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Day in the Life of an Idiot

The Journal of Lyda Morehouse


March 9th, 2009

Why Saying "It's Just Fiction" is a Cop Out @ 10:04 am


Least any of you think from my subject line that I'm weighing-in on RaceFail, I'm not.. (yet?) Honestly? I just found out about it at Wyrdsmiths on Thursday night. I'm AM a complete Luddite and never spend much time on-line, and it started in a place I never go because I don't like reading Elizabeth Bear's blog. She tends to piss me off when she talks about her grocery list. Plus, as I wasn't in on the discussion from the beginning, it seems like a really bad idea to say something at this point, since what I might have wanted to comment on is so far gone... and morphed into something completely different.

But what I DO want to talk about right now is an extension of my MarsCON panel "The Day Star Wars Died for Me." There was someone on the panel, who is actually a friend of mine, who was a George Lucas apologist (or so I called him at several points,) anyway, he trotted out all those tired lines about why we should all just stop b*tching about how crappy the STAR WARS prequels were. The first one "he wrote the prequels for kids," I had a chance to refute, but the second one: "For Chrissake people, it's just FICTION, get over it!" I didn't really get a chance to talk about, as we ran out time.

I think one of the things that one might come away from RaceFail that is positive, is, for me, at least, the idea that fiction does matter. What you say and how you say it *is* important. Very important.

And what I hate about when people like the guy on my panel try to shut down the discussion by saying we're morons because we shouldn't get so wound up about something that is essentially make-believe is this: public art of any form (be it movies, TV, radio plays, sculpture, paintng, writing, whatever) is by it's nature a dialogue between artist and viewer. I was told to stop belly-aching because the prequels were Lucas' vision and, as such, they belonged solely to him. To which I replied: "bullsh*t." If Lucas wanted to make a movie for himself alone, he should have filmed it and stuck it in a closet. But he didn't. He put it out for PUBLIC consumption and asked me to pay for it.

I paid for it; it's mine. So I can be mad about it until the end of days if I wish. I can take it personally. I can comment as much or as little as I wish. Because just, as I can't control Lucas' vision, neither can he control my reaction to it.

As I mumbled on the panel, partly as a joke, "Hell, I'm still mad about things that happened in the Illiad." I'm actually not mad about the Illiad specifically, but I do get wound up about any number of issues portrayed in classic literature, even when I know that they might be "out of contex" in my modern era. Because the stories we tell each other have value and cultural meaning, and we're SUPPOSED to consider them and their effect on our lives. This is what stories are for -- to help us define ourselves, our society, and our place in it. And when I say "stories" I mean all forms of public art, even the lowly TV commerical.... (and ask my partner, I do criticize TV ads that I find racist or sexist or, well, stupid.)

So "it's just fiction" is no excuse. If it's put out for public consumption, then the public owns it in conjunction with the artist. The act of putting one's art into the public forum is an invitation for a dialogue... and criticism.

It's the scariest most frustrating part about being a professional artist. It's also the best.
 
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From:seawasp
Date:March 9th, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC)
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Well, no, the public doesn't own it at all. They can see any rorschach blots they like in my fiction but that won't make them real.

OTOH, fiction generates feelings. Fiction depicts things that affect people. In some ways it does so BETTER than reality because reality doesn't compartmentalize stories, concepts, etc., in a way that maximizes their delivery and impact most of the time. So dismissing a reaction to a story as "just fiction" ignores the fact that emotional reactions come from mental perceptions.

Moreover, that "just fiction" can also represent a LOT of investment of time and energy by the person reading it as well as writing it. In my case, I get peeved by authors who fail at some basic consistency in the universes because, apparently, it doesn't matter to them, while it DOES to me in order to maintain my WSOD. So I WILL become peeved.

Of course, in those cases it's important enough to actually affect me, I just rewrite the fiction that annoys me.
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From:lyda222
Date:March 9th, 2009 04:18 pm (UTC)
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I think the public does "own" it, though, particularly things we literally take home with us, like books. I'm not saying that your (or my) writing is public property, but I do think that public reaction to my work has change it -- when people noted an anti-Catholicism in my romances, I not only toned it down, but changed the Vatican Witch Hunters into a rogue agency, rather than one directly under the Pope's ageis, even though it was one fan's comment on Amazon.com... I think that made my subsequent books both mine and the women who commented's.

But I hear what you're saying, I think. And I absolutely agree that part of the dialogue betwenn writer/fan (movie/viewer, etc.) is fanfic, and I did get a chance to imply that on the panel at least.

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From:seawasp
Date:March 9th, 2009 04:47 pm (UTC)
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Well, that's a difference of perspective. If someone were to note anti-whatever in my writing, either I'd say "no, it's not there", or "yes, it is, and that was intended". I certainly wouldn't be changing my writing to accommodate one person's comments, or even a DOZEN people's comments (unless perhaps that was all of the comments that I got).

