Posted on January 30, 2011 Posted by John Scalzi 113 Comments
The other day in the Whateverettes sidebar I linked to Elizabeth Bear’s discussion about being fictional — or, less pithily, her dealing with that fact that lots of people who read her books and/or her blog have an image of her in her head which is a construct, based on that writing, which may or may not have much to do with who she actually is. The number of people carrying a fictional version of her around in their head is smaller than the number of people who have a fictional version of, say, Angelina Jolie or Barack Obama in their head, but it’s a large enough number of people that she does have to deal with it.
And it’s a weird thing to deal with. As eBear notes:
Sometimes, it’s a little like dealing with 5,000 high school crushes. Sometimes it’s like dealing with 5,000 high school enemies. Sometimes, I learn things about myself I did not know from my Wikipedia page.
I understand where eBear’s coming from, because she and I have essentially the same level of micro-celebrity, and with the same subset of people — which is to say it’s difficult to imagine people who know of me not knowing who she is, and vice-versa. And I think she’s essentially correct when she notes that the fictional version people have of you in their heads in more about them than it is about you; everything gets filtered through their brain and how people fill in the blanks is by sticking in bits based on their own experiences, sometimes from others but mostly from themselves.
This fictional version of you is additionally compounded by the fact that, if you’re a writer, the version of you they’re building from isn’t the experience of you (as in, you’re someone they know in real life), but from the fiction you write and/or the public persona you project, either in writing (in blogs and articles) or in public events, such as conventions or other appearances. The fiction one writes may or may not track at all to one’s real-world personality or inclinations, and while one’s public persona probably does have something to do with the private person, it’s very likely to be a distorted version, with some aspects of one’s personality amped up for public consumption and other aspects tamped down or possibly even hidden completely.
All of which is to say these fictional versions of one’s self are to one’s actual self as grape soda is to a grape — artificial and often so completely different that it’s often difficult to see the straight-line connection between the two.
And this is why I personally find them fascinating, especially — since I am both an egotist and a narcissist — when they involve me. I like going out onto the Web and discovering these strange, doppelganger versions of me, and also the people who speak so authoritatively about the sort of person these doppelgangers are. Occasionally those doppelgangers are better, more clever people that I am in real life, and occasionally they’re complete jackasses. Sometimes they’re people I’d like to meet; often they’re people I would avoid at parties. Their life and career details are generally similar but not precisely my own, and it’s interesting to see how those variations have spun their lives off of mine, and what conclusions people have made about them based on those variations.
What do I do about these fictional versions of me out there? Generally speaking, nothing, because there’s nothing to be done about them. When one is in the (mostly) happy position of having more people know of you than you can personally know, an abundance of fictional versions of you is part of the territory. I can’t make a deep and personal two-way connection with everyone who reads my books or this blog, and I can’t demand that people don’t make assumptions about who I am from what they read or hear (well, I could, but then part of their data set when they think about me would be that I was both paranoid and completely unrealistic). Generally I try not to do things in public which would encourage people to think I’m a unremitting prick, but I would try to do that even if I didn’t have the level of micro-fame I have. And of course some people think I’m an unremitting prick anyway.
But you do try not to worry about it. Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who is often a font of wisdom on many fronts, has a useful standard response for dealing with people who confuse their fictional construct of someone with that actual person, which I will paraphrase thusly: “I am not responsible for actions of the imaginary version of me you have inside your head.” This is an important thing for people to remember, when they get to the point where more people know them than they know.
Personally, I’m less interested in the fictional versions of me that are out there than I am about the moment where people first ever meet me — either in my real-life “I’m actually standing in front of you” version or the first time they read one of my books or come to this site. I always wonder what that’s like for people, and what impression they come away with. There’s no way to ask them as they’re having it, and I always wonder about it (I could when they were actually meeting me, I suppose, but it would be both meta and obnoxious: “Hey! You’re meeting me now! How is it for you?”). I’m not worried about the fictional versions they construct from that point, but I always hope the first time they “meet” me it goes well.
I’ve not heard of Elizabeth Bear before now, and as you have probably guessed by the fact that I’m commenting on your blog, I have heard of you! However, now I have heard of you both, so I guess it’s kind of a moot point…
I am reminded of Arthur C. Clarke’s note in “Childhood’s End”:
“The opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author”
OK. I confess. I am a figment of my own imagination. How do I do that?
I’m very talented.
Generally speaking people are often a fiction even to themselves. Our lives are full of fictions, the ones we use to explain ourselves to ourselves, the ones we project to others, and the ones we use to protect ourselves.
Frank Herbert from Dune:
-Book of Diatribes
from the Hayt Chronicle
And then there’s this
I remember reading Elizabeth Moon’s Paksennarrion books when they first came out, and reading in the author blurb that she was a former marine. The picture I had of her in my head was that she was like Paksennarion or like the female marine in Aliens or similar movies. And of course when I finally found her web site, I discovered that the fictional version in my head was nothing like the real person.
When I hugged the legs of the fictional you for the first time, I smelt a hint of peppermints. When I hugged the legs of the real you for the first time I smelt bacon. Is that normal?
The only reason I’ve heard of Elizabeth Moon is because of your blog. I like what you write well enough to read something that you recommend, so I got her “Vatta’s War” series and enjoyed it. I know this is off the topic, but you really do us a real service as readers when you recommend other authors, since we can’t have a new Scalzi book every month or so.
“Generally speaking people are often a fiction even to themselves.”
Meh. I think that’s sort of easy solipsism. I think people are often discovering new things about themselves or have assumptions about themselves that are confirmed or not over time, but that’s a separate thing, conceptually.
… and now I’m wishing for a “delete” button. At least I was well-meaning while being stupid. Bear, not Moon. But now I guess I’ve got another author to go explore.
So when I went to Viable Paradise last year, I knew that both you and Elizabeth Bear were going to be there, which was awesome and yet terrifying in its own way. I liked your online personalities, but wanted very much to like you in real life too. There’s nothing worse, after all, than liking a television star for their witty commentary and brilliant insight week after week, only to see them in a live interview and realize he or she is a jerk or dumb as a bag of hair. In both your cases, you were great and my reality was upheld.
And, of course, we want you to like us too. It’s exactly like Bear wrote – an adult version of a high school crush. You walk in with your fingers crossed hoping the person will find you cool but not annoying. “Hey this kid’s got moxy. I’d like to hang with him.” Panic sets in when we realize that we are often so awkward around those we admire. We desperately don’t want to be one of those “And then let me tell you about my Malta campaign. See, my paladin was trapped by a drow Rosicrucian in the Auberge d’Aragon…” guys. (No offense to drow or Rosicrucians.) And so our panic and desire to please you, the CELEBRITY, and give you some kind of payback for how much enjoyment we get from you (books and blogs) makes us a little crazy.
It’s like that.
Yep. I know this. I can also tell you from bitter experience that it’s particularly irritating when a fictional version of yourself becomes a meme among vocal activists who are too busy taking one anothers’ assertions about your fictional self’s alleged words, deeds and beliefs as truth-to-be-fought-against to actually check in with, you know, reality. Another aspect of microcelebrity that one can’t control, unfortunately.
You mean you don’t photoshop the green tint out of your skin?
And I did think all this blathering about netbooks was silly when you obviously had a BrainPal.
Wait! eBear isn’t a vampire Canadian valkyrie with cyborg implants? Who drives a starship? And breeds shoggoths in her garden?
I AM UNMANNED! [sob]
I suppose this mean’s you’re neither green, nor a sheep? [sniff]
The main thing I remember about meeting the fictional version of you is that I thought he’d be taller.
The fictional you in my mind is played by T.J. Hooker‘s Adrian Zmed, and, my oh my, how you laugh at my jokes!
The fictional version of me is definitely taller. I have very much noticed this.
If I ever meet you and you don’t ask me that, I’ll be disappointed.
I think of Scalzi has being just like me, only smarter, more handsome and having sold way more books than me.
@18. Are you sure that’s fiction?
I’m just concerned about “Fictional Scalzi” meeting “Fictional Zaphod Beeblebrox” because surely such a combination of “awesome” and “ego” would cause some sort of fictional singularity.
I’ve got a friend who’s got similar microcelebrity status, though in live performance and stuntwork rather than writing. He keeps two Facebook pages, one with his real name. If I get pictures of his family, it’s because he e-mailed them directly rather than posting them online. He’s got the same personality when he talks to me as he does when he’s doing a live show or attending a festival, but the flow of information is a bit different. Since he works in visual media, fans aren’t shocked when they actually meet him. If they never learn anything of substance about him, they don’t realize it when they walk away from the encounter. So, in a way he puts less of himself out there than you do, but he gives the impression of more. Funny, that. His fictional self is more fictional, but it looks and acts alot more like his real self. Hmm.
There’s a nonfiction John Scalzi? Where’s he shelved?
The first of your books I read was The Android’s Dream, and that gave me a very different picture of you than I would have had if I’d read Old Man’s War first. I think of you as a wacky guy who writes military SF because it sells — so, temper that “wacky” with a great deal of clear-eyed practicality — which is different from someone who thinks that war is the most interesting thing that humans do.
I know a number of mico-celebrities, and a few of mini-celebrities. A goodly number of them cultivate public personae as fictional as the characters in their novels.
Remixing and repackaging celebs is public sport. If people choose to do something that gives them the benefit of celebrity, I don’t much care if they get tossed on the rocks from time to time.
Was going to say something but than read the comments and realized @Peter Sursi (10) & @Corylea (23) said it way better than I ever could.
I met Grant Morrison (comic writer amongst other things) and interviewed him a few years back. From his work (which is often quite psychdelic and suffused with chaos magick, orgies, conspiracy theories and wild notions) I was expecting to meet this wild-eyed Scot who would go all Hunter Thompson on me at any moment.
Instead, I had tea with a polite, charming and almost shy gentleman who spoke as eloquently about Jeff Koontz as he did about Kryptonian design aesthetics. He came off like the nice boy your parents hope you hang around with instead of those rough kids who smoke and swear.
