?

Log in

No account? Create an account
 
 
25 May 2010 @ 11:36 pm
[Meta]: The Audience  
I would like to expand on one point of my previous rant, which is:

It matters when you are part of the audience.

I spent my childhood reading stories about kids who find various magical things and go on adventures, and also just about every children's book ever published in the UK. I couldn't imagine myself in those books - it was obvious that I was never going to find a magic amulet or a secret corridor or a sand fairy; our house didn't even have a basement - but I certainly knew they were written for me.

And then I became a teenager. I was still voraciously reading, and struggling to find the genre that fit me as well as my childhood reading had. I read everything I could find - hard SF to Anne Rice, Dorothy Sayers to Charlotte MacLeod. I also read an awful lot of stuff published before 1900. (My flirtations with plain fiction and romance novels didn't pan out. I'm just not that type of girl, apparently.)

I kept casting around, though. And I kept going back and secretly re-reading the books I'd loved as a kid. Partly that was because, okay, I read like I breathed, and there were only so many books in the world, and I couldn't afford to turn my back on old favorites. But partly that was because I missed something about those books, something I couldn't identify, something I described to myself as a feeling of safety.

When I found fan fiction, I realized what I was missing. I missed being part of the audience.

I know, I know: you read something, you are obviously part of the audience. But I'm talking about the imaginary audience, the audience in the author's head, the one the book is written for.

Like, I love Sayers. But it's obvious that she didn't consider Jews as part of her audience - she considered them vaguely lesser beings. (I am picking on Sayers here, but if you read basically any fiction written before, oh, 1940, thereabouts, you will wonder if there was some kind of rule that a Greasy Money-Grubbing Jew had to appear in at least one out of every three books. If the GMGJ doesn't appear, it's only because the concept of Jews was so dirty they couldn't imagine bringing them up at all, in any context whatsoever.)

I read, and still read, a lot of hard SF, and it was impossible for me to miss the fact that women, when they appeared in these books, tended to be a) non-sentient (or merely very, very stupid), b) silent (sometimes supportive, sometimes listening, and sometimes just mute), c) present entirely for the sex interest (chance of prostitution: 30%), d) evil, or e) dead (often to further the plot or the hero's arc). Sometimes they managed all five. And if the author wanted all five of those to appear in his novel, one woman was probably going to have to pull it off, because it was a rare hard SF book that had five on-screen female characters. (A character is on-screen, by my definition, if she actually appears in the pages, rather than simply being referred to by other characters. Someone whose sole appearance is as a dead body is not an on-screen character. This rules out an awful lot of women.)

It's the same thing with being a lesbian except worse. A lot, lot worse. I will not bring up my disability, because I don't talk about it here, except to say that if that part of me appears in a story, it will be as either a clever gimmick (and a chance for a main character to grow as a person) or a sob story (and a chance for a main character to grow as a person). (No, there will never be a main character just like me. Most of the time I think that's normal, and then I look at, say, SF and think standard-issue straight white guys must have a whole different experience on this issue. How weird would it be, to have basically all mainstream media written for you like that?)

And that's just the short list. There's also such things as the random brutality to women, or, on the other side, the threat of rape presented casually, as a plot point or even as a joke, as though it were kind of like getting your car impounded and not, you know, more like dying, but having to live through it. There's all the moments in books that have made me wince away from the page for a second, thinking: wow, low blow. Or even, seriously? Did you seriously just say that?

I have loved books that featured all of those things - the dead girls, the joke rapes, the greasy Jews, the stereotyped lesbians who die at the end, the missing and evil and mute and stupid and refrigerated women. I have loved lots of books that make things I love or am or do or enjoy a joke, or a mark of evil, or nonexistent. And I still love a lot of those books. I just love them knowing I am trespassing a little, walking where I wasn't invited and am not welcome and am not supposed to be.

And here's the thing: it is painful to love something that palpably does not want you, does not see you, does not know you exist. We all remember that from high school, right? Well, in professional fiction, for quite a lot of us, high school keeps right on going.

High school, in that sense (and only in that sense, oh thank you universe and assorted deities that high school ended for me lo these many years ago and I will never, ever have to go back), ended for me when I found fan fiction. I recognized it immediately, thought, this is for me.

