Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Is crime fiction socially aware?

By Steve Weddle

Dave White likes for us to wait a week before we weigh in on the latest internet kerfuffle.

But, as Cheech said, Dave's not here.

The HUGO award nominees were announced and some people weren't happy with the list of names. Too mainstream. Too white. Too manny.

Then there was the April Fool's post from LOCUS, which said that participants at some sci-fi convention would have to wear burqas in order to be politically correct.

LOCUS Magazine came under fire and pulled the post.
An Apology— posted Monday 1 April 2013  We would like to offer our apology for the offensive April Fool’s post that was published on the site today. The April Fool’s pieces were not seen by the Locus HQ staff before being posted — it was an ugly moment this morning when we saw the post already online, and we immediately took steps to remove it. Of course, being after the fact, it was too late, and the offense had already happened.
The author of that post, Lawrence Person, posted the original with some commentary at his own blog.

Folks got to commenting about free speech and being offended.

Others mentioned how this post last year questioning whether Game of Thrones is "too white" was also offensive. And this response. And this.

Which brought us to this post about whether the Hunger Games movie is too not-white.

Which reminded me of posts we've had here about Patrick Rothfuss's calendar being sexist  Also that he hugged a fan.

The sci-fi and fantasy communities (or community, with overlap) seem to have these discussions/kerfuffles rather often.

I mean, I notice them and I tend to not pay too much attention to things that aren't about me.

The crime fiction community has not had the same discussions -- or so it seems.

Of course, we've had our sock puppets and our talks about dirty words in novels. We've had some discussions here and there and sexism and racism and violence.

And while this isn't a competition with the nerds over in that other genre, I wonder if the nerds in the crime fiction community are embracing the conflicts in the same way other genres do.

Occasionally, of course, you'll see an isolated blog post about why crime fiction is so focused on alcoholic men saving kidnapped strippers. In much crime fiction, these women do seem to get into trouble that only a man with a dark secret can solve.

But is the crime fiction community tackling race and misogyny -- and other social problems -- with as much effort as our cousins in the sci-fi and fantasy world?

Has anyone complained that the Edgars or the Anthonys or the Dashiells or the Agathas or the Hitchcocks are too white? Too manny?

Are the swords and lasers crew fighting this for all of us?


Jay Stringer said...

Part 1-

Interesting question. And overall the answer is NO.

The answer is NO for pretty much all of mainstream society.

Though we maybe have to draw a distinction between two different things; the fiction and the community.

In crime fiction there are good writers who battle with this, and who are very progressive and socially aware, but they tend not to be the ones that sell. There is also a very conservative streak in mainstream crime fiction. Crime and punishment, old fashioned values, that kind of thing. There are people who want Noir and Hardboiled fiction to be MENS FICTION, and to allow the womenfolk to have cosy crime and books with cake recipes in them. There is also a hesitancy to read a protagonist that you can't project yourself into. There are people who want to read books to see new things, and people who want to read books to see a certain thing, and in crime we have both kinds of reader.

Things are shifting very slowly, and I think we'll see a larger shift as Young Adult Crime Fiction grows.

That I'd argue is key.

Young Adult fiction deals with the world in ways that is relevant to...young adults. And YA took off a long time ago in Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Dystopia. Is there a comment in there about the age of crime fiction readers? Maybe. I don't know. But it does mean that writers and publishers have been thinking in those genres about younger readers in a way that has been slower to come through in crime. And making room for younger readers in the community as well as the fiction.

Jay Stringer said...

Part 2-

As someone who has not yet attended a crime fiction convention, but has attended (worked at) comic and sci-fi conventions, I'm going to make another assumption here. I'm going to guess that COSPLAY isn't that big a thing at crime conventions. The community has not had to deal with the idea that young people of all sexes and genders like to dress up as their favourite characters, and that this often leads to a lot of flesh on display. The crime fiction community has therefore not had the open fights that comes from this, of having to explain to men that flesh is not consent, and that a young person showing some skin or dressing as Lara Croft or Vampirella is not an excuse to hassle, grope or flirt.