From that experience I’ve taken the tact of believing the opposite of the fictional personas I come across. For instance, I assume Alan Moore makes Watchmen-themed cookies for orphans and Neil Gaiman is scared of the dark
What an interesting topic that could go so many directions. At Confusion, a friend of mine who is a psychologist and a friend of many local writers said that he never reads books by his friends, because he can see all of their issues. He was absolutely positive about that. I am not so sure myself, but even if he’s only right 50% of the time, it’s a bit scary. I told him he’s not allowed to read any of my future books. I’d much rather have people fantasizing about a fake me than psychoanalyzing the REAL ME. Eeek!
I mean, our real selves have to be in there somewhere, right? So what’s worse? Someone else’s projections, or having them see straight through to you, the author, standing there in your underwear. Or less?
#27 Catherine Shaffer, psychologists don’t actually have superpowers, you know.
Alternative Eric S. @22: The non-fiction Scalzi is shelved under Cookbooks » Bacon Recipes. ;-)
I find this topic fascinating. I already waste too many brain cycles pondering similar themes, especially as they relate to the network of micro-celebrities I admire. It’s certainly something I keep in mind whenever I am interacting with “famous people”. One of the reasons I’d like to meet you in person is to see how far off the Scalzi in my head is. (I shall make a note that he should be shorter.)
Even as a non-celebrity, I am regularly presented with fictionalized versions of myself from friends and acquaintances. I’ve noticed they are always way more awesome than reality, and often feel compelled to correct them. Not sure how I would react to any real notoriety.
‘Personally, I’m less interested in the fictional versions of me that are out there than I am about the moment where people first ever meet me — either in my real-life “I’m actually standing in front of you” version or the first time they read one of my books or come to this site.’
Really? You sure about that? ‘Cause, just to take me for example, how I first met you was after a panel you did at the Heinlein Centennial in Kansas City a few years back on religious themes in Heinlein’s novels. I praised some things you said and we shook hands and that was it. I’d read your blog once or twice earlier but didn’t become a regular reader until after that, and didn’t start reading your books for another year.
But how I met the fictional version of you is when we robbed that bank in Carlsbad and escaped in a bus full of Mexican circus performers. I think it’s a much more interesting story.
Sihaya #28 That is an argument for you and he to have. I am agnostic on whether a trained psychologist or a perceptive regular person can pick out the real from the fictional neuroses in a writer’s work, and am willing to accept that they may succeed at least some of the time. Personally, I am making a mental note to drop some fake neuroses in all of my work, just in case. ;-)
I have a relative who is a celebrity, and over the years he’s introduced me to a few others, but he tries hard to introduce them with their “real” names (as opposed to their stage or air names); it’s interesting to form an acquaintance in that way. It destroys the image in my mind of the fictional persona I’ve built from their work, and it’s then hard to build such a persona back in my mind. If I meet them again, that earlier reality is so much stronger that it overwhelms any fictional characteristics I’ve attributed to them along the years.
If I’m introduced to them with their performer name, then I babble like any awe-struck fool (and the feeling is very much like a high-school crush!)
(I’m glad, btw, that my days as a pico-celebrity are long gone.)
Well, since you asked: When you posted that self-interview and I heard your voice for the first time, it sounded higher and younger than I had imagined. So, you sound younger than you look. When you’re too old and crotchety to work the keyboard, you’ll still be able to get voiceover work, I guess.
I’ve only “met” you once, and it was really meeting the version of you that you portray in public settings (I met you at Phoenix Comicon a couple of times – my favorite thing was when you jumped on stage with Felicia Day and danced during my performance of “Poker Face” RockBand with Wil Wheaton). But anyways, I had a good first impression of the real life, flesh version of John Scalzi. It made me feel more comfortable in my skin, caused me to check out the blog, and buy one of your books… so well done :)
Re #8, I am not so sure. My first reaction to seeing “I am not responsible for actions of the imaginary version of me you have inside your head.” is that this is not exclusive to celebrity. Life occasionally hands you people who- “oh, they would NEVER do THAT!”.
Except sometimes, then they do.
It’s been a couple years since the last time I had to tell someone “I’m terribly sorry that you aren’t the person I thought you were”, but it never gets any easier.
One caveat to all this:
I hate it when people assume that just because one has had face-to-face interaction with someone–even on a regular, long-term basis–they’re necessarily more knowledgeable about who that person is than someone who has not had such contact.
I can pretty much guarantee that some of the friends I’ve made in various fandoms, whom I’ve never met in meatspace, know considerably more and more accurate information about me than co-workers and relatives with whom I may share physical space, but not emotional.
And yet, if I suddenly became notorious for some reason, people would be asking my parents and random cousins about me, rather than the people I talk to, and share deep thoughts with, merely because the latter live thousands of miles away.
Sorry to burst your bubble, but this is wishful thinking. It’s not the case that we only imagine that we know you very well. We do, in fact, know you very well. To take some random examples, I know who you voted for in the last election and why, that you have a dog, what activities you do with that dog, why you got a dog, what your work routine is like, your approximate location, what your first job was, what books you like to read, what movies you like, that you have a wife and daughter and what they look like, …. etc etc etc blah blah blah.
There’s even a childhood anecdote in the latest entry on “crimes of education.”
But beyond that, I and other readers have had extensive exposure to your sense of humor, thinkings-out-loud, and musings on all kinds of subjects. I would hazard that our mental model of you is pretty damn accurate, in some ways at least.
For you and E Bear to comfort yourselves with the idea that we don’t really know you is a kind of delusion. We do.
And don’t try telling me it’s all a facade. You can only fake for so long.
But this was a choice: by putting yourself out there, you allowed people to form some kind of relationship with you as a writer, and to engage by building little internal models in their head of what’s going on in your life, just as they build little internal models of fictional worlds when they read.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad you do it. But the cost is that people know you, who you don’t know in return.
By the way, I’ve never heard of Elizabeth Bear. Who is she?
“For you and E Bear to comfort yourselves with the idea that we don’t really know you is a kind of delusion. We do.”
Yeah, you really don’t, actually, and it’s both foolish and arrogant to suggest you do. You know facts about me, but those facts are me pretty much exactly as much as a stick of butter is a pecan pie: the facts you know are incomplete and in addition are not relevant except in the context of a larger whole.
Likewise, as noted in the article, what you see here is a mediated public persona; it’s personable but not especially personal and the information I let you know about here is the stuff that I find unobjectionable to let people know. There’s a vast amount about my life which is currently filed under the none of your goddamned business tab, and you don’t get to know about them. Consequently, when you or anyone else builds models of me in your head, they’re incomplete and inaccurate.
This is in fact why people do seem to be constantly surprised when they meet me: the version of me they get here is sufficiently dissimilar from the live show to be noticeable. And of course, what they’re getting then is also mediated public persona, just a different one suitable for the occasion.
In short: No, you don’t know me.
I’m neurologically handicapped. I spent the first half of my life trying desperately to win the Maternal Unit’s approval. At one point she actually said “I wish you were still the same sweet, charming girl you were before your last brain surgery…I don’t like the person you are now.” When I said or did something she didn’t like, it was because I was “brain damaged”. I spent years doing “mental gymnastics”, trying to reconcile the person I knew I was with the abnormal, unlovable freak the Maternal Unit despised. For years she had me convinced that her perception of me was the only accurate one–after all, since I’m “brain damaged”, I couldn’t possibly be trusted to have an accurate self-image.
My husband broke off contact with her when she was dumb enough to make one of her “brain damaged” comments about me in his presence. I finally ceased all contact with the Maternal Unit when she told me “You’re their (my inlaws’) daughter now, but he’s not our son.” She’s pretended to “apologize” several times since then. She doesn’t realize that statement was my Get Out Of Jail Free card.
I only wish I’d had the strength to stand up to the Maternal Unit years ago. I can honestly say that the last seven years have been the happiest of my life so far. I’m happily married, and I’m surrounded by people who love me just the way I am, without my needing to adopt a false persona in a vain attempt to please She Who Will Not, and Cannot, be Pleased.
Since I’ll be at Minicon and I haven’t met you yet, if we run into each other, feel free to ask “Hey! You’re meeting me now! How is it for you?” No problem.
“Consequently, when you or anyone else builds models of me in your head, they’re incomplete and inaccurate. ”
Okay, fair cop. But maybe that’s true of people who “know” you in real life too. Maybe that’s true in general, for everyone.
Thank you for posting that John. I think it’s something that anyone interested in a career in the public eye, whether as an author or an actor or whatever needs to be aware of. It also goes back to the concept that we are all locked inside our heads and truly we cannot know each other, we can only know facts and try to build a picture from it.
“Okay, fair cop. But maybe that’s true of people who ‘know’ you in real life too.”
Oh, I certainly think it’s true that we all present slightly different faces to different people, even those close to us. But some are close enough that the practical differences are trivial. The face I present to my wife, as an example, as pretty much dead-on me. Partly this is because she’s lived with me for eighteen years, and partly it’s because she doesn’t let me get away with being other than who I am.
“How is it for you?”
Hahaha. I laughed out loud at this. I went for your talks but never went up to you, but I can safely say from my observations, this is what I thought:
“Dude’s `xactly the way he portrays himself on the blog, cool!”
I may be wrong but then again, that’s just what I perceived. Good talks too, btw.
Catherine: a friend of mine who is a psychologist and a friend of many local writers said that he never reads books by his friends, because he can see all of their issues.
yeah. I’d agree with that. I mean, there are stories written that are “over the top” compared to the personality fo the author and the author knows it at which point, you can’t really tell much of anything about the author from their stories. But if an author is writing anything that would be intended to be “believable” (even if it is SF or fantasy/magic) then the author’s views of the world often slip out through their narrative.
A simple example is whether the author thinks torture works, whether it extracts mostly facts rather than whatever the victim thinks will stop the torture. I was reading a SF book a few years ago and there was a scene where the main character and sidekick captured an enemy red-shirt. The main character did a half ass attempt at torture, but couldn’t bring herself to do it. The sidekick stepped in and said “You go over there and let me handle this” at which point the main character moved away and we dont’ see the details of the torture, but when it was over, the sidekick had extracted everything they wanted to know from the redshirt.
That isn’t how torture works in the real world. But that view is how people often think it works when they don’t know any better and it is how people on the right deeply hope that’s how it works.
Given the story and the plot and the characters in this book, it was fairly clear that the author didn’t hope the world worked that way, but thought it did anyway. If you know what I mean. By contrast, shows like “24” seemed to be written by people who not only hope the world works that way, but wants to bring everyone else to their point of view.
