Guest Editorial: Delegitimizing Opinions by Chris Nuttall

DISCLAIMER:

For several months now I have been encouraging the SF community to submit guest editorials on subjects that they believe will be of interest to the community.
Until the other day, I’d had no takers on that offer.
I don’t intend to publish guest editorials on subjects that go beyond the pale;  there’s no home here to advocate for Nazism or cannibalism, nor for other similar subjects.
There is room, however, for opinions that are odds with what I perceive to be the general editorial policy of this site, which can essentially be summed up as “Fannish Liberalism”.
Our community has, of late, been subjected to a great deal of cross talk regarding fannish institutions, our cultural imperatives and what it means to be a fan.  Some of that hot air has been fallout from similar ‘discussions’ going on in society at large, some of it has been unique to fandom.
A major characteristic of much of that talk has been its reliance on buzz words, personal insults, stereotyping and the serving up of red meat for one’s base.
This is discussion, for lack of a better word, that widens the divide rather than contributing to understanding.
It is my hope that by providing a platform where fans with differing views can express themselves, we might all begin to find avenues for a more meaningful type of dialogue.
I have no doubt that from time to time, some of the views expressed here will not appeal to the majority of Amazing Stories’ readers. However, when that is the case, I urge everyone to remember that without meaningful dialogue, there can be no understanding.  Knowing where someone comes from provides opportunities to address potential misunderstanding.  Fandom has, in the past, managed to reconcile some pretty irreconcilable issues by remaining engaged, respectful, mature and open.  I hope that we can maintain that tradition here.

With all that being said, the views expressed in these guest editorials are not necessarily the views of, nor necessarily endorsed by, me, the staff or any of our contributors.

If you wish to comment, please do so by addressing the arguments and not the individual advancing them.  Thank you.  Steve Davidson, Publisher.

~~~ 

Delegitimizing Opinions by Chris Nuttall

One of the more unpleasant aspects of political (and related) discussions over the last ten years or so is the rise of what I call ‘delegitimizing attacks.’ These attacks do not actually challenge a speaker’s words, but the speaker himself. Therefore, a person who dislikes Obama can be branded as racist and a person who dislikes Hilary Clinton can be attacked as sexist. And really, who wants to listen to a racist or a sexist? The speaker is branded and thus his opinions are render illegitimate.

We saw this quite a bit during the Sad Puppy campaigns. The ‘Sad Puppies’ were branded a bunch of white men, even though it required literally no more than five minutes on Google to prove that this was not the case. Instead of trying to disprove the Puppy case, the Puppy-Kickers tried to delegitimize the Sad Puppies.

There was a time when such tactics were reserved for internet trolls. Now, they are everywhere. And I think I speak for everyone when I say I am sick of them.

It is the nature of such attacks that they provoke resentment, contempt and eventually hatred from their targets. They make no attempt to engage with the target, they make no attempt to convince the target that he or she is wrong; indeed, they do not even recognise that there is – quite literally – room enough for everyone. There is no attempt to understand where the target is coming from, merely an attempt to smear the target. And thus discourse continues to fall into the toilet.

I write this because Steve Davidson drew my attention to this Facebook post.  (Ed. Note:  The No Editorial Editorial, 10/8/16)

I was not impressed. Indeed, my original response was merely to dismiss it. The writer appeared to start out with the assumption that he needed to attack everyone who disagreed with him, rather than try to convince people to agree with him. Strong language, a take-no-prisoners approach and a vast number of buzzwords, half of which I would have to look up if I couldn’t guess at the meaning from context.

The problem with this article – and a number of others along the same lines – is that it assumes the worst of everyone who disagrees with the writer. That people who object, for example, to a Black Hermione are doing it because they’re racists, rather than rolling their eyes at how Hermione’s constant portrayal as white (in seven books, eight movies and umpteen tie-in thingies) has suddenly been ret-conned into her being black. Or that people who object to black stormtroopers are doing it because they’re racists, rather than fan-boys who know that clones look alike. Or …

I have not watched Luke Cage or Jessica Jones. I have no idea if the social commentary is timely or cringe-worthy awful as Aliens of London/World War Three. But it seems to me that, if you happen to believe that Black Lives Matter is nothing more than a gang of racist thugs, getting away with everything because of the colour of their skin, you’re not going to be too keen to read comics that suggest they’re the good guys. And while there is an entire subset of Hurt/Comfort stories in fan fiction, not everyone wants to read them. People watch TV shows (or read books or comics or whatever) to be entertained. They don’t want, as a general rule, to wallow in misery.

But how dare people complain?

That is the question the OP asks. And he doesn’t come up with an answer.

The OP states that social commentary has been part of SF for a long time. And he’s right, at least to some extent. But social commentary has to be handled gingerly, like a live hand grenade. Heinlein’s subtle commentary throughout Starship Troopers, and the reveal at the end, is far better, far more fitting, than much of what we see today.

People do make a lot of noise – as the OP says – about ‘characters of colour.’ The problem, as I see it, is that many such characters are not people, they’re gimmicks.

Ben Sisko, James Rhodes, Jon Stewart, Agent J and Peter Grant have three things in common – they’re all black, they’re all men and they’re all people. They are all well-rounded characters, all largely invented from whole cloth rather than being created to replace popular characters in the name of diversity. They are not standard-bearers for a whole community, they are not perfect Mary Sues created by fearful writers; they are people! Rhodes and Stewart might have followed other characters (Tony Stark and Hal Jordon, respectively) but they still work. They have grown into characters in their own right.

I don’t this is true of many of the newer ‘characters of diversity.’

With the exception of Kamala Khan, who I think has grown into a real person, I haven’t really been impressed by some of the newcomers. Miles Morelos couldn’t live up to Peter Parker; Female Thor is far too political; I’m not holding out hope for the new Iron Man (Women?) either.

You, reading this, might disagree. And you know what? It’s ok to disagree!

But readers and viewers want to be entertained. They don’t want, perhaps, to tune into a TV show and watch a poorly-done analogy with the Iraq War. Or Black Lives Matter. Or any other issue of importance. They want exploding starships, action and adventure … they want to feel that they can relax, not endure preaching.

And when they don’t get entertainment, they complain.

The writers and publishers are free to believe, if they wish, that anyone who has a complaint has it because they are evil, because there is something intrinsically wrong with them. And they are even free to believe that this invalidates their opinions. But they cannot pretend to be surprised, therefore, as sales continue to fall …

Because if you treat your customers as your enemies, your customers will just go away.

