Author Topic: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?  (Read 5032 times)  

Offline Jena H

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Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
« Reply #50 on: February 01, 2020, 12:33:30 pm »
Agreed - the irony is simply this debate (argument and finger pointing) by both sides is the loudest from those who have NOT read the book and have leaped to conclusions because of what OTHERS have said or just echoing headlines.

Let me provide an very public example of this problem.
It is important because the following person is an author - like all of us.

Ben Shapiro, is a conservative commentator, lawyer, public speaker, and author of several books. He is also an orthodox Jew, wears a yamaka, and married to a woman of Moroccan decent. He has traditional conservative views which many do not agree with. However, he is often called a NAZI and a White Supremacist. Ironically, he has faced threats from the very groups others have called him - due to him being Jewish and married to a Moroccan.

We may NOT agree with his views, which is fair, but to label him as a NAZI and White Supremacist is when we ignore the merits of a position/debate/argument and begin attacking the person and labeling them something that is not even remotely relevant.

The irony is those who call him a NAZI are the same people who do NOT wish to be labeled by the NAZI. It is certainly absurd.

There was a time where Shapiro use to speak at University's regularly without harassment, but in the recent years this has radically shifted to a point he needs personal protection.

To conclude - we need to be careful in making blanket and broad statements of others, when we may not be in possession of all the facts.

I have not read the American Dirt book, so I am unable to offer any objective criticism regarding either side of the argument (debate). However, it is clear in this day and age, controversy, regardless of merit, sells books - and that was my initial sarcastic point.

Note: I am using Shapiro as a example because of the recent controversy surrounding him - I am not advocating his views.

Honestly, it seems to me (personal opinion) that your example is apples to oranges.  Not really comparable.  I think a lot of the comments in this thread are about others' reaction to the book, not the book itself.  Regarding public conversation of this book, some people are protesting this, another group of them are bemoaning that, and still others are critical of something else.  While very few on this board have read the book in question, many of us have seen or heard other peoples' opinions, and the publisher's actions, and that's what most of this thread is about.
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    Offline Pyram King

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #51 on: February 01, 2020, 02:02:26 pm »
    Honestly, it seems to me (personal opinion) that your example is apples to oranges.  Not really comparable.  I think a lot of the comments in this thread are about others' reaction to the book, not the book itself.  Regarding public conversation of this book, some people are protesting this, another group of them are bemoaning that, and still others are critical of something else.  While very few on this board have read the book in question, many of us have seen or heard other peoples' opinions, and the publisher's actions, and that's what most of this thread is about.

    My apologies if I was unable to articulate my point.

    People sometimes make allegations and protest without knowing the facts.
    They regurgitate headlines or join in "group think" of what others believe in whom they admire or respect.
    People call others names, claim this or that, etc - without the primary sources or informed information.

    Whether it is this book or a conservative author; fingers are pointed, assertions made, and the public outcry reaches an uninformed crescendo. Does the controversy sell more American Dirt books? Does protesting of Shapiro generate more book sales?

    Controversy is an interesting phenomenon and if you could bottle it - it would be a marketing tool that could drive book sales. One has to pause if this was not the goal of someone (publisher, author, marketing) in the first place. Not saying it is, but it does cause one to pause.

    Perhaps there is a market for generating bad controversial press? That female author who wrote about the stalking issue received a tremendous amount of bad press, but her book sales rocketed. Was she smart enough to engage in such a devious plot or was she subjectively oblivious to the fire she was feeding?

    Much of the noise around this book is the loud echoing of a few people's critical response. Get Oprah to wave it around and that will help.

    As stated - I offer no opinion on the book, only that the controversy does bring attention and sells books.

    Now - I need to figure out how to create controversy over my historical fiction that takes place in World War I.  - frustrating....



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    Offline DCRWrites

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #52 on: February 01, 2020, 02:05:24 pm »
    Here's my take on the nature of the issue, which I have heard a lot even though I haven't read that particular book.

    Okay, in my Doc Vandal series I have multiple POV characters, including one who is a lesbian and another who is a gorilla. Naturally, as a middle-aged white guy I have no direct personal experience of being either a lesbian or a gorilla. At the same time I have received absolutely zero pushback about being a guy writing from the perspective of a lesbian character.

    The thing is, that while I am writing about a lesbian, I am not writing about the "lesbian experience" any more than I am about the "sentient gorilla with 10+ PhDs experience." I'm writing pulp adventures with a diverse cast. No one is talking about my books as being the definitive take on any particular experience.

    There's a big difference between exploring diversity in your fiction and setting yourself up as the definitive voice on an experience you do not and cannot share in place of those who have lived that experience.

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    Offline Crystal_

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #53 on: February 01, 2020, 02:34:44 pm »
    I don't think the author is setting herself up as anything. I've seen a lot of claims the publisher is setting her up as the voice of a generation but less specific detail on what that actually means.

    My question is: what is the book was great, accurate, and authentic? Would it still later that the author is white? I find it disturbing that we're discouraging people from putting themselves in others shoes, from trying to empathize with people who have different struggles than they do.

    Perhaps it's not possible for a white American woman to write an authentic book about the immigrant experience. Or for a man to write a book about the female experience. Etc. But where do we draw the line between a character who is shaped in part by their race, ability, sexual orientation, gender (as all of us are) and a character who defines the experience of a group? No one character can speak for an entire group. It's a flawed notion.

    Offline Corvid

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #54 on: February 01, 2020, 03:11:36 pm »
    It is a class issue through and through.

    The bourgeoisie attempting to profit mightily by selling a chronicle of what life is like for the proletariat is as condescending, and insulting as it is worthy of condemnation. It's someone from a place of privilege attempting to describe the experience of someone without to a mass audience for their own personal gain, and glorification. It's called 'punching down', and it's gross, and unhelpful, not to mention also completely ridiculous to the point of comedy.

    Remember the film 'Zoolander' where the big modeling agency puts on a runway show called 'Derelicte', and the models are all dressed as homeless people, and the organizers even speak as though starving people's gauntness makes them 'chic'? This was parodying not only a very real mindset, but also an actual fashion event that did something similar.

