PC

The Books We’ll Need to Survive a Trump Presidency

(That is, in addition to Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, 1984 . . . )

My general mood post-November 9 has been more or less like this:

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To be fair, I have a certain amount of privilege that will mean I come away from this election cycle (mostly) unscathed. It is such an  English-major-white-girl thing to write about how we can fight fascism with ~<3*books*<3~ rather than doing the dirty work of putting our money where our mouths where our safety pins are. The only thing I can think of that’s more English-major-white-girl-y than this is a toss-up between getting drunk at a party and arguing over who started reading The New Yorker the youngest (“I started at 14!” “Well I started at 13!” *clueless bio major walks over and thinks you’re talking about when you started your periods*), or writing about the ennui of being a sexually liberated young woman, complete with droll descriptions of past lovers, for a creative writing class.

But I digress. When our President Elect attacks the fourth estate, it’s hard not to let one’s mind wander to what else he wants to censor. It doesn’t become a question of if the world will turn dystopian–it becomes a question of which one. Will all our homes be fitted with “parlor walls” à la Fahrenheit 451, with one wall showing nothing but our President’s tweets? Should I get used to the fact that I’m no longer in “Georgia” but rather “District 11”?

So here are my picks for books we need to read before our Orange Overlord–or, more likely/worse, our peers who voted for him–take them away:

John Lewis’ March Series

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This recommendation is actually divorced from recent events, though they provide a context for Trump’s unfounded “all talk” comments. They cover Lewis’ time as a Freedom Rider, lunch counter-sitter, speaker at the March on Washington, and Edmund Pettus Bridge march participant, among other things. There is no excuse for people to not read these books.

“But I don’t like to read.” They’re graphic novels and they read fast.

“But I don’t have time.” You’re reading this, ain’t you?

“But I don’t have money.” Libraries, or shoot, borrow my copies. (Give them back, though, they’re signed.)

It’s also very important for liberals to read these books, too. No one is saying your safety pin over your heart isn’t in the right place, but real change takes real work, like what Lewis and his peers did. So most of us didn’t vote for Trump, okay well . . . where are you? Hopefully not buying one of these shirts.

The Wave

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The number-one question following the election was how?!? and the answer lies in this book a lot of us read in middle school (. . . but apparently didn’t retain). Based on true events, a schoolteacher creates an experiment to illustrate how people fall for fascist movements, only the experiment spirals out of his control.

The Handmaid’s Tale

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You know Mike Pence masturbates to the thought of the government in this book. You know it like you know the sky is blue.

To distract you from that deeply disturbing mental image, for which I apologize, I would like to nerd out and point out that time when the new Hulu show’s Twitter account followed me:

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“But you could have easily Photoshopped that.” Bih take my word for it. And, for what it’s worth, they have since unfollowed me. But I wonder what drew them to me–my profile says I’m a book lover and I tweeted something pro-IUD three years ago that had conservative women breathing down my neck, so maybe that? Well, whatever it was, it worked, because you bet I will be watching, and reading, The Handmaid’s Tale.

Cosmos

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You guys, Trump’s cabinet picks really depress me. Somewhere along the line during this past election, raging against “elites” translated to raging against genuine experts and professionals. It begs the question of where the line is drawn on who is an “elite”–do you not listen to your plumber because he’s a “butt crack and water elite”? Is your hairdresser a “cosmetology elite”?

The “elites” that seem to consistently draw the most scorn during a Republican presidential administration are scientists. My retired public-school science-teacher mother didn’t watch The Day After Tomorrow monthly during the wane of the Bush years because of a love for Dennis Quaid, y’all. So in addition to social justice-minded texts, I read scientific texts during these administrations as well. Carl Sagan’s is my favorite because his storytelling is so accessible (to everyone, not just scientists. Recall, I was an English major) that you forget you’re reading about friggin’ astrophysics. Nah, he’s just taking you along a journey of wonder for exploration and how amazing our universe is. So pick this up and learn how to make an apple pie from scratch. Just remember kids,

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. . . and literature isn’t either.

