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August 7, 2017 3:27 PM   Subscribe

The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter

Young-adult books are being targeted in intense social-media callouts, draggings, and pile-ons — sometimes before anybody’s even read them.
posted by Joseph Gurl (158 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
Twitter delenda est, said the great mojo
posted by Sebmojo at 3:33 PM on August 7 [9 favorites]


Basically, if you build a subcommunity where people take their moral cues from outraged sixteen-year-olds, it's not gonna go well. I say this as a former outraged sixteen-year-old, though in a time prior to that when one had access to forums to amplify one's anger and shut down one's critical thinking. Throw in that group of adult women for whom the phrase "what about the children" seems to actually disable higher moral and cognitive function, and it's a whole bucket of delight, where no one can distinguish between a book genuinely expressing hateful views on behalf of the author and a book where someone, anyone, expresses a point of view you wouldn't want to hear at a party. Twitter and tumblr seem to share a problem where no one is willing to say, "yeah, look at the source, I'm just not going to take that seriously."

On the other hand, no, established YA writers, for the most part, you really weren't going to write that book focusing on protagonists of color, regardless of what went down on Twitter.
posted by praemunire at 3:49 PM on August 7 [19 favorites]


I feel old
posted by thegirlwiththehat at 3:50 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


twitter is hell
posted by indubitable at 3:53 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


Twitter seems to exist primarily to enable harassment and get Donald Trump elected.
posted by Sangermaine at 3:53 PM on August 7 [26 favorites]


The harsh abuse and piling on of people who say they will read the book just to see for themselves is what seems to perpetuate the stupidity. Pulling quotes of people saying racist things from the book, when the people who say those things in the book are intended to be racist characters, and not the voice of the author - it's an utterly dishonest practice designed purely to generate righteous anger and, one presumes, retweets. Simply reading the book rather than taking the cherry-picked quotes at face value would reveal the dishonesty. So it's absolutely not allowed.

Do people really want books without any bad characters in them? Do people really want books where there is no character development because every character is already perfect and wonderful? Sounds horrific. What are children or young adults supposed to get from that, exactly?
posted by Jimbob at 3:57 PM on August 7 [40 favorites]


Basically, if you build a subcommunity where people take their moral cues from outraged sixteen-year-olds, it's not gonna go well.

Adults seem to be the real problem here:
But in an interesting twist, the teens who make up the community’s core audience are getting fed up with the constant, largely adult-driven dramas that currently dominate YA. Some have taken to discussing books via backchannels or on teen-exclusive hashtags — or defecting to other platforms, like YouTube or Instagram, which aren’t so given over to mob dynamics. But others are pushing back: Sierra Elmore, a college student and book blogger, expressed her frustration in a tweet thread in January, writing, “[Being] in this community feels like being in high school again. So much. No difference of opinion allowed, people reigning, etc… I and other people I know (mostly teens) are terrified about speaking up in this community. You don’t get a chance to be wrong here.”
People really should be paying attention to this before it gets really problematic because teens feel alienated and start seeking allies in the wrong places.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 3:59 PM on August 7 [29 favorites]


People (rightly!) want a more diverse and equitable YA industry. They express that desire in some pretty shitty ways, but what they actually want is something we all should want.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:00 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Making the very act of being an author a toxic endeavor where you can be told to kill yourself by random strangers on the internet before your manuscript is even finished is unlikely to generate diversity and equality, I fear. What marginalized people have time for that?
posted by Jimbob at 4:02 PM on August 7 [22 favorites]


Oh wow, I have just been recently exposed to this - having gotten back into reading YA fiction and then going online to read reviews on goodreads and being really shocked at some of the one-star reviews for reasons like these. I almost felt like we couldn't have read the same books. I've always considered myself as progressive as they come, generally, particularly when it comes to seeing diversity in art but I really felt out of step with the outrage and call-outs that were happening.
posted by liquorice at 4:03 PM on August 7 [9 favorites]


Kevin Drum
posted by Max Power at 4:03 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Well, at least we get to see the inevitable end result of "call out culture": a frothing storm of rage where people are paralyzed by fear from expressing themselves or creating anything.
She also scrapped a work in progress that featured a POC character, citing a sense shared by many publishing insiders that to write outside one’s own identity as a white author simply isn’t worth the inevitable backlash. “I was told, do not write that,” she said. “I was told, ‘Spare yourself.’
And the inevitable end result of "cultural appropriation": a world where everyone is forced by fear to stick to their own "kind", lest their careers and/or lives be destroyed.
posted by Sangermaine at 4:11 PM on August 7 [31 favorites]


Also, I had assumed that these reviews and tweets were being done by teenagers, and just took it as an example of me being old and not having moved with the times. It's more disconcerting that this is all being driven by adults? Who should know better? The lack of nuance and context with so much of this conversation about whether a book is morally good or bad (??) is really sad.
posted by liquorice at 4:15 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


Oh hey, I read the actual review that everyone is so agitated about, and it turns out that the author has some pretty good points!

Her whole deal about The Black Witch seems to be that it sort of fetishizes the racism of the main character's society and basically spends, like, 400 pages describing the character's racism in detail, replicating lots of fantasy world slurs, etc, and that it depicts the main character as really a horrible person but sets her up as a good person - like, it shows her being just godawful, untrustworthy, mean, etc, and yet everyone readily believes that she is wonderful and well-meaning and forgives her for doing really awful things. And that this really dovetails with how privileged characters who get "woke" are described - we are often shown them doing really horrible things, but their redemption arc is the focus, and it's quick and fairly easy.

I'm not sure whether this makes it a genuinely dangerous book, but it seems like one of those anti-racist books that is super white-centric and really doesn't pay much attention to the feelings of marginalized people except as plot points, and it seems like it was extraordinarily frustrating and uncomfortable to read.

Also, the writing seemed like very, very average fanfic - not that there's anything wrong with very average fanfic, but I can read average fanfic for free on the internet.

It sounds a bit like when Orson Scott Card is writing books "against" child abuse, but obviously gets a real charge out of describing, again and again, the lurid victimization of his characters. A book can have one political purpose but actually work in a quite different way.

Once again, the official narrative is "those oversensitive SJWs have gone TOO FAR in criticizing something by a nice white person!" and then you look at the actual criticism and it might be a little strong but isn't irrational or baseless.
posted by Frowner at 4:16 PM on August 7 [52 favorites]


it might be a little strong
The Black Witch is the most dangerous, offensive, book I've ever read.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:22 PM on August 7 [20 favorites]


Once again, the official narrative is "those oversensitive SJWs have gone TOO FAR in criticizing something by a nice white person!" and then you look at the actual criticism and it might be a little strong but isn't irrational or baseless.

Based on the review, do you think the book should be withdrawn from sale?
posted by Sebmojo at 4:22 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


[A few comments deleted - Joseph Gurl, stop threadsitting in threads you've posted.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:24 PM on August 7 [9 favorites]


Pulling quotes of people saying racist things from the book, when the people who say those things in the book are intended to be racist characters, and not the voice of the author - it's an utterly dishonest practice designed purely to generate righteous anger and, one presumes, retweets.

Sometimes even when people do read the whole thing, they still don't get it.

I submitted a poem to my Jr. High poetry contest; I was a regular contributor to the school literary magazine, and was in that weird pseudo-buddy stage you get with teachers when they see a smart kid and dig it, so he was psyched when I turned in my entry. Said entry was written from the perspective of one of the many Hispanic students we had in my school at the time, who was suffering from bullying and prejudice.

The teacher called me to his office a couple days later, for a one-on-one meeting to discuss my entry. "It's great that you entered this," he said. "It's a really good poem, and we're excited to have it. But there's just one line here...." He pointed at the line where I had my kid quoting the names he was called. Specifically, he pointed at the word "spic". "We're going to change this word here to 'Hispanic'," he told me, "because that's not a nice word and we don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. Okay?"

I just nodded, intimidated becuase This Was A Teacher And He Was Authority, but I was thinking "you idiot, that is the whole point." But I nodded and let it happen, suffering in silence. And then suffering again when it got published and it felt like it was totally toothless and lame with the change.

People don't always look for the language in context. Many readers just react to bad words in and of themselves.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:26 PM on August 7 [16 favorites]


...she wrote in a nearly 9,000-word review

That's, like, almost 20 pages long.

Sorry, I just can't get past that part.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:26 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


I hope that people who criticize that Confederate HBO project aren't going to be all "but these people want a book to be canceled, the horror". I mean, I don't keep track of who thinks what on metafilter, but it seems like "the world does not need another crappy product about racism that actually centers the delicate sensibilities of white people while depicting lots of horror and violence against marginalized people" isn't really that bad a position to take. I mean, obviously the book isn't withdrawn - but would it be a titanic tragedy if it were?

If there is no political reason good enough to cancel a book contract, surely we all agree that Milo Yiannopoulous shouldn't have lost his contract, right? If we think that it's okay to withdraw a book if it's sufficiently racist, then the argument becomes "is this book sufficiently racist to be withdrawn". Some people are going to think it is, some people are going to think it isn't - but "let's not publish racist books" isn't, IMO, a particularly awful position.

There's no such think as "withdrawing" a book from sale in the age of internet self-publishing, either.

I kind of think "getting mad about another kinda racist YA book means that you are a bad SJW censor" is a tired position, I guess.
posted by Frowner at 4:28 PM on August 7 [16 favorites]


Frowner, you're being a little disingenuous. The issue isn't that particular review, it's the community engaging in these Twitter crusades of which that review is just one small aspect.

Once again, the official narrative is "those oversensitive SJWs have gone TOO FAR in criticizing something by a nice white person!"

No, the documented phenomenon is that authors are being harassed, told to kill themselves, having brigades demanding that their works not be published without reading them or even before manuscripts are sent in, or being told it's wrong to even read the accused works to judge them for yourself.

I kind of think "getting mad about another kinda racist YA book means that you are a bad SJW censor" is a tired position, I guess.

Telling people to kill themselves over books you haven't read does seem a bit much, don't you think?
posted by Sangermaine at 4:32 PM on August 7 [45 favorites]


Also, what's the corollary? What if the publisher had better judgment and was like "this fetishizes racism, let's not!" and never offered a contract? Would that be a tragic case of censorship? If we're going to say that it's just awful to argue for pulling a book on grounds of racism, don't we need to say that publishers should actively refuse to consider racism when choosing books to publish?
posted by Frowner at 4:32 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure whether this makes it a genuinely dangerous book, but it seems like one of those anti-racist books that is super white-centric and really doesn't pay much attention to the feelings of marginalized people except as plot points, and it seems like it was extraordinarily frustrating and uncomfortable to read.

Sounds typical. And boring. And not unusual in the slightest.

Some people are going to think it is, some people are going to think it isn't - but "let's not publish racist books" isn't, IMO, a particularly awful position.

This book intends to be an anti-racist book. You yourself described it as "one of those anti-racist books". How is this the same as a racist book? It sounds imperfect. It sounds more like a light-weight introduction than something truly radical. If we're demanding every book that isn't radical and revolutionary be published, bookstores are going to be pretty empty. I'm not sure where you make the leap from it being anti-racist to racist.
posted by Jimbob at 4:33 PM on August 7 [10 favorites]



"I’m a writer, and I haven’t been able to write fiction for a year or two now because this got so much into my head that I felt like I couldn’t write anything that people would think was “pure” or “good” and that nothing I could do would be good enough for them."
posted by Paddle to Sea at 4:33 PM on August 7 [9 favorites]


I mean, obviously the book isn't withdrawn - but would it be a titanic tragedy if it were?

Who needs this degenerate art, anyway?
posted by Sangermaine at 4:34 PM on August 7 [19 favorites]


It does silence the conversation, though. It shouldn't matter that I'm a WOC, but I guess in discussions like this it always does. But I've certainly not felt comfortable wading into any of the debates that have raged on about many YA authors and books (not just this, basically anything by Cassandra Clare (racist), Sarah J Maas (heteronormative and then tokenistic), Nicola Yoon (abelist), Jennifer Niven (abelist)). I want to be able to participate but it all seems too adversarial, like you have to pick a side.

That's not say there aren't valid points to be made about how these texts may have problematic aspects. My unease is about how that means that everything ever written by that author is completely written off, and their supporters are considered racist and awful at best. Welcome to the internet, I guess.
posted by liquorice at 4:36 PM on August 7 [22 favorites]


Like I'm pretty sure under the criteria that insists this book is dangerous and racist, To Kill A Mockingbird would be considered absolutely beyond the pale. White heroes, racist terms etc. etc. Should that book have not been published too?
posted by Jimbob at 4:36 PM on August 7 [15 favorites]


[One deleted; go ahead and make your point about language without actually using/comparing racial slurs.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:40 PM on August 7


Before anyone starts defending this behavior, I'd like to remind everyone of Requires Hate / Winterfox / Benjamin Sriduangkaew, the woman singlehandedly undermine a number of internet communities (including some focused on writers of color) and, later, turned out to have blackmailed dozens of people to help her bully writers who had violated her arbitrarily drawn boundaries of propriety.