    It's a satirical example of how the upper classes commodify human suffering for their own gain, while at the same time speaking in high-minded platitudes about all the "good" that they're doing by "raising awareness" - when in reality, that awareness has all of the shelf-life of a sliced apple left out in the sun, and no actual, lasting, tangible 'good' is ever realized. And, the suffering continues, regardless. If you're part of a marginalized group, and you understand how fleeting the attention spans are among those with the real means to help you, and how limited their empathy can be, how could you witness this commodification and not, at the very least, roll your eyes if not outright publicly complain?

    Oh, and then when you do rightfully call this level of arrogance out, you get derided by thin-skinned upper-crusties as being a whiner, or an '***', as if it's a slur.

    Remember the film 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' where Russell Brand's Bono-like rockstar character produces a music video for his hit song where he's singing about the plight of the third world, while hugging poor people? It's a total caricature, and it's over the top and silly, and you can see right through his supposed 'caring' that's about as deep as a teaspoon. The over-the-top-ness of it is the point because, again, this parodies the real-life examples that surround us where this kind of corporate greenwashing and 'Concern Inc.' seems to dominate not only popular culture, but the culture in general.

    'American Dirt' is just one more example of the above. It's the literary equivalent of the completely-missing-the-point, and tone-deaf 'Derelicte' fashion show. It's the literary equivalent to Russell Brand's rockstar character hugging poor people, and patting itself on the back for doing so. It deserves to be called out as exploitative because it is.

    You picture these privileged publishing people sitting in their well-appointed offices and board rooms poring over screens and spreadsheets, figuring out and "strategizing" how to best capitalize on the popularity of a book like this, and then you think about the actual human suffering among the poor, the working class, and those desperate souls caught up in ICE raids or who are living in fear on the other side of the border, and all you can do is shake your head at the sheer audacity and chutzpah of the fortunate. The lack of self-awareness in this respect is staggering, and yet when taken in consideration of history, hardly surprising.


    Offline C. Gockel

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #55 on: February 01, 2020, 05:36:24 pm »
    Corvid wins the internet. And McSweeney's.


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    Offline jb1111

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #56 on: February 01, 2020, 06:29:43 pm »
    It is a class issue through and through.

    -SNIP-

    You picture these privileged publishing people sitting in their well-appointed offices and board rooms poring over screens and spreadsheets, figuring out and "strategizing" how to best capitalize on the popularity of a book like this, and then you think about the actual human suffering among the poor, the working class, and those desperate souls caught up in ICE raids or who are living in fear on the other side of the border, and all you can do is shake your head at the sheer audacity and chutzpah of the fortunate. The lack of self-awareness in this respect is staggering, and yet when taken in consideration of history, hardly surprising.

    I gather that you've read the book then?

    Offline Corvid

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #57 on: February 01, 2020, 11:39:00 pm »
    I gather that you've read the book then?

    Rather than attempt to invalidate what I've said by asking a 'gotcha' question, just come out and say how or why you think what I've said is wrong.


    Offline jb1111

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #58 on: February 01, 2020, 11:44:27 pm »
    It's not a gotcha question at all. I was just curious whether you'd read the book, and if that had any bearing on your opinion -- which seems to be based on American entertainment media in general -- as opposed to whether the book itself has any value whatsoever in illustrating to a large swath of this country what really goes on in parts of Mexico and Central America.

    ETA: your main points here, by the way, are well taken.
    « Last Edit: February 02, 2020, 01:13:47 am by jb1111 »

    Offline C. Gockel

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #59 on: February 02, 2020, 09:32:00 am »
    It's not a gotcha question at all. I was just curious whether you'd read the book, and if that had any bearing on your opinion -- which seems to be based on American entertainment media in general -- as opposed to whether the book itself has any value whatsoever in illustrating to a large swath of this country what really goes on in parts of Mexico and Central America.

    ETA: your main points here, by the way, are well taken.

    I read the look inside and plot summary. That's all you really have to see on this one.


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    Offline Steve Margolis

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #60 on: February 02, 2020, 09:43:23 am »
    My view is pretty simple. It's a novel. It's fiction. The author can write it however he/she wants.

    If you're a reader, and you don't like it, don't recommend it, or bad-mouth it- it's your prerogative.

    In my job, over the course of a year, I'll work with a ton of people in 20 or 30 different states, and you REALLY have no idea how different people are. I mean REALLY different. Just look at the the state of politics- totally divided, so many different people, thoughts, and opinions.

    With SO many different views, even if I wrote the the next great novel, someone's going to hate it, or have a problem with it. It's all a numbers game. You can't please all of the people, all of the time. Like George Carlin once said (paraphrasing)...if a  purple alien landed on the earth, some group would quickly find a reason to hate it.

    Social media and the Internet have given a voice to the individual. This is something relatively new in our history. But let's be honest, not everyone needs to be heard. You don't have to spout an opinion on EVERYTHING.

    « Last Edit: February 02, 2020, 09:45:41 am by Steve Margolis »
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    Offline gilesxbecker

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #61 on: February 02, 2020, 10:25:52 am »
    Well yes. And it seems like the attacks only come on people with high-profile books, or who have become famous and fortunately receive big advances and a lot of media attention. So those who are doing the objecting/canceling/ also receive a lot of media attention too. I have sneaky suspicions that 'media attention' is top on their list, like, the toppest.

    Many books on Kindle indies and w/ trad publishers are written by authors who are other than their main character, whether of different sex, different culture, different skin color, but since they are below the radar, don't get much notice, sold very little or moderately, so no objections, not even in the Amazon comments. You are not going to get noticed by Big Media by having at the non-rich and the non-famous authors, the "little guys", not a peep.

    I've been scooting around the internet searching out what's being said in general on this controversy ---freedom of writing is important to me --- and every publication with an article on it that allows comments, the attackers are getting hammered. This is encouraging and gives me faith in readers! Check out Yahoo Entertainment and Daily Mail on the subject.     

    Here's a few things I have gathered from internet searches; at the ALA Winter Institute the audience was very supportive of Cummins, except for two very young employees of a bookstore (somewhere) who didn't want to give their names but demanded that Cummins contribute to something -- organizations for authors of color perhaps, they were unclear on what. Her answer was more or less, "No, I earned this money". Okay.

