What’s the Trouble With Selfies? Speculative Fiction and the Mirror Effect

The Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year is “selfie.” If you’ve been living, er, in Tokyo with not a lot of time spent on social media, you may be surprised to learn that this is a current slang term for “self-portrait photograph.” Supposedly it originated in Australia. We did need a word for this though: who hasn’t taken a selfie at some point? I sure have, when trying to get a good author picture. Moral of the story, some things are worth paying a professional for.

My selfies were worthless, both as photographs and as portraits. They neither looked attractive nor did they look much like me. Let’s face it, this is true for most people, no matter how beautiful they may be in real life. Just think of all those pouting, lens-distorted pics that celebrities for some reason see fit to tweet to their followers.

lucian freud self-portraitThe principle here is a familiar one. The harder you try to look good the worse you will actually look. The pictures on the left and right illustrate of the difference between a self-portrait and a selfie. Hint: the self-portrait is the one where the subject isn’t trying to look good.

Selfies remove objectivity from the subject-artist loop of creation. Add in a professional photographer or portrait artist and beauty happens. Conversely, grotesquerie is inherent in the selfie creation process, this having been reduced to a mirror-gazing session.

Sometimes I feel like speculative fiction is stuck in a hall of mirrors.

There’s so much talk about representing diverse voices. It’s a good thing to have stories written by lots of different sorts of people, of course it is! But the call for diversity is usually interpreted with deadly literal-mindedness as a call for more characters who are female / black / Asian / what have you. Why are we all so keen to see ourselves on the page?

The magazine Expanded Horizons describes its mission thus:

The mission of this webzine is to increase diversity in the field of speculative fiction, both in the authors who contribute and in the perspectives presented. [...] we aim to push the field of speculative fiction out of its own “comfort zone” toward increased inclusion of, and comfort with, diverse perspectives, backgrounds and points of view.

The magazine features a “list of stories by topic” which runs from Africa to Yoruban authors.* Mix ‘n’ match your preferred ethnic / sexual identifiers to create your very own comfort zone! Just don’t stare into the mirror too long or your reflection may start to look like a trout-pouted minor celebrity with a cocaine hangover.

Fandom has tried to develop this literal-minded concept of diversity in real life with the establishment of “safe spaces” for female and non-white fans at conventions. It hasn’t always worked too well, owing to a problem with gawkers. The Angry Black Woman, a blogger, had an unfortunately typical experience at WisCon in 2010: her squee was harshed by “people who just stared into the POC safe space room like it was a particularly interesting zoo exhibit complete with pointing.” Pity the poor black fan who can’t attend a convention without people touching her hair or asking her to teach them about negritude. But also spare a wee drop of compassion for the straight, white, able-bodied, cis-gendered male! He’s lectured on his lack of diversity, told to read more stories about and by people with diverse perspectives–and yet when he tries to approach them in real life, it all too often … doesn’t end well. 

Real life isn’t a hall of mirrors. In real life, people don’t look like their selfies. They look so much better.

Nothing is gained by mapping our fragmented ethnic and sexual identities onto our fiction with the fidelity of a cellphone camera photo. Well, nothing except approval from the right-thinking crowd, which, I admit, can be quite the headrush. But please let’s leave this stuff to lit-fic, shall we? Dissection and interrogation of contemporary identities is exactly what lit-fic does, and it does it well. Speculative fiction does not, precisely because it’s always half a step, at least, away from contemporary reality. So other stuff gets mixed in with the identity signifiers and everyone gets upset.

stephen baxter_evolutionWhat speculative fiction does well is diversity on the species level. Our aliens, dragons, orcs, and even or especially our far-future selves ask us, in as many ways as there are books, what it means to be human. The most diverse and challenging perspectives I’ve ever read in science fiction are by Stephen Baxter, especially the latter chapters of his Evolution. Holy crap, that book took me so far out of my comfort zone that my brain was orbiting around Cygnus Minor. Speculative fiction this good achieves something no other genre can do: it makes you realize, really realize, that we’re all in this together. Black, white, yellow, brown, male, female … to the Big Bad lurking on the dark side of the moon, we all look like snacks. That kind of perspective shift is what I read the genre for.

If I wanted to stare at selfies, I’d just read mum-lit.**

***

* Well worth a peruse. If you don’t know what a “pomosexual” is, or the difference between “neutrois” and “otherkin,” here y’ go! That said, I am still no wiser for having read several of the linked stories. Turns out that good fiction will tend not to reflect its author’s pomosexuality. Who’d a thunk it?

