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Author Topic: anti-audience
babooher
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I picked up a book at the library because it sounded interesting and it had won a cool award. What I got was a book full of anti-American, anti-capitalist, pro-socialist rantings. The Americans are complete idiots who just can't compete with the amazing technology of the socialist Europeans who all know people who were killed by an American scud missile at some point. The Americans are prudish brutes while the Europeans are free-thinking, free-living enlightened individuals.

I'm going to continue to read this to see if I can figure out how it won the award. I'm beginning to wonder if it won simply because of its political bent. I'm less than 100 pages in and I've already noticed a glaring plot hole.

How does making something so amazingly offensive toward a large segment of the English reading population make sense? How am I supposed to empathize with a protagonist I'd like to see beaten and impaled on a rusty rake? I'm glad I picked this up at the library so I never paid for it, and I know I'd never willingly purchase something by this author. I guess that's something.

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rcmann
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What award did it win?
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babooher
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The Philip K. Dick award. Maybe that should be shortened a bit.
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jayazman
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Do you mind telling us what the title is?
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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The winners for the last three years have been pretty obscure, from what I can tell.
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babooher
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This particular book is Curve of the Earth by Simon Morden. I think it was actually his first three Petrovich novels that won the Phillip K. Dick award. I started looking up some reviews and more than a few noticed the anti-American rant this book tends to be.

And you know, if it was a big anti-Russian rant or even anti-Chinese rant, I'd probably not notice it much other than it would still seem shallow. While part of me recognizes that if I wouldn't be bothered by an anti-Nigeria rant then I should be able to handle an anti-American one, I still think if someone set out to be offensive to me I can allow myself to be offended and not think it hypocritical. I'm not saying Simon Morden shouldn't write the stuff, but I'm also not saying he doesn't deserve my contempt. If I wrote a book about the stupid, evil Spaniards, I shouldn't expect to tango into Spain and be greeted with open arms.

And maybe I haven't read enough. I'm still trudging through. But so far, every American is an idiot wimp loser and the society is Puritanical.

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Robert Nowall
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A while ago, I bought a book about the 1980s or 1990s (one or the other, I think), then put it down for good when the first page had a rant about George W. Bush. Life is too short and I can pick up that stuff straight if I want to.

Fiction is a little tricker, and I don't know either Simon Morden or Curve of the Earth...but, chances are, if some writer has one particular group of characters, of a certain nationality or occupation or ethnic persuasion or whatever, and that group is nothing but evil or rotten or cowardly [or whatever], then that writer has some sort of axe to grind...

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extrinsic
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Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games portrays adults as corrupt, ineffectual, or just plain selfish. I have an intellectual conflict with that portrayal. However, in a larger scheme of circumstances, though entertaining for its target audience, the novel fulfills a need of the target audience. Young peope's unquestioning blanket trust in adults, including parents, is problematic. The novel teaches, cautions, corrects, and it illustrates that the black and white principles young people are raised by are many shades of gray that adults appreciate, often to the adults' undoing.

Though the approach toward adults is one-dimensional on the surface, intangibly, greater depths underly the whole.

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MAP
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games portrays adults as corrupt, ineffectual, or just plain selfish. I have an intellectual conflict with that portrayal. However, in a larger scheme of circumstances, though entertaining for its target audience, the novel fulfills a need of the target audience. Young peope's unquestioning blanket trust in adults, including parents, is problematic. The novel teaches, cautions, corrects, and it illustrates that the black and white principles young people are raised by are many shades of gray that adults appreciate, often to the adults' undoing.

Though the approach toward adults is one-dimensional on the surface, intangibly, greater depths underly the whole.

Welcome to YA novels. Most of the YA plotlines would be easily solved if there was even one competent adult around. It annoys me as a reader and as a parent, but I understand the need for the protagonists to be forced to solve their own problems. I still would like to see more positive portrayals of adults in YA.

As for the original OP, I haven't read the book, but that would annoy me. It sounds agenda driven.