    The Left Bank in St. Louis who was one of the cancelers of tour said there were "calls to our venue partners and others were made insisting we cancel this event." When will they learn to tell these Twitter mobbers to pound sand? There are so few of them, and they have learned to use the internet to make a big noise --- against authors who become famous but never the little guy, who has no money to contribute to 'good causes' and who would not be a platform them to make a big splash in the media.

    PEN made a statement "as defenders of freedom of expression, we categorically reject rules about who has the right to tell which stories." And they reject "vitriol aimed to shut down discussion and enforce silence". Insider said "a small group of naysayers are getting an outsized amount of attention".

    The naysayers are shouting "She didn't get it right! She's a rich white woman writing for the 'white gaze'!' Lots of other people 'didn't get it right' either, wrote books with inaccuracies, but no attacks on them, they were 'below the radar', unimportant. Who gets to say who gets it right? We do not have official censors.   

    For readers and for authors, I say carry on. Stick with the joy of writing and the love of reading, our readership is being lost to the blue screen of video games, streaming 'TV' etc. Those who love to settle down at night with a book in hand are becoming fewer and fewer. More and more basic English Literature classes are being canceled because of no takers, not a good situation. Attacking a writer who meant well is just suicide. I am not fixated on money, I don't care if she got a million dollars.     





     
       
           


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    Offline Crystal_

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #62 on: February 02, 2020, 10:26:19 am »
    But what's the solution, Corvid? I agree with your general point. Of course it's obnoxious some white lady thinks she can speak to the immigrant experience. She has good intentions, no doubt, but come on...

    (I'm not sure the author actually thinks this, but, like I said, I haven't read the book. I have been around this kind of discourse for a long time. There's a lot of "stay in your lane," which is what I find disturbing and ultimately hurtful to the goal of more authentic books about marganilzed people).

    But you're right: privelaged individuals are more able to publish a book, make a movie, write a song. If they don't write about marganilzed groups, we get less media about marganilzed groups.

    Would you rather there not be a high profile book about the immigrant experience?

    Not everyone is going to agree there.

    I understand why people are upset. I respect it too. But I can respect an opinion and disagree. I think discouraging privelaged people from writing about less privelaged people is going to end with less diversity of novels and less diversity in publishing.

    Tell people to do their research. Don't tell them to stay in their lane.

    Offline Loelia

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #63 on: February 02, 2020, 11:22:00 am »
    It is a class issue through and through.

    The bourgeoisie attempting to profit mightily by selling a chronicle of what life is like for the proletariat is as condescending, and insulting as it is worthy of condemnation. It's someone from a place of privilege attempting to describe the experience of someone without to a mass audience for their own personal gain, and glorification. It's called 'punching down', and it's gross, and unhelpful, not to mention also completely ridiculous to the point of comedy.

    Remember the film 'Zoolander' where the big modeling agency puts on a runway show called 'Derelicte', and the models are all dressed as homeless people, and the organizers even speak as though starving people's gauntness makes them 'chic'? This was parodying not only a very real mindset, but also an actual fashion event that did something similar.

    It's a satirical example of how the upper classes commodify human suffering for their own gain, while at the same time speaking in high-minded platitudes about all the "good" that they're doing by "raising awareness" - when in reality, that awareness has all of the shelf-life of a sliced apple left out in the sun, and no actual, lasting, tangible 'good' is ever realized. And, the suffering continues, regardless. If you're part of a marginalized group, and you understand how fleeting the attention spans are among those with the real means to help you, and how limited their empathy can be, how could you witness this commodification and not, at the very least, roll your eyes if not outright publicly complain?

    Oh, and then when you do rightfully call this level of arrogance out, you get derided by thin-skinned upper-crusties as being a whiner, or an '***', as if it's a slur.

    Remember the film 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' where Russell Brand's Bono-like rockstar character produces a music video for his hit song where he's singing about the plight of the third world, while hugging poor people? It's a total caricature, and it's over the top and silly, and you can see right through his supposed 'caring' that's about as deep as a teaspoon. The over-the-top-ness of it is the point because, again, this parodies the real-life examples that surround us where this kind of corporate greenwashing and 'Concern Inc.' seems to dominate not only popular culture, but the culture in general.

    'American Dirt' is just one more example of the above. It's the literary equivalent of the completely-missing-the-point, and tone-deaf 'Derelicte' fashion show. It's the literary equivalent to Russell Brand's rockstar character hugging poor people, and patting itself on the back for doing so. It deserves to be called out as exploitative because it is.

    You picture these privileged publishing people sitting in their well-appointed offices and board rooms poring over screens and spreadsheets, figuring out and "strategizing" how to best capitalize on the popularity of a book like this, and then you think about the actual human suffering among the poor, the working class, and those desperate souls caught up in ICE raids or who are living in fear on the other side of the border, and all you can do is shake your head at the sheer audacity and chutzpah of the fortunate. The lack of self-awareness in this respect is staggering, and yet when taken in consideration of history, hardly surprising.

    The problem is that (almost) everyone who has the luxury to sit down at their laptop to write a novel is doing so from a position of privilege. It's the same when someone like, say, Arundhati Roy writes about the poor in India. She's privileged, but that doesn't change that fact that she's an excellent author who knows her subject. Of course, being not only an excellent author but also an Indian activist who was born in India and lives in India, she is better equipped to write a novel about the less privileged in India than someone who lives in New York. But my point is that these things come in different degrees and there are also variables like talent, imagination, empathy, ability to make good use of research, intent (insomuch as that comes across from the work). The fact is that, considering all the variables in motion, a white middle-class woman living in New York could write a better or just as good a novel about the poor in India than someone who has grown up among the poor in India. The question these days is whether such a novel, however good, is valid as fiction. And I feel like it's a topic that can be debated without a blanket dismissal of the fiction that the comparatively privileged can produce.