You can watch all six Star Wars movies and have a pretty clear notion that Lucas has no understanding of woman, relationships, love, and intimacy, whatsoever. Leia bantered like a guy, fell for the bad guy, and when her and Han finally became a “thing”, expressed their love by killing stormtroopers. Padme and Anakin idea of pillow talk? Wow. Just wow.
Watching “V for Vendetta” and not knowing anything about Alan Moore, the story showed an ineffective government doing pure evil and a population going along with it being overthrown by one individual who was brave enough and smart enough to see the truth and stand up for what’s right. Then I saw “Watchmen” and read the graphic novel, a completely ineffective government unable to avoid a nuclear war which is stopped by an individual who was brave enough, smart enough, and strong enough to stop it. These two stories gave me a feeling about Moore that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, then I looked him on on the internet and found out he was an Anarchist and said, “Ah, yes. Of course he is”.
You can’t tell everything about an author by their writing. You can only tell by what they reveal about how their worlds operate that doesnt jive with the real world. And sometimes that gets tricky because, you know, there aren’t teleporters and people running around in spaceships that travel faster than the speed of light. But if you get past the basic concept like super high tech itself, you can see how tech creates the world in the author’s stories and that may reveal something about the author.
These are some blatant examples. But more subtle examples exist as well.
The point being that if the fiction in question is a small lie intended to reveal a bigger truth, then if the bigger “truth” doesn’t match the real world (torture works, anarchy works), then it can reveal something about what the author thinks is true.
Good for you. Happiness is better.
John @44: Well, it is true that those people “know you”, to the degree that your personality comes through in your writing; but that’s different from therefore extrapolating from those things to say “Scalzi thinks _______ and would do _______ in ________ situation”. That’s where Weird Imaginary Scalzi comes in. People build a picture of you from a certain data set, and try to extrapolate that to a different data set, and it looks funny when it doesn’t fit. They don’t know you the way a friend does, someone whose extrapolations would largely be correct because they have spent time in your presence – not merely time absorbing a particular side of Scalzi that you choose to share.
When we briefly met, you were actually much more like the fictional version of you living in my head than I had expected (being familiar with this phenomenon and thus able to account for it in my calculations.) It was, however, a situation in which you had people running to bring you In’N’Out burgers at the slightest whim. It may not have been the most natural interaction. :)
The John Scalzi of my imagination was a bullfrog,
was a good friend of mine
I understood most of the words he wrote
but he ought to lay off the wine,
a single quart a day would be fine.
Singin’ . . .
Joey tipped the feds,
we fed him some lead now.
We dumped Joey Two-Fish in the deep blue sea,
We did, John and me.
Scalzi: Yeah, you really don’t, actually, and it’s both foolish and arrogant to suggest you do. You know facts about me… the facts you know are incomplete and in addition are not relevant except in the context of a larger whole.
I took the Political Compass test and gave what I thought would be your answer to each question, based on what you have said on Whatever over the years. This is what I ended up with.
If you took the test yourself and were fundamentally afar of that point, I’d be quite a bit ashamed for not paying attention for so long.
That plus your conversational “style” here on Whatever, and the general impression I get that you have some sense of integrity about you (i,.e. that its important to you), would be enough for me to know about you to invite you over to the house for a cookout. But I mean, that’s about all I know about a lot of people. I’ve been married to my wife for years and I still don’t “know” everything there is to know about her. And even then, she keeps growing and changing, so it’s not like people can be quantified as finite, fixed, amounts of data.
I hope I never know anyone completely.
I didn’t “know” my wife when I proposed to her. I felt I knew enough about her that I could spend the rest of my life with her. This notion was brought about a couple of fights we had over the course of several months whereupon she was able to own up to her investmetn in the fight afterwards, apologize, and clean it up to the point that there was no “baggage” around the fight anymore. It was one aspect of her personality that I got to know. It is also something I think would be required in both people in a marriage if their marriage is goign to last forever. Doesn’t mean I know everything about her. Just that I knew some of the important bits seemed to be there.
Now, I’ve never spoken with you face to face, and that would reveal some things about you that may not be revealed through an online interaction. I knew a woman who was on some online dating service. She would tell me about someoen she’d met online and they had exchanged emails and had instant messaging conversations, and she’d get all excited about how great this guy was. Then she’d some phone conversations, and her opinion almost always changed. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes worse. But once she met the guy in person, her opinion of the vast majority of the guys generally plummetted.
So, I get it. I don’t know you. I know some things about you. But I don’t know everything about you. I don’t know what you’d be like in person. Maybe you have touretts syndrome and have been hiding it online and swearign everyone you meet in person to absolute secrecy. And I don’t know if you’re teh kind of guy who would show up to my cookout and drink all the beer without bringing anything to the potluck yourself. I know someone whom I have learned to never go out to eat with in a group and split the check. They order several alcoholic drinks, two appetizers, and desert, and will invariably take the total of the check, divide by the number of people in the group, not adjust for the fact that everyone else is driniking soda or water, and not even bother to throw in a tip.
Please, for the love of god tell me you’re not one of those people.
And if I ever meet you in person, I will try to remember to report on my experience of getting to know more about you as it happens.
From that experience I’ve taken the tact of believing the opposite of the fictional personas I come across. For instance, I assume Alan Moore makes Watchmen-themed cookies for orphans and Neil Gaiman is scared of the dark
Considering that Neil Gaiman in his own journal has a tag called “Why Alan Moore should be named wizard of England,” I think Alan Moore is just as interesting in person as one would imagine, even if not as actually scary. I mean he looked like this more than 20 years ago: http://journal.neilgaiman.com/2009/02/from-before-he-was-wizard.html.
Having met Neil Gaiman oh-so-briefly in person, I can say he’s quite a lovely person. Anyone who’s willing to sign for hours longer than he’s scheduled to must have the patience of a saint.
“Please, for the love of god tell me you’re not one of those people.”
I’m not one of those people.
This whole thread has me wondering about the device in Caprica used to build artificial personalities.
I remember first meeting you at Emily and Mike’s wedding, and I didn’t really have any preconceived notion of you aside from, “Author who’s work I like.” I was trying really really hard to not fangirl all over you because I *know* that can be a PITA and it being not-a-convention was totally not appropriate. You seemed articulate, witty, charming, and very kind to spend some time talking to two complete strangers who were only friends of your friends, whom you otherwise didn’t know. And I’m sure that between that short time and the few times our paths crossed at Confluence that I saw a part of you, but in no way would I believe that it means I know you well enough to say, “Oh, he would never do THAT.”
If it’s any comfort, I believe you manage to come off as a perfectly normal person on first meet :) I’m sure if you get stressed or upset that’ll give a different opinion, but we all have bad days.
Ursula LeGuin once wrote that it’s a bad idea to meet the author of a book one loves, because you’re apt to find out that the person who wrote this marvelous, lyrical thing that changed your life is, in reality, not as noble and wonderful and wise as his characters, but is instead kind of weird-looking and mumbles and has bizarre political opinions, and your heart will get broken thereby.
Of course many writers are lovely people and sound in person much like they do in print; but I think she is quite right that it’s a bad idea to extrapolate from what somebody writes, or blogs, to paint a mental picture of what they are “really” like or would “really” say or believe.
Mr. Scalzi, I hope I never meet you. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that the semi-imaginary John Scalzi I ‘know’ is an awful lot like my dad, who died five years ago, when I was 16. I know, of course, that if I ever were to meet you, this impression would probably disappear. But for now, thanks for helping me to remember him.
While I hadn’t expected the real John Scalzi to be exactly like the fictional John Scalzi, I’m happy to say that you were just as generous, friendly, witty, and in love with your wife as I thought you were. And I’m always a little happier after chatting with you ;).
Being that I’ve met you in real life, I will say I found you to be gracious, charming, and generous with your limited time. I have to admit I also have the ConstructScalzi (and ConstructScalzi’s Construct Family) in my brain, living in roughly the same place I have cousins that I know, but not super well, living. In fact, I may know you better than I know some of my cousins, but that’s still not the best metric for how well I actually know you. It just means I don’t know some of my cousins that well either. I definitely talk about you and Krissy and Athena more than I talk about some of my cousins. When I told my husband about Kodi’s death and the later acquisition of Daisy, it’s not like I had to explain who you were, or the life stuff we know about you, the way I’ve had to explain for some of my relatives. That part might be a bit weird, because I’m well aware that you don’t have the same connection to my life and the same level of reciprocity, nor did you particularly ask to be better known in our household than some of my Actual Relatives.
I’ve also become increasingly aware of the fact that people aren’t the sum of the facts you know about them. As one reader upthread notes, yep, we sure do know a lot about various minutiae in your life, thanks to your many and varied journal entries. We still only know externalities for the most part, and even if we know a preference or a likely way you might jump on a particular issue, it doesn’t add up to a whole that’s knowable at this level. There’ve been plenty of people with whom I had many externalities in common, only to discover that our thought processes were vastly alien from each other. (Not a bad thing, I’m just saying, we processed life VERY differently, despite liking the same music, the same books, the same political philosphies, and so on.) I think I’m more or less fine not knowing people–surprises aren’t always a bad thing, and privacy is important to many. I don’t need to know. (Sometimes I want to know, but it’s not necessary that I do in most cases. Significant others, certain family and friends, sure, but most folks? Not necessary.)
Scalzi, I guess I’m lucky because I met you in person (at the AussieCon) just a few months after reading the main OMW trilogy. My impressions?
1. You are, indeed, a very smart and sharp person: there can be no doubt why your books are so good and popular.
2. You are shorter than what I imagined you to be (then again, that “image” of yours is the result of the macho photo on the back cover of OMW).
Personally I like building little fictional copies of people, it helps when dealing with them, I just wish I could learn to worry less about the copies of me other people are carrying around!
An ex-physicists expansion on the idea… http://jonknight.blogspot.com/2011/01/fuzzy-self_31.html
Well, the fictional-you was established in my head when I met you: I’d read Whatever for a long time and purchased Old Man’s War off the back of that. Then my son declared it the best book he had ever read and spent his lunch money to buy the Ghost Brigades.
