“Problematic Content” or Why Context Matters: a multi-pronged epic battle on sexism, call out culture, and why Lolita is less of an issue than FSoG. A Rant.

So because I think Jenny Trout (and Alys Marchand) is pretty fucking spot on with FSoG/Grey [the color of a bloated corpse] I got called a bad person. Because I called out shitty things rife within it, and had the audacity to opine Anne Rice wears a belt notched with instances of dumbassery, I’m a terrible, horrible person. The part that got me (this was via twitter exchange) the dip tagged a post with “I’m a gamer!” and so you know that that did? {aside from being a pathetic cry out to authority because the wimmins were oppressing him with their opinion?} Nah, just sicced GGers to put me in my place.

I got labeled the most terrifying thing of all:

Social Justice Warrior.

Which is evidently worse than the F-Word… Here’s the ever-awesome Laci Green laying down the 411 on what Feminism REALLY IS and why she (and I; yes, I’ll let her speak for me in this instance because I agree wholeheartedly with her sentiments) is a feminist.

Egads, how can I live with myself, when I see shitty behavior and call it out? Oh my, how horrible I am! Terrible, no good, just plain evil for using the phrase, “Problematic Content” over and over. I’m sitting here, fake-sniffling away my tears of quiet, feminine desperation.

girlhatin

Ha.

I especially like how the word ‘bitch’ is flung out, as an attempt to belittle, demean, and silence me. You know who does that kinda shit?

Abusers do that kind of shit.

If you want to read the exchange, click here and scroll down to June 29. Nothing has been deleted.

But one fellow did raise a valid point, being what is the definition of problematic content? Here’s my opinion. Unfortunately, I will not tag the person who asked it, being that anything related to GG is something I don’t want to fucking touch with a ten-foot condom-covered pole, considering how rabid the followers are in protecting their manly turf. Listening to a dissenting point of view isn’t on their to-do list, they’ve made that very clear.

Skip this next part if you want the meat and potatoes of this post; the paragraphs between the horizontal lines is my rant on why hyper-masculinity SUCKS. While it’s relevant, it’s not required reading [any one know how to do spoiler tags in a blog post?]


And just so we’re on the same page, I have issues with hyper-masculinity being foisted upon males. I grew up in the 80’s when GI Joes didn’t have the muscle-bound physique, complete with a V. I grew up with two brothers. My older brother got the “Be a Man!” talk, it was pounded into his head that helping around the house, washing dishes, being nice… that’s women’s work. To this day, my older brother hasn’t been in a longterm relationship because his interpersonal skills are stunted to the point where he’s recently stated, “All women are whores.” and “I want to kick her in the taco.” [And yes, I’m MORTIFIED that my older sibling is a throwback to neanderthals where women are concerned] and I’m not sure if he’s just saying it for shock value or really has those kind of feelings towards females.

This pervasive dismissal of women is subtle sometimes– I’m fairly sure that if I had a male author-ego (alter-ego) it would be taken more seriously than plain me, female author. That anything coming from a man’s lips is more trustworthy/expert than from a woman’s, and that by the mere fact his reproductive organs hang outside his body grants him the ability to be taken seriously. What’s something men resent being called? Bitches. Pussies. “Throw like a girl…” isn’t considered a compliment, most especially when directed toward men.

I do not advocate for the demasculinization of men; but I do advocate for empathy to be used and cherished by all of humanity. When we lack empathy, we ignore our humanity. There’s more to life than chasing tail, making shittons of money, and asserting one’s self like a dog constantly humping a leg to prove he’s big dog now. I want to make that clear.

I don’t want my son growing up to talk and think like his uncle (who I keep on the fringes of my children’s lives– he’s not a worthy role model) and expect to be taken seriously. Because when one disregards an entire gender as being inferior, they have reduced half of humanity into being inferior (this also applies to the attitudes aimed at transfolk as being inferior or non-existent [the thought it’s just a man/woman in drag] which is prevalent) it means that this topic is more than ripe for discussion.

It’s a necessity, really.


Now that I’ve cleared up my position regarding feminism and the role of males in our society, please allow me to continue on with the main topic, the ever-elusive Problematic Content.

Ahem.

WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF PROBLEMATIC CONTENT?

Problematic content (in terms of consumable media, such as film, tv, literature [and pulp novels] and other forms of art) are situations and themes which in context of the piece, are at odds, sending mixed messages. For an easy example, there’s FSoG [yes, this dead horse again] and how there are scenes of rape and outright manipulation that are salved with flowery romantic writing. Yet at the heart of the scene is violence called romance.

Sub-context is just as important as context. Stalking, manipulation, emotional abuse, rape… these are not the building blocks of love, and to say they are is to propagate a culture where violence against women is considered acceptable and even appropriate. Art in all its forms is a reflection of our society. What does it say about us that we excuse men and women for not adhering boundaries in regards to their object of desire?