    A preoccupation with authenticity comes with a different set of problems at each extreme end of the issue. I don't know if anyone remembers JT Leroy anymore, but I feel like that phenomenon was a perfect example of the fetishisation of authenticity. Of course the whole thing turned out to be fake, but even back then when the fraud was yet to be exposed, I thought there was something lurid about the way the young man's past abuse was commodified and fetishised in the media. It certainly showed that somebody's "own" rough experiences can be commodified and turned into a tone-deaf "derelicte" fashion show just as easily as a self-aggrandising saviour narrative.

    At the other end, you have cases like the British fantasy author Zoe Marriott who was harassed for writing East Asian inspired fantasy, specifically when she wrote a book with a main character who was both inspired by Mulan AND trans, and thus, double the appropriation. Except the novel is fantasy, set in a fantasy world with magic. You know an obsession with authenticity goes too far when you expect it even from fantasy.

    Between these two extremes, there are many different degrees of authenticity, many degrees of success and failure at convincing your readers with your fiction, and there's a lot of room for critical debate. But I disagree that authenticity is an absolute that makes fiction inherently better, or that it should even be demanded from fiction. (From memoir, yes.) All fiction is a written illusion, after all. Even fiction written by someone with all the right qualifications. And like any illusion, it can crumble if you see the hand making the shadow puppets.

    I also think when an author is aiming to write fiction with any artistic merit - whether American Dirt has any is beside the point, I haven't read it so I have no idea - you can never take the author's ego out of the equation. There is no fiction pure enough in intent to qualify as the true vessel for "raising awareness" and chronicling the lives of the underprivileged. But that's another kettle of fish.

    Offline Luke Everhart

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #64 on: February 02, 2020, 11:39:17 am »
    One of the biggest problems with this incident, and the broader phenomenon it's emblematic of, is the thoughtless acceptance of the concept of "cultural appropriation". The notion of "cultural appropriation" is pernicious, balkanizing, and spits in the face (indeed, is mutually exclusive) of one of the founding concepts of our nation, a concept essential for a nation predicated on a creed rather than ethnicity, that of the 'Melting Pot'.
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    Offline Corvid

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #65 on: February 02, 2020, 06:54:45 pm »
    It's not a gotcha question at all. I was just curious whether you'd read the book, and if that had any bearing on your opinion -- which seems to be based on American entertainment media in general -- as opposed to whether the book itself has any value whatsoever in illustrating to a large swath of this country what really goes on in parts of Mexico and Central America.

    ETA: your main points here, by the way, are well taken.

    Well, in that case, I apologize if the tenor of my response seems overly hostile. And, in answer to your question, no, I haven't read the book beyond the 'Look Inside'. C. Gockel said it best, really one need only read the LI, and see the plot summary to have an idea of what this is. It's made even more apparent when you research further, and have some understanding of where this book is coming from and the circumstances involved with its release. A picture starts to form, and you recognize it for what it is because at this point it's become (unfortunately) such a familiar presence in our society. The strong precedent for it having been set, and widely accepted, from so long ago.

    My view is pretty simple. It's a novel. It's fiction. The author can write it however he/she wants.

    If you're a reader, and you don't like it, don't recommend it, or bad-mouth it- it's your prerogative.

    In my job, over the course of a year, I'll work with a ton of people in 20 or 30 different states, and you REALLY have no idea how different people are. I mean REALLY different. Just look at the the state of politics- totally divided, so many different people, thoughts, and opinions.

    With SO many different views, even if I wrote the the next great novel, someone's going to hate it, or have a problem with it. It's all a numbers game. You can't please all of the people, all of the time. Like George Carlin once said (paraphrasing)...if a  purple alien landed on the earth, some group would quickly find a reason to hate it.

    Social media and the Internet have given a voice to the individual. This is something relatively new in our history. But let's be honest, not everyone needs to be heard. You don't have to spout an opinion on EVERYTHING.



    Respectfully, I disagree. In that, I don't look at this as an issue of 'people are different' in terms of political views, how they conduct their lives, their personal ethos, etc. This controversy strikes at something more pernicious, i.e. classism for the sake of financial gain by way of exploitation.

    Yes, people differ in many particular ways in terms of mentality and behavior and what-have-you, but one great and significant form of stratification across society is wealth and class. While we can divide one another up into countless categories based on numerous demographic considerations, the fact remains class is the ultimate divider and the place where all of those categorizations intersect in a meaningful way.

    To my mind it's not enough to say 'we're so different, consume what you want to consume, or don't what you don't', as if it comes down to harmless personal preference, or differences of opinion. Really, it's the 'meh, it's harmless' or 'it's a matter of opinion and you're free to ignore it' argument that is actually harmful because it feeds into the same idea we see with other 'Concern Inc.' initiatives where the point is never actual change, but instead paying lip service to "change" with the profit incentive in mind. And, while this may or may not exacerbate the plight of those less fortunate, it most definitely perpetuates it while the privileged become more privileged still in the name of "representing" "their" stories.

    And, that's the insidiousness of it all. The point of works like "American Dirt" never is to fundamentally change the system to where realities faced by the poor and working class become no longer a concern by way of having the causes of their marginalization be alleviated, but rather it's about merely taking a photograph of their plight, showing that photograph to as wide an audience as possible with price tag prominently displayed, and then congratulating yourself for showing a photograph that most people of your strata and with the tangible means to buy what you're selling will glance at and forget in a nanosecond. Nothing's solved, and the band plays on.

    To me, what we're talking about here with "American Dirt" is people capitalizing off the marginalization of others, and worse, the people doing the capitalizing are complicit in the very system responsible for said marginalization, and even worse than that they do so for clear financial gain if not personal glorification, and reserve the right to pearl-clutch when you call them out for the twisted-ness of this. I could be off-base in saying so, but it reads to me like a form of societal psychosis.

    But what's the solution, Corvid? I agree with your general point. Of course it's obnoxious some white lady thinks she can speak to the immigrant experience. She has good intentions, no doubt, but come on...

    (I'm not sure the author actually thinks this, but, like I said, I haven't read the book. I have been around this kind of discourse for a long time. There's a lot of "stay in your lane," which is what I find disturbing and ultimately hurtful to the goal of more authentic books about marganilzed people).