** Except I wouldn’t, because there aren’t really any books out there that reflect my identity. It’s too damn complex. And I bet yours is, too. I will own to reading mum-lit occasionally, for the lulz.


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42 Comments

  1. June 1, 2014, 11:02 am   / 

    […] Time Machine by Harry Harrison I, Rocket by Ray Bradbury with an Introduction by JM Stine What’s the Trouble With Selfies? Speculative Fiction and the Mirror Effect Un ciclo de Ciencia Ficción en Paradise […]

  2. February 9, 2014, 11:37 am   / 

    […] To Be A Fan?!? Five Things To Consider About Science Fiction Novedades De Enero en Hispanoamérica What’s the Trouble With Selfies? Speculative Fiction and the Mirror Effect Deconstructing Horror: Haunted Houses Stupefying Stories: Campbell Award Nominees (Free) Anthology […]

  3. February 2, 2014, 12:04 pm   / 

    […] Us? Fantasy Novels to Appeal to the Science Fiction Reader and Vice Versa Living With the Nazis What’s the Trouble With Selfies? Speculative Fiction and the Mirror Effect Open Source Horror: The Slender Man Interview with SFWA Grand Master Michael Moorcock Asni’s Art […]

  4. January 3, 2014, 4:47 am   / 

    […] remember that time when Amazing Stories posted an article from Author Felicity Savage comparing “selfies” to diversity in SFF and managed to be both offensive and […]

  5. December 9, 2013, 11:01 am   / 

    […] Amazing Stories, the ‘Selfie’ and the Lack of Gratuitous Diversity | Nerd Caliber on What’s the Trouble With Selfies? Speculative Fiction and the Mirror Effect […]

  6. December 8, 2013, 12:13 pm   / 

    […] November 28th Author Felicity Savage wrote an article for Amazing Stories Magazine Online detailing the issues with the “selfie” (The Oxford English Dictionary’s “Word of the […]

  7. December 8, 2013, 11:03 am   / 

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  8. Profile photo of C E Martin
    December 7, 2013, 2:52 pm   / 

    So who is the sunburned girl in the selfie?

    • Profile photo of Felicity Savage
      December 8, 2013, 7:41 am   / 

      I wish I knew! I felt bad about using her without accreditation. Her photo comes from a list of “Worst Celebrity Selfies” or something like that.

  9. December 7, 2013, 11:04 am   / 

    […] poorly chosen words and trigger phrases used in a few of my comments on Felicity Savage’s Selfies/Diversity post gave the impression that I and this website are anti-diversity, not cognizant of the issues […]

  10. December 5, 2013, 11:57 pm   / 

    […] Felicity Savage (Amazing Stories) with What’s the Trouble With Selfies? Speculative Fiction and the Mirror Effect […]

  11. Profile photo of Kitie
    December 5, 2013, 9:57 am   / 

    Steve –
    “So let me get this straight: we’re to have non-white characters that are merely descriptions of non-whites?”

    Well, in a certain sense yes. But only if you treat them the way you would any character, meaning you develop their background as much as is applicable to the story and personality traits and so on, if it’s pertinent to the story you should give a description of their culture, but if it doesn’t really serve a purpose then it’s a waste of time. If we treat all characters as equal, without a base assumption of their whiteness then a description should be good enough. They don’t need to have a reason to be a POC to be in the story. Especially in a fantasy story where it’s often set in an entirely different time and place and not on earth. Robert Jordan succeeds incredibly well at this in the Wheel of Time. There is a huge range of races in his books but it doesn’t matter that they aren’t white and in several of the cultures people range from very dark skinned to very pale.
    A great example of what I’m talking about is in American Gods; the protagonist Shadow is an american black man. We don’t hear about his personal history with racism in America, we don’t hear about how racism has affected him or how his racial origins or culture makes him be the way he is. We hear about his having been in jail and about his relationship with his wife. No need to expound on the fact that he is a black dude and all that his racial identity means to him. It’s just a fact, not something worth commenting on beyond a description. Gaiman feels no need to justify that he made the character black.

    “Countries of origin/cultures of origin that are simply named as part of background without that affecting the character’s perspectives? viewpoints? life experiences?”
    Do we do this for white characters? Do I need to know about Shadows white wife’s county of origin or her culture? No, I just need to know about the fact that she’s dead and what the hell is going on with that.