I felt pretty awestruck at Martha’s Vineyard because there were *all* these
superstarsinteresting people that I was going to meet – I spilled a glass of water over myself trying to say hello to eBear and it took me two days to get up the nerve to say something to PNH – so to a great extent I was trying desperately to dampen down my own hero worship and see the *people* there rather than the superstars. I don’t think I saw you until dinner time but I remember my first impression was that you were both kinder and funnier in real life than I expected you to be.
I first met your writing via Old Man’s War, after the Tor panel at Noreascon 4 made the premise sound interesting enough to get me to check it out; IIRC, I first met you at a later Boskone during your kaffeeklatsch.
Both times went well; OMW was more than just an interesting premise, and the at-con Scalzi was more than just an amusing blogger.
(That Scalvi guy, though, was a real pain. Seriously, who invited him?)
Greg #46 Interesting thoughts, but that is not exactly what my friend was getting at. After all, our beliefs about things like whether torture works are not core psychological traits. Everyone is wrong about stuff sometimes–so maybe that author just happens to be wrong about torture. Or–maybe–she is not, but it served some greater purpose in the story for the scene to read the way it did. My friend was getting at deeper stuff, the kinds of baggage and hangups that everyone has, but doesn’t necessarily intend to advertise through their writing.
Catherine: our beliefs about things like whether torture works are not core psychological traits
Getting torture “wrong” in a story isn’t usually like getting orbital mechanics wrong in explaining how that rocketship got into space. How we relate to force is a core psychological trait. Our relationship to force gets expressed by how we relate to others, how we respond to force, and so on. When an author is writign about a world where torture works, they are revealing something about how they relate to force.
In the book I was reading, I don’t think the author liked the idea that torture works, but she believed it works. or, at the very least, she thought that having torture work in that scene would be believable enough that it would suffice as an excuse for how the characters got the required information for the story.
Reading “Watchman” and “V for Vendetta”, one sees a pattern of how governments are always ineffective, are always tyrannical, and never weild legitimate power from the people (like it might in a democracy). That isn’t simply a matter of getting teh “facts” wrong about how government works, that is Moore revealing the inner psychology that drove him to be an anarchist.
I don’t think of “hangups” as core psychology. I think of core psychology as how we relate to force and power, how we relate to ourselves and others, how we relate to representational langauge, and how we relate to more spiritual matters such as our own mortality.
Greg #65 Most of our entertainment is premised upon the idea that torture is a good way to extract information from an unwilling prisoner. It’s not true, but you can’t really get much from someone buying into it because everyone does.
Reminds me of all the people who think Heinlein is a fascist because he wrote Starship Troopers.
you can’t really get much from someone buying into it because everyone does.
You’re telling me that I can’t tell anything about the mindset, the beliefs, and the psychology of the writers behind the series “24” because everyone portrays torture in fiction as working?
I’m willing to wager that I can.
Certainly some writers expose more of their Freudian slip than others. And some stories that show torture working might reveal less about the author than other stories showing torture working, based on how realistic the rest of the narrative is. But it reveals something about the author’s internal state. If nothing else, it reveals that they are about as aware of the realities of torture as Star Wars reveals that George Lucas has no idea how to seduce a woman with dialogue.
George Lucas has no idea how to seduce a woman with dialogue.
I dunno, I enjoyed the dialogue between Leia and Hans. I’d like to be that clever with my husband sometimes. But yeah….the new trilogy is hideously bad in terms of that.
Maybe I’m weird, but I don’t really get “bit” by the fake celebrity bug, at least not when it comes to authors. Musicians on the other hand seem to get into my head and stick around for a few sets. There was this local group that I liked alot, and one of them was a coworker at my old job, and it was weird how my opinion changed once I figured out that she was in the band.
Parting ways, here, Greg. Thanks for the discussion.
I’ve read a bunch thoughts on Bear and I have to say I still don’t *get this. I have never run into anyone who has had an imaginary construct of me in their heads. Of course, I say this realizing that most of the readers of your blog who have gotten this far down in the comments very likely has no idea that I am a writer of science fiction and romance with literally a dozen books to my name. And even a few awards.
In fact, normally, when I tell people I write for a living the conversation goes like this.
Me: Hey, did you know I’m a writer? Full-time.
Them: What for a newspaper?
Me: No, I write fiction — novels.
Them: Seriously? Would I have heard of you?
Me: Apparently not.
Then we go on to have a discussion where this person is convinced since they haven’t heard of me, I must mean I write for small presses. I explain, no, my publisher is Penguin USA (Berkley, NAL, etc.), and you can buy my books on Amazon.com. or anywhere fine paperbacks are sold in most countries that speak English and even in some that don’t. Then they usually decide I must be insane, and don’t believe I’m actually published until I produce a book with my name on it….
So, I don’t really get this problem a lot.
I think my fictional version of you actually has a huge helping of “Glenn Reynolds” mixed in…. but I blame that on the fact that he was the first person I ever saw mention’Scalzi.’
Of course, my Glenn Reynolds is ALSO fictional.
Also, I sometimes confuse you with Jim Butcher, through no fault of your own. Because my fictional Jim Butcher is “Scalzi who lives in Missouri instead of Ohio.”
Although anecdotes are not data etc, I will say that I had a very strong picture of Spider Robinson in my head once upon a time. I then spent several very enjoyable hours in a bar with some fen drinking in the company of a person who I later was informed was Spider Robinson. Then somewhat later still I discovered that that person was, in fact, not Spider. The sum of these events has led me to an almost pathological fear of forming impressions of authors or other folks before meeting them.
Drew Barrymore, on the other hand, is exactly how I always imagined her to be, only way more so.
“Watching “V for Vendetta” and not knowing anything about Alan Moore, the story showed an ineffective government doing pure evil and a population going along with it being overthrown by one individual who was brave enough and smart enough to see the truth and stand up for what’s right. Then I saw “Watchmen” and read the graphic novel, a completely ineffective government unable to avoid a nuclear war which is stopped by an individual who was brave enough, smart enough, and strong enough to stop it. These two stories gave me a feeling about Moore that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, then I looked him on on the internet and found out he was an Anarchist and said, “Ah, yes. Of course he is”.”
Interestingly, Moore’s main criticism of the movie was that the original ‘V for Vendetta’ was tightly focused on Thatcher’s Britain and contrasting fascism and anarchy (and he claims that he wasn’t advocating either), while the film adaption was “a Bush-era parable by people too timid to set a political satire in their own country.“. Likewise, he always has hated the fact that many readers found some of his characters in Watchmen sympathetic when he meant them not to be. The movie adaption of that film, of course, drops large amounts of story and subtext by necessity.
I think it’s something of a gross oversimplification to imply that Moore’s work is all about ‘bad government, people rise up’. V, for example, is insane. Remember that a core plot point is that he tortures Evey, does terrorist bombings and endangers innocents. Now granted, he’s opposing a fascist state ruling with fear following a limited nuclear war…they’re clearly villains of the worst sort. Whether V is a hero or not is another matter. In one light, Evey is Patty Hearst. The government in ‘Watchmen’ is hardly ineffective and Dr. Manhattan and Ozymandias are NOT any better. In point of fact, his name should be the clue that’s he’s already FAILED. The last frame of the comic drives this home like a sledgehammer. Certainly, in “Marvel Man” (or “Miracle Man”, if you prefer) the government is ineffectual, in that they can’t stop superhumans as powerful as a Silver-Age Captain Marvel…although the day is actually saved by alien governments, there. Top Ten certainly shows the police as being effective and a force for good…and Tom Strong and Supreme are all about Silver Age fun.
Of course, Moore’s latest (and he claims final) work for comics, Neonomicon, made me so angry I nearly destroyed the second issue of it. You’d think that the combination of Alan Moore and Cthulu would have been solid gold….but you’d be wrong.
For the record, the first time I met you–Aussiecon4, with the stuffed Chinese bears–was awesome. I was too shy and awestruck to go up and say hi, but you just chatted away with me like it was nothing and I was some acquaintance you’d known for years. It was, I repeat, AWESOME. (And I ordered Fuzzy Nation on Amazon just so I could get another excuse to come up and say hi at Reno!)
Ed: Reminds me of all the people who think Heinlein is a fascist because he wrote Starship Troopers.
I don’t know much of Heinlein’s politics and I only saw Starship Troopers teh movie. I did read some of Heinlein’s books (Stranger in a strange land, and I believe moon is a harsh mistress, but that was so long ago, I can’t remmber anything from them.) I don’t know how the movie tracks with the book. But I had never seen it until maybe six months ago and all teh while I was watching it, I remember waiting for the story to have a “gotcha”, like we find out that we attacked the bugs first or something. Earth of Startship Troopers is a fascist planet. Usually when you have a story where teh protagonist is on the side fo fascism, there is often a point where the protag realizes that fascism is pretty much evil, and then they switch sides. ST, at least the movie, simply embraced fascism all the way to the end. I would guess that it was written by someone who swung to the right, at the very least.
Looking up Heinlein on wikipedia, I see that he invented the libertarian/free market phrase “there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. He was in the US military. also “Isaac Asimov believed that Heinlein made a drastic swing to the right politically at the same time he married Ginny. The couple formed the small “Patrick Henry League” in 1958 and they worked in the 1964 Barry Goldwater campaign, and Tramp Royale contains two lengthy apologias for the McCarthy hearings”
I don’t find it terribly surprising.
contrast “Starship Troopers” with, just say, “Lord of the Rings”.
Tolkein fought in the bloody trenches of WW1. Frodo suffered from PTSD. The good guys in LOTR won the war but lost heavy casualties, magic left the world, and things were never the same.
It has its problems, but its got some elements that clearly show Tolkein has no infatuation with war like some authors have.
John, I like this post. I liked Bear’s too.
However, I now find myself tempted to go and find some online discussions of fictional you to see if they match up with MY version of fictional you. I don’t actually have that kind of time, but it would be interesting. Although I’m under no delusions that my fictional you is actually real, and the knowledge that you don’t *really* know someone tends to keep you from forming too much of a pretend version, so I’d have to make up a fictional you first, or at least fill him out, and that would be *really* time consuming.
We first met in person at Penguicon a few years ago (for my first con!), in the lobby and a few other places, and you were very kind, and very welcoming, and very funny. So it was pretty good for me. :) I tend to develop a good first impression of people who are gracious to new people in any situation, and particularly of those who are so even when they are in a relative position of social power (say, being a situationally famous person) at the time.
