Friday, September 15, 2017

Novels and Statues

I went down a Wikipedia rabbit-trail - rather literally, come to think of it - about Watership Down. Amidst all the accolades reported, there were also criticisms, especially of the lack of interesting female characters, and the attitude of the male rabbits regarding the does almost entirely as breeding stock.  Only Hyzenthlay rises above that, and she, not much. At one level I get this.  When we belong to a group, even a fictional representation of "us" is taken seriously. We treat it differently depending on whether we feel the characterisation is intentional or unconscious, but we notice.  If all the pigs or rats belong to our group - Buddhists, professors, soldiers, musicians, husbands, we take offense.

The complaints are thus not entirely unfair, yet there are weaknesses. They can be taken too far, and not balanced, if your group is weasels while an opposite or complementary group is skunks, say. Or the fictional group representing you may be more ambiguous, like dwarves or action figures or toys.

But mostly I think "Then write your own story if you don't like it.  No one's stopping you.  If you don't like how females are being portrayed, your only real solution is to do better."  We covered this somewhat in my post Sexism in Narnia, reacting to JK Rowling's irritation at how she felt Susan had been portrayed. I thought Rowling misunderstood something important, rendering her complaint less valid. However, she responded in what I believe is the best possible way: she wrote her own books and she made the female characters behave as she thought best. Rowling's efforts certainly fits the culture of the last twenty years better.  Whether that will have staying power for a third generation remains to be seen. (She has some popularity into a second era of children, but I don't think a book can be called a classic until hit is loved by a third generation.  Parental nostalgia can carry a movie or book or musician unto the next generation, but usually not beyond.) Philip Pullman also responded to Lewis, by subcreating a world that was expressly non-Christian. He had first-pass success at this - we don't know whether that will endure - but that is also the proper response.  If you don't like it, write your own.

This is my eventual response to the desire to remove statues as well.  I get it that if you live in a town, a public statue in the town square represents you at some level, and you might find some things beyond the pale. Your church should be expressing things you agree with.  If you are part of a school, you are allowed some voice.*  Someone else's town, church, school, I think you have less authority. There's an historical marker to Hannah Duston up above Concord commemorating her scalping Indians after she was captured.  We regard that with more ambivalence these days, but I regard that as mostly Boscawen's problem.  It is a New Hampshire state marker, so I have some connection with it representing me, but I don't feel I have much ground to go complaining at the state house. Not that I would anyway.  Moral ambiguity isn't enough for me for something to be pulled down.  Once it's up, I think you need to go much farther to just evil before you can yank it. Chesterton's Fence may apply to art more than anything else.

But even more, my response to a statue you don't approve of is "So put up your own statue."  Or even more to the point "Go do something that is worthy of commemoration in that way. No one is stopping you, with your own mixed bag of moral history, from going and doing something heroic or laudable."

Hey, artists need the work.

*Though here we see how the sales job of a college calling itself a community in order to hit you up for money later (yes, okay, some good motives too) affects the entire culture going forward.


Boxty said...

Hi Avi,

As Buggs Bunny would say, vewy interesting. I bought the audiobook of Watership Down on Audible (which was excellent) about a year ago when there was talk of an animated movie adaptation. It was a controversial topic because they were going to change some of the main characters to female wabbits.

I listened to a podcast today on masculine/feminine archetypes in myth and literature that you might be interested in as it relates to this blog post. Here's a link to the podcast:

They also talked about how the lack of heroic male archetypes is leading to the rise in ideologies once again (hyper nationalist & antifa/communist I presume). The guy being interviewed is Jordan Peterson and I think he's been making a name for himself in conservative/alt-right circles for his criticisms of PC and postmodernism. I read somewhere that he's making $35K a month from his followers/subscribers on Patreon, which is a platform for micro funding.

If you listen to the podcast, I'd be interested in hearing your take. They talk about the Bible, faith, and raising young men, so it intersects with other themes of your blog.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Boxty - I might. I bookmarked it. I used to be deeply interested in the topic 20-30 years ago but felt I ran it dry. A lot of the writers on the topic get some basic facts wrong. There's something to it, though I think people can really go down the rabbit hole here. If you are following through, I don't recommend Robert Bly's Iron John. I do recommend Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment and JRR Tolkien's "Beowulf: the Monsters and the Critics."

Korora said...

When I first read Watership Down, back when I was in middle school, I wasn't thinking about symbolism at all. I was eager to read about rabbits at the time, and this was by all accounts a well-written story on the subject.

Donna B. said...

"conservative/alt-right circles"

A few years ago, if I called myself "conservative" it meant to some "Republican". Now, if I call myself "conservative" it means "alt-right" ????

And what does "alt-right" mean? Is there an "alt-left"?

I worry that words are becoming meaningless... or too meaningfull. If they mean everything, they don't mean much do they?

Perhaps I should brush up on my Klingon.

Boxty said...

Hi Donna,

There's no single definition of either and some overlap. Both groups also have their factions like the social cons or fiscal cons. Huckabee vs Bloomberg, etc. Ann Coulter is nearly a paleocon but she's pals with Mil (though he doesn't identify as alt-right but is pals with many of them).

Boxty said...

I meant Milo, not Mil.