    I would like to reiterate something, If it’s pertinent to the story and it matters to provide a background description of what a culture is like, for instance if say, they have been forced to do something because of their race, then yes, by all means as readers we will need lots of background as to their history and cultural context as in Gods War by Kameron Hurley or Odd and the Frost Giants which gives us a brief description of life as a Scandanavian living hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Both books are deeply embedded in their culture and history and lots of background is required to understand why people are making the choices they are.
    But in a book like American Gods or The Best of All Possible Worlds (by Karen Lord), the characters are who they are and they happen to be people of color and not much is commented on in regards to that fact.

    “And not cardboard cut-outs who are simply named strangely and claim some non-western origin, but real people who are different from stereotypical north american white males”
    Doesn’t matter if your character is white or black or a green skinned alien from the Andromeda galaxy, what you are describing is lazy writing. I want all the characters in a story to be as fully developed as the story makes possible and stereotypes of any kind of person whether it be based around their race, sexual orientation, gender, disability, etc used to replace character development are bad.

    It feels very much like both you and the author of this piece seem to be arguing for special rules regarding using characters who aren’t white. It’s as if you and she are saying that the only time we can include characters who aren’t white is if we follow these special guidelines and use them in very specific ways. Whether it be as some kind of teaching moment for white people or a role model for other people of color and that if we don’t make a big deal out of the fact that they aren’t white and give them all this history and background and most of all a reason why they are a person of color and I simply don’t agree with that. I look to characters to be characters and their physical descriptions only matters when I craft a picture of them in my head. Otherwise I try to allow each character to develop based on what is on the page.

    TL;DR – Characters don’t need to have a reason to be non white. If they aren’t white that fact doesn’t need to be treated specially in the story with extra description and purpose. They can just be that way because the author wants them to be.

    • Profile photo of Steve Davidson
      December 5, 2013, 10:48 am   / 

      OK, well, at least your response has identified one of the things that I believe we’re kind of talking at cross-purposes about.

      I’ve not been trying to say or suggest that non-white characters “need a reason to be non-white”. Nor was I trying to suggest that the inclusion of non-white characters requires a justification on the part of the author for having written the character that way.

      I started discussing this issue from the personal point of view (not expressly stated here) that characters should be whatever their author wants them to be AND from the belief that it is appropriate for authors to try and stretch and offer up characters that represent the entire human race.

      I am also of the belief that when they do so, it is a good and positive thing that can have the effect of widening the world view of readers. Part of our discord may be somewhat generational.: An example to try and explain: Black Presidents of the USA. For most of my life and experience, such was a far-flung almost impossibility in reality. Yet science fiction (many films, fewer books) made their presidents black – not because they were creating a character who happened to be black, but as a stereotype of the future. The President is black, therefore, this must be the future.

      Now, if the story of the black president in the future was primarily about that character, I’d expect to see the author develop the story and present that character as someone who has had the experiences of being black in america – not as a white politician who is black by description only..

      (We now have the real-world experience of a black President and can see first hand that Obama’s experience of being President is far different from those of the white Presidents that have preceded him – and much of that difference in experience is due, sadly, to the fact that he is black. Our society is not treating him as a man who is racially black, they are treating him based on their perceptions of his race.)

      Back to the nuance: I don’t believe that characters are just their physical description – height, weight, eye color, hair color, skin color, timber of voice and other physical attributes. Such may suffice for minor characters, but if we move to characters that are more than just faces in the crowd, they have had experiences that make them different and distinguishable from one another. Without such we have clones as characters.

      Those differences are usually drawn from their cultural experiences while growing up, where they’ve lived, the influences of their parents, etc and I would expect and hope to see that those back stories are accurately and honestly portrayed through the development of those characters. If a Latino’s life experience is exactly the same as a white character’s,. than I’d expect to be seeing them react and act in the same ways. But if it hasn’t been the same, than I would expect to see some of those differences coming through – and both presentations would be valid if they are supported by the surrounding story.

      Take food for example. There is great cultural variety in the kinds of foods that are prepared and eaten in white households that have different ethnic backgrounds. I’m jewish and was raised in a conservative jewish household (later reform) that kept kosher during the early years of my life but stopped being so when I got older. I married a Sicilian (of english/sicilian extraction whose household was dominated by Sicilian culture). I am constantly introducing my wife to “jewish foods” and often preparing dishes of italian/sicilian cuisine for dinner at her request. I eat far more pasta than I ever did growing up and she now knows what a “knish” is, (and also knows that gefilte fish utterly disgusts her). I’ve learned how to make her grandmother’s tomato sauce recipe (though I prefer vodka sauce myself).

