Monday, March 11, 2013

Politically Incorrect Characters

The beatification and martyrdom of oppressed/minority characters is encouraged by the PC Police. Female heroines MUST be spunky, attractive and assertive. "Ethnic" characters MUST be inherently altruistic and non-threatening. LGBT characters MUST be model citizens and or relationship-experts. Characters with physical/mental disabilities MUST possess some inhuman "advantage" or "saintliness." The list goes on. 

Not only are these portrayals unrealistic, they're stupid. I'm all for positive re-imaging but often it goes too far. Political Correctness is an American obsession--it is neurotic pacification, and often detracts from the real issues to create new stereotypes. For example, by only showing women as flawless, confident, and assertive axe-wielders, we create a new myth about women. Sure, some women are sexy badasses who can save the world, get the guy (or girl) while wearing 6-inch high boots and glossy leather corsets (see most urban fantasy/sci-fi book covers) but that's not the truth for the vast majority of women, is it? 
Your heroine can still be intelligent and competent without turning into a warped caricature of modern feminism, right? Right??? 

I'm not afraid to portray my characters as people. And people are much more complicated than the Politically In/Correct boxes we force them in. I imagine my POV might/will offend some folks...but I hate labels and I refuse to regurgitate the same tired crap over and over again. I'll continue to write heroines who fuck up, who aren't tiny-waisted ass-kickers, who have realistic doubts and goals. I'll also continue to write multicultural/disabled/and or LGBT characters who are selfish, flawed, violent and wonderful. Because that's life. And people exist in shades of gray. 


Mari Vega said...

"People exist in shades of gray." This is true but so many of us idealize an easy world of black and white/good and bad. Increasingly diverse character types now share the sphere of the idealized and are probably part of the improvement of our American culture, and evolution of humanity (since America is, for better or worse, such a media maven to the whole world). To reach the broadest audience--the mainstream folks--I think it's a good development that there are idealized versions of previously ignored populations.

And there's still a long way to go toward a world where people respect each other for the content of their character, but all is not lost. Rob Breszny's Pronoia: the Antidote to Paranoia is on my to-read list. One factoid from it: unlike any other time in recorded history, there are many thousands of organizations worldwide whose mission is to help others.

I've just found your blog today but am piqued to read about shades-of-grey characters. Have you ever read Theodore Dreiser? Jennie Gerhardt: A Novel is a surprisingly relevant novel from 1911. Highly recommended for its shades-of-grey characters and wonderfully specific writing.

Shawn said...

Here's the brutal truth:

First published novel must be a picture of a pony and you GD well better color between the lines.

You have to make your bones as a rank-and-file rule follower before you can break new ground.

It sucks.

Remember, Picasso started off painting photorealistic portraits, just like everybody else.

Totally sucks.

Vegetarian Cannibal said...

Thank you both for commenting. Shawn, I'll try to keep that tidbit about Picasso in mind. I guess every artist has to start SOMEWHERE. Ponies and all, ha! (Oh, I'm dying on the inside!) Mainstream audiences shy away from anything non-conventional and debut writers scare the publishing industry shitless. No one wants to take a chance. "Safe" material only. So yeah, we're going to see the same regurgitated crap over and over and the artists who care to make a decent living will follow suit too. *Sigh* It's frustrating.

Mari, I'm checking out those books at the library! We'll chat soon. :)

Anastasia Vitsky said...

I'm not sure I agree with the above comments. If you want to be published by a traditional New York print company, yes. If you are interested in epublishing, especially the smaller epublishers, you have a wide variety of options. I was told when I started publishing that I had to revamp my entire book to make it a conventional romance. Instead, I changed publishers. With epublishers and multipublishing and social media connections, we can get anything published. The question is how hard you're willing to work for it and what choices you're willing to make. I'm not going to make the NYT bestseller list, but I get to write exactly what I want and have a publisher supporting me 100%. That's good enough for me.

And great article, by the way. I took a look at several of your posts and am glad to have found a fellow LGBT author.

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