Thursday, June 26, 2014

My Thoughts Thursday: Walk That Line

I really do apologize for posting three things today to catch up, dear followers, but I've been sitting on these ideas for quite some time now. Part of it is the fact that I'm very interested in politics and the human rights of people around me (hence my genres!), and another is just the infuriating fact that we as a species love to either stick our heads in the sand or sit in lawn chairs and complain about what's happening, yet never actually do anything about it.

The other part of it is that I'm on tumblr and that's a very big focus in the lit blogs I follow. There's actually a large part of tumblr, regardless of type of blog, that have noticed the serious lack of sexual, racial, religious, and gender variety. They champion the Bechdel test and note how many non-white faces they see in movies. As a generation, we notice. But here comes the problem with all of that. When you try to represent, that's great. But what happens when you go a little overboard?

You get what I like to call Textbook Syndrome. Does 'Lashawna, Mike, Qian, and Pablo all have seven watermelons' sound familiar? It makes the diversity and representation fake. As much as 'stay with your own kind' seems fake, sticking with everyone of every subset is just as bad. Not everyone needs to be a transgender pansexual half-Indian half-Chinese person. But to err on either side, to be so diverse it's obvious or so whitewashed it's appalling, is just as bad.

I see this quite often on tumblr where users tend to fly off the handle towards the underrepresented. I mean, there's even this post going around saying that in the Disney movie Frozen, which has caused both controversy over supposed 'whitewashing' and acclaim for allowing a mainstream, successful movie to not depend on the prince-saving-the-princess plot scheme, Elsa should be a lesbian, and that her lover should be an African Muslim who controls fire.

As nice as this sounds, this completely disregards the Muslim religion entirely. For the faithful, it's stated quite clearly that same-gender sexual relations are sin. This is an example of non-Muslims pushing this image just to represent a racial and sexual minority while not actually thinking of whether or not these combinations can exist. It's what I like to call pandering, trying to represent without respect.

So I guess this MTT's theme is simple: in life, you will meet people who are unlike you. Different experiences, genders, religions, sexualities, and races. But recognize in our shows, stories, and movies, that there is a difference between no representation, representation, and too much. Like many things, our living conditions, for example, there needs to be a balance.

Walking the tightrope,

Witty Wednesdays: Selfies with the Pope

Okay, so this first Wednesday post is pretty much because I have so much to talk about with this series about realism and the controversies that young adult literature seem to just want to leave alone. Race, sexuality, gender. If it isn't vaguely feminist or vaguely accepting, it's apparently not marketable. But there's a crucial part of many people's lives that seems to be seriously unrepresented: Religion.

And on one hand, I understand. In my current project, there's a rather major minor character who is a Muslim Arab. He's very religious and observes Ramadan, and struggles with maintaining his path to redemption while reacting to what actually happens around him. Most people won't even touch this, especially when it's not in the 'standard' Christian religion. Veronica Roth, in fact, barely touches this in the Divergent trilogy, where Tris is vaguely Christian but only really thinks on it when she's either facing death or contemplating suicide. Religion is difficult because it defines people in varying degrees, whether very much so or not at all.

But again, the representation of religion in YA literature is skewed: atheism or a lack of religion at all dominates, whether from tragic backstories concerning a turn away from God or just being raised that way. But truly, there are far, far many more believers than not, and Christianity isn't the only religion. Why a lot of people tend to avoid religious characters is that they don't want to offend, and it provides too many obstacles. The Muslim religion has dietary restrictions, but also many when it comes to romance. Faithful females generally wear a headscarf (the hijab), a burqa (full body covering) or other types of clothing for modesty and to completely terminate any sort of male gaze that we have problems with in Western culture, and there is no premarital sex. Heck, they can't even hang out alone until engagement. This would pose a problem for any sort of romance subplot if a character weren't allowed to even be alone with a potential love interest unless he put a ring on it.

I mean, Buddhism, Sikkism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Paganism, Atheism, there's interesting facets to all of these that create both a more realistic character and allows you to portray something more relatable to people. I mean, many young people struggle with how to balance their faith and their reality, or attempt to find one that works for them. Yet I see few, if any characters doing the same thing. It all goes back to representation, seeing yourself in the literature that is there and finding role models, learning through the literature how to manage your life or overcome obstacles.

This crazy life we live is hard enough, but by glossing over real topics like this readers don't get those deep, meaningful themes they're looking for and writers' works are emptier. I mean, you don't need the Pope riding a donkey backwards blindfolded to show that religion is important to many people. They show motivation and guide people on their life journeys, regardless of their degree of religion. And especially in the United States, religion affects everything. Politics (unfortunately), life choices, the economy...and to just pretend it doesn't exist just doesn't make sense.

This WW post wasn't really all that witty, but I promise next week's will be.


