Thursday, 14 May 2009

A Love Affair Is Not a Bar of Chocolate

Following some... fairly intense... political discussions elsewhere, my Muse's activist sister and I got chatting about a tendency towards bland ethnic monoculture in the supposedly fantastic and speculative genres. I observed that my current writing seems drawn towards unfashionable and neglected aspects of my own principal tribal identity, viz. Englishness. Cal, who is never one to beat about the bush unless there is a machete involved, responded gently,

"Since you say you'd like to see stories drawing on a wider range of societies, wouldn't it be better to write one yourself? After all, traditional white patriarchal Englishness has been explored really rather well in English literature already..."

Now, I have several reasons for believing that it hasn't often been explored well, by my standards, or at any rate not lately. And I do reckon that now is a peculiarly opportune time, for those of us who do not love the jingos or their lousiest-common-denominator parody of our culture, to be staking out a mensch-friendlier vision of our common heritage.

But to win with this would have been to lose a greater argument, because I have often stressed rather strongly that I don’t believe a tale is rightly wrought for purposes other than its own true telling.

"Nah," I said flatly. "My Art is sacred!"

Cal arched an annoying eyebrow. "I’m not trying to make you write anything you don’t want to," she noted. "I’m just saying. You might get all sorts of good things out of it. And I thought you did say it'd make the world a little better..."

"Not from me, at least not now!" I snapped. "Will you quit nudging?"

Cal looked at me. "You sound angry about something," she said coolly. "I don’t see where I come in for a share, though."

I took a deep breath, because Cal is not somebody with whom a wised-up dude will lightly quarrel. And suddenly I had the exact analogy I wanted.

"Okay," I said, "try this. If I get you right, you’re trying to be a good friend by saying something like:

"Instead of eating another boring old bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk, why don’t you try something like Maya Gold from Green & Black? It's really different, and very tasty, and you’ll be helping the causes we both believe in, into the bargain!"

"And what," she demanded yet more coolly, "apart from the predictably gratuitous insinuation of chocolate into the conversation, is wrong with that?"

"Not much," I said, feeling that my natural orneriness could go justify itself on its own time. "But what you don't know, is that what I'm hearing sounds a lot more like:

"Instead of going out with boring old Caddie Cadbury again, why don't you make a play for someone like Maya Greengold? She's really beautiful and exciting, and she could do a lot more good for the causes we both believe in, into the bargain!"

"And then of course we're going to fight. Because, good-time guy though I may be, there are limits!"

We stared at each other for several long moments. Finally Cal got up, and said glassily,

"I'm going out for a long walk, before I smack you. Give Caddie my best, you hear?"

But I think we understand each other a little better, now.


  1. That was entertaining, and I'm going to say something boring!

    I think that SF does a poor job of addressing cultural differences and I'm not at all convinced that the problem is solved by including a variety of cultures.

    In RL the most problematic cultural differences are the ones we don't see, for the simple reason that if we see them they can be accommodated. At least that's what I told my cousin when she asked my advice before agreeing to marry a man from Norway (she being USian.) I said, at least when you have a disagreement you'll consider that it might be based on a misunderstanding of expectations. When you've married someone who is supposed to be from the same culture as you are you just assume he's a jerk for no reason instead of realizing that he grew up in a different household with different expectations.

  2. This reflection surely isn't boring to me, since 'invisible' cultural differences were involved in quite a few of the more... interesting problems I encountered as a youngster. An outsider could probably analyse them quite neatly in terms of the English class system. But that student would be charting silhouettes without faces, and would do very ill to mistake them for actual characters, or to presume to interpret their shadow-play too closely.

    SF tends to work on broad canvases, and I think here we see one of the defects of its virtues. That's an awfully hard class of problem to handle.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.