      Food preferences, clothing preferences, language, physical space, facial expressions, body language, all of these things are subtly different based on our backgrounds and upbringings. I want characters to be true to whatever those backgrounds are. I’m not looking for long expository biographies; I am looking for those bits of subtle detail that will keep those characters true to those backgrounds. If someone grew up poor, it had multiple effects on them, influenced the person they are today. While we as readers may not see the detail, the author ought to be cognizant of that fact and weave it into the character they create. Likewise for race, sex, religion & etc.

  12. Profile photo of Will Shetterly
    December 5, 2013, 9:51 am   / 

    Huh. I appear to be pomosexual. But I think naming that particular belief is not in the spirit of having that belief; I prefer St. Paul’s proposal that there is neither male nor female. Identitarians are obsessed with defining identities, but the only human identity I care about is “human”. As Malcolm X said, “I believe in recognizing every human being as a human being–neither white, black, brown, or red; and when you are dealing with humanity as a family there’s no question of integration or intermarriage. It’s just one human being marrying another human being or one human being living around and with another human being.”

    • Profile photo of Steve Davidson
      December 5, 2013, 10:00 am   / 

      I wonder at the thoughts of those who are against non-hetero relationships but who also own pets: here they are, loving and living with a member of another species (presumably absent the sexual component) of either sex and they give not a second’s thought to how much further down the rabbit hole that relationship goes than one involving two members of the same species.

      • Profile photo of Will Shetterly
        December 5, 2013, 10:36 am   / 

        Well, “pet owners” is a category that ranges from people who treat their pets as honored guests to people who treat them as slaves. And I’m constantly amazed by people who treat their pets with great love and act with indifference or hate to humans who’re poorer than they are. There’s something in many members of our species that lets us choose who deserves to be considered equal. Ta-nehisi Coates has a great photo of American Nazis at a Nation of Islam rally in “Bigotry and the English Language”. People like them deserve each other–but none of the rest of us deserve either of them.

    • Profile photo of Felicity Savage
      December 5, 2013, 7:32 pm   / 

      Exactly, Will! I could have titled this piece “Against Identitarianism” if I had thought that useful word would be widely enough understood :) As you probably realize, my argument comes from the core belief that our contemporary identies (ethnic / sexual / what have you) are very poor tools for defining us as humans, and sff has the ability to do a much better job by going beyond these identities. Which is why it grieves me when I see the genre getting bogged down in identity politics that revolve around the redressing of perceived or real slights. I don’t want fiction driven by political grudges, I want fiction alive with joy. So too I think do many of the right-on bunch. They just have a different way of putting it.

      • Profile photo of Momato
        December 6, 2013, 1:58 am   / 

        Quite frankly, who doesn’t want to go beyond surface differences and celebrate our common humanity? Who doesn’t want to write or read joyous fiction? But given that a human character must necessarily have gender, ethnicity and race, I don’t quite see how we can go beyond these using “poor tools” to define character unless we apathetically fall back on the norm, which is something you have disowned stating or implying. Our definitions of identity need to be expanded rather than negated and lobbying for such change is often the best way to bring attention to a need for change. How, if I were to write a story about a man struggling to open a jar of pickles, would it detract from my story or make it less joyous if I were to consciously choose to make his name Ahmed so as to make the story reflective of contemporary awareness? Why is it an onerous burden of political correctness to consider such a choice? It is all joy, to me, to write a story that both reflects my vision and inner life and serves a larger purpose. Ms. Savage, the only way to get beyond defining ourselves by our ethnic and sexual identities is to become conscious of our choices and consciously choose new ones for our characters. If you’d like to see this as so much “liberal patting of oneself on the back,” that is your choice, but quite obviously many of us disagree.

  13. December 4, 2013, 11:15 pm   / 

    […] The debate about Felicity Savage’s ill-advised article at Amazing Stories is still going on. At External Memory, a blogger identified only as the bluest girl explains why it is important to see someone (or preferably several someones) like yourself in the media we consume. And in the comments at Amazing Stories, editor Steve Davidson responds to the criticism the article has received. […]

  14. December 4, 2013, 4:51 pm   / 

    […] We return to today, to our serial, Attack of the POC Pod People. In our latest installment Amazing Stories responded with amazement at the fact that POCs were somewhat upset about a certain piece on diversity. […]

  15. Profile photo of Kitie
    December 4, 2013, 3:54 pm   / 

    “But the call for diversity is usually interpreted with deadly literal-mindedness as a call for more characters who are female / black / Asian / what have you. Why are we all so keen to see ourselves on the page?”