Think Tank Tuesdays: Monochrome

So, I may be posting these a little late, but it 's not for lack of thought. In fact, it's for an overabundance of thought, where I'm trying to narrow down  what exactly I want to say. This is a big topic, and definitely one of controversy. Public figures like Sandra Oh, George Takei, Whoopi Goldberg, and others talk about this topic all the time, and there's even a nationwide campaign, #weneeddiversebooks, that strive for this.

In a word: representation.

It's no secret that most book markets are almost disgustingly white: the YA industry features about 98% non-POC (person of color) protagonists. And those that do are either delegated to the 'black voices' section or set in some strange genre few browse, like 'world cultures' or the like. This is why the Legend series is so important, it's both a protagonist that isn't white and isn't a racial stereotype. Not to mention the fact that it's very, very successful, especially for a woman writing young adult fiction (I'll post on that later).

It's really well-highlighted by the group Dear White People, who started as a satirical tumblr page that now have a movie deal. Watch the trailer, and see that they ask real questions no one wants to answer: Why are the black faces in the movies either ghetto queens, gangsters, rappers, slaves, or Uncle Toms? Where are the black faces that reflect who they are, the young professionals, the overachievers, the surfers, the tops-of-their classes? The answer: they're just not really there.

The topic of today's post is representation because it's an important part of a world. Not only is it important that it's there (because no real country is entirely comprised by one race, sexuality, or gender), but it's important that these things don't define characters. I can't tell you how many books I've read where there's one gay chracter and their sole duty is to be gay. Be the butt of gay jokes, and be ridiculously oversexed. Or a black character who's a ghetto king or queen. What about the random smart, quiet Asians?

It's 2014, people, why are we still reducing each other to these stereotypes? The United States especially has had a hard time with racial differences in the past (hello, 1960s Civil Rights movements) and even still, there isn't equality. But as a writer, it's important to include other races, other sexualities, other genders in the world. We can't all be Wonder Woman and come from an island full of only white women. Even though race isn't even a real thing (we're literally all humans just with different skin tones based on how much sunlight we're exposed to and various traits that are built to help us best survive in our native environments), the literary industry is pretty hostile to non-white, non-heterosexual people.

I'm not saying that you need to have a gay Indian protagonist with a transsexual, lesbian Chinese best friend. And if you do, that's great. But imagine having an entire medium of books devoted to talking about people who don't look like you, don't value what you value, and take people like you and twist them into these images that just do not reflect you. The phenotype we consider white is, in fact, a minority in the world. And even though not every country may be predominantly one certain look or another (Italy is 92% white while the United States hovers around 72%) that doesn't mean that certain types of people don't exist. In your world as a writer and your true world as a reader, people of all kinds thrive here. It's about time that our media, and books especially, reflect that.

Because apparently it's too impossible with magical fantasies to include anyone not white,

Monday, June 23, 2014

Maniacal Mondays: Pura Vida

It's been two weeks of silence on my end, and as is customary in this Monday post I'm going to do a little bit of explaining why, but first off, hello again, my loves! Through these last few weeks of what can only be described as fantastic mayhem I've been thinking up blog post after blog post, and I'm ready to get back in the swing of things.

So, a little update about my life since the last time I blogged. Well, I graduated high school:

My brother Ian and I pre-ceremonies
Which was both in my mind four years late and far too early. It didn't really hit me until I was about to walk the stage for my diploma that I am, in fact, now a college student, an adult, and a new, terrifying kind of student. I need to start writing down my thoughts and the like, because as I get older and farther away from this age that I'm writing for, I want to be able to keep the voice. But more on that later.

I also got a summer job, working retail and slowly but surely realizing that we as a species are actually pretty dumb. (Don't ask me what the price of something is if it's marked on the tag, and sure as hell don't ask me all of our promotions. There's almost always at least seven, and they're always marked on our tables.)

But most recently, I spent two weeks in Costa Rica with my family as a graduation gift, hence the lack of communication. I didn't bring my laptop, which ended up being fortunate given the humidity and overall general lack of wifi, so I was away from the internets. But it was amazing, so beautiful and biologically diverse. I learned to surf, I went ziplining through the jungle, saw the volcano in all her glory, went to some natural hot was a wonderful, incredible experience. Although being home is nice, what with the lack of high humidity and paved roads. But I wouldn't trade it for anything. It really taught me to slow down after school and the constant go-go-go of projects and work. The Costa Rican lifestyle is summed up in their saying, 'Pura Vida'. It's their equivalent of Hakuna Matata, pure life. Let it go, it will all come to you. No amount of stressing or panicking will bring life any closer to you than it already is, and there is beauty and wonder in the spaces of life we don't plan for. Definitely a perfect present for graduation.

Also, I held a baby monkey. It was pretty great.

And as we end this literal deluge of personal updating, I thought I'd give you guys a preview of what's coming up on the blog. We're gearing up for some realism talk, foremost about the controversial stuff, because it's been affecting us internationally for centuries and Rand Paul just made it part of his platform in the U.S. You'll hear all about that later. But for now, my lovelies, enjoy your summers, and I'll see you all tomorrow.

Pura Vida,