rants

Thinking About Freedom of Speech

So this is International Blog Against Racism Week, which seems like a perfect time to point to the Open Letter from the Carl Brandon Society on racial/gender discourse.

I’m hopeful that, as in previous years, I’ll learn some things and get to read and participate in some good discussions this week.  But reading that letter, I found myself wondering how long it would be before I came across the first “Oh noes, the PC Nazis are Censorin’ our Free Speech!” response.  (Answer: not long at all, as it turns out.)

Let’s start with the PC part.  I’m not sure when “Politically Correct” turned into such a ridiculous phrase.  The belief seems to be that, in order to be truly politically correct, I must immediately go through my goblin books, rewriting the goblins as hygienically impaired, height challenged creatures with alternative dietary habits.  (Actually, now I want to write a story about Veka demanding that the rest of the world describe her as a goblyn, but that’s a tangent.)  The point is, people have waved their wands and cast reductio ad absurdium on the whole concept.  We’ve turned it into a joke (perhaps because then it’s easier to ignore it, and we don’t have to actually do anything?)

I keep thinking about the first time someone told me what “politically correct” meant to them.  She said, “I want to be able to choose what label people use to describe me.”  Why is that such a ridiculous premise?  It is really so absurd to think that an individual should have the right to say “I prefer to be called ________”?  To choose to be addressed by a label that isn’t demeaning, insulting, or simply not what that person wants to be called?  People don’t seem to mind that I prefer to be called Jim rather than James, but if the Carl Brandon Society tells Harlan Ellison not to use the term NWA, suddenly it’s a massive inconvenience and political correctness is censoring our freedom.

It annoys me how easily we toss the word “censorship” around.  Spend 30 seconds reading the comment threads for just about any news article that touches on race (the Gates/Crowley stories should provide plenty of reading).  Trust me, there ain’t no PC Censors working in this country.

Complaining because someone censored your comment on his/her blog not only misses the meaning of the word, it’s also rather insulting to those people who have actually had to deal with censorship.

  • People disagreeing with you is not censorship.
  • People stating that they don’t like your cover art and think its racist, sexist, or whatever, is not censorship.
  • People banning you from their blogs is not censorship.
  • For the writers out there, an editor rejecting your story for his/her publication is not censorship.
  • People saying they don’t like something you said is not censorship.
  • People telling you racial slurs are unacceptable is not censorship.
  • People criticising, mocking, or insulting you for choosing to use racial slurs is not censorship.

The nice thing about my country is that you’re free to say just about anything you like.  I don’t have any obligation to provide a platform for your words, but you can certainly go out and create your own.  The very fact that people are writing 1000+ word rants on their blogs about being censored tends to undermine their point.

But freedom of speech does not equal freedom from criticism.  If you say something offensive, you’re probably going to get challenged on it.  If that’s a problem for you, you might want to examine your words more carefully.  Either that or move somewhere that censorship actually exists — that way you can start suppressing those who disagree with you.

We talk about freedom of speech, but I hear very little about responsibility for speech.  You choose your words.  You’re responsible for what you say.  If you say something offensive or insulting, that’s on you.  You might disagree over whether something is offensive, but now we’re getting back to political correctness.  Tell me, who has the right to say whether the word “nigger” is insulting?  Do I as a white man get to tell black people that they’re overreacting and shouldn’t be offended if I use that term?

To put it another way, Freedom of speech does not protect you from the consequences of saying stupid shit.

Sexism is Not About Your Ego

I linked yesterday to Tempest’s post about the disproportionate number of scantily-clad females on Realms of Fantasy’s covers, and the mermaid gracing the new issue of the relaunched ‘zine.  Last night, Doug Cohen posted a response.

Doug is the new art director for Realms, as well as being the long time editorial assistant for the magazine.  I’ve worked with him a few times, and he struck me as a generally nice guy, one who cared a lot about the magazine and was always willing to go the extra mile, reading and commenting on my stories even when they were getting an automatic pass up to the editor.

Unfortunately, sometimes it’s the nicest guys who fail the hardest when it comes to discussions of sexism, racism, and so on.  “I’m a nice guy!  How dare you call me sexist!”  [Insert image of face-melting fury at the injustice of such a horrific accusation here.]  We then get to hear all about how these accusations are utter nonsense, and don’t you dare judge me, and the accuser is unfair and angry and mean. More

On Turning a Blind Eye

Before I left on vacation, I was planning to do a post about the sexist aspects of Transformers 2.  I enjoyed the movie, but it has some seriously problematic aspects, from our opening shot of Megan Fox on the motorcycle to the Decepticon pantybot* to the Infinite Dorm of Gorgeous Girls.

But as I was reading other reviews and commentary, I kept coming across the same reactions.  “It’s just a summer action flick.  What did you expect from a Michael Bay movie?  Stop analyzing and just have fun!  Why do you have to suck the fun out of everything with this P.C. garbage?”

I find it interesting which stories people believe are worthy of literary analysis and critique.  The attitude seems to be that critical analysis is best left for dusty old tomes in the ivory tower.  Joyce, Melville, Shakespeare, and so on.  If we’re going to think about movies, we’re supposed to limit it to the highbrow art-house films.

Maybe I’m crazy, but that seems backwards to me.  How many people actually read Joyce these days?  Compare that to the number of people who went out to see Transformers.  So wait, we’re saying discussions of racism, sexism, and so on are fine, so long as they’re not about the stories most people are actually reading or watching.

