Amanda’s post the other day did a terrible, terrible thing. Several, actually. For starters, when I get asked why, I’m usually torn between answering “Why not?” and going into deep epistemological analysis (damn you spell check I did NOT mean epidemiological). But the really terrible thing it did was start me thinking about the stories behind the stories we read. Those get meta very quickly because there are usually a whole lot of the things and they’re all there to make sense of a world that really doesn’t make much sense. At least, that’s how they start…
The problem – or one of them – is that once we get a story settled in our heads and it works fairly well to describe and sort of predict what happens, there’s a tendency to hang on to it long past when it’s obviously not working. Let’s face it, to a small child the idea that everyone does what they can and gets what they need and it’s all “fair” seems pretty attractive. It’s more or less the way life is to a small child, with “fair” and “needs-based” determined by the god-like beings known as Mommy and Daddy. It’s also, in a kind of throwback tribalism, the way small hunter-gatherer bands tend to work with most things going to the communal pot and everyone getting to share in the bounty.
Of course, this works for small hunter-gatherer bands and for families because everyone knows everyone and they all have the same goal (usually “survive”). It doesn’t scale: once you get past small bands you start getting leaders who are absolute dictators. So being adaptable critters, we tell ourselves stories that explain why the leader deserves to be the leader. Often it’s “We’d all be dead without his hunting/tracking/stalking/navigating abilities” at least to start, but inevitably stuff starts to accrete to the story and you end up with the Divine Right of Kings and noblesse oblige and all (yes, it takes generations – but this kind of story lasts generations).
In many ways traditional publishing is trapped in the memes of a socially inept Victorian-era gentleman who got himself so tangled up in bogus theories that he lost sight of the people those theories rested on. He wrapped himself up in his own stories (only he called them dialectics which isn’t quite what the word means) and let them be his reality – something people are prone to do, and something damn near everyone in traditional publishing appears to have done.
So what are the stories behind the stories they publish? I rather suspect that most of the people telling them to themselves think it’s all about compassion and tolerance and fairness and social justice and stuff like that. It’s not, not really. It’s more about how they are the enlightened few and they’re going to raise the consciousness of us iggerant rubes who like that icky pulpy genre stuff by telling us what we should like and not letting us get what we really do like. Oh, and telling us how good it is for us. You know the drill, “strong women” (which means they’re not allowed to like men, because men are the oppressors for some weird reason), anything from a culture that’s mostly held to by dark skinned people (properly sanitized: don’t want to ick out the readers with the nasty stuff – those dark skinned people have to be all noble to contrast properly with the nasty imperialist pale-skinned lot who are also shallower than the NYC establishment gene pool), non-standard sexual practices (also outright deviant sexual practices although the last time I heard doing animals and small children was still frowned upon. At least if you’ve got pale skin. If you’ve got enough melanin your fondness for animal or small child-boinking will be politely ignored).
Of course, stories where anyone (presence of innie or outie not relevant, dermal melatonin levels also not relevant) makes sacrifices and works toward some goal, overcomes obstacles in the form of life, roadblocks put there by other parties for reasons of their own (reason irrelevant), or their own weaknesses, and ultimately achieves something they consider worthwhile… those need not apply. They’re not “consciousness-raising” or “enlightening”. Apparently enlightenment requires absence of anything ordinary human beings might find admirable. Who knew?
No wonder the NYC establishment is screaming blue murder about Amazon (and more to the point, the indie revolution Amazon is fueling). We proles are deserting their PC “masterpieces” in even more droves (we were deserting in droves before. Now the droves are bigger. And faster, too) and devouring that icky pulpy trash those indie writers and micro presses are producing. Some of them even have (horrors!) fans. The poor dears thought they had us safely chained in front of the telescreen, captive to their Important Message, and we slipped away and left a crash test dummy with a painted smile in the chair.
Because our story about the story is that people are fallible critters who mostly want things to stay the same but who’ll do extraordinary things to protect people they care for or for something they think is the right thing to do. On the whole, I think our stories are better. And judging by the sales of independents on Amazon, so do a lot of other people.