Books by and about people who aren’t like us

The cruelest thing we can do to another human being is say we don’t relate to their experience, yet we do this all the damn time with the media we choose to consume. There’s been a lot of ink spilled about the “echo chambers” both sides have created politically, but this goes beyond politics. Several years ago, I laid into a friend of mine who said he didn’t listen to female comedians because he couldn’t “relate” to them. Sure, as a cisgender heterosexual male he couldn’t relate to some of their experiences, like what it’s like to date men or problems with one’s vagina or such, but to shut out their voices based on this alone, to not give the female comedians a chance to show that he and they might have some experiences in common is, frankly, sexist. He could have “related” to them on gender-neutral matters of, for instance, annoying coworkers or nagging parents, but what matters is that he didn’t want to stick around to find out.

Let me illustrate this with another example. I watched a couple of episodes of Insecure when I was at a conference. Yeah, I didn’t relate to Issa’s issues with race, but I also wasn’t meant to. I did relate to her awkwardness, her friendship with Molly, her desire to find an “out” for her job. I am not, nor was I ever, saying you should stick with a story you don’t genuinely relate to, I’m saying you shouldn’t write anyone off because you think you might not relate to them. “Echo chambers” may come from unfollowing all your Trump supporter friends, but they also come from the realization that the last five authors you read were all white men. The post-election narrative was at first that Trump’s victory was due to poor white people screaming to be heard, but then it came out that the victory was secured by well-off, educated white people who want to keep narratives that are not theirs subdued and quiet. So really, seek out any narrative that is not like yours to throw a Molotov cocktail into their efforts.

People can surprise you; I’m hoping Trump surprises us and does well. But I’m not holding my breath.

Four Unsolicited Opinions About “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Hi, my name is Grace and I like ‘Star Wars.’ I know this makes me an outlier in today’s society, so please bear with me as I express some thoughts on the nuances of this little obscure indie film:

1.) People. People. Rey is NOT a “Mary Sue.”

This complaint has become the nerd Starbucks cup controversy in that I’ve seen wayyy more people complain that people are complaining about this than there are people complaining about this (it’s the circle of whine, and it moves us all!), but the initial complaint is really, reeeeaaaally fascinating to me because with all

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the shit

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women get

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telling them they’re not good enough

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you have the nerve

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to complain

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that a woman is “too perfect.”

If you genuinely believe that Rey is “too perfect,” say it to the face of a girl or woman you love and just watch the incredulousness fall over her.

. . . But I suspect that you’re complaining about this because your impression of women comes from the Internet and not real life, so here is a gif to illustrate how that would look:

Are there some flaws in how Rey is written? Yes, but they’re nowhere near the definition of a “Mary Sue” that the Internet has defined. For starters, “Mary Sue” is supposed to be an author insert, which, considering nearly all the people who had a hand in writing Rey are men, has interesting implications. And the “classic” Mary Sue is a character who shows up in the middle of the action and out-heros the heroes, which Rey very clearly does not do. The classic “Mary Sue” is someone like a redhead named Rainbow who has two different-colored eyes and who showed up at Hogwarts in the middle of the school year but can’t be sorted into any one house because she’s too different and mysterious* and Snape asks her to guest-lecture in Potions class because she’s unnaturally talented at Potions. But of course the term has taken on a meaning of “any woman who is too good at anything” because the wimmins need to know their place. “Rey is a Mary Sue” is a weak-ass argument that hints at something deeper and more misogynistic in the complainer.

(I do like when people argue against Rey being “too perfect” by saying “Luke is too perfect when he first uses the Force!” because are we all forgetting about this below?)

(Similarly, some people have said “Harry Potter is a ‘Gary Stu,'” but it is well-established within the Harry Potter universe that Harry is only really good at the Expelliarmus charm. He could easily be beat if wizards had wrist wraps for their wands like Wii-motes.)

2.) “The SJW agenda ruined Star Wars!”