    But you're right: privelaged individuals are more able to publish a book, make a movie, write a song. If they don't write about marganilzed groups, we get less media about marganilzed groups.

    Would you rather there not be a high profile book about the immigrant experience?

    Not everyone is going to agree there.

    I understand why people are upset. I respect it too. But I can respect an opinion and disagree. I think discouraging privelaged people from writing about less privelaged people is going to end with less diversity of novels and less diversity in publishing.

    Tell people to do their research. Don't tell them to stay in their lane.

    You raise great points. There is no easy solution. If I were to lay out what I thought in terms of a solution, I'd be laughed out of the room more than I already am as thinking too pie-in-the-sky. I suppose, if I were to indulge, the idea would be, of course to have more works chronicling the experiences of those among the poor, and the working class, but to have it coming from those actually among those groups. I would rather bottom-up, than top-down.

    To which, people would shout at me, "are you nuts? a poor Guatemalan person struggling to bring her family across the border has next to no access to a literary agent let alone the Manhattan desks of publishers with enough clout to push her story front-and-center". And, while they're not wrong, the fact that that is a fact is perhaps part of the problem and something that needs to change. But, I recognize, in order for that to change, the entire mechanism of traditional publishing would have to change, and likely the structure of our society as well. I won't pretend to know how it's done, even if I can recognize it would provide for meaningful representation for marginalized groups as opposed to the exploitation thereof.

    The problem is that (almost) everyone who has the luxury to sit down at their laptop to write a novel is doing so from a position of privilege. It's the same when someone like, say, Arundhati Roy writes about the poor in India. She's privileged, but that doesn't change that fact that she's an excellent author who knows her subject. Of course, being not only an excellent author but also an Indian activist who was born in India and lives in India, she is better equipped to write a novel about the less privileged in India than someone who lives in New York. But my point is that these things come in different degrees and there are also variables like talent, imagination, empathy, ability to make good use of research, intent (insomuch as that comes across from the work). The fact is that, considering all the variables in motion, a white middle-class woman living in New York could write a better or just as good a novel about the poor in India than someone who has grown up among the poor in India. The question these days is whether such a novel, however good, is valid as fiction. And I feel like it's a topic that can be debated without a blanket dismissal of the fiction that the comparatively privileged can produce.

    A preoccupation with authenticity comes with a different set of problems at each extreme end of the issue. I don't know if anyone remembers JT Leroy anymore, but I feel like that phenomenon was a perfect example of the fetishisation of authenticity. Of course the whole thing turned out to be fake, but even back then when the fraud was yet to be exposed, I thought there was something lurid about the way the young man's past abuse was commodified and fetishised in the media. It certainly showed that somebody's "own" rough experiences can be commodified and turned into a tone-deaf "derelicte" fashion show just as easily as a self-aggrandising saviour narrative.

    At the other end, you have cases like the British fantasy author Zoe Marriott who was harassed for writing East Asian inspired fantasy, specifically when she wrote a book with a main character who was both inspired by Mulan AND trans, and thus, double the appropriation. Except the novel is fantasy, set in a fantasy world with magic. You know an obsession with authenticity goes too far when you expect it even from fantasy.

    Between these two extremes, there are many different degrees of authenticity, many degrees of success and failure at convincing your readers with your fiction, and there's a lot of room for critical debate. But I disagree that authenticity is an absolute that makes fiction inherently better, or that it should even be demanded from fiction. (From memoir, yes.) All fiction is a written illusion, after all. Even fiction written by someone with all the right qualifications. And like any illusion, it can crumble if you see the hand making the shadow puppets.

    I also think when an author is aiming to write fiction with any artistic merit - whether American Dirt has any is beside the point, I haven't read it so I have no idea - you can never take the author's ego out of the equation. There is no fiction pure enough in intent to qualify as the true vessel for "raising awareness" and chronicling the lives of the underprivileged. But that's another kettle of fish.

    In terms of Crystal_'s mentioning of this notion of staying in one's lane, and in response to this post above, I can only respond by stating my opinion that, "American Dirt" isn't only a case of writing about an experience of which you are not a part, it's attempting to profit handsomely by using one's considerable societal position to push one's self into a place of cultural prominence, and using the reality of the abhorrent marginalization experienced everyday by those without your level of privilege as your impetus and your vehicle for doing so. To me, that is gross, ignorant, and completely exploitative.


    Offline Pyram King

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #66 on: February 03, 2020, 06:49:54 am »
    It is a class issue through and through.

    The bourgeoisie attempting to profit mightily by selling a chronicle of what life is like for the proletariat is as condescending, and insulting as it is worthy of condemnation. It's someone from a place of privilege attempting to describe the experience of someone without to a mass audience for their own personal gain, and glorification. It's called 'punching down', and it's gross, and unhelpful, not to mention also completely ridiculous to the point of comedy.

    Remember the film 'Zoolander' where the big modeling agency puts on a runway show called 'Derelicte', and the models are all dressed as homeless people, and the organizers even speak as though starving people's gauntness makes them 'chic'? This was parodying not only a very real mindset, but also an actual fashion event that did something similar.

    It's a satirical example of how the upper classes commodify human suffering for their own gain, while at the same time speaking in high-minded platitudes about all the "good" that they're doing by "raising awareness" - when in reality, that awareness has all of the shelf-life of a sliced apple left out in the sun, and no actual, lasting, tangible 'good' is ever realized. And, the suffering continues, regardless. If you're part of a marginalized group, and you understand how fleeting the attention spans are among those with the real means to help you, and how limited their empathy can be, how could you witness this commodification and not, at the very least, roll your eyes if not outright publicly complain?

    Oh, and then when you do rightfully call this level of arrogance out, you get derided by thin-skinned upper-crusties as being a whiner, or an '***', as if it's a slur.

    Remember the film 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall' where Russell Brand's Bono-like rockstar character produces a music video for his hit song where he's singing about the plight of the third world, while hugging poor people? It's a total caricature, and it's over the top and silly, and you can see right through his supposed 'caring' that's about as deep as a teaspoon. The over-the-top-ness of it is the point because, again, this parodies the real-life examples that surround us where this kind of corporate greenwashing and 'Concern Inc.' seems to dominate not only popular culture, but the culture in general.