In short, this behavior is a known M.O. of at least one person who exploited similar concerns to bully and suppress writers she didn't like, all of which she justified using the language of 'social justice' and 'call out culture'.

Is BS responsible for any of this? Quite probably not. But she's almost certainly in need of a new hobby, now that the Livejournal groups and blogs she might have destroyed are gone. And even if she isn't, there are plenty of trolls who almost certainly exploit the same strategies. Bullying people is fun, and this is one way to do so.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 4:50 PM on August 7 [39 favorites]


I'm going to be super charitable and say that the review itself isn't the problem, it's everything else that followed it. When you lead an online harassment campaign against someone to the point where they fear for their safety and livelihood, you've crossed the line. By now people know that the Internet defaults to shitcock stupidity and they should measure their activism accordingly, especially if they are just dealing with decent people. Save the extreme tactics for the real extremists.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 5:03 PM on August 7 [14 favorites]


go ahead and make your point about language without actually using/comparing racial slurs.

....Given the specific topic of discussion I find this deeply ironic, but I will comply henceforward.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:07 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


The problem is not that slurs are used. The problem is, as Frowner said, that the protagonist spends 2/3 of the book spouting her society's racism and the last third starting to question *parts* of it, all while being loved and forgiven for her endless racism, deceit, unkindness, etc. This is the "anti-racist" book a publisher selected, rather than a book by a PoC with a protagonist of color.

I was unaware of any Internet (or real-world) harassment campaign toward the author of "The Black Witch," and I consider such harassment deplorable. I also consider it a completely different topic from the negative review of TBW.
posted by epj at 5:23 PM on August 7 [7 favorites]


One author and former diversity advocate described why she no longer takes part: “I have never seen social interaction this fucked up,” she wrote in an email. “And I’ve been in prison.”

Yep, welcome to Twitter.

For real though, I have not read Black Witch but some of these criticisms seem awfully facile, don't they? Like, apply this level of breathless criticism to other well known YA titles. "This book started off well enough with the protagonist and her family in District 12 but then next thing I knew, the author was advocating for children literally slaughtering each other! Can you imagine!"
posted by Two unicycles and some duct tape at 5:29 PM on August 7 [9 favorites]


By now people know that the Internet defaults to shitcock stupidity and they should measure their activism accordingly, especially if they are just dealing with decent people.

There is no room for "decent". There's no room for benefit of the doubt, or encouragement, or picking your battles in this sort of activism. You've just got to call people out and declare victory once you've received confirmation of the target's pain and suffering, and the world is therefore a better place.
posted by Jimbob at 5:32 PM on August 7 [16 favorites]


I'm curious why people post threads like this if any discussion apart from a general head-nodding agreement is going to mark you out as an evil oppressor with bad opinions.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 5:39 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


Having read the review that shows excerpts from the book, those are definitely not just out-of-context pull quotes. And some of them are still problematic even when taken out of context. You probably shouldn't singularly depict self-harm as "mad and confusing" behavior in a book aimed at teenagers, for example.

It's not that this book is full of prejudiced incidences, more that it does nothing to address them or even frame them for a reader with a learning, growing mind. The example exchange with a homosexual character (350 pages into the book) concludes basically with "That's not natural. You have to change." And... that's it?

This book seemingly drops a bunch of turds related to real-life prejudice and walks away from the scene without bothering to label them or give credence to the reality this fantasy is drawn from. There is a classroom interaction where the professor essentially says "I don't have to make eye contact with you because my religion excuses me from acknowledging people from your race." This scene ends with the aggrieved person storming out of the room, and... that's it? Is the reader supposed to pick up that it's okay to avoid making eye contact with people or not? It doesn't seem like the prejudiced characters are indicated as not being justified in their beliefs, and the victims of prejudice are literally called "evil ones" in the story. Are readers supposed to wait for the next book to finally get an example of why that's a shitty (or at least contested) viewpoint, especially if they have absolutely no reinforcing or empathizing factors in their own social lives?

Long story short, this ain't Huckleberry Finn and "N-Word" Jim, where a clever white kid teams up an intelligent black guy as they both escape ignorant and angry white men, implying a "we're not so different, you and I" subtext for the reader to grasp. This also isn't To Kill a Mockingbird, which... for goodness sake this isn't anywhere near To Kill a Mockingbird.

As for what was presumably supposed to be the main argument of this post about how criticism has become indistinguishable from harassment which has become a gateway for the chilling effect... does anybody remember this thing called Gamergate? They didn't invent the strategy, but you can see how an organized body of hatred and ignorance can be used as a weapon to amplify criticism and turn it into harassment. My initial read on this situation was that these were some redditors/channers using "secret" IRC channels to plan which celebrities or role models they would attack next. The desire of the people who actually read and consume YA novels to find some forum of discussion that isn't co-opted by bullshit makes a lot of sense in that regard.
posted by Johann Georg Faust at 5:41 PM on August 7 [10 favorites]


Roxane Gay is now being dragged for linking to the article on her twitter and she is not. here. for. that. shit.
posted by liquorice at 5:49 PM on August 7 [9 favorites]


Is the reader supposed to pick up that it's okay to avoid making eye contact with people or not?

How stupid do you think the reader is? How much do you think they need their hand held? Does every bad interaction need "Oh by the way, dear reader, the rest of this chapter will be devoted to explaining why that was a bad thing that just happened, I will include footnotes and citations"? Still sounds like a fairly average book rather than anything actively damaging.
posted by Jimbob at 6:08 PM on August 7 [14 favorites]


I'm curious why people post threads like this if any discussion apart from a general head-nodding agreement is going to mark you out as an evil oppressor with bad opinions.

I posted the thread and I don't believe that is how things work. I posted it because it's an interesting insight into something I wasn't aware of and I know many Mefites are interested in YA fiction and social justice issues (I'm interested in the latter myself).
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:11 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


... She also scrapped a work in progress that featured a POC character, citing a sense shared by many publishing insiders that to write outside one’s own identity as a white author simply isn’t worth the inevitable backlash. “I was told, do not write that,” she said. “I was told, ‘Spare yourself.’

Being a white Southerner, I've worried about this a lot, and come to the conclusion that it would be passive-aggressive to allow myself to give into this worry. When I have a story idea about a POC, I interrogate myself hard: is this a story that needs to be told now? is this a story that needs to be told by me? I've come to the realization that often, the answer is no, and sometimes, the answer is yes. I have to come to it with the understanding that whiteness is something I carry with me, and I can never erase it, but there are many such stories I can tell without ruining everyone's reading experience because of it.

I've got a big dose of white fragility. To paraphrase Mallory Ortberg, it is one of my great goals in life to not be yelled at. But it would be more insulting still for me to flinch as if I am terrified of the unpredictable fiery temper of people who are more marginalized than I am. What I have to accept is this: I am going to fuck up. What I do is write, so I am going to fuck up as a writer. No one who's born white can avoid fucking up. No one who is born in a more privileged axis on the kyriarchy can avoid fucking up in regards to those less privileged. What we have to do is work to minimize the fucking of up, take the criticism, accept it, and go forward.

From what I can tell, the racial takes in The Black Witch look pretty wearisome, along the lines of that one Star Trek episode with the face-painted aliens. That's nothing new that anyone needed to see. But whether or not the character development is up to snuff, I can't say.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:17 PM on August 7 [12 favorites]


I guess that I think there are kind of two separate issues. People on the internet tend to express outrage in bad and sometimes dangerous ways, and that is very true and something we need to address. But I also think that representation really matters, and kids' books really matter, and it's pretty vital that we discuss issues of representation in kids' books. I think those conversations should be respectful and should have room for differences of opinion, but they have to happen, and I would like for them to happen in ways that center the perspectives of people who haven't historically been represented (or represented well.)

And for the record, I have some issues with *To Kill a Mockingbird*, and I had some issues when I read it in a racially-diverse junior-high-school class, and if it were up to me, it probably wouldn't be in the 7th grade curriculum. Which is not the same as banning it.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:33 PM on August 7 [8 favorites]


I found it to be a really frustrating article. And a really frustrating discussion because... if you've read the article but you don't know much otherwise about the YA Twitter scene, you can't really assume that it's an objective or balanced perspective. It's like the frequent dustups about outrageous college protests against cultural appropriation in cafeteria food - this is stuff that does happen, but it feels like it often gets reported without much sense of proportionality (or context) in order to prop up particular culture-war narratives.

It's really important that YA Twitter is having these conversations, which is not something I see very much when it comes to adult literary fiction except for every so often when Jonathan Franzen says something mockable in an interview. But the fact that we're seeing these giant explosions of drama on YA Twitter doesn't mean there's an epidemic of giant explosions of drama; it's that giant garbage fires tend to go viral, while the nuanced conversations tend to get less notice. (Does this create perverse incentives for performative outrage? ...I think that the vast majority of people are acting in good faith, but there's always a minority of assholes who know people are going to pay attention to them because they're being assholes.)

There is, I think, a genuine problem with people who think that there's only one very narrow "right" way to do social justice issues in books, and everything else is trash - but also a genuine problem with people who think that it's unreasonable to want better representation in books, and to want white writers in particular to be more thoughtful about how they write racial issues and characters of color. And for every angry and over-the-top review, there's an author who responds to fairly mild criticism with anger and defensiveness, or even (on at least one occasion) stalking; that's why the article feels one-sided to me.
posted by Jeanne at 6:41 PM on August 7 [15 favorites]


Yeah, To Kill a Mockingbird is not above reproach. It's part of the classist narrative of too many well-meaning white Southerners, who blame violent racism (and now Trumpism) on the poor. I don't know that Lee constructed it with that intention, and it is a beautiful book, but it doesn't need to be taught uncritically, or too young.
posted by Countess Elena at 6:45 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


One thing about YA that isn't necessarily obvious if you don't read it much is that there are very few stand-alone stories. Everything seems to be a series, and according to Laurie Forest's website there are three more novels planned for "The Black Witch Chronicles". I read a lot of YA and find the predominance of series novels kind of annoying because while you occasionally find one that can stand alone as a complete story mostly Book 1 is a lot of setup until about 2/3 of the way through when the plot starts to move along but leaves you hanging until Book 2. So the "it's late in the (first) novel and the protagonist hasn't learned their lesson yet" isn't really surprising or unusual.

That said, the heavy-handed allegory of race relations in the book, while not unusual in Fantasy novels (especially YA Fantasy), seems poorly done. One place to look for books with better representation is We Need Diverse Books, which actually began as a Twitter campaign in 2014 (a million years ago in Internet time, I know).
posted by camyram at 6:58 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


There are a lot places these days where two groups are clashing, those that view problematic subjects as outright taboo and those that view them as societal problems to be addressed. The taboo side doesn't care that it was the antagonist who said it, or that the work is explicit about this being an evil view. It's *taboo*, and if you write it you have already transgressed.

Any of the communities that combine young people, fandom, twitter, morality policing and the aforementioned clash are going to be a hot pile of garbage.
posted by Infracanophile at 7:07 PM on August 7 [5 favorites]


The taboo side doesn't care that it was the antagonist who said it, or that the work is explicit about this being an evil view. It's *taboo*, and if you write it you have already transgressed.

I'm interested in whether there's any relevant defense for this POV, because I just view it as wrong, heavyhandedly imposing a black and white perspective on a multi-hued situation.
posted by philip-random at 7:23 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


or defecting to other platforms, like YouTube or Instagram, which aren’t so given over to mob dynamics.

Setting aside the specific issues raised in this thread about the YA community, group dynamics, lit crit, etc., that is a striking aside right there.
posted by duffell at 7:25 PM on August 7 [7 favorites]


Yeah, To Kill a Mockingbird is not above reproach. It's part of the classist narrative of too many well-meaning white Southerners, who blame violent racism (and now Trumpism) on the poor. I don't know that Lee constructed it with that intention, and it is a beautiful book, but it doesn't need to be taught uncritically, or too young.

Absolutely. But I'm glad it was published and is taught, and I can imagine the absolute shitfight about it if it were released in 2017.

I wonder if Tolkien and Card and others could have gotten away with some of their ideas nowadays. (I often think about Tolkien's use of working class accents to denote Trolls/Orcs.)

Absolutely "problematic". But you know? I'm glad he wrote the books. Because then we can have discussions about the problem, and what it means, and accept that it's a problem, while still appreciating the literature has value and can be fun to read despite the problems.
posted by Jimbob at 7:43 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


Can't speak for Mr. Card who has his well known issues, but I can't help but feel that, all things being equal, a contemporary Tolkien or Lee would be savvy enough culturally speaking to NOT take the obvious problematic missteps being noted here -- just as, in their time, they weren't exactly exciting reactionary audiences.
posted by philip-random at 7:49 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Jimbob wrote:
Absolutely "problematic". But you know? I'm glad he wrote the books. Because then we can have discussions about the problem, and what it means, and accept that it's a problem, while still appreciating the literature has value and can be fun to read despite the problems.

::DING DING DING::
::Balloons fall from the ceiling::
::Fireworks go off::
::Mic Drop::

Yes. Thanks. It's anyone's right not to agree with that above point, but it'd be very hard to have a meaningful discussion with anyone who can't concede that.
posted by Telf at 7:50 PM on August 7 [6 favorites]


I'm interested in whether there's any relevant defense for this POV, because I just view it as wrong, heavyhandedly imposing a black and white perspective on a multi-hued situation.