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extrinsic
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Simon Morden is a peculiar, perhaps idiosyncratic and charismatic meld of fundamentalist religious and socialist politics. That's his value and belief systems reflected by his writing. That's also his audience. He preaches to a receptive choir.

I would more question a less obvious agenda than an obvious one. Persuasion is seduction. Manipulation is rape. I have no qualms about rejecting manipulation nor about resisting and objecting to injurious agenda promotion. Seductive persuasions are the ones I most guard against.

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babooher
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Receptive choir or not, the evil, dumb Americans isn't creative nor is it particularly intelligent. I don't see myself ever writing a ra-ra America story, but I'm not out to bash anyone either. I'm also not afraid to say his value and belief system is a crock. Tit for tat and all.

MAP, your comment about adults in YA made me think of something Bill Cosby once said. He said that the Cosby Show from the 80s to early 90s attempted to show parents taking the home back. He was tired of seeing bumbling dads (which he still portrayed to a certain extent) and moms who were being run around by the children. He wanted to show smart, competent parents dealing with the trials of raising kids. That show was the #1 show for the 80s and is still shown today. In fact, I watched an episode today and found brand new relevance since I'm now the parent instead of the child. Good stuff. I think having smart characters all around helps and would make YA more accessible to adults and thus something to share.

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Crystal Stevens
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I'm wondering about something. Could the award he won be more about how well he brought his story out and got it across to his readers than what the story is about?

Don't get me wrong. Anything written so anti-American would p**s me off big time.

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babooher
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Crystal Stevens, your question is exactly why I'm forcing myself to read this. I've learned from worse sources.
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extrinsic
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Anti-U.S. rhetoric is de rigeuer across the globe. Keeping abreast of such rhetoric pushes inward and offers an avenue to push back against, perhaps informs, cautions, corrects, and controls otherwise globally contentious behaviors. Being dominant, perhaps hegemonic, draws lightning like a crowned king bearing a scepter standing on a hill. This is patriarchal masculine pride and masculine contention rituals on a global scale.

Anti-family, pro-family, anti or pro anything prose serves the rhetorical purposes of portraying heroes and heroines, nemeses and villains. Maybe more often malapproriately and artlessly than are a best practice.

Cultural malappropriation borrows or steals identity motifs from entire cultures that as a worst practice stereotype The Other as treacherous, vile, wicked for purposes of building personal and esoteric native cultural self-esteem and self-worth at the expense of The Other. From a historicist perspective, such dramas drill into exotic ideology and document if not artlessly portray more the exotic ideology than artfully portray the unique lives of the individuals and settings portrayed. Though The Cosby Show manages those latter mischiefs quite artfully.

Villains, nemeses, forces to push inward and to push back against are essential to drama. How artfully they are portrayed, a challenge of working with cultural bias and artful expression, depends to a large degree on how artfully unique to individuals they are, rather than malappropriately stereotyping entire cultures.

[ September 15, 2013, 09:39 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I'm all in favor of YA protagonists solving their own problems, but I submit that if they only way an author can think of to make it so they can do that is to make the adults stupid, oblivious, negligent, narcissistic, or some other negative characteristic (and I don't consider Dumbledore's approach all that positive, by the way), then such authors haven't expended enough effort on characterization.

Please, be creative about why the adults aren't able to be involved--give them their own struggles to distract them from what the YAs in the story are dealing with.

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rcmann
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That principle should apply to all fiction, IMO. I dislike intensely any story where the plot hangs upon the stupidity or incompetence of any character, unless the author has made it plain that there is a *reason* for the character to be that way. Like brain damage, or a drunk, or some other flaw that interferes with their ability to function. I hate idiot plots.
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extrinsic
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I would add that real-world folk, adults, juveniles, and children, are not perfectly wicked any more than they are perfectly noble.

Slack writing may tend to oversimplify villains and nemeses as entirely or mostly wicked; however, overly sympathetic villains shown as nonetheless noble in their warped perspectives may be more likeable than multifaceted protagonists with selfish and self-sacrificing conflicts.

