Author Topic: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?  (Read 5033 times)  

Offline Jena H

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Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
« on: January 30, 2020, 08:02:49 am »
Cultural appropriation?  Or creative license of a fiction writer?  Admittedly, I haven't read the book, or even read reviews/opinions about it, but I know the conversation is out there.
Jena

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    Offline Dpock

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #1 on: January 30, 2020, 09:13:25 am »
    It's worrying. I haven't read the book but am familiar with the controversy surrounding it and the burgeoning "stay in your lane" sentiments it highlights. If I took these sentiments seriously, all my characters would have to be white, middle-aged (well, older) men, and I would have to omit all dialogue coming from characters who are women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gay men, "otherkins", transgenders, etc because that would be appropriating "their language". Also out of bounds would be writing about their experiences because I haven't lived them.

    Thankfully, I have no problem ignoring this nonsense.


    Offline Jena H

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #2 on: January 30, 2020, 09:44:55 am »
    It's worrying. I haven't read the book but am familiar with the controversy surrounding it and the burgeoning "stay in your lane" sentiments it highlights. If I took these sentiments seriously, all my characters would have to be white, middle-aged (well, older) men, and I would have to omit all dialogue coming from characters who are women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gay men, "otherkins", transgenders, etc because that would be appropriating "their language". Also out of bounds would be writing about their experiences because I haven't lived them.

    Thankfully, I have no problem ignoring this nonsense.

    I know, right??  The book doesn't claim to be autobiographical, or true-to-life.  It's fiction.  However, the 100 authors who objected say: "This is not a letter calling for silencing, nor censoring," the authors wrote. "But in a time of widespread misinformation, fearmongering, and white-supremacist propaganda related to immigration and to our border, in a time when adults and children are dying in US immigration cages, we believe that a novel blundering so badly in its depiction of marginalized, oppressed people should not be lifted up."

    That may be true, and their objections may be limited as noted above.  But the issue is muddied by other so-called "objections" about the book's author and her topic and 'voice.'
    Jena

    Offline Moe D

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #3 on: January 30, 2020, 10:13:32 am »
    Just my humble opinion, but when you're perpetuating stereotypes, your book deserves criticism. This book ticks all those boxes, including its publisher that pulled the author's book tour for "safety reasons."

    Dpock, with all due respect, you're oversimplifying it and if you don't know that, then there lies the problem.

    Offline juliatheswede

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #4 on: January 30, 2020, 10:24:02 am »
    Just my humble opinion, but when you're perpetuating stereotypes, your book deserves criticism. This book ticks all those boxes, including its publisher that pulled the author's book tour for "safety reasons."

    Dpock, with all due respect, you're oversimplifying it and if you don't know that, then there lies the problem.

    I agree. I have absolutely no problem with "cultural appropriation." It's quite ridiculous. A writer should definitely be able to write about whatever person/area/etc they want, but if they're not overly familiar with it, they need to do lots of research. Especially if their goal is to be considered a "serious" writer like this author. Based on what I have read about this book, the author is getting a lot of little details wrong. As someone who speaks and lived in Spain, I would have to agree that the translation Tierra Americana is too literal and careless. In this context, I'm pretty sure American DIRT was not a reference to the kind of dirt farmers use to grow potatoes in.
    « Last Edit: January 30, 2020, 10:42:49 am by juliatheswede »

    Offline Dpock

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #5 on: January 30, 2020, 10:56:52 am »

    Dpock, with all due respect, you're oversimplifying it and if you don't know that, then there lies the problem.

    Nonsense. I qualified my remarks and spoke to the general atmosphere of "staying in your lane", not the book in question.


    Offline Desmond X. Torres

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #6 on: January 30, 2020, 11:29:32 am »
    In the 1970's I remember when I was in HS, there was a hugely popular book titled 'Trinity'. It was a novel about the Irish people up to the Easter Rebellion of 1916. As a kid growing up in an Irish Catholic household, I was told stories about my grandfather's involvement in that revolution. So, naturally I was interested.