I'm not going to defend it completely, but I think there's more room for nuance there.

Say an author writes a villain raping a female character. Is it an evil action, in the context of the book? Certainly. But is it lazy to use rape as a shortcut for telling us "This guy's evil"? Is it done for titillation? Might it gratuitously hurt a rape survivor who's reading the book? There's no clear "yes" or "no" without actually thoughtfully reading the book, and two people might thoughtfully read the same book and come up with different answers. (And "I don't have to read it to know that I don't want to read it" is also a valid answer; there was a time a couple years ago when I had COMPLETELY reached my limit on YA books about suicide, which doesn't imply anything about the literary value or moral value of these books.)

Say a character coded as "good" acts in a way that's subtly racist, and I perceive that there's a clear subtext that this is wrong. Does that subtext read differently to other readers? And how does that read to a reader who's targeted by that racism?

It's more tendentious in YA than in adult literature, I think, to say "Only a very shallow or careless reader would get message X out of the book, clearly the book is endorsing message Y!" because - we're writing for teenagers, and you can't put all the responsibility of a deep and nuanced reading on their shoulders. And I like YA that is complicated and subtle, but if your target audience is not getting out of your book what you put into it, then you might have a problem.

John Gardner writes,
To Plato it seemed that if a poet showed a good man performing a bad act, the poet's effect was corruption of the audience's morals. Aristotle agreed with Plato's notion that some things are moral and others not; agreed, too, that art should be moral; and went on to correct Plato's error. It's the total effect of an action that's moral or immoral, Aristotle pointed out. In other words, it's the energeia - the actualization of the potential which exists in character and situation - that gives us the poet's fix on good and evil; that is, dramatically demonstrates the moral laws, and the possibility of tragic waste, in the universe.
I think that's right; but unless you're preachy, that energeia is going to be ambiguous, to some extent, to some readers. It's going to be something you can argue over. That's what makes literature interesting. And the answer isn't to scold people for misreading the book, but to figure out how to have those conversations in ways that turn up the light and turn down the heat.

It's okay to think a book is racist. It's okay to think a book is racist even if somebody else can put forth a bunch of really convincing arguments about why it isn't. The problem is when it crosses the line into bullying and harassment.
posted by Jeanne at 8:04 PM on August 7 [20 favorites]


we're writing for teenagers, and you can't put all the responsibility of a deep and nuanced reading on their shoulders.

As a career teacher of teenagers, I disagree with this small part of your larger point. Teenagers are often better with moral ambiguity than are adults, in my experience.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:10 PM on August 7 [11 favorites]


Yeah, that's fair. And with YA, especially, it can be hard to disentangle teenagers who are outraged on their own behalf from adults who want to protect teenagers from books that might have wrong ideas in them.
posted by Jeanne at 8:17 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Jeanne >

It's really important that YA Twitter is having these conversations, which is not something I see very much when it comes to adult literary fiction except for every so often when Jonathan Franzen says something mockable in an interview.

But the whole point here seems to be that there aren't a lot of good conversations happening here, and instead, there abounds a counter-productive and disturbingly vicious form of cyberbullying. Where are the conversations happening? I really don't know.
posted by clockzero at 8:21 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


Everybody has the right not to read a book that they don't like for whatever reason and everybody has the right to criticize a book (or an other work). What I don't get is people feeling entitled to an author writing what they (the supposed reader) wants or else - effectively either forcing a collaboration or causing the author to quit writing. Or trying to keep other people from reading what they want to through shame tactics. Whatever happened to just voting with your feet? I guess that's not as fun as getting to abuse someone under the guise of virtuousness.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 8:36 PM on August 7 [7 favorites]


Brain Sturgeon, I don't think it's as much about people feeling entitled to have Author X write what they want as people saying, "Author X wrote this book full of racism and homophobia. I think Author X's publisher should seek out more queer writers and writers of color and replace Author X with one or more of them; they speak to and for me in ways she never will." This is what I hear from the authors, librarians, and readers I follow on Twitter, and what I heard when the negative "The Black Witch" review made its first go-round.
posted by epj at 8:44 PM on August 7 [2 favorites]


People don't always look for the language in context. Many readers just react to bad words in and of themselves.

the context is, in your particular case, that it's not actually okay for white people to use racial slurs as though they themselves are marginalized members of that race. i'm glad your teacher was aware of this and was able to prevent people from being offended by your poor choices.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:50 PM on August 7 [14 favorites]


Le Guin had a hell of a take on the sequel/prequel/shadowquel to To Kill A Mockingbird.
posted by clew at 8:59 PM on August 7 [16 favorites]


Whatever happened to just voting with your feet?
You can only vote with your feet if there are better places to go, and part of the problem is that there aren't a ton of YA books written by people from traditionally underrepresented groups. There also aren't a lot of people from traditionally underrepresented groups who have the ability to acquire manuscripts, because publishing is really, really white. There are efforts to improve this. We Need Diverse Books, which started out as a Twitter hashtag, has evolved into a non-profit, and they do things like fund internships at YA publishers for members of underrepresented groups. (Unpaid internships are the traditional path into the publishing industry. This has all sorts of not-great implications for what eventually gets published.) They also document the (depressing) state of representation in YA, and they have an annual award for the best book by a diverse author, as well as resources for people who are looking for books by diverse authors. So I mean, there are efforts to address this in a positive way. But I suspect it's still a little galling when publishers spend their limited resources on books that don't seem worthy.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:04 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


Le Guin had a hell of a take on the sequel/prequel/shadowquel to To Kill A Mockingbird.

That's awesome--can't believe I hadn't seen it before--and ULG is a fucking treasure. Just the best.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:15 PM on August 7


But the whole point here seems to be that there aren't a lot of good conversations happening here

Most of my Twitter feed is YA writers and bloggers and librarians, and that's really not been my experience.

There is cyberbullying, and there is relatively mild and well-reasoned criticism that gets perceived as cyberbullying because it hurts to get criticized and people get defensive, and - the fear that your book is going to get singled out and held up as a really bad thing is real. I have that too. But the good conversations are not the ones that are getting write-ups in Vulture for people to gawk at.

I really liked @DailyJulianne's discussion of the discourse around the recent YA "When Dimple Met Rishi", and how we read aggression/violence when it comes to girls of color.

I really like @thegayya 's monthly book chats spotlighting a YA book with LGBT characters.

I really liked YA librarian @misskubelik 's experience with a teen patron at her summer reading program.

And just as I was writing this I came across this thoughtful thread from a writer of Romani heritage who disagreed with the Kirkus review of her book.

Twitter's made me a better writer, and a better librarian, and it made me put Virginia Hamilton in the formerly all-white syllabus of a children's literature class I've been helping out with, so - I do think there's a huge good side that's not as visible as what you can write up as "Toxic Drama."
posted by Jeanne at 9:18 PM on August 7 [13 favorites]


That Hillary Monahan thread above about being a writer of mixed-Romani heritage highlights what a lot of people have complained about with Kirkus, Publisher Weekly etc reviews for years, in terms of whiteness.

Ana Mardoll has a thread about the ways in which TFA seems a lot like a hit piece. Mardoll and the other named authors linked in the Vulture piece are not knee-jerking tabooists, but have put a huge amount of work into signal-boosting #ownvoices YA and other genres, and have also clashed with the writer of the Vulture piece before.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:47 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


I do think there's a line that gets crossed by even the most well-meaning social justice advocate when it turns to bullying and threats. I mean, the two black writers (Nichelle Tramble Spellman & Malcolm Spellman) partnering as executive producers with D&D on the Confederate show are getting death threats. That's crazy to me. And, to be completely honest, if HBO had focused less on "What's next for the tits, rape, and dragons duo!" and more on "here's a speculative fiction show we're doing with these four people" I might have had a less negative visceral reaction to the concept.

Ultimately, kids should be free to discuss books with each other and with adults in order to contextualize their own feelings about narratives, troubling or not. I know more than one parent who had serious discussions with their kids over Harry's torture with the Black Quill at the hands of one of his teachers or a scene that might be construed as attempted marital rape in Julie of the Wolves. I hope that the situation with YA isn't as dire as this Vulture article makes it out to be, and that kids have plenty of room to form their own opinions about what they read without getting harassed and attacked by adult YA readers.
posted by xyzzy at 10:06 PM on August 7 [7 favorites]


I don't like this kind of thing. I'm sure the book is problematic, I'm also sure the author harbors some racism. In my opinion most books and most authors do. I think it's possible (common?) to be anti-racist and still harbor racist thoughts. I don't think campaigns of harassment and intimidation against individuals is any kind of way to challenge institutional discrimination.

Platforms like twitter give the common person reach and access and it seems like the common person is mostly interested in using them to say 'Fuck you, I hope you die.' to people which isn't demanding any kind of change. It just drives discrimination underground and limits the possibility for any kind of actual dialog.

I don't know that there's a good way to say that people should express their dissatisfaction differently without being perceived as minimizing the people's dissatisfaction.

Yeah, people are angry. Hell, I'm angry like 75% of the time. But in aggregate this kind of thing doesn't come across as any kind of righteous collective anger that demands changes, it just boils down to something disorganized, thoughtless, and mean.

I can only hope that the targets of these kinds of criticisms look to the thought leaders and engage their points on their merits or lack thereof and can tune out the howling mob.

As for the firing/unpublishing whatever argument. I don't know, that stuff seems kind of horrible. Some people should be fired but it also seems like employers are sometimes quick to throw certain (expendable) people under the bus, right or wrong once the outrage-wagon gets rolling.

Because if I don't say it some people may ignore the content of my thoughts and try to come for me where I don't even live.
posted by yonega at 11:22 PM on August 7 [9 favorites]


Isn't this just 21st century book burning? And book burning being done by pubescent and just-barely-post-pubescent kids. Why are full grown, presumably professional adults being intimidated by a bunch of hormonal kids who don't understand about context, about bigger pictures, about anything, really . . . including about the dangers of censorship?

I mean, the book may very well be a steaming pile of vile racism (although it does seem that context matters here), but freedom of speech and all that. I find "The Fountainhead" to be positively evil, but I don't think it should be banned.

This whole thing just seems to be raising a whole new generation of Trump supporters - people who are carefully fed one or two lines out of context, who are then egged on into becoming screaming, frothing hordes of righteous indignation and hate, without ever bothering to get the full story.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:39 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


It seems that there will never not be money and mileage in finding an episode of drama that shows the very worst in a progressive and young community, especially on Twitter or Tumblr, taking it for the whole of that community whilst ignoring any of the everyday good that happens there, and writing up a big juicy hit piece to be consumed by people who are entirely unfamiliar with said communities. Bonus points if you can make a case that those asking for representation and respect are actually censoring oppressive monsters. Perhaps "bonus" is off, in fact, as this seems to be a key requirement of the form.
posted by ominous_paws at 11:40 PM on August 7 [3 favorites]


The personality type that leads to old school christian fundamentalist conservatism happens in people regardless of their values. There is good evidence now that it's largely a very strong moral disgust reaction.

In the western world they are more likely to have been raised with progressive values than the ones that lead to the classic christian conservative.

Combine that with people who are authoritarian, which is a large percentage of people, and you get a lot of nonsense from people with the same surface progressive values as you. If you want to know why it's a bad idea to consider these people to be on "your side" just because they hate the same conservative and reactionary people as you ... talk to the leftists and to feminists who have been around for a while.

Trump supporters are the wrong comparison, american fundamentalist christians are a more explanatory model to use.
posted by Infracanophile at 12:01 AM on August 8 [7 favorites]


I read a lot of criticism, encompassing pretty much every major art form, and find it an incredibly important discipline when it follows certain standards of rigor, which is to say engages with the text in a substantial way rather than simply asserting a summary judgment about the reaction it evoked.

Criticism of that sort is so valuable because it provides maps of engagement from those who care about the form. It can, even absent direct knowledge of the work being criticized itself, inform a reader of ways to think about texts and methods of engagement that might better inform their perspective of any works they wish to engage with. Criticism isn't, however, a substitute for the texts themselves. It should not be used as "proof" of anything without the reader looking at the thing being criticized with equal scrutiny to see whether or not the criticism of that work is an adequate condensation of the work and whether it actually illuminates the work being criticized in a meaningful way.

Relying on secondhand information or, even worse, supposition about works not yet created to judge the merits or morals of those works is deeply disturbing. In the first instance it denies the possibility of differences in perspective, something absolutely crucial to the arts which are based around that very thing, and in the second becomes something close to claims of thought crime, condemning the author merely for suspicion of unwelcome thought.

The arts aren't science. They don't provide mathematical certainties or eradicate contradictions and substitute one true answer for nuanced complexities. Contradiction and complexity of behavior are their core. The arts excel in dealing with things that can't be put easily into words or which have varying points of perspective. Criticism can help in providing a guide to seeing the complexities or in showing elements of the work may have escaped the authors view when held against a perspective different from their own. Criticism is particularly important in dealing with systemic issues, that go beyond what any one work or author may be doing to express a perspective on the effect of larger bodies of work on the culture.