    'American Dirt' is just one more example of the above. It's the literary equivalent of the completely-missing-the-point, and tone-deaf 'Derelicte' fashion show. It's the literary equivalent to Russell Brand's rockstar character hugging poor people, and patting itself on the back for doing so. It deserves to be called out as exploitative because it is.

    You picture these privileged publishing people sitting in their well-appointed offices and board rooms poring over screens and spreadsheets, figuring out and "strategizing" how to best capitalize on the popularity of a book like this, and then you think about the actual human suffering among the poor, the working class, and those desperate souls caught up in ICE raids or who are living in fear on the other side of the border, and all you can do is shake your head at the sheer audacity and chutzpah of the fortunate. The lack of self-awareness in this respect is staggering, and yet when taken in consideration of history, hardly surprising.

    Well said and I agree (in general)....but....(which I will probably take heat for stating) - your comment's use of hypocrisy is rather ironic.

    Celebrities are created by catering to the subjective moral relevancy of the people.
    I am defining the word "Celebrities" specifically in this post as anyone who has profited from the people's subjective moral relativism.

    Satire exists because it is making fun of the truth.

    The irony, if not hypocrisy, I wish to point out is the reference to Zoolander and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. On one hand you use those examples to demonstrate what you believe is wrong, but do you not find it ironic those examples ARE profiting from the very thing you find wrong?  Did not those Celebrities make millions from making fun of their own hypocrisy? One could say the Celebrities doubled dipped in profiting off the public at the public's expense. First, the celebrities as themselves cater to the subjective moral relativism to keep them relevant and popular among the people, then they make a satirical movie of exactly what they are doing and profit from it again.

    Of course Hollywood is an excellent example of hypocrisy and irony, which I find absurd. An actor stars in an action film using weapons and guns to kill bad guys violently, then supports gun control. So on one hand they make millions by acting out violence with guns, but to keep them in subjective moral relevance with the people they make money from, they make a public stand for gun control. Whether they actually believe it or not is besides the point.

    The fact is, it is hard to generate a profit if the people will NOT buy it.
    So are the celebrities to blame for profiting from the people, or are the people accountable for voluntarily making a choice to give them money and supporting them?

    Your last sentence I agree with, "The lack of self-awareness in this respect is staggering, and yet when taken in consideration of history, hardly surprising."
    However, let me point out that the lack of self-awareness is the people who buy the book. Is their lack of self-awareness driven by their self-interest which is fueled by celebrities who cater to their subjective moral relevancy?

    A book will sell well if Oprah mentions it. Thus Oprah is feeding the sheople and profiting.

    A funny video about Oprah and this hypocrisy by Bill Burr on Conan - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9YL04v-J5U

    Let me conclude, I believe your post is well said - but infuses hypocrisy and irony to make your point, which in itself could be construed as a satire.

    Perhaps I am the fool and your entire post was  intended to be sardonic. If that is the case, my hats off and have only embarrassed myself.







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    Offline markpauloleksiw

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #67 on: February 03, 2020, 08:42:46 am »
    Here are some things to consider:

    The author worked in the industry and NY circles as an editor.
    The literary agent is Sterling Lord, a NY agency.

    When I first decided to try my hand at writing, I tried seeking literary agents. What I learned was this. Agents look for writers who will write about "subject matter" that will sell/relevant. So the New York marketing firms (which really is what big publishing is now anyways)...looked for something relevant about the plight of immigrants at the border. They found a writer to put a story together that they could sell.

    Before the book even went live, that had already 4,000 or so Goodreads reviews....this tells you how crazy the marketing hype was.

    Literary agency and the big 5 are elitist and have not the foggiest about the "art" of writing.  It is a business, and a "novel" is the same to them as selling coffee beans.

    They got caught on this one.  Or perhaps they realized the book was not as great as they thought and needed publicity.

    Mark

    Offline Bixso

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #68 on: February 05, 2020, 10:39:07 pm »
    My view is pretty simple. It's a novel. It's fiction. The author can write it however he/she wants.

    If you're a reader, and you don't like it, don't recommend it, or bad-mouth it- it's your prerogative.

    In my job, over the course of a year, I'll work with a ton of people in 20 or 30 different states, and you REALLY have no idea how different people are. I mean REALLY different. Just look at the the state of politics- totally divided, so many different people, thoughts, and opinions.

    With SO many different views, even if I wrote the the next great novel, someone's going to hate it, or have a problem with it. It's all a numbers game. You can't please all of the people, all of the time. Like George Carlin once said (paraphrasing)...if a  purple alien landed on the earth, some group would quickly find a reason to hate it.

    Social media and the Internet have given a voice to the individual. This is something relatively new in our history. But let's be honest, not everyone needs to be heard. You don't have to spout an opinion on EVERYTHING.

    That's not the damn issue.

    What we are dealing with here, is a white author who is playing a damn game with this crap.

    You can have minority characters, and write about characters of a different race and culture than you just fine. So it's possible yes. But I do my damn research, and I extrapolate on their culture/race in a positive way. Something this author didn't do.

    Oprah condoning this baffles me to beyond belief. I swear to effing god. I'm done. It's stuff like this which as a young gay black author, born in the 90s, who is struggling to get his ideas out there, that wants Oprah and Tyler Perry or whoever is out there to give me a chance, to just throw in the towel.

    No I didn't read the book, and I'm not going to. From what I've heard, people share the same opinion as me.
    « Last Edit: February 05, 2020, 10:44:26 pm by Bixso »
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    Offline B. Ans Paz

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #69 on: February 06, 2020, 02:40:42 am »
    Even as a Latino writer myself who struggled to learn English, I honestly think this controversy is a bit overblown. Identity politics are a double-edged sword right now cutting everyone and anyone. It's more about being woke and patting yourself on the back than actually creating positive change in the world, and you see this over what people (eh mostly youths) lazily like calling "victories." I disagree with almost all of them, i.e. I wouldn't raise my fist in the air and let tears stream down my face if they suddenly decided to release a Latino version of Superman, screaming, "We did, omg, we did it."