I don’t write deep literary fiction.  My books have flaming spiders and nose-picking injuries and Sleeping Beauty & the Little Mermaid kicking the crap out of each other.  Because my stories are “bubblegum fiction,” as one reviewer described them, does this mean I should be given a free pass on issues of race, sex, and so on?  Because I find that a little insulting, to be honest.  When I screw up–and we all do sometimes–I expect to be called on it.

I understand these discussions can be uncomfortable, especially if we’ve enjoyed the story in question.  I’m still struggling with major dissonance over Transformers.  I have serious problems with the stereotypes and clichés in this thing.  I also had a lot of fun watching it.  What does it say about me if I enjoyed a movie while at the same time finding it problematic on so many levels?

Personally, I believe it’s important to examine and challenge popular culture, whether that’s movies, TV, books, music, or whatever**.  It’s important because it’s popular.  Because racism and sexism have survived and thrived in large part because we make excuses and turn a blind eye.

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*Decepticons can create perfect human doubles, and the best plan they can come up with is to send her to hop into bed with Sam?

**I say this as a man who wrote about Darth Vader in my Master’s thesis.

Get a Real Job

It’s an interesting paradox. As a writer with four novels in print, one of the most common questions I get is “When are you going to quit your day job?” On the other hand, take a writer who has done just that and runs into financial trouble. One of the first questions they hear is “Why don’t you just get a real job?

Writing “professionally” is a real job.  It’s more work than any day job I’ve had.  There’s the actual writing, the rewriting, the communication with editors, agents, and fans, the paperwork (contracts, taxes, etc.), and that’s before you decide to go to that convention or booksigning, or try to do some publicity for your work.

The real question is “Why don’t you get a safe job?”  One that would provide you with stable income, health insurance, and everything else you needed to avoid this mess.

More

Screw You, Death Clock! Signed, Fat Jim

So I was killing time, following a link from Michael Brotherton to the Death Clock, which supposedly predicts how much time you have left. Apparently I’m going to die in 2048. (At my current rate, this means I should be able to churn out about between 30 and 40 more books.  Yay!)

Anyway, I know this is just as reliable as any other online quiz, but what stuck with me was the basis for the prediction: 

1) I don’t smoke.
2) I’m 5’7″ and 161 lbs.

This, along with my gender and birth date, is the total data collected by the site*.  #1 is the “healthy” answer, but according to the site, #2 means I’m overweight and heading for an earlier grave.

Screw you, Death Clock. Screw you and your “Lethal Danger of Being Fat.”

Of course, deathclock.com is owned by Life Extension, a site whose front page is plastered with ads for vitamins, supplements, and — you guessed it — weight loss products. It’s a brilliant industry. Make people feel like crap, then promise them they can be skinny and happy again, and isn’t that worth an obscene amount of money? Of course they want to warn me of the deadly dangers of being 161 pounds. How else can they convince me to rush out and send them all my cash?

I do understand that obesity can have an adverse effect on your health.  Yes, I’ve heard that we have an increasing trend toward obesity in this country (though you wouldn’t know it wandering down to my daughter’s school and glancing at the kids).  Heck, I’ll even admit I’m in much worse shape these days than I used to be.  More exercise would be a very good thing.  But overweight?  Give me a freaking break.

I am so sick of my country’s attitude toward weight.  We don’t give a damn whether you’re healthy.  We care about whether you’re “pretty”.  And if you’re not?  If you’re heavy?  Congratulations, you’re a 21st century leper, and the rest of us can feel free to mock you and look down on you, because it’s your own fault.  Because you made yourself unhealthy.  You did choose to be fat, didn’t you? So by reminding you how fat you are, by making sure you know exactly how grotesque the rest of us think you are, I’m helping you!  I’m motivating you to get past your unhealthy habits and become healthy!  Because if you didn’t want to be fat, you wouldn’t be.

If that was the way things worked, I should weigh about 300 pounds.  Tonight I’ll eat almost an entire large pizza for dinner.  Healthy?  Definitely not.  But I was fortunate enough to be born with my mother’s metabolism.  I can hit the ice cream for a snack before bed, and I’ll still be 161 pounds at my next checkup.  I know people who eat far healthier than I do, exercise daily, and they’re still heavier than me.  Their bodies simply won’t lose the weight. But it’s so much easier to assume fat people are all lazy slobs gorging themselves on ice cream every night.

If it was really about health, we wouldn’t have diabetics deliberately going off insulin so their bodies would cannibalize themselves for fuel.  It’s effective — I lost about 30 pounds that way when I was first diagnosed.  It’s also toxic and potentially deadly.  But hey, better dead than fat, right?

I’m sick of it.  You don’t even want to know how young my daughter was the first time she came to us worried about her weight. And don’t get me started on the ever-popular Hollywood “Fat = Funny!” formula.

There are some seriously beautiful people out there who would be labeled heavy or even obese. I don’t mean that feel-good “Everyone’s pretty on the inside” stuff. I’m talking about Garcia from Criminal Minds being one of the hottest characters on TV. I’m talking pure, physical, completely shallow sexiness.

As a kid growing up, I couldn’t see that.  I was an idiot. As I can’t go back in time and kick my own ass, I’ll settle for venting on the blog.

Be beautiful.  Be healthy.  The rest of it can go to hell.

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*I forgot that they also ask if you’re optimistic or pessemistic, and yes, I recognize that the site gives a lot of emphasis to your attitude. Which doesn’t change the fact that their numbers label me overweight and then present me with nothing at all about attitude, but a nice little treatise about how being heavy is LETHALLY DANGEROUS!!!

Jim C. Hines