    It was a good book. Seeing that chunk of history through that author's eyes opened up a new world about my heritage to me. I remember talking to a buddy of mine about how much I enjoyed the book, and Eamon replied, 'You DO know that book was written by a Jewish guy, right?" I shrugged my shoulders and said, 'He wrote a wicked good book' and that was that. He got the timbre of the times, and captured the casual cruelty of the Irish as well as the British. I've recommended it many times to friends. Sure, he mussed up a detail or two here or there, but it's a great book.

    As a working class scion of that rebellion and its ongoing processes during the 70's I didn't have any bones to pick w/ anyone for 'culturally appropriating' my heritage. At. All. I've not read American Dirt, and likely never will; the genre's not appealing to me. From a socialolgical point of view, I think its just as possible that the author could have opened some minds to the lives of Latinos in South America on a deeper level.

    Not now though. The book, via the cancel culture of our current times will never get any serious traction. Instead, like other books and movies of recent years it's sidelined b/c some people are p*ssed off.

    And that's the crying shame.

    Offline C. Gockel

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #7 on: January 30, 2020, 11:54:24 am »
    I feel like having any opinion on a book I haven't read isn't cool at all.

    I do have thoughts on the system that created this book though. The woman worked as an editor in NY for ten years at one of the trad pubs before she became an author. I'm sure those big publishers feel she paid her "dues." They were dues that an author from the background she describes in the book probably wouldn't be able to pay.

    It troubles me that to be trad pubbed it seems like you have to have ties to the industry. This means that you have to have money from family (whether spouse or parents), and/or give up on having a normal life (kids, marriage) to live in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.

    I think this creates a lack of diversity in authors--in ethnicity, class, and political outlook. I think this is dangerous, frankly.


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    Offline Desmond X. Torres

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #8 on: January 30, 2020, 12:17:05 pm »
    Hey Caroline! Long time no contact! LOL

    FYI: the topic's about the controversy, not the book! (LOL & neener neener)

    Offline Lara Reznik23

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #9 on: January 30, 2020, 12:18:45 pm »
    I am currently reading the book and am surprised at the accolades given to the writing before all the hoopla emerged about whether the author was qualified to write a book about a culture she does not share.

    Since I am not of Mexican heritage, I can't speak to the inaccuracies, but as an author of three published novels and one who has studied the craft or writing for over 30 years, I believe the writing is mediocre at best. This is my own humble opinion.
     

    Offline Vidya

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #10 on: January 30, 2020, 12:32:05 pm »
    Lara, that could speak to C. Gockels point. The writer no doubt had an easier time of it getting published and getting accolades because she was already part of the system and had the right contacts.

    Offline Moe D

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #11 on: January 30, 2020, 12:50:54 pm »
    I am currently reading the book and am surprised at the accolades given to the writing before all the hoopla emerged about whether the author was qualified to write a book about a culture she does not share.


    I got about a third of the way through it and felt the same about the writing and for me, the content was unsettling. Maybe one day I'll finish reading it. Or not.

    Offline C. Gockel

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #12 on: January 30, 2020, 01:15:45 pm »
    Hey Caroline! Long time no contact! LOL

    FYI: the topic's about the controversy, not the book! (LOL & neener neener)

    I know the controversy is being painted as being about "cultural appropriation," but maybe it is really about access to resources that the  people being portrayed could never have.

    If it was purely "cultural appropriation" I would have gotten bombed with complaints for this book:
    https://www.amazon.com/Soul-Marked-After-Fire-Book-ebook/dp/B07543P7N8/

    Or this book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AOU4L7Y/

    Or this book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00ISCT7JC

    Or even this book: https://www.amazon.com/Archangel-Down-Project-Book-One-ebook/dp/B016WS5FO4/
    « Last Edit: January 30, 2020, 01:17:48 pm by C. Gockel »


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    Offline Indy Strange

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #13 on: January 30, 2020, 01:31:26 pm »
    What I know about this book:
    1. Reading a passage from it online made me cringe. I seriously wondered if that author ever had a real conversation with anyone who speaks multiple languages fluently.
    2. The publisher throwing lobster dinner book events with barbed wire centerpieces for that 'migrant life chic' look(that the author gushed about online because so much squee! :(), really doesn't make anyone who was part of this look good.
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    Offline Kim M

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #14 on: January 30, 2020, 01:31:43 pm »
    QUOTE
    ". . . perpetuating stereotypes . . ."


