L'Ombre de l'Olivier

The Shadow of the Olive Tree

being the maunderings of an Englishman on the Côte d'Azur

22 January 2008 Blog Home : January 2008 : Permalink

Handling Critcism

Those few of my readers who are into books, and particularly into the romance genre, will no doubt be aware of the plagiarism scandal of 2008 as discovered by the highly addictive Smart Bitches/Trashy Books bloggers. I've commented on a few of the posts there and wasted far too much time reading the comments and getting sidetracked here and there.  However after all this goodness they then get have to deal with people complaining that they've let the side down by publicising Cassie Edwards' plagiarism. The result is a great post (and even greater comment thread) where there is a lot of very smart comment on how society today (and particularly female romance fans as a subset thereof) handle criticism. If you have time read the whole thing. If you don't then I'm just going to reprint below (and extend/modify slightly) a comment I made there because I think it is important.

My comment was in response to this from commenter Robinjn:

However, I also think our society is extremely intolerant of any criticism.  [SNIP]

I also think these days our society is so overly concerned that everyone feels included and everyone wins. To the point where when we hold 4H dog shows, all the kids get blue ribbons regardless of whether or not they ever worked with their dogs. It teaches kids that they get something for nothing. It also teaches the kids that do put in the work that it doesn’t matter.

I think the two are possibly related in a different way. Because we (the younger folks that is) don't get real criticism as we grow up - all those parenting books and teacher guidelines about not ruining a child's self-esteem etc - we don't know how to handle it when we encounter it. And we tend to think that even mild criticism is some sort of evil plot to defame us and so we lash out back and so we get flame wars etc etc.

On the internet this is exacerbated by the fact that we can't see the grins, winks and other gestures that people use to show sarcasm or regret while offering criticism etc. etc. In addition there is the problem (noted by another commenter) that fans frequently rise to the defence of the writers whose works they enjoy because the work means a lot to them. I, for example, had a patch in my life as an inky schoolby when Anne McCaffery's Pern books, particularly the Dragonsong/singer/drums trio and the White Dragon, meant a lot to me. Oh and about that time I wrote my first letter to an author (Ms McCaffery) and she actually responded, on a postcard with comments that showed that she had actually read my letter. Hence I get all defensive and upset about people, even SF fans, who denigrate her work because while it may indeed be utter dross to an unbiased outsider to me it was an emotional anchor and inspiration. I don't actually go all nuclear about it and call them total fucking morons (I save that for the people who pick on Heinlein's Friday) but I can understand the urge.

Indeed whenit comes to romance, I think that romance, like my beloved SF, feels put upon because the newspapers and intelligentsia look down upon it. We know that Romance (or SF or Westerns or Mysteries) are sometimes (often) read for relaxation and to unwind from stress. We think that is good. But the intelligent elites who get worked up with politics and who seem to be the ones who write in general interest magazines and newspapers don't seem to think that reading books relaxation is an acceptable thing. It seems that if it isn't angsty/edgy or involves a "black, vegetarian, Muslim, asylum-seeking, one-legged lesbian lorry driver" then it isn't worth reading by anyone with an IQ above room temperature.

Well of course a lot of us tend to react negatively to that impression and also, because we're not used to ciritcism (see above), interpret all other criticism in similar light. Hence screaming fights. There may be a "woman" thing there too but I'm seeing considerable crossover from the more male worlds of SF so I'm not sure that is the real issue. Although it is intersting that Rap music, which is generally hated by a majority of people but produced by an ethnic minority that has been historically discrimminated against tends ot get critical acclain while romance, a genre read by a sex that has been historically discrimminated against gets none there may be something in it. Given that romance readers read more and romance writers sell loads more than the average critically acclaimed work I think that it would make some sort of sense, from a business persepctive, to have more attention paid to romance by the rest of the media and literary world. But it has long been apparent to me that the media are a bunch of snobs so the fact that they don't lower themselves to this level, despite the potential commercial gain, is not a great surprise.

And of course, having said that many of us read our genres for relaxation, there is something else. Some of this genre work which is so derided by the elites actually turns out by golly to make us think, teach us lessons and so on. Hence we get even more peeved when it is derided as non-intellectual filler by a bunch of people who've never read any in the first place. To go back to the infamous CE. I think one reason why it hurt when it was learned that her "meticulous research" was accompanied my meticulous use of the keys CTRL-C and CTRL_V was because we liked the idea that by golly this may not be intellectually stimulating but at least we learned something about ferrets, the Lakota or whatever.