~~~

Chris Nuttall is a former contributor to Amazing Stories.  He requested that we not link to his website or blog in order to maintain focus on the issues raised.

Chris suggested that the Featured Image for this post should be War Machine because “War Machine is cool”.  We agree.

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17 thoughts on "Guest Editorial: Delegitimizing Opinions by Chris Nuttall"

  1. Astrid Nielsch says:

    For the record: nowhere in J K Rowling’s books is Hermione portrayed as white. She is portrayed as a girl with unruly, curly hair. I have always pictured her as mixed race, and am very glad that the stage production agrees with my interpretation of Rowling’s description (I do however have the highest regard for Emma Watson’s portrayal of the character in the movies, even though I felt disappointed with the casting choice at the time.)

    Rowling tries to avoid characterizations that include explicit statements about race. This is even true for characters like Cho Chang and Parvati Patel, whom the reader will picture as ethnic Chinese, and South Asian, respectively, on account of their names, but who are at no point in the book obviously described that way. The one obvious exception are the Weasleys, whom we can safely picture as white on account of their red hair. Even Harry could, for all we know, be Afghan or something.

    It is a testimony to just how huge a problem of implicit bias we are facing here, that the author can assert the character is portrayed as white, and no doubt believe this statement to be true.

    I’ve examined this phenomenon in a series of essays here on this site about illustrations of Ursula Le Guin’s “Earthsea” series, where even characters who are explicitly described as non-Caucasion, wind up being portrayed as white.

    1. Sam McDonald says:

      Regarding Hermione, I’d argue Rowling did specify as such. Beyond the infamous “Hermione’s white face” line there’s the fact that she has consistently been portrayed as white in all official art (including Rowling’s own sketches) and in the films. Granted, the film’s are their own thing, but Rowling played a big part in their crafting. For example, she reveled secrets to the actors so they could portray the characters more accurately. She also put her foot down over some scene and dialog that, had they been filmed, would have contradicted the revelation about Dumbledore being gay. So if Hermione were anything but white I feel that Rowling would have been more firm on the matter.

      1. Astrid Nielsch says:

        https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/90edb1fe4b9d50211244707e506d167075082ae0811dfa5e7b68e2c972d06758.jpg

        I’m sorry, but I wouldn’t be able to tell Hermione’s ethnicity from this, though the hair would definitely make me think of a mixed race person. The character on her right does seem to be “black”.

        Saying that the “official art” (whatever that is) for the Harry Potter books depicts her as white, is a circular argument. Besides, I have seen cover illustrations that do show her as a mixed race girl, which means that other readers than myself have come to the same conclusion.

        1. Sam McDonald says:

          Oh, would you mind pointing me towards those covers? I would like to see and make my own judgement, though I will say that i polity disagree with your assement of the above image, but you are certainly free to make your own judgement to the matter.

          1. Astrid Nielsch says:

            Google image search is a fantastic tool.

          2. Sam McDonald says:

            Well, okay, but where there any specific images you found compelling to your case?