    Are you legitimately asking why people want to see characters who are like themselves (meaning their own race/sex/sexual orientation/whatever) reflected in the stories they consume? So they can relate better to the work itself, so they feel like their own stories can be told as well. This whole article positively REEKS of unexamined privilege.
    You personally don’t care about seeing yourself reflected in the stories and media you consume. That’s great for you, however as a white woman you see yourself reflected everywhere. You are in ads, games, books, movies, music, etc. People who look like you are considered the female default. You aren’t in need of a story with people who look like you because they are everywhere.
    When crafting this article did you consider what it would be like to be someone who is not the default? That if you didn’t see people like you reflected in everything all around you how that might make you feel?
    Perhaps as an outsider.
    Or unaccepted in society.
    That maybe for other people who haven’t lived a life of being white and highly privileged it might be pretty nice to see someone who looks like you in the characters you like to read about?

    The thing that really struck me about this article is that you are inadvertently arguing to maintain that privilege. Your comment to Momito was –
    “I do want to point out that nowhere in my piece do I state or imply that “the norm should be white.” No you didn’t. You didn’t have to either because when you list off diversity as being everything BUT white then you are doing everything but coming out and stating the norm is white. C’mon, be real here. That is the norm in the genre and you wrote a whole article decrying people writing about characters who are anything other than white. The logical interpretation is sitting right there in front of you.

    Also, this line?
    “Pity the poor black fan who can’t attend a convention without people touching her hair or asking her to teach them about negritude.”
    G.R.O.S.S.
    The language, the sarcasm, the sentences that come after it, super super SUPER gross way to talk about someone who is simply asking that they be treated with respect.

  16. Profile photo of Zoe Mei
    December 4, 2013, 3:37 pm   / 

    I wonder if the author of this article, Felicity Savage, would be fine if the majority of speculative fiction featured male characters and women were relegated to stereotypical wife and victim roles. Too many females forget that they were the first group to successfully push for diversity and affirmative action. But that they don’t stopped when people of color asked for their share too.

  17. December 4, 2013, 3:00 pm   / 

    […] it got pointed out to me that Steve Davidson, the AS editor, has jumped into the discussion to try and clarify the muddle. It hasn’t helped much, but I […]

  18. December 4, 2013, 12:03 pm   / 

    […] have also been some neat articles and fairly furious controversies this week. Amazing Stories ran an opinion piece arguing that diversity isn’t needed in science fiction, which was met with predictable horror (from me, Radish Reviews, Cora Buhlert, The World in the […]

  19. December 4, 2013, 12:02 pm   / 

    […] same weekend, Felicity Savage wrote an article in which she *explains* that diversity isn’t necessary in speculative fiction and that […]

  20. December 4, 2013, 11:46 am   / 

    […] and head dude of Amazing Stories, Steve Davidson, has made a couple of really, really offensive comments on Savage’s article.  Silvia Moreno-Garcia has already responded thoroughly to one of them, but […]

  21. Profile photo of Steve Davidson
    December 3, 2013, 7:53 am   / 

    I’m honestly surprised at some of the responses this piece has received – it almost seems to have spawned an internet industry…

    My take on Felicity’s piece when reviewing it before publication was that the thrust of her argument was that many are “doing diversity” to conform to the trend and be able to tick off another box on the marketing list.

    It’s wrong to white wash a book cover. It’s also wrong to inject diversity just for the sake of patting yourself on the back (hence the selfie connection). Genuine diversity, drawn from an honest background, serving the story and giving the reader a chance to learn something new – all to be lauded and encouraged. Black, or brown or yellow or red washing the covers isn’t.

    • Profile photo of Momato
      December 4, 2013, 3:43 am   / 

      You give a reasonable defense of avoiding writing in diversity for the sake of political correctness. Felicity Savage, however, says nothing in her article that suggests she understands the difference between what you call “genuine diversity” and the lip-service diversity she decries. She seems not to see that there is a difference and that any desire to or act of inclusion of a character of atypical gender, ethnicity is an act of liberal back-patting. She further uses the idea of “selfies” as an analogy, suggesting that those who desire to see people who look like them in the media they consume are somehow vain narcissists. If she were interested in exposing this practice as self-congratulatory liberalism, a more fitting comparison would be with affirmative action legislation. I’m not sure what you mean by saying that genuine diversity must be drawn from “an honest background.” It seems to me if a type of character who is typically portrayed as white can also be portrayed as black or brown or yellow or red, there should be no reason not to do so. Why should white be the norm? People of all colors are citizens of this country and inhabitants of the world; all are readers of speculative fiction. Why shouldn’t they see themselves reflected in the literature they read? It made all the difference to me, growing up Asian in America, to see people who look like me portrayed in TV shows, films, movies and plays in a way that wasn’t stereotyped or linked to some old-world cultural reference. I still feel gratified and yes, validated, when I see myself reflected in American culture, an experience common to people of many racial and ethnic backgrounds in this country. If it is wrong to white wash a book cover, as you say, then it must be right to include characters of other races on said cover and right to have the heroes and heroines of these books come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Doing so is a way of doing away with the notion that the norm is and should be white in this country. That, I believe, is what people are fighting for, and why so many protested to Felicity Savage’s article. In your defense of her, you at least suggested that diversity is a desirable goal. Perhaps you understood this to be part of Ms. Savage’s implication, but many readers, including myself, saw no such message between her lines.

