Update on AmazonFail

First off, it has been noted that the de-ranking wasn’t limited to GLBT issues and erotica, but also notably affected books on disability and sexuality as well as feminist books, books on sexuality, and books on topics such as suicide prevention and rape.

In terms of the massive PR fail that has been going on, Amazon went from the vague and not very credible “glitch” explanation to this:

This is an embarrassing and ham-fisted cataloging error for a company that prides itself on offering complete selection.

It has been misreported that the issue was limited to Gay & Lesbian themed titles – in fact, it impacted 57,310 books in a number of broad categories such as Health, Mind & Body, Reproductive & Sexual Medicine, and Erotica. This problem impacted books not just in the United States but globally. It affected not just sales rank but also had the effect of removing the books from Amazon’s main product search.

Many books have now been fixed and we’re in the process of fixing the remainder as quickly as possible, and we intend to implement new measures to make this kind of accident less likely to occur in the future.

Here are some good posts that point out the flaws with Amazon’s explanation:
This Is Not A Glitch, #amazonfail
Seattle PI has new #amazonfail statement
Amazon’s censorship sparks angry protests
Amazon Rep: This was not a “glitch”
Amazon Is Embarrassed By “Ham-Fisted Cataloging Error”

There’s also the disconcerting parallel between the pattern of the feature/glitch/whatever showing up on books from smaller presses first and only after some time has passed does it start showing up on books where people are likely to notice. As Lilith Saintcrow explains:

Now. Do you remember the Amazon POD fiasco? Cliffs Notes version: Amazon tried to take over a significant chunk of the print-on-demand industry by quietly removing “buy” buttons from small-press POD publishers who didn’t use Amazon’s POD service. The buttons would come back–if you switched to Amazon’s POD service, in essence giving them a bigger cut. It was greed pure and simple, and they started it with smaller presses and only backed off when there was a bit of a hullabaloo and larger presses (who still use POD technology) banded together to tell Amazon where to stick it.

We have the same pattern with AmazonFail. First very small press/authors are targeted, probably to gauge how big of a stink they’ll raise. If Amazon is not convinced the outcry will outweigh the (perhaps perceived) profits, it slowly mounts until Amazon has captured what it wants. The fact that Amazon has shot itself in the foot with this does not mean it wasn’t a deliberate step taken with another end in mind.

We also need to examine the implications behind Amazon having paid someone money to code this feature — regardless of whether this incident was a policy, a “glitch”, a mistake or whatever. Patrick does this in his post Amazonfail & The Cost of Freedom:

Think for a second about what Amazon did here. In the world of ecommerce, the search is king. Almost everybody who shops online visits a site to find a specific product. By intentionally obscuring and manipulating the search results of your site, you are making a clear statement: We don’t want you to read these books. I can tell you from experience that if something is difficult to find through a search, it will not sell. Not only was this a suspicious action on Amazon’s part, it had the potential to be very “successful” (ie, it would’ve greatly decreased the sales of those titles).

After quoting the above, Lilith Saintcrow responds with:

Exactly. This powerful weapon was created FOR A REASON. No company spends money on a tool that powerful that they don’t intend on using. A huge squawk over it being used improperly one time will not stop it from being used improperly in the future as soon as the hubbub dies down–but greater choice in Internet suppliers might.

In terms of how I’m feeling about the issue, Amazon isn’t getting my money even if it does offer an apology. I feel pretty much the way that are pretty much summed up in Kelley Eskridge’s take on Amazonfail from a managerial perspective:

Amazon is perceived right now as everything from deeply clueless to desperately stonewalling to deliberately deceptive. And of all the errors you can make as a manager, this is the worst — to communicate in a way that distances people even further. Amazon will never fully regain credibility with many of its customers, and they have no one to blame but themselves. They gave a generic “Daddy’s working on it” answer to a deeply divisive situation; they communicated “at” stakeholders instead of directly to them, on their own online turf; and they have so far refused to engage with the notion that people aren’t just curious or concerned, they are offended.

Lilith Saintcrow’s amazonfail-related entries is probably the most comprehensive breakdown I’ve seen yet and I would highly recommend reading through all of them.

Amazon censors women and queer people

So, I’m sure everyone has heard by now, but Amazon has recently made the decision to remove the sales rankings of so-called “adult” books in order to ensure that they don’t show up in some searches (like the default search) and bestseller lists.

Their rationale? The censoring books primarily written by and for queer people (and, in the case of erotica, some non-queer women as well) was done “[i]n consideration of our entire customer base”:

“In consideration of our entire customer base, we exclude “adult” material from appearing in some searches and best seller lists. Since these lists are generated using sales ranks, adult materials must also be excluded from that feature.”

