Of Pleasures Guilty and Controversial Reading

My favourite area of study in library school was (and continues to be) reader’s advisory. Reader’s advisory, for those who aren’t familiar with the term, involves identifying and selecting “read alikes” according to a patron’s tastes. If you’ve ever seen a list that starts with “If you like X, try these….” that’s reader’s advisory at work.

Anyways, to the point, one of the “mottos” of reader’s advisory is “never apologize for your reading tastes,” it began as the personal motto of library science educator Betty Rosenberg (author of the RA classic Genreflecting: A Guide to Reading Interests in Genre Fiction) and has since spread. Believe it or not, at one time the idea that librarians were supposed to tailor their recommendations to a reader’s tastes was controversial.

I’m sure we all have our guilty pleasures: things that we like but would never admit that we like them to friends and acquaintances, things that we love in spite of the fact that they have their problematic elements, and then there are things that we just love to hate.

Before I get into this topic, I’d like to direct readers to this post on “How to be a fan of problematic things” at Social Justice League. Seriously, if you haven’t already, go and read it.  This is exactly what I’m talking about in this post and these people say it far more eloquently than I ever could. Go read it, it’s okay, I’ll wait….

…..

Done? Great, let’s continue!

The reason I brought up that post is that “liking problematic things” and “not apologizing for your reading tastes” aren’t mutually exclusive. In case you haven’t noticed, I eat, sleep, and breathe the fantasy genre, and I refuse to back down whenever my mother says “why don’t you read any best-sellers? Why don’t you read literature?” but that doesn’t mean I can’t look at my favourite genre and say “Where are all the protagonists of colour? Where are all the gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans*, asexual (etc.) characters? Why, in this genre that is only limited by the imagination, do we overwhelmingly have stories about heterosexual, cis, white, able-bodied men?”

I can like Kushiel’s Legacy by Jacqueline Carey because of the way it accepts kink as a normal part of sexuality (and not just something the villains do to make them seem “extra evil”) while bemoaning the fact that every main character–two of whom have significant relationships with members of the same sex–ends up in a nice heterosexual relationship by the end of their trilogy. As well as the fact that it seems as if there are a lot of people of colour who need rescuing by the (white) protagonist.

I love The Black Jewels Trilogy in spite of the fact that, yes, it is very gender essentialist and more than a few reviewers have been creeped out by what they see as “child grooming” by one of the protagonists, to say nothing of the actual rape of an underage protagonist (the rapists and abusers are punished for their actions). Still, the series manages to be dark without being grimdark, and there are unicorns and dragons and giant cats, these things are good things. The series has a whole also has some good things to say about power and the abuse of power.

I even love The House of Night in spite of the fact that the token gay character is annoyingly stereotyped and the protagonist likes to refer to other women as “hos” (blowjobs = evil) even if said woman has been in a committed, monogamous relationship since around book 3 while protag has juggled THREE boyfriends at one time (while telling each of them that she wasn’t going out with anyone else) and at one point made up with one only to lock lips with someone else in the very next scene, but she’s obviously not a ho, because she’s the super speshul main character. Zoey, you are not fooling anyone. (I should note here that it is perfectly acceptable for female vampyres to have a vampyre “mate” and a human “consort” at the same time, but Zoey is stretching it even by vampyre standards.

Those are just three examples, I could go on about how I’ve recently become addicted to Game of Thrones in spite of the racism and fake lesbianism that’s only there because girl on girl is hot, or I love Spartacus: Blood and Sand in spite of the fact that it’s obviously an exercise in “let’s see how much T&A and violence we can get away with before the censors put a stop to it”. Seriously, if you want T&A that’s plot relevant while still managing to be, well, T&A, go watch Spartacus: Blood and Sand, just be warned, it is VERY violent and it loves offing characters at random!

One last comment regarding fandoms and comments made regarding fandoms. Everyone, I know right now that it’s cool to refer to Fifty Shades of Grey as “mommy porn” or take shots at Twilight’s (mostly) teenage fanbase, but honestly, I cringe when I see comments to the effect of “maybe teenage girls like it, but I don’t”, Hel, I’ve made some comments like that myself in the past, but seriously, it seems like there’s a sizable portion of haters who like to denigrate the books because “OMFG girls like them” (and of course, everyone knows that girls are idiots who couldn’t possibly like anything cool). Can we not discuss how Twilight perpetuates harmful gender stereotypes and portrays an abusive relationship as “true love” without insinuating that the fans are mentally ill or whatever? I’m not denying that Twilight fans have allegedly reacted in a very poor manner to criticism of their beloved series (I believe there’s a blog that was cataloging incidents) but I’m willing to bet that they aren’t the majority of fans, nor do all fans like a work for the same reasons. You can say “Man, this writing is bad,” without saying “LOLZ FANS ARE ST00PID!” and I’m not pretending that I’ve never done this, but surely its possible to have a reasonable discussion about something without bashing its fans.