Greg, I’d normally say that you need to read the book — because there’s little in common between the book and the movie other than some of the character’s names and the title — but your distaste seems unlikely to be penetrated by an author that you seem to currently detest. Would it help to know that the director of the movie read the first two chapters of the book and threw it aside, saying something like “this is a coming of age story, and I want to make a movie about killing bugs!” Probably not. Forget I said anything.
?I don’t know much of Heinlein’s politics and I only saw Starship Troopers teh movie. ” And after seeing the movie, you still don’t. You have a good idea of Paul Verhoeven’s opinions and politics, I guess. RAH was certainly no fascist. A right-wing libertarian with some weird sexual stuff going on, sure. But I’ve barely read the man and I know most of his stuff is about individual responsibility and determinism.
Oddly enough, I think I like Writer Scalzi better than Blogger Scalzi. I’ve been reading the blog for several years, and though I’m sure it’ll pain you to know this, yet I’ve only recently read your Professional Writer writing. Hmm, perhaps Non-Blog Writing would be a better way to put that, or even Editor Filtered Writing. Anyway, that piece you published on the site a month or two ago was REALLY good, so I followed that up with “Agent to the Stars” in eBook format (Apple iBook store), which I greatly enjoyed.
It might just be that your humorous take on the world is more polished coming from Writer Scalzi.
htom an author that you seem to currently detest.
Where did I say I detest him? I said he was a libertarian/conservative who was in the military and then I quoted teh Wikipedia article about him that quoted Asimov who said Heinlein made a “drastic swing to the right politically”. And based on the movie version of Starship Troopers, and assuming there is some resemblence at all to how the movie and book relate to power and force, I said Heinlein’s politics doesn’t surprise me.
WizarDru: RAH was certainly no fascist.
Good think I never called him one, then, eh?
A right-wing libertarian with some weird sexual stuff going on, sure.
Right wing libertarian. Yeah, that was my take on his politics as well.
htom and WizarDru:, I feel the need to point out (again) that I never called Heinlein a fascist. Ed@67 mentioned “the people who think Heinlein is a fascist because he wrote Starship Troopers.”
My reply wasn’t to say Heinlein was a fascist, but to say that an author can reveal some parts of their psychology through their fiction.
I wouldn’t watch Starship Troopers and say Heinlein is a fascist. I pointed out that I watched the movie but didn’t read his book. And I get someone else did the movie. But if the movie had any semblance at all to the book, then it wouldn’t surprise me that Heinlein was a military man with conservative/libertarian politics.
If you want to tell me the novel was a love-fest and the moral of the story was that war doesn’t solve anything and Rico had PTSD, then I would be a bit surprised by Heinlein’s real world politics.
What I vaguely remember about “Stranger ins a Strange Land” the more I think about it, “libertarian” fits pretty well with that novel.
I’ve had experiences where people have been surprised that the person I am at cons and the person I am at home/with family and friends is not the same person. This is because at cons I consider myself to be on stage, performing the part of Author in Public. That gives me a lot of freedom to talk and blather and be personable in ways that I’m usually not.
Not everyone understands this…
Greg, htom, et al:
General discussion of Heinlein counts as wandering off topic. Rein it in, please.
Oh my, yes, and Elizabeth Bear has certainly had up front experience in this. People do this constantly. It always reminds me of the story Patricia Wrede told about being a guest for a college professor whose class was studying her works. The professor introduced her by giving a long, complicated description of the deep philosophies and symbolism of elements of her work, and then Ms. Wrede had to get up there and explain that, actually, she’d put the supposedly enormously significant element in because she was just trying to get her character from Location A to Location B. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with interpreting deeper meaning to material than the author perhaps was really putting in, but it gets more complicated when people are absolutely sure that they, for instance, know how an author regards torture by how that author writes a torture scene. (Seriously, Greg, no.) And it gets more complicated because, as Bear points out, the author is then claimed to have said things in interviews or on the Net that the author has never actually said. (See the case of singer Justin Bieber, who suddenly found himself the victim of a boycott because of a hoax that people who could not figure out that Bieber talking about Muslims in Tiger Beat magazine could not possibly be real turned into a raging attack for a few days.)
But mostly what it makes me think of is George Martin. I can’t count how many times people have explained to me George Martin’s thinking processes, about his series, writing, fans, money, sex, pedophilia, etc., with complete conviction, and not only that, but how all writers think and work in relation to Martin. Some of it is truly gross and some of it is funny, like a little kid guessing about what’s on the moon. Psychologically, authors are often practical people, but they do differ largely. And ascribing all sorts of deep meaning to them from their work or, even worse, their blogs, is a fun game maybe, but it has little basis in reality.
(For the record, in briefly meeting you at a con and hearing you speak there, Scalzi, you were different from your blog voice — more effacing, more wide-eyed, more bouncy — but just as much fun, and no doubt equally different from the guy Athena calls “Dad.” And that’s okay. As long as you are concocting Pegasi kittens with Wil Wheaton and putting silly hats on your head, I think we can we can make do with multiple Scalzis.)
I encountered you briefly at AussieCon 4. My Fictional Scalzi (FS) was previously a funny guy who seems very approachable. To my great pleasure, Real Scalzi (RS) met the expectations set by FS! You passed! :)
That said, while I am a long time reader of both your books and Whatever, I have to say that personally, I have found that the only authors I really have fictional versions of are those who write public blogs too (or are not able to do so, but form our Canon – the Asimovs and Heinleins of the world. With other authors, I only find I even start thinking about them when I finish the book – as in “I will/will not seek out Joe Blogg’s work again!” It is only after there is an established connection that any thoughts of the author really begin for me.
I notice there’s a fair grade of philosophy slipping in too, so I’d like to point out a theory (that I do not have the appropriate memory to properly attribute, so I’ll only say it’s not mine!): I do not exist except as the construct in the minds of all the people I deal with – because no two of them have a consistent experience (with one another) of who I am. Who I am to my wife, to my best mates, to my work colleagues, boss et al, are all distinct and unique.
And experience has shown me the truth to this – there are those who think I’m academic with its associated contexts, there are those who think I’m officious and there are those who think I am outrageous. As an example, I take part in the Zombie Shuffle each year, and each year, I get comments from people who could not fathom my involvement, while others make sure I have heard that this event exists, while still others I catch up with on the day.
Wow. Way longer than intended…
My very limited experience with this kind of thing is having to cope with people who would come up to me after (not during or between sets) a public performance as a disk jockey at a dance, and who were then disappointed that I was not the up-front, out-of-control, wild-eyed maniac rock and roll screamer I’d pretended to be when on-stage or on-air. Some of them sincerely did not seem to get the idea that I am a person, and that screaming DJ, “silly air name”, is only a part that I play, like an actor might be “Falstaff” or “Mephistopheles”. At first I apologized for their confusion, but after a while I just pretended not to understand.
Oh, and stalkers should just, please, go away; I do understand, and NO. Go away, stay away.
Kat: but it gets more complicated when people are absolutely sure that they, for instance, know how an author regards torture by how that author writes a torture scene. (Seriously, Greg, no.)
What’s even more complicated is when someone says several times on one thread within a couple of days various hedged and conditional statements about something, only to have those statements turned into statements of absolute certainty with all qualifications, hedging, and conditionals removed.
here’s the sort fo things I said in my first post about this notion:
“the author’s views of the world often slip out through their narrative.”
I’ll stand by that statement. Not a lot of “absolutely sure” coming through there. I don’t say *all* their views suddenly become revealed. I don’t say they always come through.
“it was fairly clear that the author didn’t hope the world worked that way, but thought it did anyway.”
I can’t remember the title,so there’s no way to address this particular novel.
“shows like “24″ seemed to be written by people who not only hope the world works that way, but wants to bring everyone else to their point of view”
Well, it does *seem* that way to me anyway.
“a pretty clear notion that Lucas has no understanding of woman, relationships, love, and intimacy, whatsoever”
I’ll stand by that one. pretty clear. not 100% absolute certainty. Maybe Lucas is a regular Don Juan or something. But I doubt it. I’d be willing to wager a dollar on it.
“These two stories gave me a feeling about Moore that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, then I looked him on on the internet and found out he was an Anarchist and said, “Ah, yes. Of course he is”.
Fairly limited capability here. Just sayign I had a *feeling* about Moore, and when I discovered his politics, one explained the other.
“you can see how tech creates the world in the author’s stories and that may reveal something about the author”
Maybe it will. Maybe it won’t.
I never said that I will know with absolute certainty “how an author regards torture by how that author writes a torture scene”. I said how an author writes about a torture scene may reveal something about how the author relates to force and power. I said what an author puts in their story may reveal something about the author’s psychology, their view of the world, or who knows what. It’s not a crystal ball that reveals every thing and all things about their inner psyche. It’s fuzzy, it may not reveal anything, or it may only reveal one thing, or it may reveal general tendancies about something that occurs as only indirectly related to the story. i.e. a scene about torture may reveal something about how the author relates to power. Or maybe not.
I tried to make a point of hedging nearly every statement with qualifiers to avoid any sort of absolute statement. That was on purpose. I may have mised some sentences in my posts here. But I can say with *absolute certainty* that a good many of my statements avoided saying anything with absolute certainty.
And yet, me being “absolutely sure” is the one and only thing you could be bothered to respond about. And that’s one thing that a good many of my statements do not do.
It would be as if I said I wasn’t surprised Heinlein was a conservative/libertarian who was in the military and then having one person say I “detest” him and another person act as if I’d called Heinlein a fascist. Oh wait, that did happen.
to steal a quote: I am not responsible for actions of the imaginary version of me you have inside your head.
Greg #89: “to steal a quote: I am not responsible for actions of the imaginary version of me you have inside your head.”
