Disturbing Article - Is Fantasy Really Becoming Offensive?

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Perpetual Man

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I was reading the news this m o tuning and stumbled upon this article. I found it pretty disturbing, but not sure of the veracity of it, but it seems rather cutthroat and backstabbing

spectator.co.uk/2019/05/writers-blocked-even-fantasy-fiction-is-now-offensive/

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L.L.Lotte

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I... I'm.... a bit in shock...

In regards to the first example, poor Amélie Wen Zhao:

It's a fantasy world written in a book of fiction... while it may draw influences from reality, it isn't reality...

The blurb was poorly written, that is true, because it used to many trigger words for people who care about political correctness to draw on.

Maybe this is because it's YA? Parents don't want their children to be badly influenced by what they read? My response to that is, read the book and then decide, don't judge it before it's even released. If, as a parent, you don't like what the book teaches, then don't let your kids read it....

Based on the blurb alone, you can suppose that ultimately, the oppressing faction of the story is going to lose out and the people suffering through said oppression will rise up. Doesn't that mean it's actually a good thing? It's a story about the fight against racism and oppression. You have to show those elements for the readers to understand what the characters are fighting for.

And let's not forget that the author does come from a country that suffers from these issues. So it's not as if she doesn't have any experience or knowledge to draw from.

But really, that sort of plot and world is what fans of fantasy novels like to read about. Mainly because it is realistic. A politically correct world is a boring world...

How interesting would GRRM's GoT be if it was rewritten to be politically correct? I can assure you that it wouldn't have been the success it was if GRRM had done so.

This reminds me of when the movie, The Golden Compass, was about to be released and there was that storm of complaints going around about it being "a story about Adam and Eve killing God." -- which the movie had nothing to do about that because any reference to such a concept was removed right from the beginning. Yet still those complaints damaged the movie -- so many people who didn't watch it because of misinformation.
 

Dave

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Whatever happened to if you do not like it then don't buy it.
Not to mention the shocking news that people on social media platforms might be abusive and hostile to others! o_O One might even be led to think that social media needs to be more accountable and that their underlying business model might be part of the problem. :eek:
 

L.L.Lotte

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I agree with that, Dave.

It does seem like social media is more at fault here than the book itself.
 

Eric Lewis

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Yeah, I read about this somewhere. Insane. It's easy to criticize in hindsight, but really she should have just thanked those idiots for the free publicity, then ignored them. Heck, even capitalize on it- "The most offensive book you've ever been triggered by! Get it now before it's banned!"
 

Plucky Novice

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I wrote something deep and meaningful then changed my mind so added this in edit.
 
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Teresa Edgerton

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Putting aside the book under discussion in the article, which I have not read and know nothing about, I don't quite go with the argument, "if you don't like it then don't buy it" as if that is any kind of solution.

Firstly, if a book is unfairly attacked we might, based on those attacks, not buy something that we would, in fact, like, even admire. But if we buy the book to find out we could end up helping to make a book we find morally repugnant into a hit, thereby assuring that the writer will go forth and write more of the same sort of thing. (As someone pointed out above, stirring up a controversy is a very good publicity ploy.)

Secondly, in the case of a book that advances ideas we might personally consider dangerous (like white supremacy, or homophobia), not buying the book ourselves does not undo any harm we might experience from living in a world with people who have read it and thereby had their leanings toward that kind of thing validated and strengthened.

What we need is fewer people jumping to erroneous conclusions about a book they haven't read more than a small part of, and the solution is for reviewers, professional and otherwise, to commit to actually reading the whole darn book before forming conclusions about it and posting reviews or reactions. Or if they don't like it enough to finish—and I don't think anyone is under any obligation to finish something they don't like, it's what they do afterward once they have reached the decision not to continue that is important—then they shouldn't review it or write articles about it. Leave that to those who were able to read it to the end. I have seen lots of reviews for books I have read—and I am talking about favorable reviews as well as unfavorable ones—where the plot as described is so far from anything that actually appears in the story that is quite evident that the reviewer either stopped after a few chapters or else skimmed very lightly through to the end, and they are reviewing a book which exists solely in their own imaginations and has very little relationship to the book they are supposedly reviewing.

Of course there is no way to actually make that happen, especially in a world where so many people are desperate for attention and frantic to produce content which will gain that attention, that they don't really "have time" to finish a book before reaching conclusions and stirring up a furore.
 

-K2-

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Point blank, what I write will offend EVERYONE for numerous reasons. In fact, I tell them on the first page they will be offended. Fortunately, my skin is an odd asbestos+teflon alloy. ;)

Rant away.

K2
 

Nicole J. LeBoeuf

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Also leaving aside the particular book under discussion--well, I have to. At this moment, I don't know anything about the situation except what this article tells me, and by two paragraphs in I have developed a deep distrust for its author.