Just to be clear, the criteria for the “adult” material that they’re using is pretty damn sketchy:

But as an online petition points out the following publications remain on the sales ranking system:

-Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds by Chronicle Books (pictures of over 600 naked women)
–Rosemary Rogers’ Sweet Savage Love” (explicit heterosexual romance);
–Kathleen Woodiwiss’ The Wolf and the Dove (explicit heterosexual romance);
–Bertrice Smal’s Skye o’Malley which are all explicit heterosexual romances
–and Alan Moore’s Lost Girls (which is a very explicit sexual graphic novel)

while the following LGBT books have been removed:

–Radclyffe Hill’s classic novel about lesbians in Victorian times, The Well of Loneliness, and which contains not one sentence of sexual description;
–Mark R Probst’s YA novel The Filly about a young man in the wild West discovering that he’s gay (gay romance, no sex);
–Charlie Cochrane’s Lessons in Love (gay romance with no sex);
–The Dictionary of Homophobia: A Global History of Gay & Lesbian Experience, edited by Louis-George Tin (non-fiction, history and social issues);
–and Homophobia: A History by Bryan Fone (non-fiction, focus on history and the forms prejudice against homosexuality has taken over the years).

There’s already a push to google bomb them by creating the phrase “amazon rank” as a synonym for being censored in regards to queer and/or erotic material (with careful attention to inconsistent logic). It’s made at least one newspaper, a letter writing campaign, and there’s even an online petition.

Here’s the letter I wrote to their customer service:

To whom it may concern,

I am one of the many who was shocked and disappointed by Amazon’s recent decision to remove the sales rankings of certain books in order to keep them from showing up on most searches and bestseller lists. As I am sure many others have said, the criteria for “adult” that the company has chosen to apply is inconsistent and ill-thought-out. Regardless of intention, the result of this decision was to further marginalize already marginalized groups such as women and queer people while leaving the explicit material of privileged groups such as men and heterosexuals largely untouched.

I find this level of lack of foresight and competence in a company unacceptable. For a web-based company, the decision to change even one part of the fundamental structure of its website is something that needs to be undertaken with great caution, thought, and care. In this case, before anything was done those in charge needed to clearly define the criteria for labeling a product “adult”, doing everything possible to ensure that said definition was as internally consistent and free of bias as possible.

By focusing on queer books (regardless of actual explicit content) and erotica (a genre with primarily female authors) while leaving clearly explicit but more normalized versions of “adult” material intact, Amazon has created an image for itself as a company that supports homophobia and sexism. I may be only one person, but I am still part of Amazon’s “entire customer base” and I do not feel that Amazon took my interests into “consideration” at all when the decision was made to make it harder for me to find books on queer theory, DVDs about the queer experience, and depictions of romance and sex written by women for women.

Before this happened I had intended to make a sizable purchase of various books, DVDs, and games from your site, but I cannot in good conscience support your site while this policy is in effect. I hope that this decision will be rescinded quickly with a full public apology given to the authors whose sales you have hurt and the customers who you have inconvenienced, and that any further consideration into the separation of adult material from non-adult material will be undertaken with much more deliberation and care than was taken with the current policy.

Andrea Rubenstein

Amazon’s doing this has, obviously, pissed me off. Even more so because, living in Japan, I don’t have easy access to the kinds of English books and DVDs that I consume on a regular basis and therefore was gearing up to do a major purchase so my dad could bring it to me when he comes to visit. Now I need to take my shopping elsewhere, which will create more hassle for me than working with a company that already has my information on file. But, really, when the decision comes down to hassle versus supporting a company that obviously disdains me and my interests I’ll take the former any day.

For those of you interested in knowing more, here’s a link farm.

Via Tamora Pierce.

The New Yorker gets a 0 on the Swift-o-Meter

Racism is satire when “progressives” do it!

I am not a regular reader of The New Yorker, but I have never been a huge fan of their cartoons. Some of them have made me chuckle, some of them have made me roll my eyes, and many more have just provoked a, “Okay…” kind of blah reaction. But, I am sorry to say that they have joined the ranks of all those other jerks who create something bigoted, present it without any obvious criticism, and then dare to call it “satire”.

That cover is not satire.

I understand the reasons why people are calling it satire, but their explanations fall flat when you’ve seen the same arguments used to defend insulting articles/pictures/etc that only serve to reinforce the status quo.