My beta-readers help me write material by pointing out what works for them and what doesn't, but I'm almost completely interested in the mechanics -- i.e., did X get across the point I wanted, did Y have the effect I intended.

This is quite possibly from a difference in writing perspectives. Even when I'm being paid, I'm not writing for the reader at all. I'm writing for me. I'm writing stories I'd like to read, but no one else will write.
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From:bookzombie
Date:March 9th, 2009 04:11 pm (UTC)
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Hear, hear! Nicely put.

On a (vaguely) related note I remember some years ago writing a 'best of year' piece for an APA I was in at the time that include the books read/films seen that I was disappointed in. An eminent critic of my acquantance called me on it - he said that a book could be 'good' or 'bad' but it couldn't be 'disappointing'. But surely any situation where you bring any sort of expectation to can run the risk of being disappointing: the new novel by a favourite writer, a new film by a favourite director, a work that has been much praised by people whose opinion you respect, etc.

Maybe if you can be very emotionally detatched you may be able to bring absolutely no preconceptions to your reading of a work, even if you are familiar with the author, but you're a better person than I am in that case...
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From:seawasp
Date:March 9th, 2009 04:17 pm (UTC)
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That's an interesting inversion. I'd be much more inclined to say that a book or movie could be disappointing but not necessarily be good or bad.
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From:argonel
Date:March 9th, 2009 07:31 pm (UTC)
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I'm not sure if it possible to write an objectively bad book of fiction, as tastes are varied enough to ensure that someone would probably like it. I would suggest than any book with more than 5% of the words misspelled would be bad, and would any work of non-fiction that is egregiously wrong. (For example a history book that WWII lasted from 1819 to 1844 would be very bad if it was intended to be non-fiction)
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From:naomikritzer
Date:March 9th, 2009 04:26 pm (UTC)
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There is something profoundly silly about saying "it's just fiction!" when you're on a panel discussing something at a science fiction con.

If we weren't overly invested in fictional worlds, wouldn't we find something else to do with our weekend?
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From:muneraven
Date:March 9th, 2009 04:32 pm (UTC)

It's just a copout

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One can say "It's just politics" or "It's just religion" or whatever. "It's just..." is simply a way to minimize something that other people are passionate about.

Also it is a very juvenile way to escape an argument you aren't winning. If it is "just fiction" then why did he bother discussing it at all?
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From:muneraven
Date:March 9th, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC)

Bear's grocery list

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Bear's grocery lists don't piss me off; they have made me consider posting fictional comments about my own eating habits on my blog, though. "Had raw sea cucumber and grape jelly for lunch. I need to walk ten miles to the grocery store to purchase more capers for my pinto bean cheesecake recipe this afternoon." :-D
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From:lyda222
Date:March 9th, 2009 04:40 pm (UTC)

Re: Bear's grocery list

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OMG! I had no idea she REALLY discussed her groceries! Jesus! No wonder I avoid it like the plague (although yours sounds much more fun.)
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From:muneraven
Date:March 9th, 2009 06:20 pm (UTC)

Re: Bear's grocery list

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Well technically more often her meal plans and the ocassional shopping note, but yeah.
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From:jiawen
Date:March 9th, 2009 04:55 pm (UTC)
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Just because it's fiction, that doesn't mean it's not true. Saying it doesn't matter because it's only science fiction sounds like self-loathing, to me.

Speaking of public ownership of art, have you seen Sita Sings the Blues? It's a really cool animated retelling of the story of Sita, from Indian myth. It's really good, and the author has made it available for full, DRM-free download.
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From:lyda222
Date:March 9th, 2009 05:00 pm (UTC)
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Sounds cool. I must check it out.
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From:swords_and_pens
Date:March 10th, 2009 05:23 am (UTC)
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Weird. I went moved in the same circles at school as the person who made this film (Nina Paley) and was literally just thinking about her yesterday. Thanks for posting this for a couple of reasons. :)
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From:jiawen
Date:March 10th, 2009 06:08 am (UTC)
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You're welcome! :)
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From:havocthecat
Date:March 10th, 2009 01:56 pm (UTC)
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Oh, cool. I'm going to post this to my LJ too. Thank you! (I know you weren't telling me about it, but I'm here and I saw it, so...)
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From:jiawen
Date:March 11th, 2009 02:03 pm (UTC)
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You're welcome, too! :)
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From:zippyfish
Date:March 9th, 2009 05:26 pm (UTC)
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Heh. As an academic who studies genre, I deal with the "it's just fiction!' attitude a lot. Well put!
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From:khym_chanur
Date:March 12th, 2009 08:55 pm (UTC)
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From:lyda222
Date:March 13th, 2009 06:56 pm (UTC)
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This made me laugh! Thanks for sending it.

Day in the Life of an Idiot

The Journal of Lyda Morehouse