First, the click-baity title: "Even fantasy fiction is now offensive" - Y'all, every kind of fiction has always had the potential to offend. Sometimes it offends the people who need offending (bigots incensed that Heather Has Two Mommies, forex) and sometimes it "offends" - read, deeply hurts and causes real damage to - people who are already down and don't need more kicking. And when someone's knee-jerk reaction to someone else's negative response to a piece of fiction is "jeez, some people are just perpetually offended, aren't they?" that tells me that they don't have much empathy for the victims in the latter sort of case.

And in fact, Yossman doesn't: "Around the same time Keira Drake, a marketing consultant turned YA writer, agreed to pulp hardback copies of her debut fantasy novel and re-write it with help from — you guessed it — sensitivity readers after critics claimed it contained ‘damaging’ depictions of Native Americans." Scare quotes, because apparently Yossman believes there are no such thing as damaging depictions of marginalized communities, just people whose skin aren't thick enough I suppose. It's not like she's arguing whether Drake's depictions were in fact harmful, which is an argument that theoretically could be justified (assuming those passages saw the light of day, I haven't read them); she simply treats as laughable the whole idea of seriously asking a sensitivity reader to evaluate one's writing of the other. (For a better approach, try Mary Robinette Kowal's blog entry "Debut Author lessons: Sensitivity readers and why I pulled a project.")

Going back to the first paragraph, we have the completely disingenuous "dogma of ‘cultural appropriation’ —which demands no less than complete racial segregation in the arts" - jeez, citation needed much? Jeannette Ng would like a word with you (her article, "Cultural Appropriation for the Worried Writer: some practical advice" is fantastic).

I could go on--in every paragraph there was another concrete example confirming my suspicion that Karen Yossman is firmly entrenched in the OMG ITS POLITICAL CORRECTNESS GONE MAD camp. As such, I can't trust her take on issues like cultural appropriation and racially problematic fiction.
 

Dave

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Of course there is no way to actually make that happen, especially in a world where so many people are desperate for attention and frantic to produce content which will gain that attention, that they don't really "have time" to finish a book before reaching conclusions and stirring up a furore.
People no longer look to "professional" reviewers in newspapers and magazines any more, but to Amazon, GoodReads, and to Blogs, Facebook and Twitter. The world has moved on and a return back again is not going to happen. The problem is not that those reviews might be inaccurate, or even malicious, the problem is the prominence that is given to them even when they are. An example is given in the article about someone with no knowledge of Russian history making factually incorrect statements, that are then widely circulated as true.

However, I remember making this same point some years ago in a thread regarding "Grimdark" and that thread became highly political, partly due to the belief that any kind of censorship is an infringement of free speech. The "don't buy the book" argument was one made back then too. It seems that some people will defend another person's right to speak, even if they talk proven nonsense. I don't wish to go down that particular line again and such "fake news" discussions will eventually get closed here anyway.
 

svalbard

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Putting aside the book under discussion in the article, which I have not read and know nothing about, I don't quite go with the argument, "if you don't like it then don't buy it" as if that is any kind of solution.

Firstly, if a book is unfairly attacked we might, based on those attacks, not buy something that we would, in fact, like, even admire. But if we buy the book to find out we could end up helping to make a book we find morally repugnant into a hit, thereby assuring that the writer will go forth and write more of the same sort of thing. (As someone pointed out above, stirring up a controversy is a very good publicity ploy.)

Secondly, in the case of a book that advances ideas we might personally consider dangerous (like white supremacy, or homophobia), not buying the book ourselves does not undo any harm we might experience from living in a world with people who have read it and thereby had their leanings toward that kind of thing validated and strengthened.

What we need is fewer people jumping to erroneous conclusions about a book they haven't read more than a small part of, and the solution is for reviewers, professional and otherwise, to commit to actually reading the whole darn book before forming conclusions about it and posting reviews or reactions. Or if they don't like it enough to finish—and I don't think anyone is under any obligation to finish something they don't like, it's what they do afterward once they have reached the decision not to continue that is important—then they shouldn't review it or write articles about it. Leave that to those who were able to read it to the end. I have seen lots of reviews for books I have read—and I am talking about favorable reviews as well as unfavorable ones—where the plot as described is so far from anything that actually appears in the story that is quite evident that the reviewer either stopped after a few chapters or else skimmed very lightly through to the end, and they are reviewing a book which exists solely in their own imaginations and has very little relationship to the book they are supposedly reviewing.

Of course there is no way to actually make that happen, especially in a world where so many people are desperate for attention and frantic to produce content which will gain that attention, that they don't really "have time" to finish a book before reaching conclusions and stirring up a furore.
I tend to read the reviews of a book after I have read it and not before. It is a weird thing I have done for years. That is not to say I never read a review beforehand but 8 times out of ten it is the former. However I do agree with your points.
 

The Big Peat

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This isn't news. I forget the name of the previous articles I've seen on the score, some here and elsewhere, but it's going on for a while (at least according to journalists). I'd bet money than most of the whiners will complain if white authors only write about white characters too.

All I can say is that while believing that authors should always strive to be accurate in their depictions of everything, the censorious demands for total authenticity and accuracy should be pushed back against hard because they're anti-a lot of good things and probably do as much to damage telling good stories as they help.

And that's all I can say without taking this to World Affairs territory.
 