And it’s not just the piece itself which makes it problematic; it’s how its marketed to the masses which builds the initial reaction. If FsoG got marketed as a thriller, there would be significantly less issue with it having “problematic content’ due to the expectation that fucked up and not acceptable shit would happen. But because its been marketed as a Romance– something the author proudly proclaims in her twitter bio, complete with Valentine’s Day movie release– there are expectations of love and respect happening between two characters, not capitulation and passive-aggressive attitudes being called romance.

WHY IS THIS EVEN AN ISSUE?

Art is one of the things that defines us as human; from cave paintings to the Sistine Chapel, things are created to evoke emotion and cause one to think. Art defines our society, helps influence people. Think about it– the Holy Bible, how many lives that book has touched and arguably made better (I take exception to missionary work, the systematic destruction of indigenous beliefs and the mutilation of genitals of either gender in the name of God– if one wants a circumcision, let it be done as a knowledgeable and consenting adult rather than mutilating a child who has no say in what’s happening to their body; that said, I’m against circumcision in general: if it’s not broke, don’t “fix” it.) by those who take comfort in its pages, and find the message of Jesus to be inspirational.

After The DaVinci Code was published, how many people gave credence to the thought Jesus may have actually married and begat a child? Enough that there were documentaries made to compare Dan Brown’s work to known codices, gnostic gospels, and biblical books in an effort to sort through facts. Michelangelo’s statue of David— how many times has it been displayed with trepidation because it shows a nude-human figure? Controversial Art is nothing new– hell, here’s a list of ten pieces that have made splashes– and twenty-five books that made ripples when they were published, but nowadays considered damn fine reads.

A part of the controversy regarding those books is how they portrayed society at that time; a book written in the 1700’s exploring a woman’s sexuality? Hell NO! Women were supposed to be vessels of life, not have sex! They aren’t male! Most of those controversial books were considered unfit because they challenged the way people saw things; colonialism, anti-slavery, anti-establishment, science vs belief, women’s accepted roles in society, graphic depictions of the body at work, racism, drug use, the supposed teaching of Witchcraft (hello Mr. Potter), homosexuality, extreme violence, rape, morally questionable behavior… the list goes on.

But here’s the thing– those works that are/were considered controversial for their time, they didn’t call a shovel a spade, they called it by what it was. There was no ambiguousness about the message sent to the public via ink and paper. In Lolita, Charlotte, Dolores’ (Lo) mother calls Humbert Humbert out for what he is: detestable, abominable, criminal fraud, after she finds out by reading his diary that he married her just so he could be near her 12 year old daughter, to whom he is attracted. When in her upset she goes to inform on him. Momma C gets run over in the street, ending the possibility of her narking on him, he takes over ‘parenting’ Lo, and he bribes her for sex with food and priviliges. While Humbert’s views on his step-daughter are romanticized, at no time is it celebrated by others. In fact, the author makes it clear that the only one who sees flowers and hearts concerning the titular character is Humbert. That right there is why it doesn’t fall under the category of Problematic Content— the clear distinction that his passion for a minor is wrong and he knows it. But because of how its written, we understand why, and almost forgive him his sexual abuse of a minor and  murder.

FSoG doesn’t have that distinction. Readers are led to believe that his stalking and abuse is romantic, see how much he cares about her? That his foisting of expensive gifts she doesn’t want is romantic, see how much he wants to spoil her? That when she habitually bites her lip and he threatens to fuck her in public is romantic, see how much he wants her?

The writer uses terms that invoke negativity yet covers it with her brand of hearts and flowers, so readers are left with the feeling that he does care, but at the sub-contextual level, indicate a negative, abusive relationship. Because it has been marketed as romance, a way to fix marriages, means to get women into bed [Maxim advertisement], and as a how-to complete with various sex toys, branded restraints, paddles, lube and ointments, it propagates this notion that the way Grey treats Ana is perfectly acceptable. Stalking, pushing a woman until she finally says yes, emotional and financial manipulation, and other means to curb autonomy are used and given a pass because the book is labeled romance.

Here, let me put it this way: Lolita got away from Humbert Humbert and refused to leave her current life to get back with the man who sexually abused her; however Ana got married to her abuser for a “happy ever after.”

I don’t begrudge happy ever afters, considering I’ve written my fair share. But in general when it comes to good fiction, the ‘bad guy’ or the ‘person in the wrong’ doesn’t get a happy ever after. Due to FSoG being marketed as romance and all that tripe, it got passed off as a legitimate tale of love lost and found, not a thriller about a wealthy man using all his resources to keep tabs on a woman he wants to rape (ah, thank you Grey, for clearing that up) because he assumes her to be submissive to his every desire. Oh, and if she’s not, too bad, he’ll fuck her anyway.

By calling context and subcontext out, we are helping to identify the problem areas in our society. If we leave things the status quo, we will never progress and evolve into something better.

ISN’T THAT JUST CENSORSHIP?

Short answer: No.