      • Profile photo of Felicity Savage
        December 4, 2013, 6:32 am   / 

        Hi Momato! Thanks for engaging. I appreciate your comment.

        I do want to point out that nowhere in my piece do I state or imply that “the norm should be white.” In repudiating the “selfie-seeking” type of diversity, which I term superficial, I am repudiating it–of course–on my own behalf too! Heaven knows I don’t speak for all white people; but I don’t personally want to see myself reflected in the fiction I read. See last line and second footnote.

        You do say that you feel gratified and validated when you see yourself reflected in American culture, and I’m glad of that for you! Would you care to expand on this thought at all?

        • Profile photo of Momato
          December 5, 2013, 7:05 am   / 

          Thank you, Ms. Savage, for your very gracious response to my post.

          While it is true that you do not state in your piece that “the norm should be white”, the fact is that the norm IS white, so when you suggest that providing racially diverse characters is unnecessary, it is difficult not to infer that you are suggesting that the norm should be white.

          I agree that speculative fiction can and should enable us to look outwards or at least inwards with our imaginations and not so much to look at ourselves. But if we are to include human characters in our stories, then we must acknowledge that to exist as a member of the human race is to be a member of any number of racial and ethnic groups that make up the population of this world. When I re-read your article, I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps your perspective has been skewed by having enjoyed the privileges of a life-time of being white, that perhaps you don’t have a need to see your racial identity in your fiction because you already do. Which leads me to answering your question. Thank you for asking. I was born in the U.S. to Asian parents in a time when maybe 98% of the characters on TV and film and in books were white. The people in power were white men, the great majority of my school teachers were white and most of my classmates and neighbors, as well. Happily, the area in which I was born and in which I still live is now quite racially and ethnically diverse. But whhile this diversity has begun to be reflected in the media, particularly in targeted advertising and news broadcasting, I see that film, television, theater and literature have been much slower to change. The older I get, the more frustrated I become with this dissonance. I also increasingly become aware of how isolated I have felt in my life, particularly as a child and young adult, because I look different from other people and have a different ethnic background. Part of what has led me to this awareness is simply interacting with a greater diversity of people and experiencing how i feel with them. I am aware that I at times feel somewhat less than others because something in me perceives them to be more a part of the culture we share and therefore “better” than I am. I’m not saying this is a correct perception, but rather one that I feel because of having similar thoughts and feelings at an age at which I was not aware of them. By the time I got to college, there were many other Asian people around me and Asian and Asian American characters were beginning to appear in the media. I remember when I was in college watching an episode of a TV sitcom about a white family in which one of the characters meets and falls in love with a girl who is Asian American. And I remember feeling, watching that TV show, the way I often feel when I see an Asian face in a mainstream production or read of an Asian character in a publication: I felt like I could relax just a little more and let just a little bit of my defenses down because maybe I was a little more a part of my world and didn’t have to protect or justify myself anymore. Children need to see themselves reflected positively in the world around them in order to develop a healthy identity. Adults need a sense of community and belonging, as well. All humans do, and so to me, yes, one job, the most important job of general literature, is to act as a mirror – so we can see ourselves not only to understand ourselves as individuals but that we are not alone as human beings. And while speculative fiction also serves another purpose, there is a point at which speculative fiction cannot avoid being about the creatures that create it and read it and is therefore a reflection of its authors, publishers and consumers .

      • Profile photo of Steve Davidson
        December 4, 2013, 9:00 am   / 

        Momato; thanks.

        I can only go by the facts at hand and my own personal perception: I read the piece, came to the conclusion(s) I previously mentioned and am sensitive enough to the over-riding issue (diversity) that I questioned Ms. Savage about her intent with the piece. I received confirmation that my perception of the intent was on track.

        I think it is pretty clear that attacking the intent of diversity is a fool’s errand – at least for a website that publicly states its support for such.

