With every one of our reviews - be they recaps of TV series, reviews of books or even computer games, we usually include some kind of reference to what it is actually about, it is after all, the most basic element of whether someone would want to read or watch something.
So, The Dresden Files, is about a wizard in Chicago facing down all kinds of problems and breaking all the rules. The Iron Druid Chronicles, is about a millennia year old Druid getting by in a world full of deities that often wish him harm. The Elemental Assassin Series, is about a lethal magical assassin fighting the good fight in a corrupt city. The Morganville Vampires Series, is about a girl trying to live in a town completely controlled by vampires.
simple descriptions of what a book series is about. And you would think
that the only way to change these descriptions would be to radically
rewrite the entire series. But no, according to many people, I can
completely change all of these series with one simple adjustment.
can make the protagonist a minority. Or I can introduce a non-tokened
major character who is a minority. Or I can introduce - horror of
horrors - several minorities!
If Harry Dresden were gay, then suddenly The Dresden Files is a series about sexuality. If Claire were Black, then The Morganville Vampires would
morph into a book about race. If Gin Blanco were followed around by
several GBLT friends, then they may even be books that are trying to
play politics or make a point!
course, people forget that being straight is a sexuality, or that being
White is a race. Harry Dresden is definitely straight, we see several of
his love interests (and he hardly sees any woman without wanting to
have sex with her) yet, no-one would characterise this series as some
kind of treatise on straightness or straight sexuality. But include a
major gay character and suddenly it’s making a statement. Now it’s a
commentary on all gay sexuality, now it has an agenda.
is the power of the societal default - the default that allows a
privileged race, sexuality, gender, gender identity, etc to stand in as
the assumed. You can see this very clearly in the number of books that
don’t bother to describe skin tone - unless describing a POC (I once
read the line a “a girl was playing with an Asian boy” who can tell me
what race the girl was? If your answer was anything but White, you’re
most privileged state is considered the generic, it is automatic. You
don’t need a reason for your protagonist to be a cis, able bodied,
straight, white man. This is the base assumption. You actually need a
reason to make a character anything BUT a cis, able bodied, straight,
white man. So you can have a cast of 4 or 6 or 10 or even more - and
only have one woman because the straight protagonist needs to have a
love interest. Or maybe you have a Native American character to provide
some woo-woo, or a Black or gay side-kick to provide some sassy one
most commonly, you have a marginalised side character so you can
tick-box your inclusion bingo squares and give yourself a pat on the
back for being so very very progressive.
is part of the reason why so many marginalised characters are so hollow
and lacking any kind of depth or characterisation because they have
been inserted as a purpose - be that love interest, side-kick, or token
insert who stands around being Black (Hi T-Dog!)
rather than as a character in their own right. This is also why the
character’s marginalised trait (race, sexuality etc) is often
ridiculously over-saturated like the Lesbian Shark
- because that’s literally all the character is, it’s their only
defining trait. It’s also, equally, why the character may not have any
markers of their marginalisation at all (no culture, no love interest or
relationship history etc) because they haven’t been developed as a full
character - they’re a label, a cut out, a one sentence description
there to serve a basic purpose.
it’s why when you actually do include a fully fledged minority
character (and especially a protagonist) people assume you’re making a
point because you must have a reason. You can’t just be including a
character, they can’t just be a character as valid as a straight, cis,
able bodied white man - you must have had some nefarious motive for
changing the default.
many simply commenting on the fact that a series of books is completely
erased is enough to cause offense.This in part is because of a desire
to label a text niche should it happen to include a marginalised person
in a prominent role. This can lead to books as diverse as romance,
sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, historical and even non-fiction all shelved
together because they have a Black or gay etc protagonist. Their genre
is completely overwhelmed by having minority characters.
is not something we can blame on authors and, in fact, much of the
responsibility belongs to publishers and a public who refuses to even
attempt to identify with someone isn’t exactly like them. It doesn’t
seem to matter that gay people consume all sorts of media which is
overwhelmingly straight and still manage to identify with heterosexual
characters; or that people of colour consume texts in which they are
routinely reduced to sidekicks but still manage to identify and at times
even empathise with a White protagonists. Merely mentioning that a
series is highly erased is enough to have some claiming that there is no
need for inclusion or that said inclusion would magically shift the
story. Such claims of course are little more than privileged blather.
truth of the matter is that erasure is normalised and status quo for
such texts to be considered mainstream. This is why it seen as shocking
to some when we take the time to mention in our review whether or not
the text we are examining is erased. Though we have been charged with
politicising our review, in truth, everything we do is political to some
degree, so why the forms of entertainment we choose to consume should
be free of such influence is beyond me. Going with the status quo
(read: erasure or tokenism) is absolutely a political choice because it
supports our dissonance in worth and value, even as it upholds the idea
that only a certain group of people deserve to be seen or heard.
Unless you have a vested interest in preserving your privilege, simply
saying that there are no marginalised people in a text should not be
enough to cause denials and protestations. Marginalised people are human
and should be recognised as such. If a story can include vampires, fae,
werewolves and shit dancing elves, it should not be such a hardship to
include one or two fully realised marginalised characters. It won’t
change the world, or the nature of publishing industry but it will
acknowledge that othering, no matter what form it takes, is oppression.
if we continue to maintain the default of straight, cis, white, able
bodied men with other characters only included to tick boxes or for a
specific purpose, then we are accepting marginalised people as Other. We
are accepting marginalised people as not full people, not full members
of society and only tools to use for specific needs; they are never REAL
people in the way that the straight, cis, able bodied white man is.
people are people. We are members of society and we are part of our
society’s stories, culture and life. We do not have to have a reason to
exist, we do not have to justify our presence in a straight, cis, white,
able-bodied man’s story. We have our own stories, our own lives and
are, much as many privileged folks may resent it, a part of your stories
as well. You don’t need a reason to include us - because there’s no
reason why we can’t - why we aren’t - everywhere and in every story.
than question why a story has to include us, ask why a world, a story, a
setting has mysteriously excluded people who actually exist - people
who should be there.
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Friday, February 8, 2013
Marginalized Characters Do Not Define The Story
Posted by Renee at 9:08 AM
Labels: marginalized people, the Friday discussion