So I get home to a message from Sarah, and I quote: “I dare you to blog on this: http://booksbikesboomsticks.blogspot.com/2014/02/national-association-for-advancement-of.html”
What can I say? Challenge accepted, of course.
My first reaction is pretty much, “I don’t exactly like to see the monoculture thing either”, followed by “but perhaps you’d like to tell me why some crappy writers who can’t imagine aliens or elves or dwarves or whatever as anything but a monoculture makes the humans (who usually get the ‘generalist’ role) bigots?” The next thing that hits me is that the person who wrote this article really, really has a bloody shallow understanding of people, archetypes and how they work. If there’s any anything resembling understanding going on at all.First, the quote that the author seems to think suggests that the humans are bigots:
Us humans, we can do anything. I can’t, for the life of me, remember the source of the quote, nor can I the quote itself, but on Star Trek, probably Deep Space Nine, there was a quote about humans that’s stuck with me. You take 10 Klingons, you’ve got 10 fierce warriors. 10 Ferengi, you’ve got 10 shrewd businessmen. 10 Romulans, 10 expert spies. But you take 10 humans, you don’t know *what* you’re dealing with. They could be anything.
Okay, that’s how the Star Trek races are put together. You add this forehead prosthetic, you get instant infusion of fierce warrior. Pointy ears and funny eyebrows gives you the logician. And so forth. It’s a freaking shortcut – and one the better scriptwriters in the various Star Trek franchise scripts played with in various ways. They didn’t push it too hard – they couldn’t – but they did show depths here and there, and different ranges.
Besides, just how much depth do you expect from something that’s written by a committee (the original scripts might not be, but what ends up being screened has gone through a bunch of people’s changes to make this less offensive, and show that “challenging” view because TV drama isn’t exactly cheap and the network executives are terrified of doing something that will tank the ratings). That’s why they use archetypes in the first place. It’s a nice easy visual cue to the viewer settling back after screaming at the latest round of idiot ads that they can expect this character to have these characteristics. There’s a limit to how much character development you can do in an hour timeslot that’s going to lose at least 1/3 of the time to ads. If the network execs aren’t letting you build character development over multiple episode arcs, you’ve got to use the quick methods – why else do you think heroes are usually cleaner and wearing lighter colors than the bad guys? Quick visual cue to who you’re supposed to side with.
Sure, like any shortcut it gets abused. Authors tend to abuse it for all it’s worth, particularly authors committing cast-of-thousands epics. It’s a heck of a lot easier for a fantasy author to have an Scots-analog culture and draw on the Scots archetypes for it than it is to build everything for that culture from the ground up for the sake of one scene where the hero is trying to negotiate a bed for the night. Just don’t make your leads archetypes. That’s all.
It’s not the case of the author’s response to the quote:
What you get is ten bigots. Because, see, humans, specifically the humans that wrote that script, look at ourselves as “people” and the other people, the ones with the pointy ears or the furry feet or the bony ridges on their foreheads, as “archetypes”
All people – and I’m going to go out on a limb here and include dwarves, elves, Klingons, Romulans, and yes, even dragons in this list – will classify everyone they meet. Depending on your experiences, your view of what “people” are is going to be wider or narrower. It will shift during your life, expanding as you meet. For all I know some of you folks on the other side of this screen are actually intelligent microbial swarms that communicate via smoke signals and have for some incomprehensible reason decided you like this blog. You’re still people because you’re interacting with the rest of us here by the same rules the rest of us follow. (Although if you are intelligent microbial swarms, you totally owe the Mad Genius Club a guest post because it would be awesome).
The shifting boundaries of what makes “people” does not mean humans are bigots. The human tendency to be amazing generalists and the large number of extremely specialized species out there suggests that yes, there may well be other intelligent species, and yes, it’s not at all unreasonable that some of them will have evolved to fill a specialized niche. Cultures do this too. Some are more generalists, other are more specialists. The generalists tend to be the “glue” that holds it all together so the specialists can push the boundaries and explore (and no, cultures in this sense are not the same as national boundaries. Some cross boundaries and others are among the many that exist inside a single city. Culture is neither race nor nationality: it’s a way of looking at the world that you absorb from those around you).
As for the authors “All X are…” comments, well, I’ve got to say if it took you this long to realize that there’s no way any of those statements can be true unless you make them circular (“all men are men”) or inclusive (“all men are human”), you can’t have done that much thinking. Because you’ve only got to look around and you can see that a statement like “all men are bastards” can’t possibly be true (for starters a good number of them were indeed born after their parents married).
The archetypes are there for a reason. The view of Scots as boozy, tight-fisted, kilted redheads got there because a hell of a lot of Scotsmen are all that. And with good reason, I might add: the way England raped Scotland over the years left a good chunk of the population desperately poor, and the desperately poor are going to hoard what they do have. When drink is cheap and the water quality is iffy (as was the case for much of Scotland’s history), drinking will happen. A lot. The redheads… they can thank the Vikings for that, and the kilts are a refinement of the clothing that used to be normal wear. That doesn’t mean there aren’t dapper, free-spending, teetotal Scotsmen out there. There just rarer than the other sort. And of course, there are Scots who cover the full range of human nature (just not all at once, and not all in the same person). But if you pick 10 random Scotsmen, chances are high you’ll get boozy, tight-fisted, and red-headed. If it’s the right time of year, and the right location you stand a pretty good chance of catching a kilt, too.
Just be careful about that. Your kilted Scotsman might have everything under it in perfect working order, and he won’t be too happy if you catch his kilt and not the rest of him.