Good criticism requires clarity of focus and some distance of perspective in order to understand what inner logic of the work suggests without interference of one's own views on the subject. As such, criticism isn't best engaged in from strong emotions like anger as that can distort the view of the work by heat of one's desired point of view. Criticism can express anger once the critic has gone through the work and balanced its essentialization of the world against their own, but it is a mistake to see expressions of strong emotion as being central to criticism as the opposite is often a necessary tool for balanced appraisal. Twitter and other venues favoring short, blunt, and emotionally laden exchanges are generally not good venues for meaningful criticism as their reason for being and success are built on values contrary to that of in depth engagement.

I'd ask that people take substantial criticism seriously as engagements with the work, as the long piece on The Black Witch provides, but not take them as defining the work unless they first read the work themselves and engage both it and the criticism of it with equal scrutiny. My fear is we're moving away from a model of engagement and discussion about the arts to one of summary judgment alone. This would be dangerous in many ways, for the arts, the artists, the audience, and our society as a whole since there are things the arts can provide that can't be found anywhere else, and substituting a prescriptive commercial entertainment model will not be a remotely adequate alternative.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:28 AM on August 8 [11 favorites]


I just end up feeling that the OP is a bit of a hit piece, which does not help. I think a clue to this is the way it's disingenuous about the review. The review does not confuse "sentiments uttered by a character" with "sentiments endorsed by an author" as the OP asserts; it is very clearly criticizing how the book's formal aim ("show that racism is bad and show a person struggling to grow out of racism") is undercut by how it is written to the point where it actually becomes kind of racist. But it is much easier to criticize a reviewer if you claim that they say obviously irrational stuff, and there's already a narrative out there that those SJWs are just irrational feelings-machines (like women, amirite?) so it's easy to get people to read your article and not bother to see if you've represented the review correctly.

And then, of course, someone concerned with the issue rather than hand-wringing would probably start from a different question - something less like "have SJWs gone TOO FAR" and more like "why do people leap from 'this is problematic' to death threats? What part of this is human terribleness and what part of it is the result of pent up frustration at YA So White"? There are all kinds of ways to approach this topic that aren't the same tired old hand-wringy "PC thug young people destroy the very values they claim to uphold".

I mean, I have been to this rodeo before. It's the same tired approach that people used during the culture wars in the nineties, and really the same approach that has been used since the red scare - the same "let's ignore the actual grievance and tell a decontextualized story that fits Americans' prejudices about the left and reassures them that Nothing Is Wrong Here Except Some Hysterical/Evil SJWs [sub communists or student activists as needed; this story can be rewritten about multiple topics]".

I am totally willing to go for "people bully each other on the internet in all social milieux, but shouldn't social justice circles be better than that? Can't our expectations be higher?" But I don't like "SJWs bully people on the internet - this problem is unique to SJWs and shows both that they are hypocrites and that all left project are irrational attempts to create unworkable utopias and thus DOOMED TO FAIL", which is the subtext of every one of these stories. It's straight up out of the anti-communist playbook, except it's repurposed to attack not an authoritarian regime which puts people in the gulag but a bunch of people who think that we should have, like, YA novels that are racially representative.

On another note: I actually feel a lot of sympathy for the author of The Black Witch. It seems likely that her heart is in the right place. "I want to show in great detail all the many ways that oppression happens so that people will understand how bad it is, so I'll write lots and lots of slurs and hatred and depictions of violence over and over and over" is a common IMO misunderstanding about how to write political narrative. So is "I want my character to be a bad person who is redeemed, but I also don't want to take the risk of dealing with her being genuinely unlikeable, so while she may do bad stuff, she'll be treated like any other viewpoint heroine". Both of these things are pretty standard plot failings in fanfic - I see them all the time, and at this point, they make me check out on a story unless something else really interesting is going on.

Both of these absolutely center the feelings of conservative privileged people, because they revolve around the idea that racism is caused by individual ignorance and lack of personal growth, and they assume that racist actions by nice people don't really do harm - that's why it's so easy to forgive the protagonists, because what they did isn't really harmful, because actually racism perpetrated by nice people isn't that bad.

But the point is, this is the type of thing that a good editor - especially an editor who focuses on race and representation (and/or a POC editor) - should be catching and helping with. It's also something that would probably get caught if the writer had a good writer's circle, since it's not a new problem.

Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward have a short book, Writing the Other, which gives some practical advice for how to write characters whose marginalizations you don't share. The advice in that book and through associated online resources seems to me very useful for, eg, a white writer constructing characters of color, but also for white writers who want to write about racism.

It frustrates me no end whenever white writers do this flouncy "I'm scared to write anyone but white people" thing. First, there are actual writerly strategies for writing characters of color that you can learn and deploy - it's something where you flail around and it works or fails for mysterious reasons. Research, get feedback, read examples, read writers of color, get more feedback, accept that you may not do a perfect job - that seems to be the consensus.

Second, "I'm scared to write characters of color" really seems to be "I don't want to do the work - I want to take the easy path of no research, no feedback, etc, and still be safe from criticism". Or maybe "I am afraid to hear criticism, so I'm afraid of what will happen if I try and still don't do a perfect job". But that's life! Look, the great, sainted Octavia Butler really couldn't write queer characters and most of her work is wildly heterocentric - we acknowledge this, especially when it makes books kind of weird on sexuality, like Dawn - but Octavia Butler is still a towering giant of feminist SF. It is possible to produce great work that is uninterruptedly in print for thirty years and still not be literally flawless.
posted by Frowner at 12:39 AM on August 8 [29 favorites]


I absolutely, 100% agree that YA, and literature generally, could use many less "White person learns Important Lesson About Racism And Becomes Enlightened" stories and many more POC-perspective stories of all kinds. It's just beyond question. And it's a fair point to raise in a review: "Geez, another one of these, do we really need it?" But I don't think it's appropriate to ask any single given author or book to carry the entire weight of the systematic racism that leads the publishing industry to put out too many White Person Learns Lesson books, especially when the book itself is not in itself particularly racist. Like, if you'd be okay with this book existing if only it existed in a world with the proper proportion of White Person Learns Lesson to POC-perspective stories, you probably don't need to treat it as if it's evil incarnate and actually dangerous.

And, yeah, I've seen these kinds of tempests sweep through other of my online communities, and of course they're not the straw Cultural Revolutions your average conservative would have you believe they are, but they do happen, and they are harmful, and stupid, and wasteful. Again, 16-year-olds gonna 16-year-old, but it would be nice if the grownups could do a little better.
posted by praemunire at 12:52 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


The only real metric that matters is book sales. Getting a book published is more difficult that climbing Mount Everest. Generating revenue is like making a successful return trip to the Moon.

I wonder if this Twitter controversy is helping or harming the sale of the book? The YA novel market is a crowded space, and it's difficult to stand out.
posted by My Dad at 1:20 AM on August 8


To restate, how is the controversy affecting book sales? It's hard for any YA author to get name recognition. Surely the controversy must be good for sales?
posted by My Dad at 3:03 AM on August 8


[A few deleted. Whew, this has really gone careening into people attacking each other. Please take a breath, express your own opinion, and don't make this about other members. The post seems to want to goad us all into outrage mode, but maybe we can manage to discuss the not totally black and white issues involved intelligently without becoming vicious with each other. There are some good examples already here in the thread, and I thank you. ]
posted by taz at 4:07 AM on August 8 [4 favorites]


Do people really want books where there is no character development because every character is already perfect and wonderful? Sounds horrific. What are children or young adults supposed to get from that, exactly?

Lashings of ginger beer!
posted by flabdablet at 4:12 AM on August 8


Blyton nod aside, the objections to the book were not that every character should have been perfect and wonderful, or that no racist / whatever-ist characters should be allowed. As much as we're worried about hairtrigger, catastrophising reactions from the terrifying hordes of twitter, we surely need to avoid making straw-man, equally catastrophising characterizations of the critiques of the work too, otherwise we're all in trouble.
posted by ominous_paws at 4:28 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


(also, as someone who has sat alongside creatives removing racist content from both text and covers of Blyton books for reissue into the modern market, I have seen some things let me tell you)
posted by ominous_paws at 4:29 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


The only real metric that matters is book sales.
I mean, I get that we live in a capitalist society, and on some level this is true, but I just completely refuse to concede it, partly because I was the kind of kid whose life was saved by the public library, and kids' books weren't just some product to me. I think culture matters, and I think representation matters, and I just can't think about books as another product, like widgets, in which the only measure of quality is sales. But even if you did use that metric, the core audience for YA in the US is increasingly diverse. It is much, much more diverse than the current pool of authors, reviewers, or publishing executives. I think you could make a pretty solid business case for paying more and better attention to representation in YA. I think that if characters, authors, reviewers, and publishing executives more accurately reflected the demographics of the potential audience, then the stuff that got published and highlighted would be more likely to appeal to potential readers. That seems to be pretty clearly true in movies and TV, and I can't see why it wouldn't be true in YA publishing.

I think that what's so frustrating about this article is that there is a real conversation going on, and it is important and mostly productive. And while I'm not excusing bad behavior, it's misleading and self-serving (because the person who wrote that article is very much involved in these debates and is not at all neutral) to reduce it to an issue of SJW twitter mobs issuing death threats.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:45 AM on August 8 [4 favorites]


worried about hairtrigger, catastrophising reactions from the terrifying hordes of twitter

Wait, are we no longer quaking in our boots about society being hollowed out from the inside by the pernicious influence of Tumblr? I must have missed a memo.
posted by flabdablet at 4:48 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Tumblr take Tuesdays off to work on their Overwatch slashfic.
posted by ominous_paws at 4:56 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


I think that what's so frustrating about this article is that there is a real conversation going on, and it is important and mostly productive.

That is an excellent point, and one that I think Metafilter could stand to think about more. It often seems like too many of the FPPs are built around events of greatest contention, sometimes more on the fringe of the main conversation where the conflict is greatest and arguments loudest due to that being a better way to grab attention for whoever created the linked material instead of being a more sober examination of the ongoing discussions trying to address problems in representation and like issues. That kind of framing leads to fights instead of conversations that might have been more productively pointing to progress towards possible solutions.

I get why that happens, more dramatic conflicts provide more immediate satisfaction of a sort, or at least more certainty in choosing sides, but that isn't necessarily a great trade off for thoughtful consideration of the issue.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:14 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Isn't this just 21st century book burning? And book burning being done by pubescent and just-barely-post-pubescent kids.

Again, for the most part, as the article notes, it's NOT TEENS who are engaging in this behavior on YA twitter. It IS, by and large, published or aspiring YA writers who are ADULTS, many of whom regularly ask for financial support for their call-out work via their kofi and patreon accounts.

posted by mylittlepoppet at 5:49 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Second, "I'm scared to write characters of color" really seems to be "I don't want to do the work - I want to take the easy path of no research, no feedback, etc, and still be safe from criticism". Or maybe "I am afraid to hear criticism, so I'm afraid of what will happen if I try and still don't do a perfect job".

I mostly agree with this, although I think it understates the realness of the fear.

In my (very) little corner of the fiction world, writers seem to be divided into two types: First, those who rush into portrayals of characters of color, queer characters, trans characters, disabled characters, without much thought into what difference looks and feels like from inside. They are so confident in their skills! And yet when reviewers call them out for homophobic themes or something, they insist the reviewer was wrong, didn't understand what the author was going for, was an idiot, whatever.

The rest of us are just terrified, I guess. And I do think some of that is worry over the scale of the work. Writing difference is a lot like science fiction in that regard. I recently finished reading Peter Watts' Blindsight, and my problems with the book aside, I read his end-notes with a sort of admiring horror over just how much research it would take to write a book like that. Much easier to go for a softer space opera. Much easier, when it comes to difference, to just write white people.

I definitely fall into the "scared to write characters of color" (or other differences) camp. But I don't think "I am afraid to hear criticism" really covers the risks. Because what's at risk isn't just getting a bad review; bad reviews happen all the time, and you learn what you can from them and move on. But getting a nasty review can be emotionally dangerous. Just as a matter of self-care, people in my community encourage each other never, ever to visit Goodreads, for example, because the site is so full of toxicity it can send you into depression and panic. Getting accidentally swept up into one of the periodic genre dramas can knock people out of their careers entirely, as they try to escape the toxicity. The fear is not just "I'm scared of getting things wrong and having a thoughtful, patient reviewer point that out at length," but "I'm scared I'll accidentally trigger doxxing and death threats."

(I feel like I need to add a disclaimer that the fear there is not an "Evil SJW and Their Chilling Effects" fear, really--in my community, we've seen this happen just as hard with homophobic readers who only want queer characters portrayed in certain stereotyped ways. The problem isn't social justice run amok, it's the way social media amplifies abusive speech.)

Having said all that, what is one to do? How can you write a book of any emotional richness if you're consciously excluding huge swaths of humanity out of fear of getting it wrong? The fear eventually has to be faced, unless you're comfortable writing a tiny little cul-de-sac for the rest of your career. But good lord it's scary to venture out.
posted by mittens at 5:58 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


And the inevitable end result of "cultural appropriation": a world where everyone is forced by fear to stick to their own "kind", lest their careers and/or lives be destroyed.