That also leads onto ideas of identity politics. To make another assumption I don't think young people use crime fiction for self expression and self discovery in the same way they do Sci-Fi or Fantasy. Those comunites can become a club where people go to be people and do things that they maybe can't be or do at home, or at work. And with that comes the need for the kinds of discussions you're talking about.

Sci-Fi and Fantasy has had to have those battles, and has become a very pro-active community on these issues. (sometimes too much so, but thats better than not at all.)

But crime fiction hasn't had to have them. The community has been able to laugh and say, "yeah, we don't have all our women on covers in the nude, or being attacked by tentacles, or wearing gold bikinis while hefting swords, we rule." But then people do start to point out, "yeah, but all your women are in revealing 1940's ball gowns, or are being strangled on the covers, or are tied to chairs as someone points a knife at them, and incidentally, why is it all so WHITE?"

At the same time, every time we have the conversation when someone claims Noir is male only, we then have people pointing out great women writers in the genre, and that is then followed by the people who point out that we shouldn't be defining these writers by the fact they are women and simply by the fact that they're great. So we do have some of these battles. Just not enough of them.

And there are some battles from the other communities that I wouldn't WANT to have. But that's an argument for another time.

So yes, no. We don't discuss them enough. And when we do discuss them, the conversation doesn't get out to enough people. But making room for younger readers on the page and in the community will change that.

Jay Stringer said...

....I should have used that as tomorrows post.....ah well.

Thomas Pluck said...

Well said, Jay. We have our own divisions. Mocking craft cozies is just code, sometimes.
Christa Faust had to deal with being painted as a sacrificial victim on the NoirCon program last year, because you know, she's tough, she writes hardboiled as hell, she knows enough MMA fighters that I bet one of us taught her a good nut twist and eye gouge and I'd put money on her winning a fight vs. any of the men on the cover if that mag with her- but ey, she's a dame, they're the ones who get rescued, or better yet, brutally killed so they have to be avenged, am I right?
Fuck that shit.

Crime writers are a friendly bunch, but we're people. I know one "socially aware" writer who gets attacked and slammed for being such, because he soils the noir with "preachiness."

So yeah, we're not immune. But I think we are better off in some ways, because it's less of a nerd culture where boys escape to, and feel threatened when women intrude.

Steve Weddle said...

Yes. I think the cosplay element is a huge part of this.

I tried to give that some thought and pixels, but kept sounding like some asshole saying that the problem is women dressing up like Lara Croft -- which isn't the problem at all.

The stereotype does seem to be that for sci-fi and fantasy, women are bikini-clad and for crime fiction women are victims.

Honestly, it seems nearly every crime fiction book I see talked about is WOMAN GOES MISSING.

Ellen Clair Lamb said...

It boils down to this, I think: sci-fi and fantasy are by their nature more concerned with ideal alternate universes/societies, while crime fiction tries to look at the darker side of society as it is. Arguing about utopias, and who belongs in them, will always cause more contention than the premise that bad people sometimes do bad things and need to be brought to justice.

John McFetridge said...

It's the movies and TV.

When I first attended a sci fi convention in the dark ages it was all about books and authors. The only person in "cosplay" was a woman hired by a movie company (it was at NewCon in Boston, '77 or '78. Sheesh, I'm old ;).

I haven't been to a sci fi convention in a while but my understanding is that books and authors are not front and center anymore. I've heard that some big-money movie companies hire lots of people to go to these conventions now.

Maybe it'll happen in crime fiction, too, when the movie companies get involved.

Anonymous said...

You can have free speech or you can have freedom from being offended, but never both. Which means some people need to suck it up.

Thomas Pluck said...

Care to elaborate Mr. uh, "evil"?
Free speech doesn't mean immunity from criticism. It means you should expect it.

Anonymous said...

@Thomas Pluck:

That was my point. Usually, when someone gets criticized, they cry "Free speech," then climb on the soap box about how offensive other people's free speech is.

It never meant freedom from consequences, just freedom from legal consequences (and even that's not 100%. Slander/libel is illegal, as is yelling "Fire!" in a movie theater. That's as it should be.)