    Nope, I'm furious that they made a white redhead black in The Witcher and I have absolutely no desire for the Walmart off-brand version of white characters in the name of "inclusion" or just so businesses can appear woke. I want characters crafted from the ground up as Latino, Asian, etc and not to tick boxes or virtue signal, but simply because that's how the characters were imagined/planned same as any white character. Considering the setting and origins of The Witcher, there would have been absolutely zero problems with every character being white. If they truly didn't like that, there were plenty of regions/cultures of nonwhite characters to pull from, or, since the show is its own thing anyway and only VERY loosely follows the source content, they could have created new, important characters, like a black Witcher from a new school or an alchemist or whatever.

    In the case of American Dirt, it's fiction. That excuses a freaking ridiculous lot for me. If she portrayed another culture wrong then it's simply bad writing and extreme ignorance, but that doesn't mean she's some Mexican slave-mistress who would love nothing more than to torture Latinos.

    All we're doing is terrifying white authors from writing anyone but white characters... if you don't see the problem with that, well, that itself is a problem. She needed feedback that her portrayal was garbage and that she needed to do far more research next time. I mostly read fantasy, but you see this problem all the time there too. Most authors are neither sociologists or psychologists so they just have to make due with youtube videos and Wikipedia articles, or real-world experiences. This is always dangerous and always will be, but I've seen many white male fantasy authors portray racial tension, slavery, or even just female characters horribly but improved over time.

    My main issue is that this novel was portrayed as some kind of woke political commentary, which, it seems, is also what struck a lot of chords. Everything's political, sure, but this is probably a good reason for why you shouldn't purposely try to be political or preachy with your storytelling (unless it's the point). There tons of people out there who said if she had pushed it as a completly make-believe thriller things might have been a lot better. Still a terrible book, but not as offensive? Sure.

    My humble opinion is that throwing more hatred into the fire is just going to burn things faster.


    Offline starkllr

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #70 on: February 06, 2020, 11:42:17 am »
    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.

    I think that's ultimately the reason behind all of this.  Say what you will about the execs and marketing folks at the big trad pub houses, but they are not morons.  I think they - and the author - knew exactly what sort of publicity they would get, and whatever they're saying in public, they're laughing all the way to the bank.

     
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    Offline B. Ans Paz

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #71 on: February 06, 2020, 11:52:30 am »
    This is a point I've just never understood. Personally, I want to watch a show that casts the best actor for the role, the person who nailed who the character is at their core in their audition, not someone who just happens to look exactly as the character was described in the book. I get that there's exceptions when some stories take place in our world or when race is relevant, but the Witcher? I didn't read the source material, I'm no expert, but it didn't seem like people were discriminated based on their skin color in the show. Ability was the perceived difference that stoked fear from what I could tell, but then again I found the show mediocre in the extreme. Oh, Henry Cavill, I love to look at you but that's eight hours I'll never get back.

    I agree with you to a limit, but I'm of the mind that if you make content based on source material then you should respect that source material. This is pretty much the standard for almost everything else, from superheroes to other novels-to-books. Yeah, I get it. 80% of those emotionally weeping about Avengers Endgame know jack about any of the characters outside the movies and most people who watched Game of Thrones would probably ask how to plug in the physical book if they were handed one. The directors could have easily played around with the source (and have) and most people would never know. That doesn't mean they should. This could be a whole other subject entirely, especially considering how most adaptations of anything should really be called commercial strip-downs. But people do care and when it seems commercially or politically motivated it's just more grating to some of us.

    Basically, you don't know the source material so you don't care. I did, and I do. That kind of sums it up.

    I agree with you about fiction, but at the same time, this paragraph following the previous seems hypocritical to me.

    You're confusing two separate issues here. If you take an established character like Superman and change them to be a black transgender woman who gets their power from the moon, one might rightfully ask whether or not this is actually Superman or if the name is just being slapped on. I'm not happy that they took a major source material character and arbitrarily changed them, but you're right that if they were simply on the nail fantastic then maybe people would warm up to the change. Arial being cast as black is exactly the same thing and makes no sense to me, and goes back to my original problem. Why off-brand a character? I'm not someone who will feel "included" because you randomly colored in famous characters. To me, all you're saying is that for anyone to care about POC they need to wear the identities of widely famous white characters instead of standing on their own. Fixing a long history of predominantly white superheroes should mean creating new, diverse ones and building them up. Not going back and just slapping the artists on the back a few times.

    Maybe you don't agree with that and that's fine, but they're separate issues.

    but people who have gone through real life hardship can't take issue with how their experiences are portrayed by an outsider turning their pain into profit? This comes off quite do as I say, not as I do.

    One of the biggest issues with her novel is that it's obvious she doesn't know what she's talking about, which many people consider part of the problem. Considering conflict is the heart of every novel, just about every author turns the issues of others into profit. George R.R. Martin portrayed many realistic medieval issues, such as the historical treatment of women and how easily power structures can marginalize others. I've been in actual war (I'm a former soldier) and have spent most of my time as a medical professional, yet war is pretty much a checkbox in fantasy (again, Game of Thrones) and somehow always seems to be the threat looming in political thrillers (World War 3 incoming!). Think of the soldiers who have suffered and been broken by war. Why aren't we trying to burn those books too? Why aren't we angry at George R. R. Martin for profiting off the horrors of war, the rigors of soldiering, the violent treatment of woman? To be fair, there was some political anger during some of the tv series scenes, but nothing like this.

    Fiction portrayed and offered as fiction, in my opinion, should be seen as fiction. Yes, we can comment on their political elements, i.e. the racism present in the positioning of orcs within Lord of the Rings or the inarguably racist inspirations of H.P. Lovecraft. But people are still enjoying and using their works and moving beyond those problematic elements by focusing on the stories and worlds and building on them without racism. Liking a novel, like Game of Thrones, doesn't mean I condone anything politically, let alone the rape of women or war.

    This is also completely different from properly portraying source material, especially as a fan of source material, and especially if seems just for political or commercial gain. Some argue that it's a small thing. Yeah, well, it would have been a small thing to rename The Little Mermaid into something else and just use the original as a comp title! Make. It. Better. Do you know what would have been amazing? A culturally West African retelling of The Little Mermaid, not The Little Mermaid, again, but black. We're seeing this kind of stuff a lot in fantasy now and it's amazing balls.