And yet you’re perfectly willing to say that such and such an author “seems to be” an imaginary version of them you have inside your head. Nor was I talking just about you, though I was using your words as an example of what I consider to be a fallacy. You and I could have a long argument about how The Watchmen is not related to anarchy, and is in fact rather against it, and it would be fun to do as a discussion of the work, but that’s not the topic of the thread. Saying that a story may or may not reveal an author’s psychology still points to the problem, which is that you believe you might be able to tell an author’s psychology from his writing. Saying that maybe the author is a pervert with an authoritarian power complex isn’t really any better than saying the author definitely is a pervert with an authoritarian power complex. And this sort of argument is used for a lot of things — I can (maybe) tell the author’s gender from the writing; I can (maybe) tell the author’s sexual orientation from the writing; I can (maybe) tell the author wrote this just for the money; I can (maybe) tell the author’s religious beliefs, etc., etc. You’re playing archeologist with people who are making things up. And you’re not doing it with actual knowledge of the person, but through the prism of your views, your interpretations of things like anarchists, and other filters and mirrors as Scalzi and Bear are discussing.
Today, oddly enough, I talked with an author buddy. To solve a plot problem in her thriller, she ended up changing a supporting character from just a frustrated husband to a secret criminal with an incident in his past. This required not only a complete rewrite of the character, but large adjustments to major plot points, new material, rewrites, etc. Because it was a plot issue. And you could look at that character’s arc and make all sorts of analysis of the thematic, symbolic, aspects of it and what that meant about my friend’s views of life, and that can be fun, but it isn’t accurate and it has very little to do with the mundane, practical reasons the character is as he is. And what’s happening a lot in SFF, rather sadly, these days is that this analysis seems to be witch-hunting to suggest that maybe these authors might possibly hold views that really people have no possibly way of knowing these authors hold. You’re saying maybe you can do that with some authors, peer into part of their inner psyche through their fiction; I’m arguing that you can’t with any of them. If they talk about a work, well then at least you have what they said about it. But interpreting their views through your subjective analysis of a fictional narrative, the craft of which often has little to do with philosophies of life, has about as much accuracy as a drunk throwing darts in a bar. That an author has a torture scene in a book does not mean that the author has particular views about torture or authoritarianism, and a suggestion that maybe it does can turn into something nasty very quickly. So put in all the qualifiers you want; I still disagree with your point.
And what’s happening a lot in SFF, rather sadly, these days is that this analysis seems to be witch-hunting
Here is a question for you: Who hunted a witch? Me? Or your fictional version of me inside your head?
Cause I’m *pretty* sure the me over here behind this keyboard hasn’t gone out and tried to burn anyone at a stake. So, if not the me over here, then which me did?
You’re saying maybe you can do that with some authors, peer into part of their inner psyche through their fiction
“Peering in” would imply I could look around, take inventory, see what’s under the mattress, rifle through their cupboards, and such. This is more like an author leaving his fly open and all I can tell is he’s got teddy bear boxer shorts on underneath. Or maybe boxer briefs. That’s a bit different than the witch-huntery you invoke.
Tolkein fought in the bloody trenches of WW1. LOTR has some fairly cheesy portrayal of war, black and white, pure good versus pure evil, but it also has some of the most realistic bits about war of any writing. Frodo ends up with what would now be described as post traumatic stress syndrome. I’d be willing to bet that Tolkein didn’t write that part by reading about it in someone else’s book. I’d wager he suffered what we’d call PTSD himself.
Tell me how that is a witchhunt. Explain to me how it is unreasonable to make that connection.
Even though LOTR has a lot of good-vs-evil type combat and battle scenes, it also shows war for the bloody slog that it is. The marshes with all teh bodies in it likely came from his own experience of the slaughter of WW1. Much of LOTR shows the good guys failing at war. Isildor fails to destroy the ring. Bilbo covets the ring back after giving it to Frodo to be destroyed. Borimir nearly destroys the fellowship trying to take teh ring. The Steward of Gondor is insane and nearly brings about the destruction of Gondor. Sauramon betrays Middle Earth and works for Sauron. Frodo accuses Sam of betrayal and drives him away. And probably most importantly, Frodo fails his whole mission. In the end, he cannot bring himself to surrender the ring. The world is not saved by the goodness of the protagonists, but by a lucky break that has Golem bite the ring off of Frodo’s finger after Frodo declares the ring his and then Gollum trips and falls into the fires of Mt Doom.
This is not a story written by someone with a 13 year old boy’s infatuation with war. This is not a story written by someone who thinks war is a great adventure, where the good guys always win and the bad guys always lose. This is not a story written by someone who doesn’t know anythign about war other than what they’ve seen on TV, in teh movies, and on the history channel. This is not someone who thinks they will welcome us as liberators and that we’ll be in and out in six weeks. This is not someoen who thinks that war can be waged without good people bleeding and dying. This is a story that was clearly written by someone who had been through the hellfire of war, seen close friends die before him, seen the senseless carnage, and experienced the kind of wound that never heals.
I’m arguing that you can’t with any of them.
Because on some level, you’ve slippery sloped this into “Connect Tolkien’s portrayal of war to his experience in WW1, and next thing you know, they’ll be witchhunting racist authors based on the characters in their stories”.
You don’t want the witchhunt, so you don’t want any profilng done at all. You want to invalidate all of it. I understand why you have the fear you do. I’ve seen some of the witchhunt “FAIL” episodes of late. But that’s not this. That’s not what I’m doing.
Just a few months ago, there was a special on the history channel that walked through Tolkien’s life and various things from LOTR. They weren’t on a witchhunt. They also never spoke with absolute dogmatic certainty. They most often said something like “Tolkein probably got the image of the dead marshes from this battle where tens of thousands of soldiers were killed in a day” or “Tolkein probably suffered PTSD”.
If you want to debate that one cannot even make that kind of possible connection, that one cannot ever, under any circumstances, find bits of the author in their works, then you are free to argue such. But say it direct. Don’t slippery slope that into whatever witchhunt you’re afraid it might turn into and then act like its the exact same thing.
So put in all the qualifiers you want; I still disagree with your point.
That’s just it. Take out all the qualifiers I had in my posts and my words become dogmatic, irrefutable, witchhunt. The thing you’re afraid of. You’re fighting against the “point” of the version of me that’s in your head. The one that speaks without qualifiers. The one that’s on a witchhunt, or just about to go on a witchhunt. Or something.
You’re not disagreeing with me, that’s for sure. In 86, you talked about “people [who] are absolutely sure” and then you referenced me as such an example of certainty. At 89, I pointed out many, many points in my posts where I was specifically declaring that I wasn’t handing out certainties here. You’re response in 90 seems to say you don’t care, you still disagree with me.
You accused me of going on a witchhunt of certainty.
Using me as an example of someone who is “absolutely sure”.
I point out to you a laundry list of places where I admitted uncertainty.
And you act as if it doesn’t change anything.
So put in all the qualifiers you want; I still disagree with your point.
Which point is that? My point of knowing with absolute certainty all the inner workings
of the mind of an author by reading a single word of their story? I never said that.
My point of going on a witchhunt against an author for some view I divine from
their book? I haven’t done that.
Which is to say you’re not disagreeing with my point.
You’re disagreeing with the point made by the version of me in your mind.
The one with all the qualifiers removed.
The one who is going on some witchunt.
Whatever it is, it aint me.
lyda @72: Lawrence Block has a riff about the “Oh, have I heard of you?” line [obviously something he hears less nowadays] where he explains that they probably have, but only under his pen name. When asked for the pen name he writes under, gives the name of a famous writer like Norman Mailer or Erica Jong. Sometimes both.
I’m thinking multiverse theory, I’m thinking the multiple worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics and so forth. What if everyone’s fictional mental models of public figures actually come into existence in parallel universes when they construct their images of celeb people in their heads? Dude there’d be some awesome versions of you out there! Taller, better looking, less bald. Nobel Prize winners (in several categories). Probably not funnier though, that’d be unpossible. And others, probably not so much.
Um, if my construct John Scalzi ever makes it to this universe you might want to consider moving somewhere in a hurry. Really sorry about that man, but I was a little out of it when reading some of your stuff…
Oh! You love grape soda, too? I knew it, and we both hate regular grapes! Awesome. It’s so cool we have so much in common. I bet in real life we’d be like identical twins.
I (obviously) totally agree with everything you wrote.
[Sorry, I’m creating parallel universes at your public expense. I’m like the physics version of the IRS. Hmm… maybe my own public persona needs a little rehab.]
#91 Greg: You don’t seem to understand that I’m not just writing about you. Or rather you’re telling me that I’m not just writing about you, which I already know, as if I am arguing that I am just talking about you, which I clearly have not been. I did not accuse you of witch hunting. I said that there is a lot of witch hunting going on in the SFF community: “And what’s happening a lot in SFF.” You translating that into “You Greg are a witch hunting SOB” is you playing with your own imaginary version of me. Which is, again, the point. Interpretation has a lot to do with it. Misunderstanding. Playing Freud. It’s fine to talk about symbolism and what we see in a narrative as different aspects of the story. And if an author says I did indeed use that as a particular symbol, that gives us food for thought. But if an author uses a particular symbol, that still doesn’t necessarily tell you the author’s views, which may be and often are opposite of the symbol the author uses for that particular story. Likewise, assuming an author’s approach comes from real life experiences or book research when you don’t know doesn’t lead to much accuracy either. You don’t know that Tolkein had post traumatic stress syndrome, “shell shock” as they called it then. Yes, he probably did use war experiences to inform Lord of the Rings, but knowing which parts and in which ways without his saying so is a guessing game that has a lot more to do with the guesser than the author.
I have had people (not you Greg) argue to me that such and such author must be a pervert for including certain material. I have had people (not you Greg) assert that the only reason an author included particular material is because it’s a guaranteed seller and the author is a money-grubbing hack. I’ve had people (not you Greg) assert that such and such author has one particular philosophical or political view or another on the basis of a villainous character. And of course, authors are often accused of lying on their blogs. Blogs are a trickier issue since it is the author talking, often about their views, so it at least gives you a sense of what the author says in public. But sometimes the author just got a bit angry and doesn’t really care as much as seemed the case, and quite often what an author says is misinterpreted. (How many times has Scalzi had to say re entries that “what you are saying I said is not what I said”? ) And when it comes to fictional narrative, playing guessing games about authors’ psyches never works out very well, particularly again, from the fact that many writing and plotting decisions arise from factors that have nothing to do with the author’s views about anything at all. And so I continue to disagree with you that the way an author writes a torture scene might be able to tell you about his views concerning power, etc. Even with the qualifiers of “I might” and “maybe,” it’s just not accurate. Attempting to blend the person of the author with the stories they make up — often with the imput of others — even in a vague, fishing around sort of way — is at best wish fulfillment and at its worst (not you Greg,) witch hunting, not practical analysis, in my view.
