I’m back with a discussion post today. Recent life events, and discussions I see on Twitter about problematic people, authors, and fictional characters have made me think about how at certain points our outbursts concerning certain characters may be more harmful to our understanding of human nature than we think.
Here are the common topics and issues that are tackled in books, but many seem to forget, so I am just listing them off here, so we keep them in mind as things get more intense.
A lot of people suck at communication.
So many stories involve conflict that could have been avoided if the characters sat down and just talked. It is baffling, and infuriating, but miscommunication is a great plot device that keeps people interested in the story. A lot of people, and characters, are not aware of what makes effective communication either, which is tackled in their relationships with others.
Everyone has their own baggage.
You all know this one, and it is quite a normal thing to hear nowadays. Everyone has something that they are struggling with, which affects how they view others and the world around them. Characters all have their own baggage and struggles that they learn to grow from or overcome.
No one is perfect.
The battle of perfection. We all seek it in some way, and so do the fictional characters we love. But just as we are not perfect, so are the character we connect to not the ideals of people and human nature in general.
As much as we don’t want to be, we are all capable of being toxic.
We are learning as we go, and we often pick up behaviours or do things that can hurt others, without us even being aware of it. We need to hold ourselves accountable for our actions, but it’s also okay to grow from it.
We connect with and love many characters that do questionable things and act out in unhealthy ways. And there also some very, very questionable characters that show the worst we have to offer to each other, but a lot of people like, such as Massimo from 365 Days (don’t even get me started on him). People are capable of great good and great evil, and the characters we admire can have a great affect on how we view life and relationships.
Problematic Behaviours in the Book Community
What really irks me, and what can be extremely dangerous to me, is how our opinions of certain books can divide the community, instead of strengthening it. If you cannot have mature dialogue about themes and character development without it turning into a full-on bitch-fest about reader tastes and other’s behaviours, then you need to re-evaluate your priorities and presence in the book community. Discussion is great, and fandoms are amazing communities too, but it cannot get fanatic to the point where we are divided and lose sight of what brought us together in the first place.
That being said – if you hate a book, do not expect everyone else to agree with you and think that your world is golden. In a world where so many realities exist simultaneously, it is difficult to create consensus on such a subjective topic. The discussion of microaggressions that are ingrained into the societies that we live in shows that there are some things that will seem offensive to some, but will be ok to others in a community. This is evident in recent criticism of the dreadlock passage in ‘A Deadly Education’ by Naomi Novik, and the conflicting reception of that from Black readers.
What we need now is to calmly discuss these opinions and concerns and understand that criticism and analysis are not objective as they appear to be. Race, gender, sex, mental health and relationships are nuanced subjects and require sensitivity, empathy, and understanding.
We also need to remember that people are messy, complicated, and every single person is capable of being problematic and toxic.
Does this mean that we accept unhealthy behaviours and put characters on a pedestal for doing the bare minimum, or for their behaviours masked as honourable deeds for the sake of the plot? No. Does this also mean that we should vilify characters and those who love them or understand them as the messy people they are? No to that too. Books are mediums that portray the complexities of human nature in several forms and realities. People are still shitty and toxic, but they are also capable of change, growth and love.
However, when a work is successful and praised at the expense of a minority’s cultural or physical portrayal, that is when something must be spoken about. If you come across people that are not willing to listen, that is no fault of yours. It is important that you try and empathize and remember that you are talking to another human being, even if you feel that they are wrong. Not everyone will listen, and not everyone will try and meet you halfway.
Problematic characters will continue to be problematic, whether everyone agrees to it or not, because ultimately everyone is problematic, and everyone is capable of toxicity. It’s human nature, and human nature is messy, and complicated. We can’t be perfect, and perfect is subjective anyway, so why try so hard to be so? And why put so much pressure on fictional characters to be?
Anyways, in a time where it is admired to passionately express your opinions on the things you enjoy and the things you hate, it’s important to practice boundaries. Books are amazing, but they are not all that you are. And they are reflective of human nature, but not objectively speaking – it is the author’s portrayal of it. Whether or not it’s intentional, any damage done should be pointed out – but please remember that authors are people too, and they are just as imperfect as us.
We should not expect perfection, but we should expect authors to have a greater understanding of what they are portraying in their stories (such as Cassie Clare, Rainbow Rowell and Naomi Novik). Love what you love, but always be sure to be vigilant and critical. Injustice and discrimination can be represented in many ways.
Anyways, that’s all from me today. I’d love to discuss this more with you in the comments! Do you think we should be more critical of fictional characters, or more empathic during their journeys?
Written by: Alexia DeBono
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