A challenge is to proportionately portray wicked-noble, selfish-self-sacrficing, oblivious-attentative, likeable-loatheable, stupid-smart, rewardable-punishable, etc., whatever, according to persona role and dramatic function.

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Robert Nowall
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Wanted to mention the other day (but couldn't 'cause I was extremely busy) that there are a lot of people upset about TV sitcoms where parents, and especially fathers, are universally portrayed these days as idiots.
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shimiqua
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quote:
Slack writing may tend to oversimplify villains and nemeses as entirely or mostly wicked; however, overly sympathetic villains shown as nonetheless noble in their warped perspectives may be more likeable than multifaceted protagonists with selfish and self-sacrificing conflicts.
Preach.

That is a fascinating argument. Can characterizing a villain make him too likable, and if so, then does it weaken the power of the story? To be clear, I love a well characterized villain, and I'm always pushing those I beta for to make their villains have complex and understandable motivation.

But then again, sometimes it's just fun to have someone who's a jerk get their comeuppance.

Sometimes the reader just wants to find justice in books, justice they can't find anywhere else. When someone bugs me, I don't want to think about what their motivation is. I don't want to understand them, I just want to hit them.

Yes, that is not noble. But I think books can be a great place to forget about having to be noble. Books just have to be satisfying.

One note villains are easy to destroy, and that's deliciously satisfying. Yes, a well rounded sympathetic villain is "better writing," but sometimes the reader doesn't want better writing. Maybe they just want a story that satisfies.

*Stops derailing conversation*

If a book is bugging you, then don't finish. Life is too short to read a book you hate.
~Sheena

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MattLeo
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Satirist responding here.

If the countries of the world were people attending a party, America would be the rock star who expects to be the center of attention and adulation, and usually is. He's actually a much more complex character than is apparent on the surface. On one hand there's the cancer ward he's buying for the children's hospital and the aid concerts he performs in. On the other hand there's his drug problem, and all those hotel rooms he's wrecked. Yet despite the complexities and nuances of his inner character, it remains true that his larger-than-life *surface* character isn't always perceived by others at the party as likable -- at least not as likable as he imagines it to be. Truth be told he's more than a little overbearing, but he's totally unaware of that. That is comedy gold. I *like* America and Americans, but I also see plenty which is ridiculous in us.

And it's not like we never,ever pat ourselves on the back (cough cough *Omega Glory* cough). We do it all the time, without the slightest trace of modesty or irony. I think that's bad for us, although I'll admit that a satirist saying you need your daily dose of ironic self-deprecation is a bit like a farmer touting the health benefits of his broccoli. At the very least, it doesn't really hurt us for some writer now and then to take us down a peg. It's like a story the comedian Joan Rivers told about being approached by the actress Bo Derek, who complained it was unfair for Rivers to make fun of her just because she was beautiful and successful. Rivers reply was to ask whether it would be *more* fair if she made fun of some old, ugly, poor woman. I think we're big and successful enough to take a little mockery. It'd be in poor taste for an American satirist like me to mock, say, starving Bengladeshi farmers or brutalized Somalian refugees.

The real problem with that is that you think the book in question does a lousy job of making us look ridiculous. It was not "Dr. Strangelove", which took great care to use actual American Cold War thinking to construct its funhouse mirror version. You didn't recognize anything of yourself in the story you're complaining about, anything that might have evoked an uncomfortable chuckle of self-recognition.

Look around at your fellow Americans. Are we*all* perfectly virtuous, wise and admirable? Is there *nothing* about American society and attitudes that you think worthy of mockery? It makes no difference to this exercise where you are on the political scale -- in fact the more extreme you are the better for my purposes. Take any hot button issue you want. There's America's infantile infatuation with guns, and there's America's infantile fear of them. Both sides are ripe for ridicule.

