Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Write Club -- Bigotry and Ego

Hey y'all.  So, as a writer, one should try to be as unbigoted as possible.  It's actually a little easier for the writer, as the writer looks at different kinds of people and is inspired by them.  This, however, doesn't mean that the writer is entirely immune from bigotry.  I don't know how many times I've read a book, only to discover that the author has condescendingly taken an antagonistical character and given that character all the opinions the author disagrees with, merely to use this character as a whipping boy for the author's narrow-mindedness.

Like, for example, the author will take a "Christian" character and have them be the biggest jerks you've ever seen, or make them act so inhuman you have to wonder if they're really aliens from space.  And honestly, how many times is that trite old "the government is always evil" stereotype going to work for some authors?  I'm so bored already!  And I'm even more bored of the feminist stereotypes, who are ridiculously self-righteous and antagonistical to men, even though they're supposed to be the protagonist.  Yawn!

However, there is a time when bigotry and stereotypes are a good thing.

No, not when the author is bigoted and writes stereotypes, but when the stereotypes exist within your characters and storyline.  When your culture has negative beliefs, it gives your story an element of reality.  That's one of the things that's sad about politically correct stories.  They kind of ignore reality and just bore the reader to death.  I mean, not that each person should be hateful, but they should act like real people, even if they're good guys.

Perhaps the best example of this that I've read recently is the classic "The Horse and His Boy".  It's a book about young Shasta, who finds out that while he was raised by a cranky fisherman, the fisherman is not his father.  Shasta and a talking horse named Bree run away and head for Narnia.  They meet up with Aravis, an upper class girl running from an undesirable marriage, and her talking horse Hwin.  Together they all head north for their freedom.

One of the main themes of the Horse and His Boy is pride.  Most all of the characters are prideful in one way or another.  Bree thinks that because he's a great war horse, he's better than the other horses.  He spends much of the story having to do things that attack his pride: like disguising himself as a dirty work horse when they get through the city of Tashbaan, or getting shown up by Shasta after a lion attacks Aravis.

It's not as if the children are any better.  Aravis thinks that because she's a Tarkeena, she's more noble than commoners.  She gives Shasta all kinds of crap, and she has a hard time pretending to be a slave in Tashbaan herself.  Shasta thinks he's better than Aravis because he's "not stuck up", but really, that's just another version of bigotry.  He thinks he's more humble because his origins are.  That's not true at all.  He lets himself be mistaken for Prince Corin, then eats Prince Corin's food without leaving him anything, and even steals ("raids") local farmers for some food later on.

Even the lesser characters are pretty arrogant in this book.  Prince Corin is so simple sometimes that he feels he has to beat up anyone who says the slightest thing wrong about a lady, and he even tricks his way into being allowed to fight in a battle, even though he's way too young to fight.  Prince Rabadash, the main antagonist, is so proud that he can't handle Queen Susan refusing to marry him.  The book describes him as someone who can handle torture, but not being made to look ridiculous.  And of course the latter happens to him.

In fact, the only characters in this book who aren't arrogant are Aslan, Hwin, and King Lune.  Hwin is described as a timid mare (apparently well-bred mares can be shy), and King Lune is so appropriately mature that he doesn't mind coming across as merely a kindly old man.  He's actually very wise.  Oh, and there's a hermit that's not arrogant, but yeah.

My point is, the arrogance works.  Each character is as prideful as you'd expect them to be, but aren't without good qualities that make them likable.  Of course a war horse like Bree would be arrogant, but at the end of the day you can't help but liking him because he's such a silly goose.  Shasta's pride is really a childish sort, which is not only perfect for a children's book, but it makes him really identifiable, as all of us act the way he does from time to time.  Aravis, while egotistical, also has that soldierly side of her which makes her not only loyal, but also brave and not easily shaken.

There are sides to everything.  While being, say, a nerd, makes one intelligent, it also makes one mildly judgemental to non-nerds until the nerd learns to get over himself.  Hippies also are subject to self-righteousness, and can be unacceptable of people who don't believe in global warming.  Soldiers aren't really respectful of peaceniks, and considering how the peaceniks have been treating them, they can't really be blamed.