This is a grotesque misrepresentation of what cultural appropriation is.
posted by anem0ne at 6:01 AM on August 8 [7 favorites]


DaughterMogur's been caught up in some of this - she runs a successful online YA reading group (partly by stepping hard on any brigading that might start up) but the conflicts she encounters in other venues has to a lot of discussions about privilege, diversity, and censorship in our house.
posted by Mogur at 6:21 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I agree the article on Vulture read like a breathless hit piece, and the original review was opinionated but seemed supported by a (very!) detailed account of the plot. Harassment on twitter is bad. Badly written YA with problematic themes (the account of the gay character was particularly awful) is not great. I have no real depth of opinion past that, but have definitely read countless awful YA fantasy books with poor world-building and misery porn and am kind of sick of it. Good writers can add nuance that helps.

I'm white, so I do miss a lot of the microaggressions in literature. That said, I just read Kindred by Octavia Butler. Right after I read Undergound Airlines by Ben Winters (white guy). I actually liked both books, but Kindred was a much better account of slavery with far more nuance. Ben Winters is a great writer of mysteries (he wrote the awesome Last Policeman series) and I think he did an OK job with a tough topic, but in the hands of a lesser writer it could have been horrible.

I don't think bad writers are good with racism and sexism. It just tends to be wildly tone deaf, like everything bad writers write. They are bad at character development and world building too. The writer of the Black Witch seems like a bad writer. It's not a crime, but I certainly wouldn't read the book after reading the review.
posted by rainydayfilms at 6:22 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Having said all that, what is one to do? How can you write a book of any emotional richness if you're consciously excluding huge swaths of humanity out of fear of getting it wrong? The fear eventually has to be faced, unless you're comfortable writing a tiny little cul-de-sac for the rest of your career. But good lord it's scary to venture out.

It seems like better criticism is part of what's needed here, and a lot of that is a money issue.

Like, I felt that the linked review of The Black Witch cited things well and advanced a plausible argument about the book, but it's not a review that is really strong on "here is my theory of reading, here is how books can and should work". Naturally it's not, because it's a blog post written for free by someone who has other things to do with her time. It's a polemical review which has major force partly because it uses citations so clearly.

But it seems like we need some readerly strategies that are rooted in a broader understanding of genre and genre history. Everyone reads and enjoys books that are politically unsatisfactory about their own beliefs and identities. We don't just check out on all those books. We read them with varying degrees of bracketing and discomfort. Why? How do we decide? What readerly strategies do we employ?

Like, for example, I'm not so hot on how Octavia Butler and Ursula Le Guin write/have written (since it varies across books and careers) queerness and certain stuff about gender. I recognize that Peter Beagle's ur-urban fantasy The Folk of the Air is mostly unusually good on race (especially for 1980) but it has some moments of the awks. I read Joanna Russ, but only recommend her selectively, because some of her work is inadequate on race and trans issues, failings she later apologized for. And I think I'm pretty typical in that I don't heap all those books on the burning pile - in fact, they're among my favorites. I could name lots more.

So why? Why do I really love Orson Scott Card's novel Wyrms, which is all kinds of weird and gender-faily, but feel that his later work is merely despicable?

I mean, I can tell you why, but that's not the point - the point is that strong, accessible critical discourse that is scholarly and well-written would be useful in solidifying some reading strategies that lie somewhere between "I don't even see race" and "you should go die in a fire". I think that fandom and twitter do, in general, very good work, but I also think that the scattered nature of informal, unpaid writing makes it hard to solidify an accessible critical tendency.

Joanna Russ's critical work (her published reviews but particularly How To Suppress Women's Writing) and the Khatru Symposium (to name a couple) were extremely important and influential fandom publications, partly because they were on paper. They didn't appear for a few days, cause a fuss and vanish into the Internet of Forgotten Things/the tumblr archive that you can't make work/etc.

I feel like what's happened in fandom is that we've established fairly strongly what isn't wanted, but because of the fragmented nature of fandom conversations on the internet, it's difficult to establish a stronger critical tradition. (I mean, I am totally pro fandom on the internet - really important things like RaceFail absolutely would not have happened on paper. It's that a supplement would be useful.)

And I feel like this is in part a result of everyone working for free now. It's true that the Khatruu symposium was an amateur production, and so were a lot of important fanzines. But there was also a backbone of paid, professional work, like Russ's, and there was a way to produce things that lasted and could be distributed widely over time.

I'm almost thinking that the best thing that could happen would be some subscription efforts to produce paid paper or online critical work, with editorial judgment and scholarship, and some room to do long-form writing. I'm constantly struck, on the internet, but how few great ideas are really fleshed out and developed enough to bring out their force - and again, this is because the system is set up so that everyone is working for free all the time.
posted by Frowner at 6:38 AM on August 8 [11 favorites]


Oh, God, I'm reading the supposed examples of toxic callout culture in the original article and they are just people interacting on Twitter. Case in point:

Positive buzz all but died off, as community members began confronting The Black Witch’s supporters

That's this:

"When someone organizes a crusade against a book, I'm more likely to read it. 1⭐ reviews from people who haven't read it? 👌 #TheBlackWitch"

"Hate me if you like, but I don't live in an echo chamber & I don't let other people influence my integrity by telling me what to think."

So the supposed confrontation begins with the poster, to which she primarily gets one respondent, who tells her she is mischaracterizing the responses, it is not a "crusade," and that the poster should read the review that started this and think about why marginalized voices might respond poorly to this book. This is not mass harassment or huge swarms of fans shouting down each other, it's one person responding reasonably to a comment made publicly on Twitter.

I'll note that the aerticle didn't mention the only other response to this tweet, which is as follows:

"This is Nazi book burning in 2017 it's Fascist. SJW Nazis are very dangerous they want to burn all books they don't like. Frightening."

I presume this was not quoted because, without the inflammatory language, this article seems to agree with the viewpoint.

Well, I don't. I've gone through the article and the supposed " intense social-media callouts, draggings, and pile-ons" are all overstated. Like, oh God, oh no, the Twitter thread making the rounds damning the book, which was shared by exactly 17 people, or this one, shared by, gasp, 37 people. This one managed to rack up a whopping 55 retweets, and it literally says "read the review," and then, in subsequent (as less shared) tweets, explains that as a queer woman, the quotes from the review upset her enough that she cannot imagine reading the book.

I mean, it's fine if you think this is a little bit of an extreme response, although her comments seem fair to me. But this isn't exactly the actual nightmare that online harassment is. This is people expressing their opinions, often to a very small group of followers.

And, no surprise, these people are often the very people whose voices have historically been marginalized, whose criticisms and concerns have been ignored.

This isn't "toxic drama" -- and what a minimizing, contemptuous phrase that is. It's criticism. It's criticism coming from sources that usually are left out of critical circles, whose opinions are rarely listened to, discussing things that affect them directly in the only avenues that are given to them, social media.

I have a suggestion? Instead of passing around meaningless, dismissive phrases like "callout culture" and behaving like the real issue is a nonexistent freedom of speech issue, we try listening to these people for once in our goddamn lives?
posted by maxsparber at 7:46 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


I don't think bad writers are good with racism and sexism. It just tends to be wildly tone deaf, like everything bad writers write.

This for me is a good point that is often missed, due to its obviousness. Much of what is "problematic" is also bad writing: it is often an example of somebody being unable to articulate, understand, or breathe life into a situation. However, due to the nature of the topics addressed, instead of the end result being merely boring, confusing, or laughable, it can actually wind up being offensive, at least to a critical mass of people. You can't always fix the problem by behaving as if it is primarily one of the author's beliefs or attitudes. They will almost certainly double down, especially since they themselves will often hate *isms every bit as much as anybody else: they're just not good at having anything creative to say about it, let alone using empathy and knowledge to determine what others would think of their work.

(Of course problematic material will typically also interweave with real world *isms, often strongly, but that's not my point: in addition to anything else, it is *also* bad writing. I'm not talking about the Orson Scott Cards of the world, I'm talking about cornballs whose ostensibly well-meaning books treat racism about as well as Clive Cussler fanfic might treat archaeology or international relations.)
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:47 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Linked to the "Twitter thread making the rounds" twice. The first one was intended to be an earlier example from the piece that got almost no responses.
posted by maxsparber at 7:48 AM on August 8


By the way, just because it's called YA doesn't mean it isn't read by adults and that their responses to it are not valid. 55 percent of YA readers are adults, and a lot of YA writers are writing adult fiction that is simply being marketed as YA.

Don't mistake a marketing term for a meaningful description of contents or readership.
posted by maxsparber at 7:50 AM on August 8


What concerns me is that it is becoming a given in certain circles that white people should not write about PoC characters, that straight people should not write LGBTQ characters, that abled people should not write about disabled characters, because they “don’t have the right”. Which is a weirdly inverted version of the world we already have, where most media is made by rich white straights about rich white straights.

I have also seen popular arguments that for straight people to even read/watch stories about LGBTQ characters is “fetishization” and therefore reprehensible. (Oh, and that adults reading/watching stories about characters under the age of 18 is “pedophilia”. That’s another one that crops up a lot.)

I think that there are legitimate critiques and that mistakes should be pointed out and that people who screw up should be held accountable. But purity culture is gross no matter what the context, and there is a wing of callout culture that demands 100% perfection throughout the life course upon pain of banishment, and it is already a huge problem for a lot of creators, including those who are PoC/LGBTQ/disabled.

So this book spending hundreds of pages describing a beloved protagonist who espouses racial purity manifestoes is probably not the best example of how toxic callout culture has become in certain corners, but the larger discussion is an important one. Kids who just want to read and write terrible fanfictions about people who are kind of like them are ALSO getting flamed and ostracized in this environment. People who grew up racist/homophobic/conservative and changed their minds later in life are being told that their opinions at a young age make their later opinions irrelevant.

This behavior crops up in almost any group of humans at some point. But the fact that it is taking place in communities which ostensibly adhere to principles I largely find laudable doesn’t change the fact that this type of toxic infighting is certainly doing real harm, frequently to the same people that they claim to want to protect.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:59 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


What concerns me is that it is becoming a given in certain circles that white people should not write about PoC characters, that straight people should not write LGBTQ characters, that abled people should not write about disabled characters, because they “don’t have the right”.

Well, you needn't be concerned, because those circles are so small as to be virtually nonexistent.
posted by maxsparber at 8:07 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Well, you needn't be concerned, because those circles are so small as to be virtually nonexistent.

I'm not talking about circles that are hypothetical to me, or that I learned about via this article. I am talking about online communities where I know people personally who are being regularly being told that they do not have a right to participate. Communities where people who have been involved for decades are being told to disappear.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:11 AM on August 8 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry, but this is one of those "an anecdote is not proof" circumstances. I'm sorry that has happened to your friends, but you phrased it as though it is a significant movement. It simply isn't. It is very much a minority opinion in the world of writing, and one that is perhaps too-easily disregarded.

And too-easily disregarded because there is something to it. Not that people shouldn't write about experiences outside there own, but that, when they do, they are accountable to people who actually have those experiences.

I write outside my experience all the time. I actually think I am obligated to do so, because I am a white dude and so have certain privileges as a writer, and I am obligated to use those privileges to represent something more than the experiences of privileged white dudes, especially ones who are straight and CIS, as I am.

When I do it now, I do it in collaboration, in one way or another. I either have a writing partner who has had those experiences, or I turn to people who have had the experience to vet my writing. And the overwhelming consensus is that this is how it should be done, and I am almost never hit with changes that I should not have written.

It's a shame that the experience you describe happens, but it is very much an outlier opinion, held by very few people who generally have almost no power at all.
posted by maxsparber at 8:25 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but this is one of those "an anecdote is not proof" circumstances. I'm sorry that has happened to your friends, but you phrased it as though it is a significant movement. It simply isn't. It is very much a minority opinion in the world of writing, and one that is perhaps too-easily disregarded.

It makes me sad to disagree with you, maxsparber, but I feel like I need to side with afiendishthingy on this one. It's inside baseball, but consider - it's like the screwed up politics that develop in anarchist political circles. If you're an anarchist, you end up dealing with them, and they're real, and you don't always want to ditch those politics and move on to, say, liberalism, even if people are more polite. A small world is a big world when it's yours.

I too have seen these worlds! I mean, they're not mine, that's not my corner of fandom, but I've visited.

My feeling is that, again, the solution is to attempt to build some theoretical consensus, not around behavior but around writing. (I mean, some consensus around "don't tell people to die in a fire" and "historicize before flaming" would be good too.) "White people should only write about white people" is an idea that falls apart the minute you put pressure on it, but "white people should be thoughtful about how they write POC, here are some suggestions" holds up pretty well, and so does "ask yourself if you have the skills to do this story justice". So does "as a broad generality, POC are authorities on the lives of POC, and if you're writing characters of color who are largely unrecognizable to people of color, you are doing it wrong". Also, "ask yourself why you're telling the story the way you're telling it".