I was part of the audience again.

Let me repeat it: being part of the audience matters.

I think this is a big part of the discussions we keep having in fandom about things like race and gender and religion and culture and disability. (And other stuff, all the stuff I am leaving out and about to kick myself for.) People in fandom are saying: "I am here, too. I am a member of your audience, too. So why do you keep pushing me out of the building or locking me in the cabinet under the stairs?"

Here's the thing about fandom: it is not as good a fit for many people as it is for me. (Queer and female - these things are practically the order of the day in my neck of the woods. Jewish isn't the majority or anything, but blatant anti-semitism is rare enough that it generally merits a friends-locked post of nauseated horror. And we aren't going to talk about the disability thing, remember?) But fandom, as a whole, is trying to pay attention to the people out there, trying to treat them as they want to be treated. I mean, I'm trying! I have failed badly, on multiple counts, many times, but I am reading and paying attention and I am honestly trying, and I am prepared to assume that almost everyone else in fandom is doing that, too. (They may be reading and learning about different things than I am, but everyone can screw up on something. Which can be more cheerfully expressed as "everyone has something to learn," I guess. Except I am not the woman who goes for the optimistic spin, sorry.)

I mean, I could write letters to pro writers forever:

Dear Larry Niven (et al, et al, oh god et al),

One half of your species is female. Human and female. It's possible. LEARN TO DEAL. IT IS NOT TOO LATE.

<3,
TFV

Or:

Dear Georgette Heyer (and everyone else writing before 1940),

For Christ's sake, woman, stop with the greasy money-grubbing Jews already. Or just stop writing Jews altogether. In some cases, invisibility is actually a gift. I am prepared to accept that gift from you! It will even come with a wholly appropriate letter of thanks. Hand-written. I know you like the niceties.

<3,
TFV

Or:

Dear Janet Evanovich (a special case!),

Racism, homophobia, misogyny - seriously, I could go on and on, but. Look. Just pick one. Just one, and eliminate that, and I will stop making fun of you for dragging out an unbelievable love triangle for so long that the poor thing is stretched thinner than paper and is all worn away around the edges, so much so that people now use the term "a Ranger-Steph-Morelli" to describe any exceptionally beaten-into-the-ground plot device. (I can't promise to stop writing my Ranger/Steph/Morelli OT3, though, because someone has got to fix that shit, and apparently I can't help myself.)

<3,
TFV

But the thing is, no matter how many letters I write, the pro writers aren't going to read them, let alone care.

In fandom, I have faith that people are reading, and that they care.

So thank you, fandom, for making me a part of your audience, for remembering that I am here, even if I don't look or act or think or fuck exactly like you do.

And thank you for being here, reading. I promise to do my best to remember that you're there, and to learn as much as I can so I can do that better.

And that - that is something that fandom has for me, that professional writing never will: community, and an audience where I belong.

And that matters.

Also posted at Dreamwidth, where there are comment count unavailable comments.
Tags: [meta]
 
 
 
rusticarustica on May 26th, 2010 07:04 am (UTC)
Thank you for putting into words what I have been feeling.
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV bluethefourthvine on May 27th, 2010 12:22 am (UTC)
I'm glad I'm not the only one. Thank you for reading!
Proactively Untwist Octagonal Hippopotamus Pants: dreamsdramaturgca on May 26th, 2010 07:07 am (UTC)
*applauds*

Well said. Thank you.

I think this is why I slip further and further into fantasy written by smart tough women. Smart tough women have a tendency to write smart tough women, and the really smart ones deal with a lot of the issues fandom talks about, too.
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV brownthefourthvine on May 27th, 2010 12:25 am (UTC)
Ooo, do you have recs for fantasy written by smart tough women? I mean, pro fantasy? Because fantasy really isn't my native genre - I am hard SF by birth and inclination - but I can travel there, especially if the terrain has already been covered by someone I trust.
(no subject) - dramaturgca on May 27th, 2010 04:28 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - handyhunter on May 27th, 2010 01:00 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - dramaturgca on May 27th, 2010 05:02 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - aqua_eyes on June 9th, 2010 10:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - lovessong on May 28th, 2010 11:30 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Strong Seconded - elemgi on June 9th, 2010 06:44 am (UTC) (Expand)
Daegaer: heart by ?daegaer on May 26th, 2010 07:24 am (UTC)
This is such a great post!