Kat: I’m not just writing about you
Then I would suggest that you say what you want to say to me and leave everyone else out of it. If I am not witchhunting, why brign it up?
I did not accuse you of witch hunting. I said that there is a lot of witch hunting going on in the SFF community
Exactly what you said what this, emphasis added by me:
“And what’s happening a lot in SFF, rather sadly, these days is that this analysis seems to be witch-hunting to suggest that maybe these authors might possibly hold views that really people have no possibly way of knowing these authors hold. You’re saying maybe you can do that with some authors,”
The best interpretation I can possibly extract from those words is that I have the mind of a witchhunter, but have not yet chosen to use my powers for evil. Yet. But as you said, this analysis used by witchhunters is something I say I can do.
Attempting to blend the person of the author with the stories they make up — often with the imput of others — even in a vague, fishing around sort of way — is at best wish fulfillment and at its worst (not you Greg,) witch hunting, not practical analysis, in my view.
So, I’m not witchhunting, but at best I’m practicing wish fulfillment. Maybe worse.
So I have a question for you, Kat. And I want you for a moment to put the witchhunters out of your mind. I’m going to ask you a question, and I don’t want your fear that answering one way or another might get slippery sloped into justifying a witchhunt, and therefore compel you to answer in a way that has no slope to get slippery. Do you understand? This is a question about me and you sitting down at my house and watching a movie. So here’s teh question:
Not knowing anything whatsoever about the people who made it, (no interviews, no history channel, no directors comments, No media or gossip or such that would reveal anything about the creators in any way) could I as an outside observer who only sees the movie, could I have a reasonable basis to make even so much as one true declaration about the internal mindset, or psychology, or philosophy (even one little whit of truth), about the creators behind the movie “The Birth of a Nation”?
If not, then fine. We are at a disagreement with no areas where we even have the slightest in common for discussion.
If yes, then, do not take that yes and immediately slippery slope it into a witchhunt that must be opposed. Do not turn that “yes” into something that dismisses it as “wish fullfillment”.
I think it is reasonable to watch “The Birth of a Nation” and make the assertion that its creators were racists. Now, they don’t have to be racist to make a film about racism. But I think I have a reasonable basis to assert that the makers fo that particular film were themselves racists.
You don’t know that Tolkein had post traumatic stress syndrome, “shell shock” as they called it then.
I feel the need to make what may be a more important point here. No one is ever diagnosed with shell shock or PTSD but by psychologists who have to do a subjective interview with the patient. Even if Tolkein said “I had shell shock” during some interview, that wouldnt’ actually prove he did. Maybe he was lying. Maybe he was misdiagnosed. Maybe he had some mental issue since childhood and it was mistaken for shell shock.
There is no objective measure to divine a person’s political beliefs. There is no way to determine in some mechanical way that a person is racist. It’s subjective. It is usually question and answer, back and forth, sort of process. It also means that in a case like Terri Schiavo, you’re goign to ahve political motivated people come to the conclusion based on their wish fullfillment or their witchhunt or whatever.
That doesnt’ mean all psychology or the subjective process it entails is invalid.
I think it is reasonable to watch “Birth of a Nation” and make some assertions about its creators. I am absolutely certain that this sort of approach, this subjective process of glimpsing things from an author’s stories, can be abused to create and justify and maintain a witchhunt. That doesn’t dismiss the process. Just the abuse of it.
Now, again, if you think it unreasonable for someone to watch “Birth of a Nation” and make any guesses whatsoever about anything relating to the political or philosophical positions of its creators, then it is clear that we disagre and hold mutually exclusive positions. And that’s fine.
But after reading all your posts, I’m going to make a very hedged guess here that while you might on some level agree that you could extract a thing or two from Birth of a Nation, the larger fear that approving this subjective process would approve the witchhunts that would use the process and abuse it, that fear is goign to override your answer.
If you and I were sitting at my house and just finished watching “Birth of a Nation”, I would wager that I could say “what a bunch of racists” and you would nod, or at the very least you would not accuse me of wish fullfillment for making that assertion. I have absolutely no objective basis for this, you haven’t made a single statement that would directly agree with this, you have made several statements that would seem to point to this being false, but I’d at least wager a doller on it being true.
Greg: I cannot believe you are using the slippery slope language on me and on this subject. Is this just standard procedure? I thought I was special, sniff.
Yes, you are right. Instead of saying “this sort of analysis,” I sloppily said “this analysis” which obviously, despite the phrase that opened the sentence that clearly indicated I was talking about people in general, converted the whole sentence and everything I said that did not specifically address you into being only about you. Give me a break.
And you’re dragging in Birth of a Nation, which isn’t even a book, but a movie made by a large group of people? WTF? No, actually, Greg, I don’t believe the key grip on that movie was probably a racist. You want to debate Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn next? My point — which you are developing straw man arguments to ignore (which is funny,) as you are ignoring what Scalzi and Bear are saying about what people claim they are like from their fiction and not necessarily just witch hunters — is that trying to determine the views and psychology of an author by saying that his stories and characters are probably aspects of himself — especially when authors are often deliberately writing not like themselves — is not reliable, reasonable or indeed, valid. A fictional story is not an inkblot test. You want to try and play therapist with authors, fine, but don’t be surprised if they listen to your assessment of their possible personality from their fiction and then call you an asshole.
But since you want to talk about film, instead of books, here’s one for you: Your argument (this one you, Greg,) is like when an actor takes a gay role and people say, well that doesn’t positively make him gay, but really, from his choice of roles, couldn’t we say from his psyche, that he may possibly be gay? He’s probably gay, right? After all, he’s not married. And he kissed another guy on screen! James Franco’s done, like, three gay roles. He’s got to be gay.
Greg and Kat:
Deep breaths. You may be at a point where you are talking past each other.
A reasonable basis … No, you have no information about them or their mindsets, psychologies, motivations, or philosophies, only their piece of work….to make even so much as one true declaration about the internal mindset, psychology, or philosophy (even one little whit of truth), about the creators behind the movie “The Birth of a Nation”? Only by accident. You can say a great deal about what you feel, think, imagine, … but attributing those feelings, thoughts, imaginings, … to the creative team (or anyone else) is simply a form of psychological projection.
I never limited the conversation to novels. the one time i distinguished between the two was about Starship Troopers. i had seen the movie (not written by Heinlein) but not read the book. so i said if the movie tracked to the book i wasnt surprised Heinlein was conservative/libertarian and had been in the military. this was partly from vague recollections of Stranger as well.
as for birth of a nation you avoided the simple question. if you and i were watching it at my house and when it was over I said it was made by racists, would you disagree? would you accuse me of witch hunting them? I highly doubt it. you and I both know I wasnt talking about the key grip. one can watch birth of a nation and tell there were racists behind it somewhere.
here is another one for you, Say you and I watch some select progras from Fox Network. And I assert the show clearly has some right wingers behind its creation. would you debate that? would you say I cant watch 24 and reasonably make that estimate?
you would argue that any such assertions are completely without basis?
tell me you think one can reasonably extract absolutely nothing from any form of fiction and we can agree to disagree and leave it at that.
but dont take me saying there are racists behind Nation and turn it into me divining which way the key grip parted his hair. tell me it is unreasonable to watch 24 and make any guesses about anyone behind it at all, and we can agree to disagree.
htom, I disagree. And I’m perfectly willing to leave it at that.
Um, Scalzi says we’re talking past each other, so I’m not sure whether I’m supposed to answer. I’ll go ahead one more and if he then says stop, I’ll stop.
You may not be limiting the conversation to novels, but the only thing I was talking about were novels, written by one author. That was the only issue I was commenting on. Movies, t.v., and particularly news shows are totally different mediums, involving a lot of work for hire and oversight by committee. News shows are supposed to at least not be fictional with made-up characters. You keep avoiding the issue I’m talking about — authors, fiction writing — to talk about other things to prop up your argument.
You can extract many meanings and thematic aspects from a work of written fiction. But being sure of the beliefs of authors just from their fiction isn’t one of them. An author may explore political beliefs, as Heinlein did, or personal feelings as Bret Easton Ellis did through American Psycho — without him actually wanting to kill anyone despite having graphic murder scenes — but we know this for sure only because the authors come out and say that at some point, not because of what they did in their fiction. Another author can write — and they do — a similar story and be a pacifist, or socialist, or Buddhist monk, doing something very different from their own political views or personal feelings and experiences, writing characters who do and believe things that they themselves would never do or believe. And while Heinlein was a lackadasical libertarian, pro-military and anti-communist, that didn’t make him also a fascist, which many insisted he was because they could just tell from Starship Troopers.
What you are basically saying, Greg, is that you have discerning judgment, which makes you different and better at studying the inkblot interpretation than witch hunters who abuse that process to extremes, such as the folk who called Heinlein a fascist, or perhaps people like Robert Silverberg when he was sure that his pal author James Tiptree Jr. was a woman, that you are able to speak with a reasonable guess about the author with no other knowledge than the fictional, written work. To which I say, sorry, don’t trust it, don’t buy it. An author is not his work, and a lot of them are extremely good, deliberately so, at tricking their audience in this way, or simply accidentally doing so because they are just, again, trying to get a character from point A to point B and someone else suggests a plot device for it. Maureen McHugh and Kij Johnson, for instance, are two authors who many fans are surprised to find are white women because of the stories they write, like China Mountain Zhang and The Fox Woman. Even when they state their views outside of their fiction, it’s not always accurate — Ayn Rand took Social Security and Medicare rather than be bankrupt and without medical care as dictated by her principles. You may guess an author’s views from his work, but that guess is a fictional construct that is just as likely to be wrong as it is right. A written story does not tell you about the author and the author’s life. It tells you about the story, a fictional construct also, and not always a political or philosophical tract.
Kat, I have one question for you, I’ve asked a couple times, and you have avoided answering it for whatever reason. I will try again, and even see if I can avoid forcing it into a yes/no answer:
We’re hanging out at my house and for whatever reason we end up watching “Birth of a Nation” from start to finish. Lets assume its because neither of us had ever heard of it or knew anythign about the people who made it, but wikipedia said it was the highest grossing film of the silent filem era (which it was). So we watch it in silence, munching popcorn and drinking soda. When the credits roll, I get up to pee and on my way out the room, I say “Wow, that movie was made by some racist people”. What do you say? Or if you say nothing at all, what do you think about what I just said?