Satire isn’t a synonym for “mockery”. It isn’t something that is easy to do right, and it certainly isn’t accomplished by simply rehashing elements that have been used by a group that’s in political opposition to the person doing the satire. It’s not enough to say it’s satire because “everyone” knows the object of mockery is ridiculous, especially when there are plenty of people who obviously don’t.

The thing that the satire is mocking needs to be blatantly and obviously ridiculous and wrong. And not just to people who already see the subject as ridiculous and wrong. Satire needs to expose the logical fallacies of the object of ridicule, not simply summarize them.

If the satire can reinforce a person’s conviction as easily, if not easier, than it can shake it, then it is not satire. It’s just mockery, and mockery whose target is ambiguous at that.

Via Feministe.

A post to read while I'm away

Still on break. Having fun playing Final Fantasy XI. While I’m gone, you can check out this post by Tamora pierce.

Here’s an excerpt:

[…] But honestly, why is it strange to like to write for girls?

Aren’t they worth it? Look at them on the soccer field, or bent over a book. Watch them in the mall, looking at music or clothes, or at home or in gym, practicing headstands and somersaults. Do you see them in class, getting all fired up about injustice, or in a club, dancing to set the world on fire? Do you see them bent over sketch pads or lap tops, working away, or read their internet posts, where being unseen sets them free to say what they think? They’re a more tremendous resource than oil or water, and they are trashed, ignored, lectured, talked down to, shoved aside, told they’re hos/sluts/technoignoramuses, tied up and abused in games/movies/comics/television, handed diets until they collapse from the weight of them–and yet they are still thinking, still active, still passionate, still idealists. They are world-beaters.

Why aren’t more people writing for them, and I mean “for”, as in, in ways that makes them feel like what they are: a powerful force. People who make a difference. Not toys, not negligible quantities to be shoved aside every time people get their panties in a bunch about boys, but serious players on the world stage. Serious contributors to everyone’s lives.

Harlan Ellison's "Apology": Sorry I Rubbed You the Wrong Way

(I’ll be away for the next few days at Fan Expo Canada in Toronto. If anyone else will be there and wants to meet up, drop me a line. As far as I know, Harlan Ellison won’t be there.)

Dora has written a great post on the subject of Ellison’s behavior at the Hugo Awards. If you haven’t read it already, stop reading this and go read that one first.

She linked to Ellison’s apology, which was the sort of non-apology I’ve gotten used to hearing from public figures when they don’t understand that they did anything wrong.

Would you believe that, having left the Hugo ceremonies immediately after my part in it, while it was still in progress … and having left the hall entirely … yet having been around later that night for Keith Kato’s traditional chili party … and having taken off next morning for return home … and not having the internet facility to open “journalfen” (or whatever it is), I was unaware of any problem proceeding from my intendedly-childlike grabbing of Connie Willis’s left breast, as she was exhorting me to behave.

Shorter HE: the opinion of you peons doesn’t count.

Note the introductory phrase, “Would you believe…,” suggesting that the reasonable reader would be surprised that he hadn’t heard about it. I believe this is being used ironically – i.e., that he thinks it’s eminently believable that one could avoid hearing about this because the complainers are out on the fringe. I can understand alternative interpretations here, though.

Note , however, the name-dropping (though I hadn’t heard of Keith Kato before, a quick Google suggests that he hosts invitation-only afterparties at a lot of conventions. In other words, to be at that party is to be important. Further note Ellison’s putting JournalFen in scare quotes and follows it a dismissive parenthetical. And finally, note that Ellison attributes the “problem” to a single source (JournalFen – i.e., Fandom Wank, which I hadn’t actually checked to find out about this).

Finally, there’s the contextualizing of the incident as a joke. Because Willis was telling him to “behave,” he groped her. Of course, the age old rule about jokes applies: if you have to explain ’em, they ain’t funny.

Nonetheless, despite my only becoming aware of this brouhaha right this moment (12 noon LA time, Tuesday the 29th), three days after the digital spasm that seems to be in uproar …YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT!!!

Emphasis, despite the capslock abuse, still seems to be on how long it took him to find out about it. Absolutely right about what? He hasn’t said yet.

IT IS UNCONSCIONABLE FOR A MAN TO GRAB A WOMAN’S BREAST WITHOUT HER EXPLICIT PERMISSION. To do otherwise is to go ‘way over the line in terms of invasion of someone’s personal space. It is crude behavior at best, and actionable behavior at worst. When George W. Bush massaged the back of the neck of that female foreign dignitary, we were all justly appalled.

