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.