Anyone can mock the *other guy*. That's easy. It's important to learn to laugh at yourself, at your own side and its sacred cows. That's a safety net for common sense. Anyone who can't imagine himself looking ridiculous is doomed to *become* ridiculous.

[ September 17, 2013, 03:59 PM: Message edited by: MattLeo ]

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MattLeo
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quote:
Originally posted by extrinsic:
Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games portrays adults as corrupt, ineffectual, or just plain selfish.

To be fair, it is told from the POV of a sixteen year-old. Also "corrupt, ineffectual or just plain selfish" covers a lot of ground. Remember, this is a dystopia; ineffectual is the natural state of the ordinary individual.

Even in real societies in crisis, the establishment will appear corrupt and/or ineffectual to the common man. In the Great Depression, squatter's camps appeared and were called "Hooverville" wherever they might be. In Germany at the same time, myths of a "stab in the back" followed by onerous reparations in the Treaty of Versailles were all too easy to believe. In fact, Germany only ever paid 15% of the stipulated 132 Marks, an amount equivalent to a little less than seven billion 2013 US dollars per year, paid out over 12 years.

Just like we're apt to perceive a stalking animal in the wind in the grass, we tend to see personally directed conspiracy behind any big disaster, unless it's something like a hurricane. Even *when* it's something like a hurricane.

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extrinsic
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Biased propoganda and satire may not globally be much different in general usage, but they are distinguishably distinct. One promotes an esoteric agenda, the other promotes an exoteric agenda, for one. One is self-serving bigotry, the other, social commentary. One is patent lecturing caution, castigation, correction, and control; the other is dramatic expression. One preaches to the choir, the other appeals to the congregation as well as the choir and possibly to the unconverted.
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by shimiqua:
That is a fascinating argument. Can characterizing a villain make him too likable, and if so, then does it weaken the power of the story? To be clear, I love a well characterized villain, and I'm always pushing those I beta for to make their villains have complex and understandable motivation.

But then again, sometimes it's just fun to have someone who's a jerk get their comeuppance.

Sometimes the reader just wants to find justice in books, justice they can't find anywhere else. When someone bugs me, I don't want to think about what their motivation is. I don't want to understand them, I just want to hit them.

Yes, that is not noble. But I think books can be a great place to forget about having to be noble. Books just have to be satisfying.

One note villains are easy to destroy, and that's deliciously satisfying. Yes, a well rounded sympathetic villain is "better writing," but sometimes the reader doesn't want better writing. Maybe they just want a story that satisfies.

*Stops derailing conversation*

If a book is bugging you, then don't finish. Life is too short to read a book you hate.
~Sheena

I feel you meaningfully contributed to the discussion. That a wicked person deserves hitting, in your estimation, reflects Simon Morden's anti-U.S. American expression, only at a country tier he hits rather than an individual person tier.

Readers appreciate poetic justice's propoganda: nobleness rewarded, wickedness punished. We want to feel secure in an insecure world.

However, dynamic, well-rounded, perhaps sympathetic villains are equally appealing, and likewise dynamic, well-rounded, appealing protagonists, from their close imitations of real-world circumstances.

Characterizing a villian as too likeable is a risk, perhaps daring writing; however, not necessarily weakening the power of a story. Narratives that avoid poetic justice have strong appeals from vicarious voyerism glimpsing the unique and perhaps exotic lives of similar others' struggles. E.M. Forster, to name one writer and poeticist, prefers no poetic justice for its resemblance to real-world circumstances.

One of the main conventions of Realism is little to no poetic justice. Instead, other outcomes restore emotional equlibrium in denouement acts. Romanticism, on the other hand, has a main poetic justice convention. Modernism emulates Realism's anti-poetic justice to varying degrees. Its main convention is deeply personal and intimate self-conscious dramatic complication closure, not necessarily satisfaction or resolution, from a closer narrative distance than previous literary movements. Postmodernism's main convention is self-aware questioning and challenging presupposed notions of propriety.

[ September 18, 2013, 06:19 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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