Sunday, March 06, 2016

Racism as "A Thing" in Historical and Fantasy Fiction

I'm going to post this verbatim response to a post by Jens D. which can be read here on Google+.  The original Blog Post by Jens D. can be found here.  (Edit:  Jens D. actually changed his text in response to my post on his google+ post.  He originally had written "They are all a bit fanatic and racist, I'm afraid.", but then changed "racist" to "preachy".)

I'm going to go on a pretty wild tangent now, but there is a point to the madness (I think) if you are willing to bear with me.

One tip off to me was the comment about racism. Bringing up that issue in your text was something that kind of broke suspension of disbelief (if I can refer to it that way). Or maybe I should say it tamped down the Vibe for me. In other words, the issue of racism as "a thing" that should be considered negative by our standards is something that I feel was never "a thing" until very recent history. So when i see RPGs that make an issue of it, comment on it, or embed our modern anti-Racism ideology into their games, I always wind up feeling that all that's happening is a superimposition of modern sentiments onto a past that never was. So it always strikes me as against the grain, and it kind of spoils the Vibe. Because if we go back to the Wild West, for example, if we really stood there and talked with people, we would find zero percent of people discussing, or thinking about, racism as "a thing".

That's because for 6,000+ years of human history, racism was normal, and everyone, absolutely _everyone_ was a complete and total Racist. And not a single person anywhere thought there was anything the least tiny bit wrong with it. And if you tried to get them to see the modernist point of view about racism being "bad" they would in all likelihood think that you are completely crazy - because racism was considered basic fundamental _common sense_. Everyone knew that different races had different, identifiable characteristics. It was, from their point of view, a fact of life, and reacting to those racist identifications was normal and from their point of view completely appropriate. We simply look at the entire thing totally differently now. But they didn't. And when creating stories for modern audiences about The Past ... it's a problem. People now are so invested in the Modern Morality that they simply can't escape it. And everything is flipped exactly on it's head. If you present the Normal Racist viewpoint from the past without condemning it then you are considered crazy by today's standards. And this creates a huge disconnect. And it's definitely a problem in my opinion. You wind up getting pigeon-holed into creating characters in the past who are "heroic" _because_ they stand up against the "Isms" (Racism being the chief, but of course Sexism, comes into play as well as others).

Where do we get this from? Mostly from Hollywood, actually. Every movie about the past does this exact thing. So it's made us all feel as though we are swimming in a gigantic sea of Moral Rightness because in every direction we look (the entire media landscape) we are told that this is the "right, just, proper and heroic way" to look at things. And maybe it is. But it certainly is NOT the way people in the past looked at it. And so when writing fiction, or RPG Worlds, we run into this problem. But most people, don't think it's a problem. They simply accept it as "normal". And I find that both odd, funny, and a bit disconcerting.

Ok, that's my rant. It's something I struggle with in my own game. My players frequently bring their 21st Century attitudes and morality into my fantasy-medieval-gothic world - where those moralities do not exist for anyone else. In one way it sets the group apart as "heroes of worthy causes" (after all, I"m not saying the modern morality is wrong, I'm only saying that no one from any previous period of history shared these views, and if you held them at any time in the past you would be considered crazy by their lights. I am also not saying that they were wrong and we are right. I'm saying - it's different and we should at least acknowledge that.).

So what does this all have to do with your presentation of The Grind!? Hmmm... oh heck. I'm not sure. I guess this has to do with the Fourth Wall thing. If you speak through the Fourth Wall then yes, we understand that you're talking to us, the modern world. But when you are presenting The Vibe of The Grind, I guess I'd be confused if you brought racism into it in anything other than "yup, racism is normal", because that's what would be normal in any other setting than The Modern 21st Century world. I think so. I may be the only one, though. So take it with a grain of salt. Just my thoughts, random as they may be, on the subject.

I mention it because for me it is what makes writing flavor text interesting and challenging. And I put most of that challenge on my readers, because I'm challenging them to Think Like A Native... in other words, get out of your 21st Century biases (which may actually be totally wrong, after all) and actually consider things from another, older, point of view for a while. After all, we're doing Fantasy here, not Reality.

Hmm... I realize what I'm saying is probably completely anti-Politically Correct, but this is how I think, and so there you have it. It might be something to consider. Or not.

Sorry for the long and probably somewhat incoherent anti-PC ramble.

While all of this is may not be entirely coherent (I think I'm coming down with a cold so my ability to focus my thoughts is a bit diminished, if not entirely so), I nevertheless think the topic is interesting, and pertinent to our community of RPG World Weavers and those writing historical fiction of various kinds.

I will caveat my comment with a couple of additional points.

1) I think some writers out there do not kowtow to the PC of our day, and when I read their books I find all of the racism one would expect from previous ages, and to me it reads "realistic" to the age. As this phenomenon is relatively new, and I tend to stick with classical literature (currently reading Three Kingdoms), I'm not sure my perspective on this in terms of modern literature is all that accurate.  So take it with a grain of salt that I "know what I'm yakking about" ... there's a pretty good chance I don't.

2) I'm pretty much responding to The Culture Wars perception I have of modern society as it relates to what I tend to read in and about RPGs.   I'm extrapolating from this to other segments of literature and film, but I think the argument holds pretty much across the board.

3) I realize there are most certainly exceptions to what I'm grousing about.  My intention is to go hyperbolic (a common pastime these days) in order to "raise awareness of the issue" (a common tactic these days).

Ok that's it for the caveats.  I'm very curious to hear what people think of this issue. Thanks.

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