A friend of mine recently had a wonderful experience of finding a book that made her the audience, Zoli, by Colum McCann. She emailed him to tell him how much that meant to her and is now on tenterhooks, hoping he'll respond and not say anything that forces her to change her opinion. (So far just an automatic response saying he's researching, but will respond later).
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV dogtagsthefourthvine on May 27th, 2010 12:27 am (UTC)
Thank you!

And, eeee, your friend is brave. (Interaction with pro writers is always laced with exactly that trepidation: that you will discover that the writer in question is an asshole, and you'll have to KNOW that as you read his later works.)
(no subject) - daegaer on June 29th, 2010 05:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(Deleted comment)
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV flowersthefourthvine on May 27th, 2010 02:14 am (UTC)
you get a bunch of white men blinking in genuine confusion and saying, "But no! How can that be? I am a regular consumer of media and I am represented all over the place, and my experience is normal, so how can you be any different

Or, worse, saying, "But I totally wouldn't mind if I wasn't represented in the media I watch or read!" Which - how would you know? Seriously, they can't even imagine it; even if they did a challenge to read and watch only things with main characters who weren't straight white males (good luck!) for a year, they'd still know they could always go back to regular media and be the norm.

*violent eyeroll*
09 f9 11 02 9d 74 e3 5b d8 41 56 c5 63 56 88 c0: B5 Ivanova BiTeepJewlaura47 on May 26th, 2010 07:31 am (UTC)
I have straight, white, able-bodied male friends who just don't seem to get that this matters. Maybe if I show them this, they might get a bit closer to getting it...

thanks for the post.
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV glowythefourthvine on May 28th, 2010 03:32 am (UTC)
Thank you! But, uh, probably not, on the getting it front. Judging by the extremely limited straight white able-bodied etc cismale to this post, your friends will open their (probably blue) eyes very wide, blink a couple times, and say, "But I don't have any problems when a guy just like me is killed in a murder mystery! Or is the villain! Wow, you're too sensitive."
(no subject) - laura47 on May 28th, 2010 02:36 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Harley: SPN: Fangirlingcrimsonkitty88 on May 26th, 2010 07:47 am (UTC)
I wish I had more to say but what you've written here is so wonderfully eloquent that I'm not going to try to add anything. I DO want to say though, is that I REALLY liked what you had to say here and that it reflects much of my own fandom experience, everyone growing and learning from each other (myself included), trying to better understand and better enjoy. And for that I send you love. <3
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV Katamari Damacythefourthvine on May 28th, 2010 03:42 am (UTC)
Oh, thank you! I will take your love gladly, and return it with interest: <3 <3 <3 <3 <3!
ixamxdecadencecelestialcuming on May 26th, 2010 08:01 am (UTC)
Ah chick - you've put down far more eloquently than I ever could the distance I've felt from all forms of fiction, tv, movies, for years - my whole life in fact. I'm a fat, black woman. The only time I see myself represented in fiction, or on the screen, if at all, is as a joke, an illustration of sloth, suffering, crime, lack of education. I hatehatehate the way movies and books I can't help but love and enjoy try so hard to pretend I don't exist. Fanfiction is the first time I've ever felt part of an audience. The kiddies books I read were not written for me at all LOL! I remember how angry Enid Blyton used to make me - even at 8 - because I was a girl and I was black and she never represented what I was in any kind of positive light. I can't even begin to tell you the kind of emotion this has shaken loose...
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV lettersthefourthvine on May 28th, 2010 03:47 am (UTC)
I hatehatehate the way movies and books I can't help but love and enjoy try so hard to pretend I don't exist.

That's the crux of it, totally: you love something, and it hurts you, and you still can't help loving it. We all have slightly unhealthy relationships with media, I think. And possibly I should have deleted "slightly" in that sentence. *hugs*

I will say, though, that if you're interested in reading a book for kids (okay, YAs, but close enough) that has an awesome black girl protagonist who saves the world, I cannot recommend The True Meaning of Smekday more.
busaikko: Xanadubusaikko on May 26th, 2010 09:23 am (UTC)
You are so good with words. I kept thinking, yes, yes, yes. It seems the flipside of your rant is a love letter. Thank you for writing!
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV menorahthefourthvine on May 28th, 2010 03:52 am (UTC)
Thank you!