I thought this story was funny WAY before Jimmy Kimmel ever got his paws on it: http://www.themarysue.com/mra-wars-jimmy-kimmel/

To sum up, a blogger for the MRA website “The Return of Kings” estimated that due to a Twitter poll of 565 respondents, 55% of which said their coverage of the “SJW agenda of Star Wars” affected their decision to see the movie, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” lost out on $4.2 million in ticket sales. So, they applied the results of that poll to their readership of 900,000** people who clicked on Return of Kings pages from November 21 to December 21 and somehow got $4.2 million . . .

Huh. So this is what school dress codes are for. Boys really can’t learn math and science if they see a teenage girl’s errant bra strap.

Which brings me to my next point:

3.) Elaborating on the “SJW agenda” of Star Wars

Modern storytelling is in a bit of a bind. When a character is a POC, not heterosexual, able-bodied, and/or (to a lesser extent) a woman, the only stories that sell are about how hard it is to be oppressed and how the character overcomes this oppression. Take, for instance, the roles of African American women who have won acting Oscars: Lupita Nyong’o–slave, Halle Berry–single mom on welfare, Octavia Spencer–maid in the 60’s, and so on and so forth. You never just have a minority leading character where their race/sexuality/disability is a non-issue.

Unless you release the new Star Wars movie and you have three! Blammo!

The three leads have not been without controversy (like . . . did you read my first point, or . . .?), but thank goodness they’re there. Political correctness may be the trend nowadays, but when you peel off all the layers of people’s inane opinions on it (my own included), you’re left with a little piece of childlike wonder at seeing someone like you doing cool things. Doesn’t everyone deserve that? If you’re a straight white man, you’ve had that feeling, like . . . a lot. To the point where it may have given you entitlement issues, some argue. You think the new “Star Wars” is “too PC”? Okay, then, just watch “The Lord of the Rings” for the story of someone like you. Or James Bond. Or anything else.

(And, typically with the “this is too PC” argument, I say “Well, someone’s not destroying the original, not-necessarily-PC thing”–for instance, Hermione being played by a black woman on stage somewhere doesn’t mean someone casted “Obliviate” on the movies and books that had white Hermione from our collective memory–buuuuuuut George Lucas actually IS trying to “Obliviate” our memories of the original films with his remastered re-releases, so . . .)

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is not without its writing flaws, but thank goodness Rey didn’t have to overcome being female, Finn didn’t have to overcome being black, and Poe didn’t have to overcome being Hispanic (and gay? Maybe?) to save the day. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that the film made money solely on the back of this–it’s not just a film “with a female lead” or with “POC leads” that made money, because the new Star Wars film would have crushed records even if a Tribble*** was the star of it–but it’s a step in the right direction.

4.) I actually . . . like that Kylo Ren isn’t some big baddie?

Hear me out:

One of the main complaints people have with Kylo Ren is that he just looks like your average late-20’s, early-30’s guy trying to “find himself.”

First of all, if you were in the theater surprised by what Kylo Ren looks like outside the helmet, allow me to show you this picture from May 2015’s Vanity Fair:

where the caption is literally, “Next-generation bad guy Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) commands snowtroopers loyal to the evil First Order on the frozen plains of their secret base.”

But I digress.

We have plenty of “big baddies” in media, in Star Wars, even. Certainly we have plenty of “big baddies” in human history, too–Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Vlad the Impaler, etc.–but I’d like to propose we have more “little” baddies in literature. You can only remake Hitler so many times.

What do I mean by “little baddie”? In real life, the people most likely to harm you are your friends, family and acquaintances. Innocuous, nondescript, harmless people who suddenly get evil motivations for whatever reason. Villains like that in literature are fresh and interesting. The relationship between Han and Leia regarding Kylo is very “We Need to Talk About Kevin“-esque and there is so much as-yet untapped potential there.

We already have Space Hitler in Darth Vader, and I genuinely hope you see the irony in hoping Kylo Ren lives up to your expectations that he will be like Darth Vader.

*Bitch would be in Hufflepuff, obviously, but eww Hufflepuff. /sarcasm

**Oof, that’s depressing. Hoping a lot of those are hate-reads.

***Totally, shamelessly trolling. 😉