Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reflections on teh RaceFail

My somewhat entirely selfish observation about the whole "RaceFail '09" debacle is this:

I'm really glad I attended Viable Paradise last year, because this year's class experience is sure to be tainted--if not completely eclipsed--by this stupid thing. (Lucky XIII, indeed.)

Aside: I didn't even know about any of this until I caught up with my VPXII classmate Alberto's LiveJournal. Yes, I am a grumpy old man.

John Scalzi called it "discussion of [x]," and I agree. This particular thread has gone way, way off the rails and off-topic. A few cooler heads, including Scalzi and friends, have attempted to wrestle the conversation back to the subject of race, but the damage has been done, and any good that comes out of it at this point has come at an enormous and unnecessary cost.

This is all I have to say about [x]:

Issues of race (and, by extension, racism) are deeply personal, for people of any heritage. When you choose to make those issues public, well, thank you for sharing, but please be aware of what you're getting into.

You can't write and perform The Vagina Monologues without eventually becoming an activist. You can't write The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian without tapping into centuries of American history.

That's political. And politics is all about power and diplomacy. Unfortunately, on the Internet, both those dimensions are collapsed into a single channel--text--and sometimes, words alone aren't enough. You can't end a war with an aphorism.

And now for something completely different relevant:


But seriously, folks:


You are not the work. This is something pro writers say, a lot, when advising baby writers. It means that you have to learn to accept criticism of your work by understanding that "this story sucks" is a fundamentally different statement than "you suck."

The line is much finer when it comes to blogs and comments thereupon. What you say is not who you are, but it is all that people see here. Your words are your actions in this space, and actions have consequences.

(My final remark below is not directed toward any particular person. I offer it as a general guideline for all.)

On the Internet, no one knows if you're a dog, but what other conclusion should they draw if all you do is bark?



Stephen said...

I apologize in advance for derailing your comments. I think the question of race is really important, and the guest posts Scalzi hosted on the topic went a long way toward pushing me to write some things I was afraid of.

That said, do you really think it's impossible to write and perform The Vagina Monologues without becoming an activist? I ask because Eve Ensler's transformation from artist to activist is a minor obsession of mine.

In my mind, there's nothing inherently activist about the work. It's a structurally interesting piece on its own, but no better or worse than a lot of other one-person-shows. I think it's actually the marketing of the play that's inherently activist, relying on built in controversy and celebrity performances to drive a larger agenda (and promote Ensler at the same time).

Which isn't to accuse her of cynical manipulation. I believe she's sincere, but the activism lends the play more weight than it might earn on its own.

CKL said...

No apology necessary. The comments are here for others to speak their minds, and maybe the conversation goes elsewhere. I'm okay with that.

Regarding activism:

Many good stories have been written which include vaginas. Many of those stories did not make said vagina(s) the focus of the narrative, or include the word "vagina" in the title of the story. Now, whether or not a particular story features a vagina is arguably not an accurate barometer of its quality, but calling attention to said vagina will affect how some people perceive said story, regardless of its content or quality.

You'd have to be pre-pubescent or socially inept not to understand that discussions of sex (and race) are freighted with millennia of tension, oppression, repression, and confusion. Eve Ensler was not operating in a vacuum when she created The Vagina Monologues, and she knew she was directly addressing the politics of the word "vagina." If nothing else, I'd argue that choosing the title she did is inherently activist.

But there's nothing wrong with that. I think she knew what she was doing, and more power to her. The world is a better place with vaginas than without. Talking vaginas, that is. You know what I mean.