It seems the flipside of your rant is a love letter.

True! And, actually, that's part of why I wrote this - I kept wondering why attacks against our community get me so pissed off; I mean, almost nothing that happens online gets me actually mad, but the anti-fan fiction crowd actually drove me to ranting. And this is why it matters so much to me.

Well, partly why. Maybe even mostly why.
the pirate queen of norway: high kingashkitty on May 26th, 2010 10:31 am (UTC)


I couldn't imagine myself in those books - it was obvious that I was never going to find a magic amulet or a secret corridor or a sand fairy; our house didn't even have a basement - but I certainly knew they were written for me.

I imagined myself in those ALL THE TIME, and I lived in a gang-infested West Coast city. Most of the books I read were about boys, so I just learned to identify with boys, I suppose. If there were girls in the book, they usually weren't nearly as cool. Now I write stories with girls in, when I am writing original things, but it never bothered me as much as people think it should, when the stories were full of boys, because sometimes I made them into girls in my head and sometimes I made up sisters for them and sometimes I just let them be, but it was still all about what was going on in my head, in the end. I suppose it is not a surprise that I like fanfic, then. *g*

(Also, I've always reread YA fiction. I have enough copies of Susan Cooper that I will never have to be withoutit no matter where I go in the world. I put it on my ipod just in case. I still buy new Diana Wynne Jones books when she writes them. There's a sense of everything being possible in books for kids that grown-up books don't have.)

There's also such things as the random brutality to women, or, on the other side, the threat of rape presented casually, as a plot point or even as a joke, as though it were kind of like getting your car impounded and not, you know, more like dying, but having to live through it.

This DOES bother me, and is why I nearly stopped reading George R. R. Martin in the second book. I am still not pleased with it.

But fandom, as a whole, is trying to pay attention to the people out there, trying to treat them as they want to be treated.

I think this is important. Because you don't want tokenism, but you do want the possibility that awesome characters who are not straight white males will exist and do cool stuff. Fandom usually manages to balance this out pretty well. It's a learning process, but it's also way ahead of the mainstream. At least we talk the shit out, you know?
Stasiastasia on May 26th, 2010 08:06 pm (UTC)
I had this experience also, of just identifying with the boys because they were the ones who were there. It didn't occur to me then that I should be looking for girls to identify with - I was the main character (unless they were being stupid, in which case I wasn't reading any more anyway), and the sex or gender of that main character ... wasn't important to me.

I find that I often still have this experience of books, which means I miss an awful lot of terrible genderpolitik; this isn't necessarily a good thing.

However, I've recently found that I can't read a growing number of books - not just because I'm seeing the genderpolitik, but because after reading fanfiction, the published characterizations just seem thin and flat.

Stasia
(no subject) - ashkitty on May 26th, 2010 11:43 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on May 29th, 2010 05:07 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - ashkitty on May 29th, 2010 10:36 am (UTC) (Expand)
Hepcat: faith thoughtful obiwahnnwhepcat on May 26th, 2010 11:05 am (UTC)
Whoa, this is wonderful. I am sending a link to a dear friend of mine who is writing her thesis on the treatment of women in early classic texts. (This assumption of the reading world as male is something that's been written about by academics, because she's spent time thinking about all that.)

Many years ago, before she was in academia, she said she hated the word "exclusive" as used in advertising or describing the attributes of something in a positive way. She's always wanted the world to be inclusive, and she's made me think about that in a way that's changed who I am. This post is going to have a profound effect on me too, I know; thank you for writing it.
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV dogtagsthefourthvine on May 29th, 2010 06:14 am (UTC)
Oh, thank you!

Many years ago, before she was in academia, she said she hated the word "exclusive" as used in advertising or describing the attributes of something in a positive way.