    Hmmm.
    Has anyone read The Color Purple"
    If the dialogue isn't a stereotype, I don't know what is.
    Did you ever watch Sanford and Son?, etc
    Same thing.
    Or All In the Family?
    Or that dumb kid who was always throwing up his hands and shouting "DynOmite"
    And if we can't write about things and cultures we haven't experienced, does this mean the end of historical fiction, Regency romance, etc.
    It's a wonder any sane person wants to take up fiction writing

    Offline Becca Mills

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #15 on: January 30, 2020, 01:39:09 pm »
    If I took these sentiments seriously, all my characters would have to be white, middle-aged (well, older) men, and I would have to omit all dialogue coming from characters who are women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, gay men, "otherkins", transgenders, etc because that would be appropriating "their language". Also out of bounds would be writing about their experiences because I haven't lived them.

    I don't think anyone on the other side of this issue would say you should be writing *only* characters who are exactly like you. Rather, they'd draw a distinction between representing a diverse cast of characters in your stories (which is just realistic, in most settings) and taking another group's culture or experience -- perhaps the most painful, wrenching part thereof -- and making it your main story. I mean, as a white woman, I think I should include African American characters in my stories, but I am pretty sure I'm not the right person to pen the great American novel about the Civil Rights Movement, no matter how much research I might do.

    What's iffier, in my mind, is finding an always-identifiable line between representing diversity and cultural appropriation. The difference is clear to me at the extremes, but I do think there's a middle ground where the border between the categories becomes more difficult.

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    Offline C. Gockel

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #16 on: January 30, 2020, 01:43:45 pm »

    2. The publisher throwing lobster dinner book events with barbed wire centerpieces for that 'migrant life chic' look(that the author gushed about online because so much squee! :(), really doesn't make anyone who was part of this look good.

    Sigh. Yep. This $uk$.

    I think also being hailed as the next Grapes of Wrath when it is just coming out and an "Instant Classic" is probably a failing, too.

    This issue is more than about "race" or "wealth," it is also about "class." I think that there is a certain coastal elite that is trying to dictate who is worthy to create art--and those are only people who have been through their system, which is inaccessible to most people.
    « Last Edit: January 30, 2020, 01:51:49 pm by C. Gockel »


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    Offline Moe D

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #17 on: January 30, 2020, 02:06:10 pm »
    QUOTE
    ". . . perpetuating stereotypes . . ."


    Hmmm.
    Has anyone read The Color Purple"
    If the dialogue isn't a stereotype, I don't know what is.
    Did you ever watch Sanford and Son?, etc
    Same thing.
    Or All In the Family?
    Or that dumb kid who was always throwing up his hands and shouting "DynOmite"
    And if we can't write about things and cultures we haven't experienced, does this mean the end of historical fiction, Regency romance, etc.
    It's a wonder any sane person wants to take up fiction writing

    I think you're quoting me. And you forgot the Jeffersons.

    You're missing the point of some of your examples. From Variety Magazine about Normal Lear who created All in the Family: "Lears shows were famous for boldly and bluntly discussing race relations, socioeconomics, womens rights, family dynamics and more."

    And I'm not suggesting people can't write about other cultures, I'm suggesting they do some research, get things right, not perpetuate stereotypes, especially when you're getting a million dollar payday.

    Offline Jena H

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #18 on: January 30, 2020, 02:39:41 pm »
    To be honest, I can't really tell WHAT, exactly, is the biggest objection to this book.  Kind of reminds me of the story about blind men touching an elephant.  Each one was describing what they felt, and since each person was touching a different part of the elephant--tail, tusk, ear, trunk, etc.--they each had a different answer.  They didn't agree on anything, and began arguing about what it was they were touching.

    Here, different people seem upset about different aspects of this book:  the fact that the author got a trad-pub deal, the fact that the writing is mediocre at best, the fact that she has no knowledge or history of the immigrant experience, the stunning stupidity of the publisher's marketing efforts.