What’s interesting here is not that he “gets it,” to the extent he does (though his reasons seem very male-centric – it’s bad because the behavior is crude, or because you can be sued for it); what’s interesting is that he’s talking in generalities, and when he brings up an example it’s someone else (and the woman is reduced to “female foreign dignitary”).

Finally, he gets around to talking about the incident:

For me to grab Connie’s breast is inexcusable, indefensible, gauche, and properly offensive to any observers or those who heard of it later.

I agree wholeheartedly.

“Gauche”? He didn’t break wind on stage, he groped somebody. That’s like slugging somebody and then apologizing for your bad manners.

I’ve called Connie. Haven’t heard back from her yet. Maybe I never will.

Implication: If Connie Willis doesn’t complain, neither should you.

This doesn’t work for me for a few reasons. For one, this wasn’t private behavior; it was on stage. More importantly, Ms. Willis is situated differently from other people commenting on the issue; she potentially has more to lose from a backlash from Harlan’s fans than a random blogger like me does. (Though on the other hand, I could use the publicity if I ever finish my novel.)

So. What now, folks?

Implication: it’s your problem, not mine.

It’s not as if I haven’t been a politically incorrect creature in the past. But apparently, Lynne, my 72 years of indefensible, gauche (yet for the most part classy), horrifying, jaw-dropping, sophomoric, sometimes imbecile behavior hasn’t–till now–reached your level of outrage.

Shorter HE: What are you, retarded? I’m the goddamn Harlan. And if you haven’t complained before, you can’t now.

I tend not to bother paying much attention to the personal lives of writers, so I’m not sure what else he’s been up to. I’ve heard about the Penny Arcade kerfuffle; I’m sure there are other incidents where he pissed people off, and it seems from this “apology” that he regards this as merely another of those times. This is orders of magnitude larger than that, and invokes privilege and institutional power in ways that other arguments don’t.

I’m glad, at last, to have transcended your expectations. I stand naked and defenseless before your absolutely correct chiding.

Shorter HE: I’m an asshole; what are you going to do about it?

The “I’m an asshole” defense, though, isn’t one. Never has been. It’s simultaneously an assertion of power (“I can act like this, and you still have to deal with me”) and a desertion of responsibility (“I’m just this way. Can’t be helped”).

With genuine thanks for the post, and celestial affection, I remain, puckishly,

Yr. pal, Harlan

Shorter HE: Ain’t I a stinker?

Funny, while I remember Puck (both the Shakespearean version and the Gargoyles version) being a trickster, I don’t remember him sexually assaulting anybody.

P.S. You have my permission to repost this reply anywhere you choose, on journalfen, at SFWA, on every blog in the universe, and even as graffiti on the Great Wall of China.

Implication: it doesn’t matter what you do; it can’t affect me.

Pimp Your/My Oppression

[First a big shout-out to Tekanji, Lake Desire and Shrub.com for giving me the chance to guest blog! My name is Luke and I rushed this post out to press once I read jfpbookworm’s great post below that I think is a good branch-off point. I warn, however, that this post is a real behemoth in length. The more I went back to it, the more I added on so you might want to pack a ham-sandwich before diving in or something. Anyways, i’d love to get your feedback, thoughts, comments, criticisms, etc.]

We’ve all seen them.

It’s some night-owl hour and in-between reruns of Roseanne and ElimiDate you see for 30 seconds the uniquely American bazaar of young, thin, often blonde women with flowing hair and large breasts: In some form, you see “The Yes Girls.”

All-too-discreetly advertising itself as none other than a phone-sex line for men where young women dressed (or undressed, for that matter) in lace and satin seductively grasp their phones, bodies supine with eyes gazed towards the camera whispering lines of “We always say ‘yes’” like they know exactly what customers of the phone-sex line would want to hear in some meta-rape fantasy sort of way.

But phone-sex lines aren’t by any means some taboo cultural anomaly servicing the closet desires of perverts or deviants. Rather, their persistent popularity speaks largely to the ways in which men’s (and women’s) sexual identities are shaped—let’s make it “warped”—by what they’re told their fantasies are and in turn reinforced to fantasize again and again.

So placed between Roseanne, perhaps the lone television representation ever of a working-class white America with a stereotypically unattractive and wholly uncompromising woman actress at the helm who articulated a big “fuck off, Dan Quayle” season after award-winning season and ElimiDate, the “reality-TV” hit where petite, scantily clad women compete in a lascivious macho fantasy for the attention and affection of a man, usually tall, white, muscular and unable to hold a non-sex ridden conversation, in order to avoid getting “eliminated” each round, watching The Yes Girls gives us a jump-off point as to how men specifically are taught/cultured/socialized to think about women and sex. The two seemingly become synonymous if you begin to imagine what such commercials essentially say to men: “They’ll do anything…they never say no…they only wants sex…I must have her…I must have them…I must have sex.”