        I think that calling into question gratuitous examples of diversity advances a valid argument: stating that a character belongs to a particular minority while not backing that character up with background and characteristics that make them genuine representatives of that minority is, in many respects, gratuitous. The point of featuring non-majority characters is to expand our experience and knowledge, not to make a work more marketable. (And other things, like creating more opportunity, providing good role models, etc)

        I, for instance, am bothered by television commercials where it is obvious that some corporate hack somewhere demanded that “one of every kind” be visualized in the commercial. They’re not genuine portrayals, they’re contrived and as such distort. It’s the same thing as rote translating a slogan – without bothering to find out that the rote translation might be slang for something offensive, or have an entirely different colloquial meaning in the native culture. Nuance and detail matter.

        I think Ms. Savage’s piece has caused some waves not because the basic concept (which admittedly was not perceived by many) is an incorrect one, but perhaps because the manner of presentation obscured it. What I do know is that I published it because I believed that what I perceived to be its main argument (we don’t want gratuitous diversity) was a decent, thought-provoking one.

        I’d like to and will take Ms. Savage’s word that her intent was what I perceived it to be (and as she has stated elsewhere here in the comments): we can certainly argue over technique, the (in-)advisability of playing with fire in a public space, the greater need for clarity when handling such emotionally-laden issues, but I don’t believe, at all, that Ms. Savage intended to suggest that we should drop diversity, or the pursuit of encouraging more of it. I think what she wanted to suggest was that in order for our pursuit of diversity to work and be truly effective, we need to encourage the genuine expression of it.

        • Profile photo of Kitie
          December 4, 2013, 4:15 pm   / 

          “The point of featuring non-majority characters is to expand our experience and knowledge, not to make a work more marketable”
          No, it’s not. “Minority” characters aren’t there to teach and educate people that GASP they are people too! They are characters and unless it’s the main focus of the story that they are a member of _____ culture, it shouldn’t matter what ethnicity they are. If we don’t have to justify why a character is white, we shouldn’t have to do the same for a person of color.
          That idea in and of itself is part of the problem, it’s the very core of the concept that white characters are the default.

          • Profile photo of Steve Davidson
            December 5, 2013, 8:40 am   / 

            Jeez Kitie..

            So let me get this straight: we’re to have non-white characters that are merely descriptions of non-whites? Countries of origin/cultures of origin that are simply named as part of background without that affecting the character’s perspectives? viewpoints? life experiences?

            Encouraging and including diversity in our works DOES have a lot of goals and like it or not, one of them IS to expose readers (mostly white) to different kinds of people whose life experiences will not be similar to their own. And not cardboard cut-outs who are simply named strangely and claim some non-western origin, but real people who are different from stereotypical north american white males. Such may not be the primary goal of the author, but if this is not a part of what is accomplished – why the acclaim for works that successfully present unexpected character types in non-traditional roles? I think it’s because we’re seeing reality reflected in those works of fiction – ethnicities other than whites as the lead, as the hero, as the voice of reason and experience.

        • Profile photo of Momato
          December 5, 2013, 5:23 am   / 

          Thanks, Mr. Davidson, for your clear defense of Ms. Savage’s article and your inclusion of it in your blog. I tend to agree that I would like to see minority characters included as default without a need to justify their inclusion with cultural context. I believe the overall intent of your argument, however, is to maintain that any person, regardless of race, must be seen and appreciated as a complex human being who has arrived at any place and point in time via a unique history and journey and not for his/her outward appearance . On this point, we concur.

          • Profile photo of Felicity Savage
            December 5, 2013, 8:04 am   / 

            Dear Momato,

            Applause! “Any person, regardless of race, must be seen and appreciated as a complex human being who has arrived at any place and point in time via a unique history and journey and not for his/her outward appearance.” This was precisely my point. You may have made it better than I did, judging by the number of people who seem to have got the wrong end of the stick.

            Thank you for sharing a glimpse of your own journey in your comment above. I get that seeing Asian characters on TV made you feel included, more a part of society. I can empathise with that! As a parallel, I’m sitting here trying to imagine how it would feel to see a foreign character on a Japanese TV drama, not as “the gaijin” but just as one of the characters … my jaw would hit the floor, that’s for sure.

