File this post under Lessons Not Learned and Coming Late to the Game, but oh well. I’ll eschew language such as “misogynistic butthole” this time, and keep my critiques at least somewhat serious from the get-go.
NOTE: see the original post here.
NOTE II: If you plan on reading John C. Wright’s Chronicles of Chaos trilogy, this post contains spoilers, as the kids say.
It seems that internet-savvy fantasy fans were understandably concerned by author John C. Wright’s, ah, troubling LiveJournal post of 7/29/09 (the author claims 800 comments were made on his LJ during the fervor, but they were deleted before the actual post itself was deleted). Given everything with my move to Boulder, and my general ignorance of the modern age (authors have blogs, you say? How fascinating!) I just yesterday found out about the whole hullaballoo via my friend Jesse, who alerted me to the controversy by saying something along the lines of “hey, check this out– isn’t this the guy who wrote that YA book with the spanking that you thought was pretty alright?” So yeah.
I am somewhat ambivalent about commenting on Mr. Wright’s post at all, given that the entire internet has already, and the blog entry in question smells strongly of attention-seeking (as well as some other, stronger scents), and also he has kind of maybe apologized maybe? But though I am potentially doing nothing but giving Mr. Wright exactly what he wants, I am going to take some time to say a few things on the subject of his rant about the SciFi channel’s decision to be more inclusive in their representation of human sexuality. I know that if Mr. Wright has Google Alerts set up for himself (and chooses to read this), he wouldn’t mind me commenting on his work. Given that I bought and I read Mr. Wright’s uneven Chronicles of Chaos trilogy and, since that Mr. Wright once referred to Atlas Shrugged as “really good,” and “a story written for readers who think as well as feel,” and infused the entire Chronicles of Chaos trilogy with Objectivist sentiment, I assume that, as a paying consumer, he would feel that I have a right to engage with my purchase on a critical level. Now, given his 2008 conversion to Catholicism, whether or not Mr. Wright is still an Objectivist is not clear to me, but that’s not really where I want to go with this post anyway. Everyone who knows me knows that if I get on the subject of Objectivism. . . well never mind. Better to stop here.
Moving right along, let’s get started with a sample of the rhetoric from Mr. Wright’s free-speech-protected-but-voluntarily-removed post:
“The head of Sci-Fi channel has contritely promised to include more homosex in future shows, and to do it nonchalantly, just as if this abomination is normal and natural and worthy of no comment.”
“I’d like someone, anyone, to explain to me how my culture reached a position where a public entertainment company can be criticized for failing to contribute to the moral decay of the land, and that the criticism would be taken seriously, and the company would cringe and promise to do better.”
and finally, my fave:
“Why are you willing to tolerate sexual perversion but not racism? In a world with no standards, what makes a malfunction of love higher on your standard than a malfunction of hate? Is an irrational lust and longing to mimic the mating act with a sex with which one cannot mate, at its root, any more or less disconnected to reality than an irrational fear and hatred of a Negro? How do we know race-hate is not genetic? Look at how scorned and put-upon racists are! Can we spare them no cheap Leftist pity? Why don’t we simply call racism an alternate anti-ethnic orientation, similar to hetero-toleration, but different?”
Obviously, all of these statements are simply moral grandstanding and inflammatory polemic, more annoying than offensive and pointless to get mad about. And, to be fair, he did back down from some of that sort of language. That said, even bothering to type things like “moral decay”, “malfunction of love” and “abomination” are not the sorts of things people say when they are seeking to debate rationally with the “other side” (though Malfunction of Love would be a truly great album title if it isn’t already– the album art should have a robot sitting dejectedly in a henhouse, in my opinion).
My point in listing all of these things is not to talk about whether or not Mr. Wright is homophobic, or whether his alleged olive-branch-extending in subsequent posts makes all those statements okay (in fact, I do not think it does, given that, in his own words, after seeking to be more “temperate” in his language toward the gay community, Mr. Wright had this to say: “homosexuality is a sexual perversion, like incest, like any other disordered intemperate appetite– but a person afflicted with this (the man, not the sin) temptation leads a hard life, and it is not my place to make his life harder by using hard words against him.” How sweet.) Rather, my point is to address the fact that the language of his original post is, rather, the kind of stuff people say for one of two reasons. The first is when they are trying to goad people into anger. The second–as I suspect is the case here–is to allow people to gain credibility among their own after being an “outsider” as Mr. Wright was until so very recently. All this aside, here is the heart of what struck me as fascinating in Mr. Wright’s post:
“I am hoping, of course, that future shows will also portray sadomasochism and bondage in a positive light — we are all looking forward to FLASH GORDON’S TRIP TO GOR, I hope. Love affairs with corpses, small children, and farm animals will also be on display in a natural nonchalant fashion in the new raft of progressive shows, titles such as I DREAM OF STINKY, PEDERASTY JUNCTION, and OLD MACDONALD HAD A SHEEP — but no Mormons, whose moral standing we all abhor. The only good thing about Mormons, as we all know, is their polygamy. That we can approve of. Anything that offends the Patriarchy, we like. Evil is our good.”
Backing well away from the end of that paragraph, I instead seek to bring all eyes to the first clause of the first sentence: “I am hoping, of course, that future shows will also portray sadomasochism and bondage in a positive light.”