Do you agree with me? Do you defend the filmmakers? Do you tell me it is unfair of me to assume anything at all about the filmmakers based on their film? Do you say/think something else entirely?
I just want a straight answer. I don’t really care what your answer is. I just want to know where you stand on this partcular scenario. htom said basically “absolutely not”. Which is fine by me. He’s got a right to his opinion. I’m not tryign to prove him wrong. I think its reasonable to assume “BoaN” was made by racists even if I knew nothing about the filmmakers other than their movie. htom does not.
I just want to know if you think it would be a reasonable assumption for a viewer who knew nothing about the creators to say BoaN was made by racists.
I’m not sure why you don’t want to answer that particular question. i think its a fair question. Its a real movie in cinematic history. It is fiction rather than non-fiction. It is actually revered by film historians for its unparralleled technical innovation. It was the highest grossing film of the silent film era. So it isn’t some hack job or some niche film. It was a big production seen by a big audience.
It was art. Good art or bad art is a different matter. But it was art. No, it wasn’t a novel, and I get you were takling about novels only. So I am changing the topic a bit by changing media. But I think it is still a fair question. Do you think I would be reasonable or unreasonable in asserting that the makers of Birth of a Nation were racists knowing nothing about them other than watching their film?
Kat: [you say] you are able to speak with a reasonable guess about the author with no other knowledge than the fictional, written work. To which I say, sorry, don’t trust it,
Not trusting someone who can do this profiling isn’t the same as saying they can do this profiling.
To use a metaphor, I asked whether a gun is technically possible to construct. You answered that you wouldn’t trust people to use the gun properly. You’ve told stories about how poeple abused and misused man made weapons. But you have never actually said whether it would be possible to construct a gun. “Is it possible to build a gun” is different than “Do you trust me not to shoot you with it once I build it?”
The question “Is it possible to find information about the author in their fiction?” is different than “Can it be misused?”.
An author is not his work, and a lot of them are extremely good, deliberately so, at tricking their audience
But not all of them are extremely good. And even the extremely good ones might leave their fly down by accident on rare occaision.
The basis of this particular argument is some kind of logical fallacy. not sure which. Hasty generalization, maybe. Just because some white woman is really good at writing stories from the poitn of view of a black man doesn’t mean all authors are that good. And it doesn’t even mean that this white female author manages to keep all of herself out of her prose. She might. But you seem to be arguing that the best of the best can write fiction without bits of their own psyche leaking into it, therefore all authors are like that and therefore no profiling whatsoever is ever possible.And I’m pretty sure that’s not true.
The only question at this point is: Can I reasonably discern something about the creators of Birth of a Nation if all I know is what I see in the movie?
If “trust” prevents you from acknowledging what you would otherwise admit is true, then that would explain why you won’t answer this one question and why as Scalzi said, we keep talking past one another.
I mean, if you don’t think it resonable to discern that the creators of Birth of a Nation were racist, then I don’t know why you don’t just say that straight out. If you do think it reasonable to discern that, but you don’t trust what people might do with that, then that would explain why we keep talking about different things.
Wrap it up, please.
Kat, the question about BoaN is the only thing I really want to know. Your answer would be like Tolkein saying he had shell shock, ii.e. it would be straight from the author’s mouth and all that. If there’s any question you want to know of me (maybe one you think I’ve been avoiding), I will try to answer it succinctly. Either way, thanks.
The first time I “met” you…followed a link from brandon sanderson’s page and read a few blog entries. Then I did a quick google search and read Things I’m Glad I Don’t Have to Worry About. I was hooked. My first impressions…this guy is extremely funny, quick witted, very articulate and probably ALOT deeper then he gives himself credit for.
Thank you for the site.
Greg: Okay, I’ll answer the question to the extent I can and then I’m done because Scalzi would like us to shut up and he may lose power or server in any case. I may too, in fact.
First up, as has come up before, everybody is a racist. And in 1915, when the movie was made, everybody was certainly a racist. So what we’re talking about, for want of a better term, is extreme racism, the kind that some people insist is only what racist means. So let’s put aside the cast and crew from the thing entirely. There were three writers on the film and one of those was also the director: Thomas Dixon, D.W. Griffith who also directed and produced, and Frank Woods. The film was based on two novels of Dixon’s — The Clansman and The Leopard’s Spots. Dixon, a Confederate, happened to be a writer, speaker and preacher who did indeed speak out and write about racial purity, etc. By what Dixon said in his life and about why he wrote The Clansman, you could certainly confirm that he was an extreme racist without ever having seen Birth of a Nation. Seeing Birth of a Nation does not tell you that Thomas Dixon is an extreme racist; you have to go and look it up. Griffith was the son of a Confederate. But he changed the title from The Clansman to the more grandiose and less controversial Birth of a Nation. The movie made a ton of money, but raised controversy, mostly in the North about the racial and carpetbaggery issues. Griffith protested that he did not support, well, extreme views like Dixon’s, and he then made another big movie, Intolerance, that promoted anti-racism and which also made a lot of money but not as much as Birth of a Nation. He made many movies after that, many of them Westerns, some sympathetic to minorities, others perhaps not. Was Griffith an extreme racist who believed in Confederate views or is he like many people still today who feel the Civil War was also about states rights and that Northern carpetbaggers sucked the life out of the South for profit without feeling that makes them extreme racists? Or did he hold neither viewpoint and was simply an opportunist who thought the movie would play well in the South so soon after the Civil War and then did sincerely backtrack? I don’t know. I’d have to read a bio of Griffith to find out more I suppose. And Frank Woods? He was a hired scriptwriter who did over 90 movies and worked frequently with Griffith. Certainly Birth of a Nation helped his career, but that doesn’t tell us if he shared any of the views of his co-writers or just worked from their notes as a job. And then there’s the executive producer, the studio execs and head of studio, and various people in charge of stuff whom I don’t know and certainly don’t know what their views were.
And that’s the point. If I watched Birth of a Nation with you, I would certainly be able to talk about how the characters and plot — the story — are racist and clueless, and how they reflect the culture of the time in which the movie was made, particularly in the South, how perhaps even that parts of the movie contradicts itself about race and other issues. But what the movie doesn’t tell me are the definite views of the three men who wrote it. To find those, I have to look them up, which I did just for you, to find that Dixon was an extreme racist — from what he said — that Griffith may or may not have been one and that I still have no idea how Frank Woods viewed the world at all.
An author is usually one person constructing a narrative (which is why arguing about books would have been a stronger argument for you than movies.) But even so, you can’t tell from just a novel narrative what an author thinks. I’ve certainly worked with too many writers for hire writing under pseudonyms, sometimes not their own gender, to buy the I’m really good at guessing argument from even you, m’dear. The story tells you a story. It doesn’t reveal who the author is unless the author wants it to, and Heinlein aside, that happens less than you might think. And so authors end up confronting the fictional versions of themselves that fans make up about their politics, religious views, etc., from their characters and car chases. I’m sure there are people who think Scalzi believes in eugenics, sacrificing old people, fascism, etc. from Old Man’s War. And you’re saying, yes, but those people are extreme. Not me, I’m a good guesser. And I’m arguing that you’re not. :) I’m saying, you don’t know these people from the fictional stories they write. Scalzi is saying this. Elizabeth Bear is saying this. Most fiction writers you will ever meet will tell you this. A story is not an author.
Kat, that was neither the question I asked nor the scenario I put it in. But I do appreciate the heartfelt conviction you brought to our conversation. And I think I did learn something from what you said even if I disagree with your overall position. So thank you for that. And thanks for engaging.
My fictional Scalzi was woefully incomplete until I heard your voice as the introducer of stories for METAtropolis. Now I totally, like, know you, 100%. Down pat. Never met but c’mon, now I’ve read a few of your books, a good many (!!) blog posts, sunset and dog and wife/kid pictures, and now a voice pattern? Ranty anti-Facebook mini-posts… on Facebook itself? You could be cloned perfectly from my fictional Scalzi, I’m quite sure.
“Hey! You’re meeting me now! How is it for you?”
That made me laugh so hard. If I ever did actually meet you, it would crack me up if you said this to me; but only because I’ve read this post, and how would you be expected to know that when we met, since I am a faceless commenter of the Internet? :) So alas, I guess it’s best if you *don’t* say that to people on first meeting.
I also find first meetings to be really interesting, and wish I could know what people thought of me at that point. Sometimes if you are friends with someone for awhile and remember to ask, they WILL actually tell you what they thought on first meeting; and in my experience, it’s often not what I’d have thought they were thinking at all!
Aaaand I should actually read comments BEFORE I post one, not after. Commenting again to add:
Having been privileged to meet and get to know (in some cases, very well) some favorite authors after first reading their books and interviews and whatever other second-hand source material, I can attest that the people we “meet” through their books, interviews, blogs, etc. may, yes, may be similar to the person we then wind up standing in front of and chatting with, but in every instance I have observed thus far there are differences in the personality I might have expected; and sometimes they are quite different. I agree with John that there *is* a difference in the impressions we form before meeting these people, and the impressions we get on actually meeting them in person. I do think that depending on what form of interactive communication you’ve previously had with them (for instance, reading an interview vs. reading a blog entry vs. personal correspondence over email, vs. talking on the phone, each of these being progressively somewhat more personal) you might be more or less accurate in your fictional view of what the person is really like, but still; the differences can be noted once you meet someone.
This, of course, applies generally; but I do also agree that it’s particularly prevalent with authors, celebrities, etc., because a) more people care to speculate about what they are like; and b) if we are fans, we are influenced in our impressions (for better or worse) by their fictional works that we’ve consumed before meeting them.
Also, knowing the way someone votes or whatever is not the same as knowing who they are. It’s as simple as that.
I’ve just come across your blog today.
I would say it went rather well.
Also, even with my very new web presence I can already relate to this. The day I received an email from a man asking if he could fly me to Vancouver to meet him because he stayed up all night reading every blog post I’d ever written and believed we were destined to be married I was…. well…. a little frightened.
And also very flattered.