There's two types of bias.  Judgement bias, where people have learned their culture and hate outsiders, and there's natural bias, where a person can't help but feel contemptful of someone or a group because of past experiences.  The Tisroc, Rabadash's father, has a judgement bias against Narnia because they're "free" and "unindustrial".  Bree has a judgement bias, but against himself, mainly because he's been around non-talking horses most of his life and doesn't think he'll be able to fit in once he gets to Narnia.

Shasta halfway has a natural bias because he doesn't expect grown-ups to treat him nice.  His fisherman "father" hit him and made him work very hard, and his experiences around other adults as his father sold fish in town made Shasta believe that adults are boring and will do whatever they can to stop you.  However, Shasta isn't too very biased, probably due to his young age, and is able to learn that not all adults are mean.

Oh, and before I forget, there's also area bias.  That's where someone from one area doesn't like someone from another.  This is sort of a combination between judgement and natural bias.  The person involved dislikes  a certain culture, for more or less legitimate reasons depending on what group is involved.  This area bias can be less logical, like how the British used to think they're all better than the Irish, or it can be more logical, as how Irish people felt being oppressed by their neighbor for 700 years.

It happens everywhere, and you don't really expect it.  For example, my dad's from Colorado, and it turns out that Colorado folk don't like Texans.  I mean, they don't hate each other, it's just one of those silly rivalries like two sporting towns or two colleges might have against each other.  I'm not entirely sure why.  My dad mentioned an incident during the Civil War where the South was making mincemeat out of Texas, and it took Colorado volunteers to bat 'em back down again.  I don't think this is the source of the conflict, however.  I'm not sure what is.  However, my dad has since moved east.  He apparently likes Texan a whole lot better now.

So each author should consider the possible judgement and natural biases of their characters to give them depth.  I am very insanely bored when I read a lot of modern fiction, because a lot of the time authors tend to make their protagonists perfect, and their antagonist a rolling wad of everything bad.  Like a katamari of evil.  It's so boring!  Even the most evil characters should have good qualities.

In The Horse and His Boy, even the Tisroc has good qualities.  He's very practical, and actually one of the least arrogant characters in the book.  Sure, he's vain, brutal, and contemptful of Narnia, but he's also very wise, if in an extremely austere way.  Rabadash himself is a doofus, but he's at least a good fighter, passionate, and eventually learns to be practical.

I figured this out when I was thinking about the Firefly series.  It's not a secret to any of you that I find it very disappointing as a show.  Sometime I really aught to do a review of that series and illustrate what I mean.  But in any case, one of the things wrong with that show was that it claimed to have a Chinese back-culture, but there are no Asian people in it.  Seriously, did reavers get them all or something?

Anyway, you look around the Serenity spaceship and you see all this Chinese writing.  This indicates that Chinese people built the ship.  Now, something that would have made the show infinitely more interesting would be if the characters took this notion to its natural stereotype: Chinese engineer stereotypes.

Now, if Chinese people are engineers of that day, then it should be a stereotype that Chinese people have dirty hands because they're always working with machinery and that kind of greasy stuff.  They might say that this is the reason why Chinese people bow instead of shaking hands.  Now, we of course would know that it's just something Chinese people do, but in that strange, Firefly future earth is forgotten, and surely they wouldn't know.

It would've been really cool to have this stereotype, because maybe, just maybe, an Asian person could actually make it onto the show.  You could have Wash make some silly, unintentionally insensitive comment, and then the Chinese person shows him up by quoting some poetry and showing that there's more than gears in his head.  Shepherd and him could have some great philosophy conversations.  I don't know, just something to keep Firefly from being the flat, boring, pretend-insightful modern mess that it is.  Maybe make it look like the writers of the show actually know something about other cultures.

Anyway, before I go on too much about my bias against people who write Firefly, what is your character's bias?  How do they feel about the cultures around them?  And also remember that while it makes your characters interesting to be biased, you as a writer have to be less biased, so that you can look at other cultures and enjoy all the interesting people they have over there and put them in your stories.

No comments:

Post a Comment