Exclusive always gets up my nose, too, but I never thought about why - now that you say that, it's probably because my ideal world is inclusive, too. (And how interesting is it, that we never think about who we're excluding when we think of something as exclusive?) Thank you for telling me about that - and thank your friend for me, too, please.

X-parrotxparrot on May 26th, 2010 11:13 am (UTC)
That is the exact problem I have when I try to read American/Western comics, like Watchman and such - I so vividly feel like I am not the target audience. Not even that I'm not welcome, so much as it never occurred to the creators that someone such as myself would ever even read it - that they're speaking and appealing to aspects of taste and gender and other things that I completely miss, on a fundamental level.

(Oddly enough, I don't get this feeling nearly as much from Japanese manga, even though I am most definitely not the intended audience for any of it...)

I have a feeling a lot of scifi would be like that for me, too, but I haven't read nearly as much hard scifi recently, and way back when I was devouring Asimov and Heinlein and Niven and all I was less aware. I never identified with the female characters of such fiction, but that didn't bother me, because those female characters were so clearly not real people; they weren't relevant to me, regardless of our shared gender...
crepusculecrepuscule [dreamwidth.org] on May 26th, 2010 07:38 pm (UTC)
I so vividly feel like I am not the target audience. Not even that I'm not welcome, so much as it never occurred to the creators that someone such as myself would ever even read it

I don't know you, but now I want to, because, just -- THIS.
(no subject) - xparrot on May 26th, 2010 07:54 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - thefourthvine on May 29th, 2010 06:19 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - xparrot on May 29th, 2010 10:24 am (UTC) (Expand)
Domenika Marzione: echomiss_porcupine on May 26th, 2010 11:14 am (UTC)
I know I'm an outlier by saying that I'm still not quite the audience. My life? Isn't 95% porn. Attractive men can be profound friends -- or even related -- without the inescapable urge to fuck. And we shall not get in to the politics, where through fanfiction I find out that I'm a racist, homophobic, generally narrow-minded cretin for not being a proper liberal. (You stop reading a story because it's ableist; I stop reading a story after one too many Palin jokes and insinuations that I'd really rather be putting on a white hood and burning a cross somewhere if I could just master the wizardry of kitchen matches.)

When I did the polls the other month about reading habits and people generally seemed to be reading less fiction offline because fanfic fit their desires better, I wasn't surprised. But I also wasn't part of that group because I'm not the intended audience of either profic or fanfic.
travels_in_timetravels_in_time on May 26th, 2010 09:49 pm (UTC)
where through fanfiction I find out that I'm a racist, homophobic, generally narrow-minded cretin for not being a proper liberal.

What, you too? *high-fives you* Us narrow-minded cretins need to stick together!
(no subject) - thefourthvine on May 29th, 2010 06:23 am (UTC) (Expand)
Gwen Egweneiriol on May 26th, 2010 11:22 am (UTC)
woohoo! thanks for trying!
tried to eat the safe banana: TFV glowythefourthvine on May 29th, 2010 06:24 am (UTC)
Thank you! And thanks for trying, too.
Trishslashxmistress on May 26th, 2010 11:57 am (UTC)
Very beautifully said. I too read like I breathe -always have, and reading this, I realize that I've never had a problem identifying with any books main character(s) regardless of gender/race w/e. I'm not sure what that says about me.

When I read Harry Potter, I AM Harry,etc. Looking back on things I've read- I can see the things you talk about, the misogyny,and racism and more in hindsight, but usually when reading I'm too caught up. I don't know that it's a good thing-but it is what it is :(

Recently,I've noticed an exception to this. I increasingly cannot stand the exclusively heterosexual world many authors live in. -I don't know-maybe that's just what's most relevant to me? I am a woman-but I tend to be gender neutral. I'm white,middle class,not disabled,so maybe I don't think about those issues as I read? But I do identify as queer,and I also feel more at home in fandom than just about anywhere else.

Thanks for this- I love it when my f-list makes me think :)
Andyalitalf on May 26th, 2010 12:55 pm (UTC)
To be a little flippant, I remember a button at Eastercon saying "Feminists of Gor"

In one sense, that sums it up.

I note that there are now many writers who have strong female lead characters, including Elizabeth Moon, David Webber, and someone less well known whose writing I enjoy, Selina Rosen.