    Sounds like there's a lot to take issue with here.  And, as in the elephant story, it also seems like people (not just here, but in general) are objecting to different issues regarding the same book.
    Jena

    Offline f2b4

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #19 on: January 30, 2020, 02:52:28 pm »
    In other news, citing cultural appropriation, major Hollywood studios today announced the cancellation of all upcoming superherx movies as they were not actually written by superherxes.


    Offline C. Gockel

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #20 on: January 30, 2020, 03:12:32 pm »
    In other news, citing cultural appropriation, major Hollywood studios today announced the cancellation of all upcoming superherx movies as they were not actually written by superherxes.



    As Jena H points out, it is about more than cultural appropriation. That might be being talked about more because they are cool "buzz words of the woke" at the moment. In general, it just seems like a ridiculous amount of money given to someone who perhaps did not use it wisely ... and being told that said someone had produced a "classic" before it had been decided by the reading public.


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    Offline markpauloleksiw

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #21 on: January 30, 2020, 05:11:15 pm »
    What puzzles me is why a publisher would invest and then spend a fortune to promote something without a detailed marketing plan, including vetting....unless controversy is the publicity they sought in the first place.

    There have been a handful of "over" promoted books that have crashed and burned due to similar controversies about race/culture.

    No plans on reading the book. Reading it would mean the controversy paid off.

    Mark

    Offline David VanDyke

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #22 on: January 30, 2020, 05:48:47 pm »
    People get giddy when involved in something high-profile and potentially career-making. Judgment and wisdom can go out the window. Nobody wants to upset the gravy train. Nobody wants to raise a red flag. Only those with some power near the top have the ability to slow down the process and take a clear-eyed look at what's going on--to do things like get outsiders to take a look at the book and provide an honest appraisal.

    Every time a controversy of this nature comes up, it seems to me that this step was the one skipped. Those with big investments didn't want to get good feedback for fear of getting an answer they didn't like.

    Offline vagabond.voyager

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #23 on: January 30, 2020, 06:06:46 pm »
    Just my humble opinion, but when you're perpetuating stereotypes, your book deserves criticism. This book ticks all those boxes, including its publisher that pulled the author's book tour for "safety reasons."

    Dpock, with all due respect, you're oversimplifying it and if you don't know that, then there lies the problem.
    Yep. Let's get rid of all those cowboy, zombie, vampire, spy, and romance books. Stick to books that have no recognisable stereotypes.

    Offline C. Gockel

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #24 on: January 30, 2020, 06:17:14 pm »
    People get giddy when involved in something high-profile and potentially career-making. Judgment and wisdom can go out the window. Nobody wants to upset the gravy train. Nobody wants to raise a red flag. Only those with some power near the top have the ability to slow down the process and take a clear-eyed look at what's going on--to do things like get outsiders to take a look at the book and provide an honest appraisal.

    Every time a controversy of this nature comes up, it seems to me that this step was the one skipped. Those with big investments didn't want to get good feedback for fear of getting an answer they didn't like.

    Yes, I think you are right. I think there also might be a "Noble Cause Corruption" at play here. The book was probably good intentioned. It wants to show the plight of illegal immigrants. Even if you believe that we should harden our borders, you can have sympathy for people who live in fear of drug cartels or in abject poverty.

    I think maybe people thought if they dissed it, they were saying they were unsympathetic to people in the heroine's plight.

    So, no one could say what they really thought. That the book is clumsily written, and it is evident in the look inside. It may be a page turner ... but page turner doesn't the Grapes of Wrath make. Also, reading a summary of the plot, it seems a little weird. A middle class person wouldn't take La Bestia, they'd fly and overstay their visa (that is how most illegal immigrants arrive!) Or heck, just drive. The heroine owns property in Mexico, she wouldn't be considered at high risk of not coming back and could get a visa.

    Oh, and if her husband was a reporter who wrote a newspaper article about a drug cartel guy who was in league with the local government, she'd be eligible for asylum. Even though gang violence doesn't make someone eligible for asylum (anymore), political violence does make you eligible. She could present the articles, request asylum, and would almost certainly get it.
    « Last Edit: January 30, 2020, 06:21:54 pm by C. Gockel »


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