Long answer: I am not calling for a banning of FSoG or other works that incite strong feelings in people. I am however, asking that it be called what it is: normalization of abuse. Again, if it had been labeled an erotic thriller it wouldn’t have the backlash that it does because it’s been marketed as romance and that’s how the masses have gobbled it up. By the author and her publishers calling it romance, it’s opened the door up on discussion of what is romance, how should it be expressed, and what not to do when someone wants to break up. By correctly labeling our media for what it is and clearing up misconceptions, we can enhance the calm. It’s as simple (and as complicated) as that. Some people think rape culture is a figment out of an over-active feminist mind, thus doesn’t exist. But how can they argue that when defining consent is mocked (being women are conquests in the making, and a maybe is just a reluctant yes.) and women are taught to have keys splayed between fingers when walking in parking lots, because we should expect to be accosted. Boys aren’t taught “Don’t rape” so girls are instead taught “Don’t get raped; don’t go alone anywhere in public, don’t wear revealing clothes, don’t drink alcohol in mixed company, don’t leave your house after dark, Make sure to lock all doors and windows… or you’ll get raped.”

If a man assualts me during an argument, don’t tell me that it’s his way of showing me how much he cares, because that’s a bald-faced lie. And anyone who buys into that lie probably needs some education of what constitutes rape culture, domestic abuse, and red flags in a partner.

Again, I am not calling for a banning, censorship, or book burning. I am stating that context and sub-context are equally important, thus when there are legitimate experts stating that something is such and such, well, maybe we should listen to the experts. Lolita wasn’t marketed as a way to get chicks into bed. FSoG was. Lolita’s author didn’t publicly espouse the notion that his male lead is a fucking dreamboat, where as EL James has done just that. Here’s an interview with Vladimir Nabokov, the author. He wrote about scandalous love— and that’s very fucking true, if one sided.

Lolita didn’t love Humbert.

By labelling things correctly, especially in mediums filled with genres, it permits the reader to know beforehand what they are in for, in the broadest sense. One doesn’t read contemporary romance, and expect vampires or unicorns; however in Paranormal Romance, one could expect all sorts of magical/mythical happenings. When things are misfiled, for example in hopes of larger payouts, it breeds contempt for the author who willfully ignores the very subcontext they wrote about. Either its a supreme amount of ignorance or arrogance– not sure which. However, if the author came out and said “It was a ‘social experiment’ to show how pervasive rape culture and interpersonal violence is in society now, just look how much praise this troubled relationship between Christian and Ana got!” I would bow down to her masterful play.

But that won’t happen.

ON THE SUBJECT OF APPROPRIATION OF HISTORICAL PERSONAE AND TRAUMA WHEN WRITING THINGS:

This is pure opinion, so take it as such.

When we writers appropriate historical personages for our own use, we are reshaping history. This is why facts, research and consideration are absolute musts. To accurately portray historical peeps is needed to help suspend belief.  Let me give you the example of Sally Hemings.

She was a slave girl, half-sister to Thomas Jefferson’s wife. She accompanied Jefferson’s daughters to France (where he was at the time) at age 13/14 and it is believed that for the two years he was in France, began a sexual relationship with Sally. In France, slavery was banned, and thus perhaps on the street she would have been considered a free woman. But behind doors, and raised in a society where it would have been ingrained into her mind that her master, her better, had ultimate say in her life. And being considerably younger than Jefferson, just adds to the creepy factor rising from our founding father. [ Happy Fourth of July, America. ]

So yes, there was a poorly done story written that alludes to Sally Hemings as a “MILF BDSM Werewolf” and let me tell you why that is so fucking wrong on a couple of levels.

Let’s start with MILF. A Slave cannot consent to sex, thus the motherhood thrust upon her wasn’t of Sally’s own wants. So lusting after a woman who was raped and bore the product of the assualt being objectified as something “I’d Like to Fuck” [aka the ILF] is fucked up.

Onto BDSM. A Slave is a person in bondage. Not the yay, I consent to kinky times type bondage, but the kind of servitude where consent and opinion don’t exist. Writing a story about a woman who was literally a sex slave to a significant person in American history cannot be over looked or ignored. To make a play upon her bondage and BDSM is very fucked up.

Werewolves are typically seen as negative beings, kinda like how white America looks down upon PoC as emotional, irrational beasts who react violently as the slightest provocation. To write a story and exploit that trope is fucked up and tasteless.

No, I cannot blame Jenny Trout and her call to action. I am not a PoC, but I do have empathy for the shit they deal with on a daily basis. I think that when one appropriates things from history, we have their legacy in our hands, and if we are to use them, then let us stick to facts and build a story from that, not the outright theft of a name and exploiting said name and its associated legacy in it’s fucking title.

When Dan Brown wrote The DaVinci Code, he put in a bunch of research. And while the contents of the novel upset people with its portrayal of Jesus, it’s not considered Problematic Content because a) by age 33, the vast majority of Jewish men in the first century were married so it’s not outside the realm of possible and b) Author kept things in context.

If anything, Brown demonstrates the importance of doing research on what one writes because a lot of people have a hard time distinguishing blatant fiction from reality, and we, as Makers of Art, are responsible four our creations. The context and subcontext we use as the warp and weft in our tales matters. It is what gives our stories depth. To ignore our own words is a crime against humanity, because that is how we pass down societal mores. What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

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