. I don't know that I'm right to judge the canon on its use of potentially exploitative plot points if it's trying to subvert the contexts of those points. Because in reality, GLBTQ are closeted, are prevented from having full choices, and there is an element of secrecy there which means that writers have real points to make about social repression and the tragedy of a closeted lifestyle.

I feel like the case for Big Love as a progressive show is the same: in reality, women are in misogynistic and abusive relationships, are deprived of choice at the hands of their male counterparts, and are driven to seek homosocial relationships apart from marriage.

And for a writer to want to write about each of these things and address them as plot points - that in itself is not necessarily exploitative by any means.

But I still cannot help but feel that in terms of gender and sexual deconstruction we should be well beyond these issues. We should be completely beyond the point where we have to use "Bill has three wives" or "GAY REVEAL!" as a plot device to talk about the cohesiveness of social structures.

It's as though by even *using* these stereotypes you're legitimizing a belief in their validity that I believe we should be completely past and not even acknowledging (and I am completely willing to undergo. By even having a Great Gay Reveal (Sleepaway Camp, anyone??) you're legitimizing a belief that gayness is something shocking, something twist-worthy.

I think what I mean is that when you pick a stereotype like harem or shocking gay reveal! that is so universally understood to be a false stereotype among well-educated people, then to pick up that stereotype and take it seriously by trying to ~subvert~ it is completely unnecessary, doing more to promote that stereotype than to deconstruct it.

Because don't stereotypes by their very nature defy deconstruction because they rely so heavily on the prejudices of those who believe them? So even as you're deconstructing it, you're saying, look, see how I'm unpacking this thing as if it has validity in order to prove that it's invalid?

...but I don't know that I'm right to feel this way. Maybe I'm judging too harshly. I just don't know. And if the process of unpacking those stereotypes is helpful to some readers and writers, then I want to acknowledge that too.

I just. You know. I think that the best way to prove that stereotypes are invalid is to just not write them.
Tags: books, fandom
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