This statement wouldn’t be unusual in most rants of this sort, except for the fact that Mr. Wright has himself penned a novel that portrays aspects of BDSM “in a positive light.” Or a least in a pretty hot light (perhaps it was written during a time when Mr. Wright considered himself to be a “card-carrying sexual libertarian,” a traumatizing image given most of the libertarians I’ve known). For those of you not familiar with the Chaos series, they are based on the (genuinely) neat premise of a war among the Greek gods after Zeus dies, since the Aegis-Bearer leaves no clear heir. They are, in my opinion of the classic “great idea, poor execution” syndrome, but that’s okay. During the novels five kids– four Titan-born, one human– are caught in the balance of powers that be, held hostage in perpetual, amnesiac childhood at a British prep school run by minor deities and other figures from Greek mythology. And in the first one, at least, Mr. Wright deliberately addresses the fact that teenagers– especially cooped-up teenagers– often have to deal with strong sexual feelings, something that other such books (I’m looking at you, Ms. Rowling) fail to realistically discuss.
Now, Mr. Wright has said several times that most of his books were written before his conversion to Catholicism in order to, I suspect, excuse the sexual content of them in light of his new moral views. See, the first book in his Chaos trilogy, Orphans of Chaos (which I thought was a decent read–the second two, not so much), incorporates several BDSM-friendly scenes into what is, by all accounts, a young adult novel.
I came to Orphans not expecting BDSM-tinged writing. I came to Orphans after seeing the cover of the third in the series– a levitating girl in a plaid skirt and an aviator cap, yes please– and the knowledge that it was deeply steeped in Greek myths and legends which are, ah, vaguely of interest to me. Reading Orphans, however, I was surprised by a few things, but most of all by two scenes that jumped out as being different, interesting, and probably exciting and potentially normalizing for BDSM-inclined teens and adults. In the first, the female main character is convinced by her friend to hike up her school-girl’s skirt and provocatively arrange her blouse in order to serve a group of males, and finds the experience of servitude to be uncomfortable, but still appealing. Afterwards, she is bound by an aggressive boy who secures her with a miniature reproduction of the Gordian knot, and sexually menaced until another character comes along and diffuses the situation. Later in the book, the same character is disciplined by her headmaster with a spanking, in which she is not only, if I recall correctly, placed OTK (look it up) and repeatedly smacked on the bottom by an older male, but she is also forced to count the spanks out loud.
Yeah, it was pretty alright.
I want to attempt to bring together this whole post with a digression. Sometimes (not all the time, of course), when vegetarians or vegans abandon their dietary ethics and return to the omnivorous fold, so to speak, they overcompensate. They make youtube videos fetishizing ham, or write magazine articles about experiencing the raptures of eating dog meat, or post opinion pieces in their local paper about the benefits of ethical omnivorism, claiming vague things like “as a vegan, I just felt sick all the time” or “my doctor said I needed to eat fish protein to be healthy” or whatever (these are all things I’ve seen on the internet, by the way, I’m just too lazy to find the links). Anywho, they turn their move away from vegetarianism into some kind of public service, loudly proclaiming to the world that they know now that they were wrong, wrong, wrong, and please forgive them for their errant ways. They’ll rhapsodize about all kinds of meats– they’re just so tasty!–all so that they can once again be accepted by their peers and not looked at askance for once being part of something fringe, because they’re all better now. The tables have been turned, and they’ve been cured by bacon. They have to make sure everyone understands that they’re no longer “weird” and have, you know, grown out of all of that stuff.
I see this same posturing in Mr. Wright’s post about the oh-so-terrible notion that the Sci Fi channel might, sometime, somehow portray bondage in a positive light– whether or not he was, you know, totally kidding, or not. During the scenes I noted above, Orphans reads as just as much an “insider” text as Anne Rice’s Beauty trilogy (though I suspect Mr. Wright Topped during any spanky-panky that he might have engaged in during the before time, in the long long ago), but now that he can comment from a position of moral correctness, he has to turn a full 180 degrees and declare any and all such acts to be Too Too Terrible and Oh So Wrong– on par with “homosex” even! I wonder if he considers consensual BDSM play as the actions of “persons with serious sexual-psychological malfunctions?” Because it’s pretty easy to spot writing intended to be genuinely erotic when it’s penned by people without at least a healthy interest in the practices they describe, and Orphans. . . well, it seemed pretty honest to me, and I read a good deal of smut. Mr. Wright did indeed write of himself in a more-recent, still-available blog post, that “[his] own humiliating experience with fighting temptation warns [him] that human beings are not made of stern stuff” so maybe it’s just that he’s a switch now?
Even if we disregard the disturbing nastiness toward the gay community, the BDSM comment makes it very much seem like Mr. Wright needed to prove something when he wrote that post. In order to gain acceptance where he now desires it so much, he just had to get in the jab at all those terrible people with their paddles and ropes and collars and restraints (buy yours cruelty-free from Vegan Erotica!) and their private goings-on. Why? Because he’s certainly not one of them. He knows better. And thus, he can tell us all just how degenerate such things are, and, you know, Wrong.
Nah. It seems that, if I may hazard a guess, it’s still too painful for Mr. Wright to consider anything so BDSM-friendly as turning the other cheek. . .
But hey, let’s talk about something more important. Sci Fi Channel? If you guys wanted to change your name back from the utterly loathsome “SyFy” handle you just rolled out, and also make Flash Gordon’s Trip to Gor, you’d have at least one viewer. Actually, if you could make it Barbarella’s Trip to Gor, it would probably be even better. Maybe you could get Rose McGowan after she finishes filming Red Sonja? Make it, but don’t send an advance copy to Mr. Wright. I think it might bother him. I heard he hasn’t skied in ages.