Friday, 18 September 2015

Star Wars: Aftermath's Gay Old Failing

... So, I wonder how many people will rush to hurl abuse in the comments before reading this opening line.

For those still reading, this isn't complaining about the presence of homosexual characters in the book. There's certainly nothing wrong with them and thankfully it's more widely accepted these days than in the past fifty years, though that's not saying much. People certainly didn't complain when past Star Wars media included such characters (Juhani of Knights of the Old Republic being the first) and science fiction in general. 

No, I don't have a problem with the presence of gay characters. What I do have a problem with is them being used as a shield against criticism.

For regular readers who didn't see my review of Star Wars: Aftermath, it's pretty sodding bad to say the least. Barely skirting above The Crystal Star in terms of narrative quality and barely maintaining any semblance of a coherent plot, it all but insults the reader for being stupid enough to purchase it. Look to Goodreads and you will find a plethora of one star reviews slating this book thanks to its poor prose, terrible structure and awkward storytelling. The problem is that all of this is overshadowed, and buried under the presence of homosexual characters in the book.

Having people who feel romantic interests with people of the same gender? That's sadly always going to draw insults from a few morons. It should have been something minor, the usual stupidity of a minority but then its effect was exaggerated, the point focused upon by the media and its backlash stirred up by the author himself, Chuck Wendig. After initial responses, the writer produced a massive essay length article which addressed these points. Wait, no, sorry, he didn't address the points themselves but instead started making pot-shots at anyone who objected to their presence at all, openly insulting them:

“And if you’re upset because I put gay characters and a gay protagonist in the book, I got nothing for you. Sorry, you squawking saurian — meteor’s coming,” 

“You’re not the Rebel Alliance. You’re not the good guys. You’re the fucking Empire, man. You’re the shitty, oppressive, totalitarian Empire. If you can imagine a world where Luke Skywalker would be irritated that there were gay people around him, you completely missed the point of Star Wars. It’s like trying to picture Jesus kicking lepers in the throat instead of curing them. Stop being the Empire. Join the Rebel Alliance. We have love and inclusion and great music and cute droids.”

Any attempts to comment upon Wendig's confrontational and insulting approach just left him slamming the door and refusing to talk about it, hiding behind the point of homophobia to defend his attitude. Whether or not you think this was a deserved response or not, it was far from professional conduct and served to do only two things: 

1. Create publicity for his book.
2. Make it look as if any and all criticism towards his work was stemming from those determined to perform acts of gay bashing, baiting them into a further frenzy.

As a result, it's presenting and encouraging the idea that all objections to the novel are stemming purely from gay bashing and have no legitimate standing. What's more is that it's effectively using the guise of promoting equal rights as a barrier against any analytical critique or objections of any kind. We've seen this done by others more times than can be counted, and hell, this blog features an article covering very similar tactics in comics. Electronic Arts has done the same, in the face of its many acts of stupidity and customer unfriendly decisions, it repeatedly tried to defend itself by saying "Hey, go easy on us, we support the LGBT community!" Or, more infamously, it will blame anti-gay groups for any backlash. What bearing does this have on the quality of the creator or work itself? None. At the end of the day the book is still horribly written, but because of this raging shitstorm we have that fact being overlooked entirely. 

Perhaps worse still though, the defence Aftermath is being done without covering the actual presentation of homosexuality in the books. As with everything else, it's being done badly. What we have here are a number of jokes, minor moments and extremely tacked on character traits plastered into throw away sections of the novel. While Aftermath might feature several characters who are openly LGBT, much of it is played for laughs at best. At worst, they're sides sections which can be instantly forgotten. 

One rather quoted moment is effectively a throwaway line when an alien is attempting to hit on one such character, Velus, only to respond he's not into women. It's set up as a one-line throwaway joke and little else. Omit these bits and you have nothing in the book to suggest he is homesexual in the slightest. The same goes for every character in here, and it highlights a critical problem: These sections mentioning homosexual leanings aren't core to their character, they're a tacked on addition. They're not a building block used to better shape them into a person, they're just trappings thrown on at the last second. Take them away and the character doesn't change. For all its hype, for all the attempts to promote the book on this point, it effectively boils down to "Did I mention i'm gay recently?"

The result of treating someone's preferences as a tacked on element is not only insulting but a clear case of horrifically bad writing. It treats this personal element as being a paper-thin trait which has no bearing on their personality, as something which can easily be settled by merely spamming mention of it throughout the book. While there are certainly characters who can be cited as homosexuals but without the narrative focusing utterly upon it (Apollo and Midnighter from The Authority come to mind) these are still core to their identities. This approach? It's crude at best. It's akin to trying to have a person presented as being African by saying "Oh, would you look at how dark skinned I am!?" People are supposed to defend this book as being progressive. Quite frankly I wonder how many would call this book progressive after actually seeing how Aftermath treated its characters.

Gay shield tactics are simply a smokescreen, an attempt to distract people from the actual quality of a work by drawing something heavily contested into the mix. It's used to demonize one side, insult them and try to present them as pro-discrimination, while the defenders are presented as open-minded and entirely in the right. Quite frankly, it's the worst elements of blind internet activist tendencies applied on a mob level. The tactic is always the same and it always will be just as morally repugnant as the narrow-minded scumbags who encourage discrimination against homosexuals. It turns a demographic into an easy way of sidestepping criticism, easily rallying people en mass to defend a work and decrying all those who would dare to question its quality. It boils down a push for progressive acceptance into an easy way to have sub-standard work accepted by the masses, and quite frankly the LGBT population deserves better than this.

Given Wendig's own Star Wars response, it would be easy to make a final paragraph Wendig the Senator Palpatine of the new canon; equating him to some arsehole presenting himself as the benevolent ruler, all while manipulating others better than him to unwittingly assist in his success. Quite frankly i'll settle for the more obvious jab proving his desperation to have others defend his works, to the point of him openly calling for people to give him five-star reviews on Amazon because readers didn't like his book:

Being pro-gay won't turn a toddler's scribble into the Mona Lisa and won't turn Ride to Hell into Witcher 3. More importantly, it won't turn Star Wars: Aftermath into the next Outbound Flight. If it's to be remembered as a classic, it can damn well do so by standing up on its own merits, not by trying to turn LGBT supporters into the author's personal army.

1 comment:

  1. This reminds me of when the directors of "American Ultra" and "Fantastic Four" blaming their audiences for not liking their movies. How about taking some responsibility and trying to improve?