Even as I’m writing this, I’m hearing about how yet another season of The Bachelor is coming to ABC. Forget that every, and I mean EVERY relationship post-Bachelor has crumbled, forget that there is hardly a gender-equality of male and female bachelors and bachelorettes (didn’t ABC only make ONE The Bachelorette?) people love to see not just the paternalistic Cinderella chivalry fantasy anymore, they want to see one pimped out for the new age.

So if that’s what men are conditioned to want, to see as the ideal fantasy and to revolve their sexual and gender identities around, how do they go about achieving a constant state of sex with young women (who are often white, Latina, or mixed race)? If that’s the fantasy, then what’s the situation of the reality and what men are advised and told to do about it and how to go about it?

Based on the flurry of men’s “how to get women” books published largely in the past several years, you sense that what was once the immediate concern of meeting a soulmate, a wife, a husband, a life-partner has become one centered on men meeting and sleeping with as many “girls,” “bitches” or “chicks” as possible.

Like Samantha Jones drawing on the so-called liberating power of no-strings-attached sex (or “sex like a man”), the goal of “getting laid” then comes at a cost of women being seen as new hybrid of animal-commodity. That is, “animal” in the sense that these men’s advice books weave an intricately bullshit guide which adheres to the beliefs that #1, the behavior of women, like animals, is by nature predictable which involves a lot (and I mean a lot of animal watching), and #2, women’s bodies are the only things valued that one must possess through the consummation of sex—and I mean a lot of sex. And “commodity” in the sense that women, reduced simply to women’s bodies, are seen as goods that exchange hands through “purchase” by way of deception, backhanded-coercion and manipulation by men under the guise of having “skills” with women.

Just read the titles of some of these books that have boldly emerged recently in a symbol of immediately impressive yet ultimately fleeting macho bravado based identity:

What Really Works With Women: Do What Works, Get What Matters To You (2005)
The Complete A**hole’s Guide to Handling Chicks (2003)
The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists (2005)
The Layguide: How to Seduce Women More Beautiful Than You Ever Dreamed Possible No Matter What You Look Like or How Much You Make (2004)
How To Succeed With Women (1998)
Seduce Me! What Women Really Want (2003)
How To Get The Women You Desire Into Bed (1992)
The System: How To Get Laid Today! (2003)

The covers alone of many of these books tell a story in itself. On the cover of The Complete A**hole’s Guide to Handling Chicks, we have the classic macho trucker/truck mud flap decal and sticker of a caricatured large-breasted woman with hair flowing in the wind.

In The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, we see another silhouette this time of women sprawled out in sexual stripper poses while the shape of a man twice their size stands proudly drawing upon celebrations of pimps and the prostitution of women.

Perhaps most ridiculously in The System: How To Get Laid Today! is a drawing of a young woman dressed in a corset, leather thigh-highs and cat-ears on knees and elbows seductively drinking a large bowl of what appears to be milk.

Dare venture into the book descriptions and you’ll find the animal-commodity storytelling continues flavored with the old “nuts and sluts” mentality made famous during the Kobe Bryant rape trial:

“We’ll take you from the day you’re born to the day you die and show you how women can be manipulated, frustrated, and ultimately dominated throughout the course of a man’s life. By illustrating the insanity of the female mind, we’ll show you why the flawed chick psyche causes them to continuously fall for the a**hole, no matter how many times they get burned.” – From the book description of A Complete A**hole’s Guide to Handling Chicks

Or you check out similar-themed websites like FastSeduction.com where you see things like:

“You have to be the MAN who has all the sexual power. And when a woman (no matter how hot) sees and feels the presence of a man whom she recognizes as the dominant one while SHE isn’t, she does what every woman does – that is SURRENDERS to the more powerful being. And all that acting like she’s hot and knows she’s the stuff and all those other “head up in the air” tricks are just a test and a way to weed out all the men who are less powerful than her and don’t know their role as a MAN.” – FastSeduction.com’s “Be the Alpha/Dominant Male”

Ultimately, these books provide a crude and patriarchal and thus attractive-to-men analysis of why, if they haven’t “gotten any,” the women they want aren’t attracted to them. Of course it’s the same spiel that’s been revolving in pornography for year and only now seen in the forms of Eminem’s celebrity and the pandemic spread of “pimp” in the American lexicon: Women must like being treated terribly and that’s why they deserve what they get. Women must like bad-boys. Good-guys and nice-guys “finish” last.