            I especially like your next-to-last line. Maybe we need to expand the “mirror” figure of speech: It’s helpful and lovely to see ourselves in the mirror of fiction–as long as we’re not alone, but are reflected with others there! Then, of course, it’s not a “selfie” anymore :)

  22. December 2, 2013, 11:57 pm   / 

    […] offensive and debate sparking post of the week comes once again courtesy of Amazing Stories, where Felicity Savage somehow manages to link the current fashion for so-called “selfies”, i.e…. And according to Ms. Savage, both are examples of narcissism and why can’t we all read […]

  23. December 1, 2013, 4:42 pm   / 

    […] I feel I need to address an article and a tweet from the author of that article who takes the position that diversity is […]

  24. December 1, 2013, 11:00 am   / 

    […] What’s the Trouble With Selfies? Speculative Fiction and the Mirror Effect The Language of Scandal: Why Do Speculative Fiction Writers Love Disgusting Scatological Insults? The Conjuring (2013) The Ultimate Science Fiction Reading List Doctor-Who-Matt-Smith When Science Fiction is Not Science Fiction Not All Small Presses Are Equal Open Source Horror: The Slender Man Deconstructing Horror: Haunted Houses The Curse of Fandom, or: Three Stages of Addiction: Fan, Faan, and Fantiquarian Bearing Witness: Death and Life in Universal’s Frankenstein Remembrances—Classic Science Fiction Books RWBY: The Anime-Inspired Webseries I Can’t Stop Talking About A veteran of the Robotech wars EDITORIAL SATURDAY Winter is Coming There’s Something About Night Vale Witchfinder General Soundtrack Dubbing Gone Wrong: Americanization, Racism, and Willful Ignorance Individualism, Atheism, and the Search for God in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road Dear Video Game Developers, Hire Real Writers! “LA LANZA DE LONGINOS”: UNA ENTREVISTA A SISINIA ANZE TERÁN The Icon of Monsters and Monster Models AMAZING News 11/24/13 Scide Splitters: Venus on the Half-Shell by Philip José Farmer Interview with Award-Winning Author David Brin Doctor Who’s 50th Anniversary Episode Was Epic AMAZING WORLD Interview with Award-Winning Author Lois McMaster Bujold Trips to Hidden Places La ciencia ficción en Bolivia: Resumen histórico An Introduction to the Empire’s Corps Review — One Good SF/Horror “B”-Movie to Watch Unearthing Forgotten Horrors: Hauntology, Psychogeography, and Folk Horror The Week of the Doctor star wars alex kane interviw David Whitaker – Unsung Hero of Doctor Who Books That Never Were – Farewell Atlantis How To Guarantee A Short Fiction Sale Every Single Effin Time You Submit A Story iHobby 2013 My New Favorite (U.S.) Sci-fi Show – Almost Human The Howl of Family: A Review of Wolf Children Characters: Clare of Claymore Etymology ASM Blog Horde Interview with Michael J. Sullivan Who Killed My Little Pony? It’s (Not) Rocket Science: John Aaron: “SCE to AUX” Excerpt: The Sacred Band a Novel by Janet Morris & Chris Morris An Interview with Bestselling Author Ty Franck (James S.A. Corey) […]

  25. November 30, 2013, 3:35 pm   / 

    […] What’s the Trouble With Selfies? Speculative Fiction and the Mirror Effect – This is pure hate reading brought to you by the same writer who thought people used too much coarse language when talking about Vox Day’s extreme misogyny and racism. This post is adorable. […]

  26. November 29, 2013, 11:46 pm   / 

    […] a damn thing. Unless, of course, you’re Felicity Savage. In which case, they are pretty much the same thing. And, of course, if you are a woman who posts […]

  27. Profile photo of Momato
    November 29, 2013, 10:54 pm   / 

    Reading Ms, Savage’s article reminded me of a scene in To Kill a Mockingbird, which I am currently re-reading. Towards the end of the book, Scout describes an afternoon tea her aunt is holding for the upstanding church-going ladies of Maycomb County. After the ladies flatter themselves that they are displaying true Christian charity by sympathizing with the poor deprived natives in Africa, one goes on to tell of how she has scolded her negro servant for “complaining” about the plight of Tom Robinson (if you remember, he was the man who was falsely accused of raping a white woman.) Ms. Savage’s words sound no less smug and self-satisfied: how dare those less entitled than herself sulk and lobby for access to the privileges that she herself enjoys and has taken for granted her entire life? How disappointing that an apparently accomplished author is so blinded by her own entitlement that she is unable to imagine a world of humans that is comprised of individuals who are other than those who look like herself.

  28. November 29, 2013, 9:06 pm   / 

    […] Stories has done it again.[1]  They’ve run an article so blatantly offensive that I feel honored to get in on the early wave of responses to it.  Brace yourselves, italics are […]

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