Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Listen to the giant yellow bird, people.

When I was small, I had a record of Sesame Street songs that included Big Bird singing a song about making mistakes. And since I was a perfectionist little thing, this got some significant play at our house. It included the lines, "Everyone makes mistakes, oh yes it's true: your sister and your brother and your dad and mommy too. Big people! Small people! Matter of fact, all people!"

And I was thinking about this when I was reading the comments on papersky's post about the Suck Fairy. Because people were coming in talking about taking authors as products of their times and taking their sexism, racism, etc. as products of their times. (What boggled me is that some of these people seemed to be talking as though Jo, of all people, needed to have taking things in historical context explained to her. Jo. Riiiight.) And to a certain extent, I can totally get behind that. We can't and shouldn't expect authors to be products of our times and to mirror our own contemporary attitudes. It ruins a lot of historical fiction to project backwards, it makes history less interesting to assume that everyone ought always to be the same, and it's just not realistic.

However. I sometimes get uneasy when I hear people using this too blithely. Because I have heard it used to excuse too much. Sometimes people say, "Oh, well, it was another time then," and then don't check the copyright date. Sometimes you need to make sure the other time was not 1985. Sometimes even 1955 was soon enough to know better. Sometimes you need to look at what else was really going on at the time, what other things were being written or discussed or enacted in the wider world, and say, "Well, yes, this author was a product of the times. But this author was also a product of choices. And some of those choices were bad ones. I like these choices in this book. And I don't like these other choices here, whether they're political or aesthetic or typographical."

That's okay. It really is. It is all right to say, not just that a book makes mistakes, but that it is is written by one of your favorite authors and makes those mistakes. It is okay to say that one of your favorite authors wrote a book that has elements in it that were bigger mistakes than its era really justified. Sometimes mistakes can ruin a book, and sometimes they don't have to, but you don't have to defend the mistakes to defend the bits that aren't mistakes. And you don't have to condemn an entire era in order to like a book from it. Sometimes your favorite author had a blind spot that not everybody had. Pretty much every time, in fact. We all do. Your sister and your brother and your dad and mommy too. There doesn't have to be a caveat about historical context every time. Sometimes it's not the history. Sometimes being a jerk--for whatever reason, to whatever person or group of people--really does get to be our own fault.
Tags: bookses precious, social fail

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