To women, of course, the message then becomes that they should validate and be attracted to these images. Women must like being objectified and degraded, why else would they allow themselves to be put on a meat-rack on shows like ElimiDate? Why else would women like the delinquent Mark characters or the abusive Fischer characters on Roseanne and why else would women send love letters to convicted killers like Scott Peterson. He’s a bad-boy misunderstood with a soft-spot inside, really. Women, remember, it’s your job to change him and take away the beastly exterior. Or in other words, be like Belle before he runs out of rose petals and runs out on you, right?

Read the back-pages of any so-called “Magazines for Men” like GQ, Maxim, FHM, or Stuff and you see it’s older cousins in shady black-and-white rectangle ads: “Pheromones proven to drive women wild!…100 pick-up lines guaranteed to work with the hottest girls.” Listen to any recent episodes of Tom Leykis and you’ll hear “Leykis 101” in which men are taught specifically how to “bang chicks” through deception and macho posturing.

The message is clear: This is how you get that and we know this works because they instinctively respond to it—it’s in their DNA. You’d almost think you were learning how to catch Sockeye salmon off the Alaska coast. What lure do I use? Where do I go? When do I know to “go in for the kill”?

Head off into Amazon’s “Bestsellers” or autobiography section and you find the hugely popular I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell by Tucker Max. Max, a Duke law-school grad who writes about his supposed true-life escapades, proclaims proudly

“My name is Tucker Max, and I am an asshole. I get excessively drunk at inappropriate times, disregard social norms, indulge every whim, ignore the consequences of my actions, mock idiots and posers, sleep with more women than is safe or reasonable, and just generally act like a raging dickhead. But, I do contribute to humanity in one very important way: I share my adventures with the world.”

Again, even more telling than the subject of controversy itself is often the cultural response to it. Read any of the many five-star reviews in which men and women have bought, read and proudly promote the book to others and the attitude of praise and dismissal of any criticism of such praise is unbridled:

“Make no mistake, Tucker Max is a vile vile person, but his own admittance. And if you try not to think to much about his victims…er…marks…er… girlfriends/hook-ups, then this is a hilarious book.” – Jake Mckee

“For the people who think that he’s some terrible person who has sex with poor innocent girls, give me a break. It takes 2 to tango as they say. As my wife put it, if there weren’t so many whores in the world he’d have a lot less to write about.” – Travis Stroud

“Tucker Max is pure genius. An excellent writer, and even better comedian, he has Michael Jordan’s bball skills when it comes to women, and an eclectic, highly exciting group of friends and adventures he chronicles in this absolute must-read book.” – Michelle Park

“This stuff can make you laugh until you pee your pants, but I would only recommend it for those who can take racist, sexist, and despicable jokes lightly for that seems to be the life of Tucker Max. In other words, this book is beautiful.” – Samantha Miller

“I loved this book. The stories are funny and remind me of my college days. Good times, good times.” – Jeff White

So the response then isn’t that his behavior lacks repulsive qualities deserving of unflinching dismissal but rather that his life is humorous to women and men and a cause-of-envy to young men in particular. Like he says, summoning all the bad-boy machismo he can, “I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell.” He knows he’s going to hell (well, assuming one believes in it) and that’s why he couldn’t care less. He’s a bad-boy and a “rebel” engaging in behavior so supposedly gutsy that it is suggestively a this-is-how-I-did-it guide as to having “success” with women. Why else would many aspiring sports-athletes read biographies and autobiographies about Michael Jordan, Brett Favre or Tiger Woods? “Know the legend, be the legend” as the saying goes?

But this type of macho posing behavior isn’t new and Tucker Max, as much as I hate to say it, doesn’t deserve all the blame. Look at what he probably grew up watching. Films like Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, Old School, Road Trip, American Pie and National Lampoon’s Van Wilder all celebrate the stereotypical prime of sexual masculinity through the oppression of women: have as much sex with as many women as possible regardless of consequences, engage in high-risk drinking and drugs without any negative repercussions, feel no emotions, display little conscience and give the middle-finger while yelling “feminazi man-hating pussy faggot!” to anyone who says different. It’s college and that’s what you’re supposed to do in college, right? Or, as the Sean Michael Scott character in Road Trip says with his famous Stifler charm “Think about it Josh, you’re in college. The window of opportunity to drink and do drugs and take advantage of young girls is getting smaller by the day.”

The unfiltered Virginia Slims message here is the same. To women and young girls, this says that there’s a proper way to act as women and to have fun, to have some sort of an authentic experience. Worse yet, the message is that the only thing they have going for them is their bodies and by extension, the approval from men of their bodies and the use of those bodies for sex.