    And last I checked, no one here called this woman a Mexican slave-mistress. Maybe privileged, maybe ignorant, maybe careless, but not that.

    I wasn't talking about here; you misunderstood. There are a lot of people elsewhere who think she's "obviously" some vile evil person for having written this book and it was hyperbole to begin with. I was hoping that to be obvious, lol.

    That some people might be reacting for genuine reasons? That their distaste with how this book came about has nothing to do with hatred?

    Equating the desire for change with hatred is the type of math that makes me sad.

    Obviously, no meaningful issue is simple. But to try and include every single complexity at once is an equally silly idea. Opinion alone is valid and genuine a reason and has nothing to do with hatred. Maybe some people, politics aside, simply didn't like the book as a story. That's not what we're obviously talking about here and also isn't an element of the problems with the controversy.

    If it wasn't clear, many people are upset that this white woman is writing about the immigration issue despite knowing nothing about it and is actively using it to virtue signal. The problems with that are many, varied, and probably viewable differiently depending on the person.

    I'll admit part of the problem is how the author herself is politically presenting her novel. But a lot of people are wondering how this was even allowed to be published, and it's something the publisher had to actively defend. This also led to side-debates about the makeup of the publisher, and so on. So yes, insensitivity is a huge component of this. I think you're just mostly hung up on that hyperbolic statement I made as my point is I don't think she's being hateful despite others believing so. It's fiction, and I think that, like some others, she should have presented it as a simple thriller and left the politics at home instead of indicating it's some monumental political commentary on current events.

    Those kinds of broad, sweeping assumptions you're making is the kind of math that causes problems. No, I'm not saying that hatred is the only reason ever people have for disliking the book and suggesting so is ridiculous. But there are literally people out there saying white people should be banned from writing POC, men from writing women, etc. Yes, not everyone is like that, but being snarky and throwing out a dumbly obvious statement isn't useful. Of course people have different opinions.

    Did she write the book for profit? Yes, but a ton of authors do. Is she writing outside of the scope of her personal experiences? Yes, but a ton of authors do too. Do she screw it up? Yes, but, again, so do a ton of authors. I personally think this would have been a lot worse if it were a memoir or nonfiction, and feel it was bad enough that she (and her publisher) tried to get all political with her book. My previous comment about her is basically that I don't think she outed herself as being racist or cruel or anything, just very ignorant. In which case, welcome to America. Don't buy the book.
    « Last Edit: February 06, 2020, 11:59:34 am by B. Ans Paz »

    Offline Crystal_

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #72 on: February 06, 2020, 12:42:29 pm »
    You're confusing two separate issues here. If you take an established character like Superman and change them to be a black transgender woman who gets their power from the moon, one might rightfully ask whether or not this is actually Superman or if the name is just being slapped on. I'm not happy that they took a major source material character and arbitrarily changed them, but you're right that if they were simply on the nail fantastic then maybe people would warm up to the change. Arial being cast as black is exactly the same thing and makes no sense to me, and goes back to my original problem. Why off-brand a character?

    Why can't superman be a Black woman? Or a Black transgender woman? Granted, I don't know Superman well, but isn't he defined by his idealism and his powers, not his race, gender, or sexual orientation? Do you have an actual reason or is it just that you don't want things to change?

    I do know the Disney version of The Little Mermaid and you are WAY OFF. Ariel is white in the movie, sure, but it's not a defining trait. She happens to be white. There's nothing about the story or character that necessitates her being white. She's defined by her curiosity, rebellious nature, willingness to give up anything for knowledge.

    Making her Black or Asian or Hispanic does nothing to change her character. She is not defined by her red hair. She happens to have red hair. Making her a brunette or a blond would not change her character either. (But, obviously, she can be Black or Asian or Hispanic and still have read hair. The shade of red in Ariel's locks is not a natural human hair color. And it's certainly not a hair color common to white people. I do have a Persian friend with a very similar hair color, though it's more of an orangey red and it's curly. People always think she dyes her hair, but that's her natural shade).

    Offline Luke Everhart

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #73 on: February 06, 2020, 12:56:47 pm »
    Why can't superman be a Black woman? Or a Black transgender woman? Granted, I don't know Superman well, but isn't he defined by his idealism and his powers, not his race, gender, or sexual orientation? Do you have an actual reason or is it just that you don't want things to change?

    Why? Out of respect for the creators of the character (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster) and the fans who have given that creation longevity. We know who Superman is because of their vision, their creation.

    ...I'm against the notion of "cultural appropriation" but if the underpinning notions have any merit, surely it's in this arena: borrowing on the popular legacy of one artist's creation and altering it to serve a personal, cultural, or political statement.

    Create a new character inspired by the original. Create it from the ground up rather than depriving those who are entertained or inspired by the original by refashioning, coopting, and riding the popularity of another's creation. A lot of what B. Anes Paz said in this thread is spot on imo.
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    Offline Luke Everhart

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    Re: Any opinions on the American Dirt controversy?
    « Reply #74 on: February 06, 2020, 02:06:09 pm »
    Your post reminds me of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. That's a form of adaptation. New characters, same situations. I enjoyed it, but I still don't understand the fixation with race when it has nothing to do with the story. When I'm evaluating an adaptation, my main issue is usually the parts of the story/scenes that were left out. The outrage I've seen has made me question what these "fans" value if they care more about skin color than what substantial material is left out.

    Personally, I've no problem with changing the race. My fav for a new James Bond is Idris Elba who would rock.

    But Crystal had said: "Why can't superman be a Black woman? Or a Black transgender woman?" Changing a character's skin color is imo no more significant than changing their hair color: irrelevant. However, changing the sex of a character (or sexual orientation, etc) is changing something fundamental which necessarily alters the psychology and portrayal of the character. It becomes a de facto new character, so why not create a new character to serve that conception and allow both concepts and audiences to be served?
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    Moon Magic (changing to Moon Madness) : in progress
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