I tend to believe that "go die in a fire" is mostly generated because people don't have other solutions. If you genuinely believe, because of your experience and knowledge, that the only choices are terrible, racist writing by entitled people who will take the professional opportunities that could go to marginalized people or "white people shut up forever and go away", you're going to pick the latter, and rightly so. Providing both theoretical and practical alternatives seems likely to work - after all, no one is coming after Nisi Shawl for daring, as a Black woman writer, to suggest that white people employ certain techniques for writing better characters of color.
posted by Frowner at 8:43 AM on August 8 [11 favorites]


A small world is a big world when it's yours.

This is true. I suppose it depends on the writing world you're in; I was referring explicitly to the world of YA fiction, the subject of the post, which I have friends who write for. My experiences are in playwrighting, poetry, and short fiction mostly, as well as a long career in journalism.

In those worlds, the things I describe are the general consensus.

I am probably a little overly concerned about charges that people say other people cannot write outside their experiences in the context of this thread, because the context of this thread is that there is a mass movement of hysterical SJWs who are fucking up other people's writing, and I would like to move away from the narrative as untrue and self-serving.
posted by maxsparber at 8:51 AM on August 8


On the one hand, I'm sure there are people who say that white people should never write PoC, etc., which is dumb. On the other hand, I think that could be a misinterpretation of #ownvoices, which is the idea that it's important to have people from marginalized groups write about members of their own groups. That's not the same as saying that other people shouldn't write about marginalized people, but it's saying that there is value in self-representation, and people should specifically seek that out. I also think that authors sometimes want to be able to write about people who are different from them without risking criticism, and that's not a reasonable expectation. People might not like what you write, and that's a risk you take when you write anything. That's not censorship, and it's an unavoidable risk, although you can minimize the possibility by working really hard to avoid common traps and make your depiction as respectful as possible.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:51 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry, but this is one of those "an anecdote is not proof" circumstances. I'm sorry that has happened to your friends, but you phrased it as though it is a significant movement. It simply isn't. It is very much a minority opinion in the world of writing, and one that is perhaps too-easily disregarded.

I'm not sure that the fact that you are unaware of this situation means that you get to decide that these experiences are not true or not widespread? And I'm not just talking about "my friends" (some of whom are, go figure, published YA authors). The current situation happening with Roxane Gay is one of dozens of similar incidents from the past month alone. Many mainstream authors/creators are saying that they have also been warned that creating a "diverse" product (for various definitions of diverse) inevitably results in this kind of response.

Acknowledging that a pattern exists and that more constructive forms of criticism might be preferable isn’t an attack or an attempt to undermine. I wish more people would model the type of engagement Frowner suggests (I especially think "ask yourself if you have the skills to do this story justice" is a good one) instead of being so eager to brand people and products with the scarlet P and say that they are tainted forever (and so is anyone who consumes and/or enjoys them).

I am probably a little overly concerned about charges that people say other people cannot write outside their experiences in the context of this thread, because the context of this thread is that there is a mass movement of hysterical SJWs who are fucking up other people's writing, and I would like to move away from the narrative as untrue and self-serving.

That is not the claim that I am making. I think people with legitimate grievances are often being absorbed into a model of engagement that says people who mess up in their attempts to do the right thing don't get any chances to change or do better. There is also an ongoing problem with lack of any historical context in some critiques, often in conversation with people who actually lived through that context.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 8:58 AM on August 8 [4 favorites]


The current situation happening with Roxane Gay is one of dozens of similar incidents from the past month alone.

You're not specific, but by "The current situation happening with Roxane Gay" do you mean the essay she wrote concerning the HBO confederacy show? This one?

Nowhere in it does she say that people cannot write outside their experience. She does say "Creativity without constraint comes with responsibility. We do not make art in a vacuum isolated from sociopolitical context."

She also says she does not trust these particular authors, not specifically because they are white, but because they are "white men who oversee a show that has few people of color to speak of and where sexual violence is often gratuitous and treated as no big deal."

If this is the example you are choosing, it is a poor one. Gay's criticism are fair.

Acknowledging that a pattern exists and that more constructive forms of criticism might be preferable isn’t an attack or an attempt to undermine.

Well, I guess it depends on what pattern is being claimed. Again, I primarily see it as a pattern of previously excluded voices making complicated, if unpopular, criticisms about who represents things and how they represent them, and I think this is fine.
posted by maxsparber at 9:06 AM on August 8


I thought afiendishthingy was talking about people saying unpleasant stuff to Roxanne Gay because she was not immediately 100% critical of the Vulture article in the OP.
posted by Frowner at 9:08 AM on August 8


Ah, I see. Let me double-check on that before I form an opinion.

There are so many charges of people suppressing writers it is hard to know which one is being addressed.
posted by maxsparber at 9:09 AM on August 8


You're not specific, but by "The current situation happening with Roxane Gay" do you mean the essay she wrote concerning the HBO confederacy show?

No. I 100% agree with her take on the #NoConfederate movement, which I also support. I really think you are mistaken about my stance on this, and I definitely haven't said anything about "suppressing writers".
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:13 AM on August 8


I'm sorry, but this is one of those "an anecdote is not proof" circumstances. I'm sorry that has happened to your friends, but you phrased it as though it is a significant movement. It simply isn't.

is enormously dismissive, from the brushoff "your friends" which makes it sound like a fiendish thingy is ten years old to the blanket "it simply isn't" as if her statements are so self-evidently wrong that you don't even need to engage with them OR as if you're such an authority that any further clarification is unnecessary. You are, of course, welcome to disagree but if you could skip the condescension next time I would be most grateful.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:14 AM on August 8 [8 favorites]


ou are, of course, welcome to disagree but if you could skip the condescension next time I would be most grateful.

All right, let me rephrase and be clear.

This article is bullshit. The claim that there is a callout culture is bullshit. The claims that Gay was dragged is bullshit — i just went back and reread that whole fucking thread, and is being dragged is having YA writer Kai Bishop earnestly ask you to read the original Shauna Sinyard piece before linking to an article that misrepresents it, then we can all stand to be dragged.

This is all in the context of a massive silencing tactic. The tactic is to shut down minority criticisms through the same usual bullshit techniques, to tone police them, to misrepresent their criticisms, to mock the places where they raise those criticisms.

In the context of all this, if I see a claim that writers are being told they cannot write outside their experience, I need proof that this is significant. Not that it is happening at all. That it is significant. I need fucking proof. Because, intended or not, it piggybacks on this whole bullshit article and contributes to a larger narrative of minority criticism as an act of suppression.

That's a garbage narrative, and I don't have any patience for it anymore. So yes, I am fucking dismissive. Not because I am a professional writer, but because any narrative that proposes that minority critics are hysterical scolds who just want to shut down writers should be dismissed.
posted by maxsparber at 9:21 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


[maxsparber, maybe ease up on the fire a little in here, since you're talking with the Mefites who are actually here trying to engage in a more nuanced way about their actual experience in subcommunities, rather than the people you're angry at on social media elsewhere.]
posted by LobsterMitten at 9:28 AM on August 8 [8 favorites]


I'm a YA author; I'm part of the community on Twitter. I've had a front-row seat to every instance listed in the Vulture article, and the Vulture article is extremely one-sided.

Laurie Forest (The Black Witch) denied the criticism leveled at her book. Her house (full disclosure, also my house,) ignored the criticism and published it on schedule. This infuriated people who gave cogent, specific criticism. That criticism took place on Goodreads, and was pointed to on Twitter.

Once it was clear Forest wasn't interested in the criticism (and was mainly interested in criticizing the fact that she got criticized at all,) and the house wouldn't respond to it, people got het. That's when a secondary ring of people jumped in, because the fire was already lit and who doesn't like a bonfire. There was some ranting over the course of several days on Twitter, which then died down. The book went on sale as expected.

Keira Drake (The Continent) initially said little about criticism leveled at her book and was sort of hiding from it online while trying to figure out what to do. Her ex-husband, however, waded right into the fray and started fighting anybody he could @. Fair or not, when a spouse (or parent, god forbid,) jumps in to defend an author, it's seen as even lower than the author defending herself.

However, Drake and her house (full disclosure again, ALSO my house,) acknowledged the criticism made against it, and withdrew it from the publication cycle so Drake could rewrite. There was a small dust up about whether a private Facebook group had made it their personal goal to get the book canceled; none of that occurred on Twitter.

(The dumb ex turned up again on Twitter and tried to start another fight about it months later; he was soundly mocked and then ignored.)

C.J. Trujillo (When We Was Fierce) personally said nothing about the criticism, of which I am aware. It took several reviews by well-regarded experts before her house (not mine this time!) responded-- probably in large part because Kirkus and another outlet had already given it starred reviews. Ultimately, they pulled the book from production and it doesn't have a publication date. All of this, except for some brief conversations on Twitter pointing to the reviews written by experts, occurred in blogs.

That is the context for the article itself: three specific incidents, which primarily did not happen on Twitter.

All this being said, yes people get upset on Twitter. And yes, sometimes people criticize badly or dogpile, because the Internet loves a dogpile. And yes, there are some people who strongly intimate that one just should never write outside one's lane.

But for the most part, something that gets called out on Twitter gets talked about in a reasonable way, if everybody engages reasonably. And then it dies, because everybody engaged reasonably.

I am a non-binary, pansexual YA author who grew up impoverished. I have been called out on:
  • Not being queer enough
  • Not being trans enough
  • Being too well off
To write the books I've written. I was also called out for misrepresenting what bisexual means. You haven't heard of me and I'm not in that article because engaged in good faith conversation about it.

And you know what? Sometimes I'm afraid to write out of my own lane (not to mention my own ID.)

Not because anything terrible has ever happened to me being called out; just because I'm afraid that I will have missed something new, or something new will have happened in the 18 month period between the time I turned in the book, and it is published. I don't want to make people feel bad, intentionally or unintentionally. (And I don't like to feel ignorant.)

So this particular issue, lensed in this particular article, attacks a handful of authors of color who are specific in their criticism of racist and colonialist YA novels.

Tellingly, it leaves out the white YA authors with degrees, who criticize these novels as well, and it also ignores criticism leveled by experts in American Indian culture... because Kat Rosenfield, the author of the article, never tangled with the white or Native American critics.

Roxane Gay got hauled into it because those secondary and tertiary people who want to dogpile and join the party without actually doing the work... decided to foolishly dogpile on Roxane Gay.

And as Ann Aguirre pointed out (on Twitter!) it's terribly interesting that Roxane is being called out and dragged for being a black woman with an opinion on an article that she read in good faith... instead of Kat Rosenfield for writing the article in the first place.

YA is a curious, chaotic, tumultuous place. Some people have the best intentions. Some people have the worst. Some people are afraid because they don't want to fuck up. Some people are afraid because they're racist.

Much like any corner of the Internet, there are layers upon layers upon layers.

At the heart of it is the intention and hope that marginalized authors will get the chance to write about their own culture, and that white, straight, able-bodied, cisgender authors will do the heavy lifting that they need to do, if they want to tell the story of a marginalized character.

There have always been books with bad representation in them. It's just that now, on the Internet, the people complaining about them can be heard. I don't think it's a terrible thing that marginalized people finally have a voice in what well-meaning (or hell, aggressively appropriative) authors say about their lives and their cultures.

And again, it's telling to me as someone in the middle of the community, on that front row, that Kat Rosenfield came after the women of color who have criticized her personally-- but none of the white or Native authors who didn't, but still participated in critique of the novels cited.

In short, the article is a dog whistle.
posted by headspace at 9:49 AM on August 8 [23 favorites]


I think that Roxane Gay was sympathetic because she's been having a tough time on Twitter recently, for reasons that aren't really analogous. Basically, she's now both famous and accessible, and a lot of people want to scrutinize every thing she says and think they're entitled to her attention, and it's exhausting and overwhelming. And that's totally fair, but I'm not sure it's the same thing that's going on with the article, although I can see how she would read the article and kind of think it was.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:18 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Thanks for expanding on the backstory, headspace.

I agree that calling out creators on hurtful portrayals is good, and that the author of this book deserved to be criticized. I apologize if it seems like I was saying anything else, to anyone who thought that was where I was going.

My point was that (similar to the experience you (headspace) describe of being called out yourself) there has also been an uptick in the number of creators who are writing “in their own lane” and yet are being told that they are doing it wrong, as well as an uptick in blanket statements that no one should ever write outside of their own lived experience no matter how much research, outreach, and good faith engagement they do. People who ID as queer are being regularly told they don’t have the right to use that “slur” to describe themselves. People who use the term transvestite when describing historical figures who self-identified with that term are being told that using it in any context is wrong. People who write about some LGBTQ relationships being abusive are told that they are doing harm to the community and should stop discussion of the subject. It is all very earnest, and probably rooted in good intentions, but it is still doing damage. Sometimes taking hits from your own side hurts more than when they come from people who fundamentally disagree with your first principles.

If there are people here who haven’t seen any of the latter discourse, good, I guess. But it is happening, and marginalized people are burning out and wondering if the constant second-guessing of their motives is worth it, and that pretty much sucks.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 11:28 AM on August 8 [11 favorites]


I have had that discussion about queer! (My next YA anthology is stories about queer teens throughout history, by queer ya authors.) It pops up on Tumblr a lot; I see it less on Twitter, but it definitely happens.