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Abernovo

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I would recommend not taking this article as unbiased. The Spectator is a very 'socially conservative' publication, which has increasingly become very much a voice for outrage from the Victorian Family Values set.

I have no wish to see a thread resembling the old World Affairs board, which was removed from the forums for a good reason. Only to say, if you have this sort of article--in any publication--it's better to look closely at who's behind the publishing, and their agendas. With that, I'm out
 

L.L.Lotte

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Since people are having difficulty with the article in question, i did some googling:

Here is a better written article about it by the New York Times.

There is even a link in there to an article about the other examples used in the original one posted at the top of the thread.

If you go back to the sources, you can find the twitter post where the author apologizes to the community and explains the basis of her story to them, which makes it pretty clear to me that some premature judging was going on here in this instance. Which is sad.

Author's apology to community
Story Explanation by author.


After reading what the author said about her books, I'll say that I was wrong about its intended message. And I'm glad that, in the end, the author decided to stand up for what she believed in.



Maybe this here should be the real discussion:

In an Era of Online Outrage, Do Sensitivity Readers Result in Better Books, or Censorship?


I feel like genre should be treated differently to general literary novels. I can understand having novels based in the real world having sensitivity readers critique, but isn't a fictional world just that? A made up culture. Should people really be trying so hard to compare it to reality?


The article about Kiera Drake was truely heartbreaking, but her qoutes are remarkable and inspiring:

My publisher agreed to delay the release. Over the following year, I rewrote the book with the help of four sensitivity readers — professional editors trained to flag problematic or potentially controversial content that may need revision. Stay with me, because once people hear “sensitivity reader” they often start getting nervous. They talk about “1984” and censorship and how free speech is dead in America.

Allow me to clarify that sensitivity readers are no different from any other editor. If a publisher or author wants to enlist the services of such an editor, they can do so, for a price. It is optional. If an author does not care to do it, a sensitivity read is not done. In any case, none of the suggestions provided by sensitivity readers are forced on an author. Which brings me to an important point: There is a material difference between criticism and censorship.

Criticism is the most valuable thing writers can receive: It challenges and stimulates our minds; it puts us in problem-solving mode; and it makes our work better when we heed the criticisms that ring true. Censorship, on the other hand, is the suppression or prohibition of speech by a political or social authority.
Here I learned another important, if obvious, lesson: You cannot please everyone. The only thing I could do was to listen to the critiques, heed my own instincts, and write the best book I could. There was no forced compliance, just me and my manuscript and a second chance.

While I chose to embrace the criticisms I received, and to rewrite my book, many authors choose to do otherwise, and that is their prerogative.
It was further heartbreaking when it turned out to be an impossible situation for her:

I was proud of the revised version of “The Continent.” Yet on Twitter, the attacks persisted. One group argued that no amount of changes would ever be enough, that the premise of the book was fatally flawed. “Unfixable” was a sentiment that appeared frequently in these threads. Another group condemned me for revising, declaring “meet the face of politically correct censorship,” “so much for intellectual integrity,” “an author that gutless is unlikely to turn out anything worth reading” and that “authors who write by committee — and far worse, internet comments — deserve to be humiliated and shamed.”

The internet can be a horrible place... :cry:



I do see a pattern to all this: they are childrens/YA novels....
 
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The Big Peat

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So I did some digging, some reading... Keira Drake was told to commit suicide by someone who'd never read the book. No shortage of other offensive messages.

That's disgusting. That level of abuse makes someone a victim deserving of empathy. And if that's the level of abuse going on, then attempting to pass this all off as right-wing scaremongering that people don't have to take seriously because of where it comes from looks pretty callous.

p.s. For the record I have two shelved stories due to believing I'd make a hames of racial sensitivity issues. I am not on the side believing everything is all a-okay.
 
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Teresa Edgerton

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I don't really think that people are quicker to take offense now then they ever were. There has been a lot of hurtful language that people were able to use for a long time because the people it hurt were afraid to speak up. Now they aren't so afraid, or they're just fed up and not taking it anymore. It's just too bad if people have to consider their words before they speak or write them. Being more thoughtful is a good thing, in my opinion.

On the other hand, I think (as I believe I implied in my previous post) that there are a lot of people who just want attention—either in their own identities or in an online identity—or they'll stir things up because they enjoy the drama. Or they have an agenda which is not the one they would have us believe. It is wise to be skeptical of what we read online because anyone can disseminate their thoughts widely whether what they have to say has merit or not, whether the "facts" they present have any basis in truth or not. And once several people have picked up on something and posted about it, it can look like there are several sources for whatever it is, which gives it an air of authenticity it may not deserve, if all these "various" sources are actually just quoting from the very same article or post and have not come on the information independently. This can be as true for careless mistakes or misconceptions which people treat with great seriousness but are essentially harmless and silly, just as much as for untruths that can be toxic if they become widespread and accepted.

I think the important thing is to be neither too gullible nor too cynical, but to be openminded enough to ask questions without being too dismissive just because something has been outside our own personal experience.
 
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