But to men, the message isn’t as closely examined or seen as having any sort of significance. Just as women are taught in this way to self-hate and reduce their own human being to an ass, breasts and vagina while validating so called “bad-boys,” the message to men is that this is what men do, this is what an authentic manhood looks like and this is what you want…this is how you’ll be happy. To so-called “nice guys,” the imagery leads to some dumbassed and disturbing deductions: “women like to be objectified, degraded and essentially treated like shit so even though I know something aint right, there’s no moral dilemma if I’m going to objectify, degrade and treat women like shit. Hey, at least I’m not a bad guy!”

So it’s clear then that young men are buying into these books and misogynistic attitudes in hopes of navigating the social scenes with some sense of direction in terms of women. And that I think is where a significant amount of unseen danger is. Not only does this supremely hurt women through yet again another form of men’s oppression of women, but it also denies men and young boys the ability to engage responsibly, honestly and freely.

We’ve all seen this. This reinforced sexist, homophobic and racist socially constructed cultural norm to nurture men simply as emotionally, physically, and sexually abusive whose only purpose is to engage in macho high-risk behavior, see women as animal-commodities and to have misogynist meta-rape fantasies by removing feeling any sort of personal human emotion, all sorts of attachment or desire for more in things like sex or relationships.

And this, to deprive men (and women) from living real lives and identities of free-choice without inflicting pain and suffering on others…to me nothing is more anti-male, man-hating or male-bashing than that.

What Do You See in This Cartoon?

New Yorker Cover
New Yorker Cover: What Do You See in It?
  1. What was your reaction when you saw this cover?
  2. Are you familiar with the New Yorker and its covers? Do you think that influenced your reaction? If so, how?
  3. After further reflection, did you see something different than your first reaction, or did the details of the picture just reinforce your original idea?
  4. Please share any other thoughts on this cover that you may have.

I’m not going to get into my own opinion of it yet because I want your honest reaction not influenced by what I think. So, readers, I urge you to look at the picture and then comment without reading other comments or visiting the original post. Of course, if you want to make a second comment for after you’ve seen other people’s opinions, I think that would be awesome, too.

Via Alas, a Blog.

Fantasy Women [REPOST from Shrub.com]

Note: This article was originally written on November 01, 2005 as a Shrub.com Article. In my process of switching all articles over to this blog, I will be reposting old entries. What follows is in its original form without any editing.

While in the midst of writing my Girls and Game Ads series, I found myself going off on a tangent on the depiction of women in the fantasy genre and how it helped lead to the rise of the “girl power” paradigm we find deeply enmeshed in current Western pop-culture. While the whole “chicks in chainmail” deal was already being challenged by fresh authors and ideas by the time I got into fantasy, it remains an important part of the genre’s history. It is this idea that I will be addressing in this article.

My first real introduction to the fantasy genre as a genre in its own right was Ursula K. Leguin’s Earthsea series. While the way she used her female characters never sat right with me, nevertheless I believe it to be significant that my initial contact with the genre was divorced from one of its staple stereotypes. It wasn’t until I got into Dragonlance that I was introduced into the idea of “chicks in chainmail”. There, however, it was the art that emphasised that rather than the authors; Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman’s portrayal of their female warriors was pretty close to being gender neutral and most definitely didn’t fetishize them into “babes in brass bra bikinis” (to steal from Esther Friesner). Other Dragonlance authors varied in their representation, but even though I eventually quit the series I never felt that they had betrayed me to the stereotype. Indeed, partly because I’m not so much into high fantasy and partly because I tend to unconsciously seek out female authors, I don’t have much in my extensive collection that fits this paradigm.

Nevertheless, simply being immersed in fantasy culture is enough to make one aware of this stereotype. Even if not for the D&D books I briefly owned, or the fantasy genre video games I played, I still would have been aware that the books I chose were still not the “norm” for the growing genre. One of my favourite series, in fact, is a collection of parody stories: Chicks in Chainmail, Did You Say Chicks?!, Chicks ‘N Chained Males, The Chick is in the Mail and the newest one, Turn the Other Chick. These stories helped me to see that the harmful stereotype goes deeper than just the flagship “warrior babe” (fully equipped with scanty armour that wouldn’t protect a fly, let alone a human being) and into every aspect of the traditional genre, from the sexualized warrior women to the meek healing sidekicks. Not long after this, I was shown two other great series (Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet and Patricia C. Wrede’s The Enchanted Forest Chronicles) by my fantasy loving friends that, while not parodies per se, turned the stereotypes on their ears. Though already past the targeted age for Young Adult books, those series appealed to me on a highly personal level and continue to enthral me even now. Good writing, it seems, knows no age boundary.