And when it happens to me, it does hurt more than random Joe Schmoe's critique. It etches at me on a personal level: am I actually incorrect? Is my being wrong? I'm frustrated at how quickly the language changes, and the resistance to allow old language to stay in place. Queer was mine before there were words for non-binary and pansexual. It's part of my foundation.

I also get super annoyed at cisgender, straight people who know juuuuuuuust enough to theorize that X, Y, Z thing written by a queer author might be transphobic/homophobic/queerphobic (but they're not sure! But they think it might be!) Especially when they post these soul-searching reviews on Amazon.

Those are the times when I'm like, screw it. Next book is white heteronormative princesses. (And then I turn around and quadruple down on more queer, anyway. I want to write the books I couldn't find when I was sixteen, by god.)
posted by headspace at 11:44 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


On the one hand, I'm sure there are people who say that white people should never write PoC, etc., which is dumb. On the other hand, I think that could be a misinterpretation of #ownvoices, which is the idea that it's important to have people from marginalized groups write about members of their own groups.

Truly, truly, I wish this were the case in the communities described above. And, again, I do think a lot of this is from very young people who aren't necessarily even nuanced thinkers for their age, and who certainly, through no fault of their own, tend to lack the experience to understand the potential harm caused by some of their more inflammatory words and behaviors. So one is getting the dumbed-down, teen-outrage version of much more thoughtful people's much more complicated arguments about diversity. But that version is out there. It really exists. I was startled to see how much, honestly, as it wasn't a feature of the online community in question the last time I seriously engaged with it.

You haven't heard of me and I'm not in that article because engaged in good faith conversation about it.

I'd say more that you were lucky. Or, to be more nuanced: if, when someone raises issues, a writer's response is to dig in and double down and scream about censorship and basically deny even the value of considering the objections, they are obviously radically increasing the chances of generating a widespread negative response. So, not objectively being a jackass does help. But I think the idea that good faith self-critique can be expected to protect you entirely is to overestimate the level of thoughtfulness amongst the broader reaches of the populace.
posted by praemunire at 11:48 AM on August 8 [4 favorites]


I think it is worth posting this Storify of Tweets from writer Ana Mardoll, whose tweets were included in the article. It lays out why this article wasn't exactly written in unbiased good faith, and why the fallout has been awful for the critics linked in it.
posted by angeline at 1:04 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Oh...the fallout on critics has been awful because of biased and hyperbolic misrepresentation of their writing? Woah, you don't say. Huge if true.
posted by Jimbob at 1:25 PM on August 8


Wow, that Storify is pretty damning. It sure looks like the Vulture piece wasn't just an ideological hit piece, it was an actual hit piece on people the author personally did not like, at least one of whom (read to the end) had almost nothing to do with YA at all. If the Storify is correct, the author of the article went after people who had all criticized her for calling WOC critics of The Black Witch "a groupthink mob" and mentally ill, or people who were friends of theirs. The metric wasn't apparently how much they'd talked about the book, or how much they'd talked about the issue - just whether they had criticized the person who later wrote the article.
posted by Frowner at 2:14 PM on August 8 [4 favorites]


(I should probably note that I am not a YA writer, nor am I personally acquainted with Ana, nor any of the other critics or their friends - but this story is all over my Twitter because I am acquainted, via my publisher, with other YA writers who are acquainted with Ana)
posted by angeline at 2:20 PM on August 8


Christ, that Storify is really something. I'm. A regular vulture reader and it really sucks that they put this out.
posted by ominous_paws at 2:48 PM on August 8


Laurie Forest (The Black Witch) denied the criticism leveled at her book. Her house (full disclosure, also my house,) ignored the criticism and published it on schedule.

Is it the responsibility of an author or publishing house to change or kill a book based on pre-publication criticism? Is submitting a book for criticism now tantamount to asking permission for it to be published?
posted by QuietDesperation at 3:20 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Is it the responsibility of an author or publishing house to change or kill a book based on pre-publication criticism? Is submitting a book for criticism now tantamount to asking permission for it to be published

Of course not. The point is that an author's image is marketing; Laurie picked "deny she's not racist and yell at the people who criticize her" for her personal marketing. Her publisher picked "don't say anything out loud and hope it goes away" for their marketing plan.

Both of those marketing plans ticked off the YA reading public, and that public protested about it. Their protest, contrary to Rosenfield's assertions, did nothing to harm the book. If there's no effect to a cause and effect argument besides "some people talked about me on the Internet" then... mebbe it's the wrong argument.
posted by headspace at 4:24 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


Permission? No.

But when people speak up and say, "this is harmful," and they point out why, and it's within your power to NOT hurt people further, why not take the chance to correct the issue? And failing that, at least try to understand what you did, apologize to those you've harmed, and resolve and actively work to do better in the future.

I think if you're writing about a marginalization you aren't part of, you need to be willing to do some work and research and employ some sensitivity readers, so that you can present the best and most respectful work possible. And maybe you'll still fail, in which case, LEARN FROM IT.
posted by angeline at 4:25 PM on August 8 [3 favorites]


This reminds me of those buzzfeed articles that say something like "this lady said she likes to slap brown people, and twitter is not. having. it."

You click on the article and it's about a woman who posted a picture high-fiving a friend, two links to a couple of related tweets that were liked 5 times, and then there's 500 buzzfeed comments from people who only read the title, crying for the crucifixion of all those damn SJWs and telling liberals to go fuck themselves.
posted by Tarumba at 6:17 PM on August 8


But when people speak up and say, "this is harmful," and they point out why, and it's within your power to NOT hurt people further, why not take the chance to correct the issue?

Leaving ideology aside, in a purely practical sense, how much would that cost? This wasn't a critique that a single phrase or description needed to change, it sounded like the entire story needed to be completely rewritten. How much money is the publisher or author obligated to spend? I'm thinking of how Tor books would respond to a request by say, the Sad Puppies to rewrite one of Scalzi's books. Hell, I'm thinking of the kickback that tor got when tehy did apologize to the Puppies.

If this was a something Beta readers picked up, that would be one thing. But once a book is in the pipeline to be published, it's a little late to be making demands that it be completely rewritten or not see the light of day.
posted by happyroach at 10:31 PM on August 8


Hence the "within your power." Sometimes it does come to a point where you just can't do the rewrite.

The demand isn't for a rewrite or pull, really. I mean there are people who DO make that demand, but by and large, book-related social media knows that a rewrite is often impractical and even impossible. Let ALONE pulling a book. In fact more often than not a publisher's response seems to be to publish it anyway - with that much controversy, it'll sell. It is pointed out that The Black Witch is doing fine.

But that's when an author has to put on their big-kid Underoos and accept that there are people their work has hurt or affected negatively, and they need to LEARN FROM IT. Also apologize. Really, that's what is wanted. Not digging one's heels in and screaming that people just don't GET your ART. Not articles that sling insults and harassment at readers who were genuinely hurt or otherwise emotionally affected by careless racism or sexism or other avoidable concepts of harm.

Also wanted: a publishing industry that has more marginalized people involved at all steps of a book publishing process. These books went through several people who just didn't catch that something might be received very badly. That didn't need to be the case.
posted by angeline at 11:02 PM on August 8 [1 favorite]


But that's when an author has to put on their big-kid Underoos and accept that there are people their work has hurt or affected negatively, and they need to LEARN FROM IT. Also apologize.

You know, I try really hard to listen to people, marginalized people especially, when they tell me that I've done something to harm them. I really work on that, because I've seen so many spectacular examples of people falling into defensiveness, closing themselves off from learning something, and looking like fools. And I'm subject to the same emotional temptations as anyone else who likes to think that they're not running around making the world worse for people, so I know the potential is always there.

But, ultimately, I am responsible for me and my behavior. Not someone else. Ultimately, even if I try to listen to a person carefully and humbly, I may conclude that they're wrong. And if that's the case, I'm not going to apologize (at least not for any aspect of my behavior for which I've reached that conclusion, there will be likely be collateral issues I've screwed up on) or withdraw.

The idea that complaints should always trigger self-abasement and abandonment of the objected-to project whenever possible...this presumes that complaints are always clearly well-founded. I just don't believe that this is always the case. "Just apologize! Just learn! Just change!" packs a set of assumptions that aren't always true. You can be a marginalized person and do bad criticism. Historically, of course, all criticism from such a source would be suppressed or dismissed as bad criticism, and that means we should try to cultivate a point of view that starts with the opposite position. But that doesn't mean that ill-thought-out criticism from marginalized people doesn't exist.

In this particular case, the demand for an apology would seem to be for...writing yet another White Person Learns A Lesson book in a world where the white experience is still centered. Yes, that such a book gets published while another does not reflects systematic racism in the publishing industry. Is the writing of the book itself, though, something that requires an apology? I am far from sure that it does.
posted by praemunire at 11:40 PM on August 8 [5 favorites]


The idea that complaints should always trigger self-abasement and abandonment of the objected-to project whenever possible...this presumes that complaints are always clearly well-founded.

Nobody is saying that, but the criticisms of this particular book were clearly warranted and to then deny that they were is willful ignorance on part of the author.

HOW DARE YOU CALL ME RACIST is never a good look for anybody.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:12 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


When folks are talking about Forest's response of denying the criticism, are you talking about her quotes in the linked NYMag piece, or somewhere else?
posted by lalex at 6:18 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


I actually think it would be really interesting for someone to write up a "how to respond when people criticize your work as racist/sexist/ableist/etc. and you take their criticism seriously but ultimately decide you don't agree with it" thing. Because I think that's a common and somewhat tricky conundrum.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:36 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


It's recently been quite forcefully demonstrated to me that one of the things that doesn't work is to keep on keeping on attempting to clarify what it is that you're actually trying to say and explain why you still think it's a reasonable position to take. Once a baseline of audience animosity has already been firmly established, all this does is make you come over as a hybrid between a sea lion and a Bitch Eating Crackers.

Probably better to let other people defend you if anybody is going to do so spontaneously (asking for that is asking for trouble), or just let the criticism be what it is and take it into account, or not, as best you see fit.
posted by flabdablet at 8:27 AM on August 9 [3 favorites]


Nobody is saying that, but the criticisms of this particular book were clearly warranted

Now, when it comes to criticisms, how about the criticisms of the Kirkus reviews?. Dozens of comments, all on the same day, all repeating the same talking points. Two months before the book was released. Repeat:two months.

At that point, critique, or even criticism doesn't even come close to describing what was going on. That was a coordinated online attack. And frankly, that makes any sort of message irrelevant. If I were a publisher, my immediate response would be to suspect this was sponsored by a rival publisher or author, in the same vein that Vox Day and the Rabid Puppies tried.

And there is still the question of just who publishers dhould be accountable to. If ywo months before the release if the next NK Jemison book, Vox Day and Co. Did a massive Twitter and review storm, would you agree that criticism is valid? Should publishers include "sensitivity to neo-Nazi sentiments" readers?
posted by happyroach at 8:54 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Excellent thread from Mikki Kendall who addresses a lot of stuff, including the fact that there's a solid backchannel of chatter before a book comes out, because stuff is happening in the spin-up for sales/marketing.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:41 AM on August 9 [4 favorites]


It's recently been quite forcefully demonstrated to me that one of the things that doesn't work is to keep on keeping on attempting to clarify what it is that you're actually trying to say and explain why you still think it's a reasonable position to take. Once a baseline of audience animosity has already been firmly established, all this does is make you come over as a hybrid between a sea lion and a Bitch Eating Crackers.

Totally agree. Say what you have to say once, if necessary, and let it be. Of course, then, that can be spun just as the publisher's non-response here was. It's not a great set of choices, but then it's not a great world we live in, and ultimately you're the one with the book coming out or whatever, so you can probably cope.
posted by praemunire at 10:03 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


When folks are talking about Forest's response of denying the criticism, are you talking about her quotes in the linked NYMag piece, or somewhere else?

As far as I saw, Laurie Foster aggravated her critics by FAILING to say anything about their criticisms. That is, she kept absolutely silent on Shauna's review and the responses to it.

Headspace, you assert that Forest "picked the 'deny she's a racist and yell at people who criticize her'" approach. I'd love to know more about this, can you share where she exhibited this approach? Because I clearly missed a whole lot, if I missed this.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 10:21 AM on August 9 [1 favorite]


Yell silent, yell deep
posted by flabdablet at 10:23 AM on August 9


mylittlepoppet-- It was in her Twitter feed, and she wrote a blog post(essay?) about it. Her journal now doesn't appear to go back before the book came out, so either she's deleted the posts, or I suck a lot at searching ye olde internets.

Unfortunately, her book came out this past April, and the criticism was six months or so behind that. You can still find shards of her talking on Twitter to Kat Rosenfield and one of the bloggers who "came out" as politically incorrect about it, but it's piecemeal.