  2. Sam McDonald says:

    Thank you, Chris. This is a much needed breath of fresh-air. You hit the nail on the head about a lot of things I’ve been feeling about the speculative fiction community and the state of discourse. I’d been giving thought to possibly calling it quiets over here. Nothing personal to anyone here, but I felt like a certain political narrative is kind of being pushed on this site, and that didn’t sit well with me. This post have made me reconsider and I might stick it out just a bit longer.

    That said, my own blog is much neglected and I might still quit to focus on it and some other projects I’ve got going on at the moment. Though I’m probably still gonna be around for the forseeable future.

    Thank you kindly

    1. stevedavidson says:

      Interesting as you have never voiced those concerns to me.

      1. Sam McDonald says:

        Didn’t want to make a fuss or anything. I don’t expect any special treatment or anything. Even if I didn’t have those concerns I’d still probably consider taking a bow. I’m not gone just yet, but certain events in my life have convinced me that the time has come that I ought to move on and seek out new things. Again, nothing personal, it’s not you it’s me really

  3. Mike Glyer says:

    “Sad Puppies” was invented by Larry Correia to win himself a Hugo Award, and when that failed, to screw with the Hugo Awards and impute political motives to fans who were already voting for them. Introducing the word “smear” into the conversation here is pure projection by the author.

    1. Daniel W Kauffman Jr says:

      “Screw with the Hugo Awards” being the Puppy Kickers description of encouraging more people to become involved and nominate and vote, It seems the Glyer and his associates get upset when NOKs show up, He has convinced Me that I am indeed Not His Kind and since there are a lot of good Cons and events to support I will leave the Hugos and World Con to them and vote with my feet, And spend my money elsewhere

      1. stevedavidson says:

        Daniel,
        I consider the use of buzz words, catch-all phrases and stereotyping to be counter productive during discussions of this sort.
        “Puppy kickers” – are a thing that does not exist. There are certainly individuals who have taken issues with Sad Puppies – which is a loose affiliation of individuals who have a web site, have stated positions; Rabid Puppies is a thing similarly presented. But there is no political group called Puppy Kickers.
        If you wish to address those who have voiced opinions contrary to the SP and/or RP views, please state what those are before taking issue with them – otherwise, you reference a nebulous nothing and make no substantive argument.
        Further, while Mike’s views on what the SP/RP crowd have tried to do to Worldcon and the Hugo Awards are public, it is my considered opinion that the coverage of the three + year attack on fandom has been fair and even handed.

        You could “be his kind” if you addressed the actual issues and accepted the facts and reality of the situation: join Worldcon, vote as an individual. It’s as simple as that.
        However, since you have apparently decided to believe in conspiracy theories, it is probably best that you continue down the path you have chosen and leave the whole thing behind.

        1. Daniel W Kauffman Jr says:

          Oh let me just pick out one obscene toxic attack, Saying that a man has been married to a black woman for 20 years to hide his racism, This being the one that got so much under my skin that I got involved in the controversy in the first place. Before that I was just a simple Sci Fi Reader who attended a local con and never in my wildest dreams thought there were “Approved” Fans and NOKs

    2. Viking ZX says:

      Hmm … Pot calling the kettle black there, Glyer. Aren’t you the one who runs that File 770 site known for selectively editing its posted clips of content from other authors to suit its own views and make people with opposing viewpoints look foolish?

      You’re allowed to do that, of course. And you can have your own opinions. But considering that behavior, you dispute of the word “smear” here seems somewhat hypocritical.

      1. Mike Glyer says:

        Seems you got even more tangled up the longer you went on. What File 770 is known for is providing excepts with links to the full article.

        You fail to make clear how Larry Correia’s practice of fisking articles he loathes — interrupting them every few lines, mocking them, telling his fans how they should think about them — is a virtue everyone should be following.

        1. Viking ZX says:

          “You fail to make clear how Larry Correia’s practice of fisking articles he loathes — interrupting them every few lines, mocking them, telling his fans how they should think about them — is a virtue everyone should be following.”

          My point was that he is at least honest enough to post their whole article. You, on the other hand, engage in similar mockery and telling of fans how they should think, but don’t even post the fullness of your target’s articles. You’ll pick and choose a paragraph here, a paragraph there, helpfully leaving out anything that might weaken your position or run counter to your goal, and then you mock it, even when said article addresses the points you bring up. You just don’t give those bits the courtesy of appearing.

          And of the two of you, Correia’s not the one claiming to be news. He’s just running a personal blog.

          So if his methods aren’t a virtue … what does that make yours by comparison? Like I said, at least he’s not cutting and pasting for the benefit of building a strawman for his following to tear at.

          1. Viking ZX:

            It’s pretty clear that you are unfamiliar with headlines, squibs, news, not to mention what File 770 is and does. It would be far better if you shut your yap until you’ve learned about such things, but another thing you are obviously ignorant of is the need to check reality before spouting off for the benefit of seeing your name in print. I hasten to add that these are all correctable faults, but no one else can do it for you.

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