While the expansion of the fantasy genre and, I would argue, the increasing inclusion of women’s voices, is beginning to erode the vice grip the “chicks in chainmail” paradigm has on the literary genre, it seems that instead of eradicating the stereotype all that is happening is that it is being transferred to other forms of the genre. Even today, you can still see it as a common theme with popular artists such as Luis Royo and the combined talents of Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell (a tagline in their footer even proclaims: “Beautiful women and heroic men”). The video game industry uses the model for everything from E3’s “booth babes” to Blizzard’s Night Elves. Hollywood has even picked it up with characters like Buffy (her television counterpart being less of a parody than the original movie), Leeloo from Fifth Element, and a whole host of characters from film adaptations of comics and video games.

Musings on Communication and Romance in Fiction

So, I’ve been reading Elizabeth Kerner’s Song in the Silence series (or maybe it’s better called The Tale of Lanen Kaelar) because I picked up the next (last?) installment of it just recently. Just a warning, I talk in as vague terms as possible, but there are potential spoilers for both Kerner’s series and the manga Marmalade Boy. I’ve made it through the second book and I’m finally starting on the new one, so I’m excited to see how it goes. My main beef with the series, and it’s a small one at that, was that the whole “mating for life” the dragons did and the “ordained by the gods” love that the main characters had always struck me as a bit cheesy.

Fast forward to today, where I’m reading through an LJ post on BDSM spawned by a thread on Alas. What does BDSM have to do with Kerner’s books? Well, not much, although the thought of kinky dragons brings a smile to my lips. In the course of the debate one commenter, skelkins, was talking about the importance of human interaction, and how communication is just as inherent as power dynamics but is not eroticized: “In fact, there’s this weird cliche of romantic fiction that relies for its effect on audience consensus that communication itself is somehow inherently…anti-sexy?” And that got me thinking about the romance in the fiction I’ve read, and the way Kerner has treated it in her series.

I’m not going to rant over the way “romance” is used and abused in fiction of all sorts (I’ll save that for another day), but that comment struck a chord with me. I remember watching Marmalade Boy (the fansubbed anime, I read a translation of the manga a few years later) and really liking the build up of romance between the main characters. It was flirty, it was fun, but it was also shallow. And after they got together, the shallowness was exploited by plot arc after plot arc of them having stress in their relationship because they didn’t communicate.

After a few seasons that were always about their problems and never about their happiness, I felt that their relationship was held together by some false idea of “true love” that didn’t hold up against all the problems they had with trust, honesty, and just getting to know the other person. And, as much as I like the series, the final story arcs in the anime and the manga (they diverged at one point, so they weren’t exactly the same) left me with a feeling that nothing had been resolved. Communication had been deemed “un-romatic” (or at least un-dramatic) and therefore was never a true part of the solution.

Kerner’s lead characters may have been thrown together on the same premise of “one true love” (although I must point out that it is not the case with all of the cast; while dragons may mate for life, humans do not), but she doesn’t fall into the pitfall that I feel Yoshizumi (creator of Marmalade Boy) did. Their love may have begun as something shallow, but it is their abiltiy to communicate with each other, along with their continued development of friendship and respect, that ends up sustaining them in the long term.

As with all relationships, they have fights – sometimes terrible ones that don’t get fully resolved – but Kerner ensures that clear communication is used as the solution to the problem. And she also ensures that the bad is not the only part of what you see in the relationship, but rather takes the time to show the reader the joy that two people can take in each other’s companionship. Throughout the novels, the characters learn about each other not merely through strife, but also by the simple act of interacting with the other in day-to-day life.

It’s kinda funny that a novel that, when taken alone, seems to reinforce tired, and potentially harmful, stereotypes about relationships would, in the context of the series, turn out to present a balanced picture of a romantic relationship. To be fair to Marmalade Boy, it was one of Yoshizumi’s early works and as such she had a lot of pressure on her to conform to standards of what her publishing company thought girls would want to read. There’s also the cultural considerations (Japan’s popular culture versus America’s), the differences in novels versus comics, and that of the intended age; while Kerner’s novels have a more-or-less universal appeal, they are marketed as “adult” (not in the xxx sense, you perverts) fantasy fiction. But, from a strictly human interaction point-of-view, I think my critique is not a bad one. In real life, communication is the cornerstone of any good relationship (romantic or otherwise), so why shouldn’t it be presented as such in fiction as well?