And as I recall, that blogger was making anti-SJW vlogs concurrently, and reached out to Laurie so there was a venn diagram going on of people recoiling from the vlogger and people discussing The Black Witch.
posted by headspace at 5:45 PM on August 9


Ah, ok, headspace! Thanks for the reply. I knew the author of The Continent had posted and then pulled a blog entry, but I hadn't seen anything like that from Foster.
posted by mylittlepoppet at 8:20 PM on August 9


One thing people don't seem to understand about how publishing works and why folks are so very critical of white/cis/het/allo authors appropriating the experiences of groups they don't belong to is: when they get the money for writing those books, actual people with those lived experiences don't.

Should this be true? Nope. But it is. Publishers have official or unofficial quotas for "how many YA books 'for Black kids' are we putting on the schedule this quarter". They reject stuff for being "too similar to a book about queer kids we published last quarter" or "the market is saturated with Native stories right now (meaning there are three) and we can't do another one". Moreover, nonwhite authors in particular are often stereotyped as writing only "identity books", meaning that even if their book is about something else entirely they will often get shunted into one of those informal, already-filled quotas.

So literally every shitty racist "antiracist" book put out by a fuckheaded white lady author means that there is one less slot for an actually good book by a woman of color. Yet again, white/cis/het/allo people are profiting directly from the marginalization, abjection, and exclusion of other people.

And when some kid, or adult, dares to complain about one of those shitty books, they are suddenly the fucking devil. How dare they call out the Nice White Lady with such good intentions? Except that lady knows, or should know, how the fucking industry works, so if she actually had good intentions, she wouldn't have written the goddamn book.
posted by adrienneleigh at 5:02 AM on August 10 [4 favorites]


And when some kid, or adult, dares to complain about one of those shitty books, they are suddenly the fucking devil.

Again, those responses on the Kirkus review sure as hell don't look like a group of kids who independently read a review and came to the similar thoughtful decision over a period of time. It looks very much like the sort of coordinated campaigns the Sad/Rabid Puppies did against authors they didn't like.

I agree that getting published by a major bookseller is zero-sum situation. Which is why I'm suspicious that this was a "get rid of a rival" maneuver. If so, they could have taken a lesson from the lack of sucess of Vox Days maneuvers. Though, if someone was planning to use this to announce or promote a small press publisher...
posted by happyroach at 1:46 PM on August 10


I will admit that I think it's really weird to compare people of color and other people from maginalized groups who are arguing for better representation to Vox Day, who is an avowed white supremacist.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:58 PM on August 10 [4 favorites]


Did you read Ana Mardoll's storify that was linked above, in thread? This woman is not an unbiased source, and this is a hitpiece on people who disageed with her personally.
posted by adrienneleigh at 5:02 PM on August 10 [2 favorites]


Foz Meadows has a (typically thoughtful and nuanced) response looking at the black-or-white, all-or-nothing binary tone of a lot of criticism: YA Discourse: Witch vs Vulture
posted by Lexica at 5:41 PM on August 10 [7 favorites]


Did you read Ana Mardoll's storify that was linked above, in thread?

That honestly doesn't do much to reduce the impression that is mainly a fight between rival authors. After all, Larry Correa and John C. Wright used similar language about how they were being unjustly attacked and suppressed by the establishment.

Anyway, I'm not even really talking about the Vulture piece, I'm talking about this. Do you have ANY explanation for those comments other than a coordinated bad publicity campaign two months before the book's release?

I think that what this highlights is that right now publishers have only limited means to defend against social media campaigns against their authors. Largely writers are on their own, and only a few are able to laugh it off like John Scalzi.
posted by happyroach at 9:54 AM on August 11 [1 favorite]


I think the idea that a coordinated set of comments on a Kirkus Reviews page could have any impact whatever on a book's well-being is adorably quaint.
posted by mittens at 9:57 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


About as much as a coordinated attack on File770 would. It's probably just one area- combine it with coordinated comments on GoodReads, Amazon.com, and anywhere else the leader may point the group at. Of course as the Puppies imbroglio with tor showed, these campaigns are of limited effectiveness- the best they got was a kind of apology.

But on the other hand, I'm not seeing anyone else coming up with a better explanation for what happened on Kirkus. "Oh, a bunch of people just independently decided to all show up on the same day two months fore the book was published, to use the exact same talking points. What a coincidence,
posted by happyroach at 12:25 PM on August 12


Fine. I'll bite. I'd wandered off because I don't really feel like you actually want us to convince you of anything that doesn't suit the conclusion you've drawn, but fine.

Okay, I can see where it might have been a coordinated campaign - but I would see it as a way to get their points across, likely in the same vein as all those "please don't take away our healthcare!" calls and faxes many of us have been making for months. Including many of these writers and reviewers.

Kirkus is a major reviewer with pretty long reaching influence who had a favorable opinion of a novel that some folks found harmful. Those people wanted to make their opinion known. Do you have a better WAY of doing it? Their source of information was a long review with a lot of information that was fairly clear in outlining the context of problematic content. So a lot of talking points will necessarily be the same.

Do you want people to just shut up about books that handle racism or sexism or any other number of harmful topics in poorly thought out manner? Would that be better?
posted by angeline at 5:08 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]


Yeah, i'm not sure why "coordinated campaign" is supposed to equal "bad". GG and the Puppies weren't bad because they were "coordinated campaigns", they were bad because they are bad people doing bad things. Another name for certain types of "coordinated campaign" is "boycott", for instance. And, as angeline points out, "political engagement" is also a name.
posted by adrienneleigh at 3:11 PM on August 13


Besides, if you're told (and evidently believe) that this is "the most dangerous, offensive, book I've ever read" then a coordinated campaign really is the least you can do.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 4:02 PM on August 13


Also, why are people assuming none of the critics read the book? I mean, do people realize that some publishers hand ARCs out like candy?
posted by adrienneleigh at 4:38 PM on August 13


I mean, you can argue that what the critics did was bad. Many people are in fact arguing that, to varying degrees! (Foz Meadows does so with compassion and nuance, and is linked above.) But it is a ridiculous non-sequitur to say that because parts of it may have been coordinated, therefore it's automatically bad.
posted by adrienneleigh at 4:40 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Also, why are people assuming none of the critics read the book? I mean, do people realize that some publishers hand ARCs out like candy?

Because when people were flat out asked if they had read the book, people admitted they hadn't, and replied with "so what?"

One can actually take on the points of someone who's read a book and see if they've made a cognizant argument, pick it apart, see whether their arguments are accurate or not. But when you get a bunch of people who are just arguing from a secondary source, and they're arguing formulaic talking points re: "the worst thing ever", then that harms the very basis of their message. It makes the whole thing dodgy and suspicious.

I mean, have they been doing similar actions against Orson Scott Card? John C. Wright? How about to Vox Day's latest novel? Or is dealing with the output of actual hardcore homophobes, racists and neo nazis just not as important? Are people seriously going to make an argument that Black Witch is seriously the most racist and harmful book out there? Or is this a case of taking on low hanging fruit?
posted by happyroach at 11:21 PM on August 13 [1 favorite]


Young adults don't read Wright or VD, and pretty much everyone already knows how much of a shitbag Card is, including all the young adults who hang out on Tumblr, because they talk to each other. Plus his books are so fucking incoherent anymore that the only adults, even, who read them are basically suffering from nostalgia poisoning.

I haven't read Black Witch -- i probably will, at this point, although i'm sure as fuck not going to buy it -- but i have read many other YA books by Nice White Ladies which are purely toxic in their racism and homophobia and even misogyny. I'm not sure why this one should get some kind of free pass.

And no, i do not approve of actually rating books one hasn't read, except in the limited case where one has gotten partway through and found it too intolerable to finish. But i don't see any issue with leaving comments, ever, period.

If you think a review by a reviewer one trusts isn't enough information to make some kind of a judgment about a book, what the fuck do you think a review is even for?
posted by adrienneleigh at 1:25 AM on August 14 [1 favorite]


Anyone remember the saga of the Nazi romance novel? There was a Christian romance novel, published by a Christian romance imprint, that was set in a (real, historical) Nazi concentration camp, and the central couple were the Nazi in charge of the camp and a Jewish inmate. In the end, he is redeemed by her love and stops being a Nazi and saves some Jews. Happily ever after! But that's not what actually happened in the real, historical concentration camp. The real, historical Nazi in charge didn't ever see the light and was executed after the war for crimes against humanity. Anyway, this is apparently a mini-genre in the world of Christian romance: good Christian ladies love to read about romances between Nazis and Jews, set in concentration camps. And nobody really noticed until this book, which got many glowing reviews in mainstream publications, was nominated for a major award, at which point a lot of Jewish people (and other people) were like WT actual F?

So I have not read that book, and I am not going to read that book, because I literally would rather repeatedly shove a pen in my eye. Many members of my family, including two of my great-grandparents, were in the actual, historical concentration camp where the romance novel takes place, and I mean, no. I don't need to read a Christian redemption story set against the backdrop of my family's annihilation. But I feel pretty confident saying that this is a bad premise for a romance novel, and it should not have been published. I honestly don't think I have to read the book to say that the premise is offensive.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:27 AM on August 14 [2 favorites]


If you think a review by a reviewer one trusts isn't enough information to make some kind of a judgment about a book, what the fuck do you think a review is even for?

A review is usually worth very little, except for getting a general sense of what the book is about. An aggregate of a number of professional reviews can be useful for finding out common elements that stand out that might be interesting. But ONLY if they've at least tried reading the damn thing. A harsh truth is, all those reviews on Goodreads or Tumblr are generally useless, compared to asking three or four trusted sources for recommendations.

A bunch of people just screaming "My one friend said nasty things about this book, you shouldn't publish it!!!" two months before publishing it is less than useless. It makes me suspicious.

As for the "It's OK, we're the good guys" excuse, well, Requires Hate had that same argument. And I saw personally the damage she did to communities and people. Similar methods will end up with similar comparisons.
posted by happyroach at 12:01 AM on August 15 [1 favorite]


"A friend just told me their #OwnVoice manuscript was rejected by an editor because they "already have a (insert POC) book" (not OV)... (1/?)" @getnicced
posted by adrienneleigh at 11:13 PM on August 15


Pointing out racism is...saying a nasty thing about a book?

Yep! I'm out!
posted by angeline at 9:54 AM on August 16 [1 favorite]


As for the "It's OK, we're the good guys" excuse, well, Requires Hate had that same argument. And I saw personally the damage she did to communities and people. Similar methods will end up with similar comparisons.

This is the key point I think needs to be emphasized over and over again:

This. Is. A. Known. Tactic.

There is a woman out there who figured out how to weaponize these tactics as much as ten years ago. She destroyed communities. She damn well did her best to destroy lives.

Those of us calling this a bad approach -- those of us who are raising a red flag -- aren't saying that "these are people saying nasty things about a book." We're saying, this is something that was weaponized ages ago. This could very well still be weaponized by RH/BS/etc.

Also (and with a reminder that many of Requires Hate's targets turned out to be women of color), this:

I haven't read Black Witch -- i probably will, at this point, although i'm sure as fuck not going to buy it -- but i have read many other YA books by Nice White Ladies which are purely toxic in their racism and homophobia and even misogyny. I'm not sure why this one should get some kind of free pass.

Is its own lovely bit of misogyny.

All those male writers? We know not to read them. We know they suck.

All those female writers writing in a trendy yet degraded field? That's the stuff that needs to be targeted. Because all that stuff is the stuff that could have gone to More Deserving People. Both sexes write dreck. But the female writers are the ones who need to be attacked.

It's nice that people of color aren't trying to write science fiction or something.

And lest you say, "But those women are white!", I'd like to remind everyone that there's always someone less privileged than any published writer. A woman of color still might not be queer. Or might not be an immigrant, or disabled, or anything else. Internalized misogyny is a very real thing, and it's something that's easy for many young people to ignore.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 3:00 PM on August 16 [2 favorites]


... All of which is to say, the Nice White Lady script was - again - stolen from Requires Hate. She then moved on to target people who were too Western and people who had less color than she did.

We have seen these tactics before. They don't lead anywhere good.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 3:36 PM on August 16 [2 favorites]


Wow. Just wow. There's nothing i can say about Requires Hate that won't get me strung up on poles by the "good people" of MeFi so i'm not going to bother with that bullshit, but "Nice White Lady" is a thing that a whole fucking lot of Women of Color say, and they didn't all get it from an obscure bogeywoman whom literally no one outside of a small niche of fandom gives a shit about.

Anyway, here's another good article about the "controversy" that lead to Rosenfeld's fucking terrible hit piece.
posted by adrienneleigh at 12:45 PM on August 18 [2 favorites]


"Nice white lady" isn't the issue here. The context is.

And if you support a woman who ran a blackmail ring that was aimed at destroying communities and various (both primarily of color, as if that ought to matter) online, I'm not sure there's any common ground worth finding with you.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 3:48 PM on August 18


Given that you previously called me and my friends monsters both in comments and in MeMail, Ms. Strawberry, i'm absolutely sure of it.
posted by adrienneleigh at 4:26 PM on August 18


But for everyone else, i really do suggest reading the Bustle article. It's quite good.
posted by adrienneleigh at 4:27 PM on August 18 [1 favorite]


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