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8 thoughts on “Of Pleasures Guilty and Controversial Reading

  1. Aieee, this, this, a thousand times this.

    I got here cruising Black Jewels tags because I’m a big fan even though I can’t help but acknowledge what a guilty pleasure it is: Mary Sues and Gary Stus abound, the plot set up is transparently bizarre (how was this problem not solved centuries before?!), and in any other setting the protagonists would be villains, not lauded, and yet, and yet, it’s the one universe I keep coming back to write fanfiction in, because there’s something really compelling about it.

    On the other hand, Twilight bothers me because women I like and respect defend it and their love of it while simultaneously getting into giant knock-down drag-out fights with their boyfriends about their right to watch porn (porn is icky and yucky and you shouldn’t do it, but erotica is okay even though it’s fake-bdsm and deeply problematic on almost every level you can imagine). I have mad respect for erotica as a genre but the inherent hypocrisy in Twilight bothers me, especially when I find out who among people I know read it.

    1. There’s one review I read where the authors described the BJT as “the literary equivalent of high grade crack” and yeah, I believe that, and I think the reason why the conflict wasn’t ended sooner was that it got to the point where killing Dorothea and Hekatah wouldn’t solve anything (and everyone is just really, really messed up emotionally).

      Despite this, I have, in the past, joined BJT role-playing forums because I needed my fix between books, and the books have influenced my writing, not gonna’ lie. I tried her other series and was just like GAH, NOT BJT! I couldn’t get past the first book in either Tir Alainn or Belladonna (particularly the latter because the protagonist was just. so. irritating!)

      My view of erotica is that it’s supposed to be over-the-top and absurd, but to a point (like when an author fails to grasp basic anatomy) and it’s not without its issues. Porn is….a whole other mess of issues. I accept that it can be a part of a healthy relationship, but if your partner’s not into it, that’s not fair to them, and, as with erotica, there are just so many issues that I’d need at least a five part series to touch on them all.

  2. The thing is, re: porn, I tended to agree with the girl that if she had a problem with it, dude shouldn’t flaunt it, and I get how it can be hurtful to have your partner checking out porn where you can see it, but I feel like you don’t then get to turn around and squee over erotica. It’s hypocritical. So much about 50 Shades is, at the core, hypocritical, and that’s where my issue with it comes into play.

    Blood Rites is my current BJT fanfic writing group (2 years running!) and it’s really impacted my ability to get involved on other forum rps — only DRoP has the staying power, and even those sites have mostly fallen by the wayside.

    I didn’t like the Tir Alainn books though I read them all, and while I was OK with the Sebastian book, I found Belladonna and Bridge to be, as you said, just. so. irritating.

    1. I know that feeling! I just can’t get involved on other boards because on the Kushiel’s Legacy one that I’m on I have like, fourteen characters. I lost count lol, so while I am tempted to join yours because at this time, my current board is slow as molasses, I KNOW once it gets busy again I won’t be able to keep up with anyone else! I always say “I’ll just make one character, just one,” and it never works. Ever. Especially on BJT boards, because I think “Which Jewels will the dice give me if I make a new character?”

      Otherwise I’d be right in there making a Black Widow. 🙂

  3. I have 20+ characters at Blood Rites (http://cally.bloodrites.net/ <– my tracker) and I still get the urge at times to make new ones. By "at times" I mean "all the time" and only the fact that the minimum is basically one post every 4 months saves me… except for the part where in June I wrote over 25,000 words on BR. Admittedly my best month ever, but it's the 3rd and I've already written 4k words.

    Blood Rites is fantastic… and I happen to have this Black Widow wanted ad I mean, I totally get where you're coming from with having to throttle one's muse, I just happen to be bad at it xD. The nice thing about BR though is that you can go on a 3 month long LOA and know that no one will hold it against you, because we've all been there. I imagine your Kushiel board is the same.

    1. …….

      Blood Rites’ member list is now +1 member.
      I told myself I wasn’t going to sign up to any other boards, and then you had to go and wake my BJT muse! WHY?! *is crushed under the weight of the muse’s demands*

      *grumbles* This is what I get for tagging posts…

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