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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

There's Always an Excuse for Prejudice, Erasure and Tropes

One of the things we’ve found in our many reviews of the genre from a social justice perspective is how many times people will make up various excuses for the problems we talk about. There is no limit to the different excuses people raise, but often it can feel like we’re responding to the same script since we see the same points raised again and again. Since, we assume, they are widely believed we’re going to poke a few of these:


The Protagonist doesn’t hate them because they’re a minority - it’s because they’re horrible people.

This normally becomes an issue when we point out, for example, that a character has no female friends and strikes sparks with every woman around them. Or the protagonist hates every single POC in the book/TV series. Or that the only GBLT characters in a book have been the protagonist’s enemies.

Now these protagonists rarely turn round and say “I hate women!” or “she’s my enemy because she’s a lesbian, evil lesbian!” because most authors aren’t that ridiculous. Usually, the protagonist does have a very legitimate reason to hate these people. Yes, every woman they met was mean to them. Yes, all the POC around them were cruel and rude. Yes, that evil GBLT villain is indeed evil. There were big story reasons for the character to hate all of these people. This is true.

But this a work of fiction, not a report of real people. The writer is an author, not a journalist. The cruel POC, the evil GBLT villain, the mean women - they don’t exist. They’re all creations of the author. And if the author has created a book where all the women/POC/GBLT/etc are set up to be awful and hateable then it is because the author chose them to be so.

If the marginalised people in a series are all hateful people that the protagonist loathes - for good in story reasons - then the author has created that scenario. And, yes, that’s problematic.


It’s just who they are! I see them as people not POC/GBLT/etc

So you’ve written your story and it turns out you have a sexually predatory GBLT person, or a loud, angry, sassy Black woman side-kick (bonus points if she has magic to help the protagonist) or some equally tired, stereotyped trope. Naturally we’re not impressed but the protest is “they’re not a sassy, magical side-kick because they’re Black, it’s just who they are!” In other words, you assert that their adherence to an extremely tired trope is just coincidence.

Now it’s vaguely possible, I guess, that you are somehow packed into the Mars Rover and are actually beaming you books or scripts from there and your intended audience is actually aliens from the planet Zog. In which case I applaud you for being able to write under such difficult conditions and being our ambassador for the Zoggi with books about vampires. 


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