Saturday, December 20, 2014

Quoted: Margaret Atwood on creating "likeable" characters

I myself have been idiotically told that I write “awful” books because the people in them are unpleasant. Intelligent readers do not confuse the quality of a book with the moral rectitude of the characters. For those who want goodigoodiness, there are some Victorian good-girl religious novels that would suit them fine. -- Margaret Atwood
The full quote is at the link.

I've written about "likability" and "relatability" more than a few times. It still baffles me that it's still looked upon as a defining characteristic of literature. What doesn't surprise me is that the onus to write likable characters is almost always on female writers.

I like flawed characters. No, that isn't exactly correct. All good characters have flaws, even likable "plucky" ones. I like bad characters. And truly bad female characters who don't fall prey to stereotypes are a rarity. Whether I relate to them or not is immaterial. Is this written well? Yes? Proceed. No? Close book.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Links & Bits: 12/19/14

A &E plans on shaming sex workers as part of a new reality show.

Everything you wanted to know about NHL's recent mumps outbreak

Slates' "Year of Outage" is a thing of joy. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014


The horseshoe theory has always been a little too simplistic and incomplete for American politics. There's no left-wing version of the"tea party" and Keith Olbermann really isn't our Rush Limbaugh. A few years ago, when Jon Stewart held his rally for moderation, I maintained that to suggest that there's parity in partisan religiosity was absurd, but now, given the rise of social media (or my just becoming more aware of it), I'm not so sure of that anymore.

I picked up John Avlon's Wingnuts yesterday after it had been taunting me on my library's new books shelf for the past couple weeks. It focuses mostly on the right's special brand of crazy (with the exception of the aforementioned Olbermann, who gets a meaty chapter), but I think there's plenty of room for criticism of the left's fringe players. Fortunately for us they don't usually get elected to congress or score talking head gigs on CNN. But Tumblr and Twitter has made hashtag activism credible on a mainstream-ish stage and given a platform to those who want to cancel a popular TV show because they don't understand satire. (Of course not all hashtag campaigns are misguided -- some are even pretty amazing like the recent #blacklivesmatter to show solidarity with anti-racist activists during the recent protests over the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner.)

The extreme left and the extreme right do meet somewhere on the outskirts of sensibility, if only in their authoritarian tactics. Recently a women's studies professor gained notority for stealing an anti-abortion sign from protesters claiming that she was "triggered" by it. I think anti-choicers' views are abohorent too, but I absolutely support their right to express them. This is where I usually deviate from the progressive ideology. Trigger warnings and the idea that one should be "protected" from offensive speech may not be censorship in the legal sense, but it's still a form of control I'll never be comfortable with and still call myself a liberal. When the parameters become so narrow and dissent is routinely discouraged, there's very little room for actual discussion.

One more thing that Avlon mentioned, somewhat tangentially related, but as someone with a foot in both white working-class society and middle-class progressivism, this is important to me. He says, "These folks feel like a minority because they fear they are going to be a minority." There's a little more to it than that. It's true that liberals have pretty much abandoned working-class white people who'll vote according their moral compass even when it contradicts their economic interests. (Jonathan Haidt has written a great book on liberal and conservative morality.) It's also important to note that classism is not only tolerated among liberals, but sometimes actively encouraged because we're not like "those people" -- racist, uneducated rednecks. I actually do understand this, and at times I feel as though I have to lean even farther left to prove that I'm not Joe the Plumber.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Egoist or Altruist?

Are You An Egoist on An Altruist?
You are a Personal Ethics Egoist! You believe in acting in accordance with your own self-interest, but you also stand by the notion that other people shouldn't necessarily do or say as you do. You're fully aware that whatever works well for you may not be suited for others, so respecting another individuals personal and life choices doesn't hinder your decision making. In a nutshell, you're not a judgmental person and appreciate when other people return the favor

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bible Dipping with Infinite Jest

A secular, postmodern kind of divine inspiration*:

p. 765
Grief, regret, sadness. Sadness especially, perhaps.

p. 176
This is your body. They want you to know. You will have it with you always.

p. 15
'The integrity of my sleep has been forever compromised, sir.'

p. 29
'How did you know I was interested in Byzantine erotica?'

p. 823
 Her acne scars aren't even all that bad.

*My cousin and I used send each other word prompts (probably inspired by Highlights magazine) when we were writing terrible fan fiction to amuse ourselves. This is my grown-up version of that. Grab a book -- pomo doorstoppers work best -- and scribble down the first five random passages/sentences your fingers land upon. Now use those five sentences as inspiration or a jumping-off point for a story.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Earworm of the Day: Leonard Cohen - The Future

Boo on censorship (he's singing about hard drugs and buttsex, in case you haven't figured it out), but yay on Leonard Cohen being an absolute prophet.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Are progressives hurting their own cause?

Freddie's piece on the Rolling Stone/UVA rape scandal one of the most nuanced I've read, particularly his take on how the progressive trope of "believe the victim at all cost" actually hurts rape victims:
In progressive online circles, particularly Twitter, a powerful social norm has emerged: Decent people have a moral obligation to believe all rape accusations, and failure to do so amounts to anti-feminism or worse. Recently, the writer and lawyer Zerlina Maxwell advocated for exactly that at The Washington Post. Others, such as Jessica Valenti, have suggested the same. Spend any time in the progressive corners of the internet and you'll see the power of this norm. [...] By creating the expectation that all rape accusations must be presumed true regardless of circumstance, anti-rape activists have tied the credibility of their efforts to every individual accusation, and in so doing perversely undermined our efforts to end sexual assault.
I'm not comfortable with the jettisoning of critical thinking often required for being seen as a good advocate. Notice I said "being seen as" instead of "being," because I don't believe those things or mutually exclusive. Quite the contrary. And there are probably quiet a few people who think the same way but don't speak out for fear of being called a rape apologist, anti-feminist, or gasp, a conservative. I'm being flip, but it has become increasingly difficult to write about rape with nothing less than 100% support for the accuser, even when there are significant -- and I'm talking significant -- holes in the story. Pointing those things out isn't the same as saying "she's lying," or that there's an epidemic of women lying about rape.

I'm also glad he brought up the accusations against Conor Oberst. It's easy to draw parallels between the two, though the consequences of the Rolling Stone debacle are wider-reaching. Not to minimize what happened to Oberst, who dropped libel charges after his accuser retracted the accusation, but Rolling Stone made a huge mistake running the story threatening not only their credibility, but giving fuel to MRAs salivating for some actual "proof" that women lie, en mass, about rape.