Thursday, April 28, 2016

Wrapper And Product

     Everything in the universe is either packaging, big toys, or meat – From a lapel button

     The above might seem mildly disputable – how does one play with a star? – but all the same it expresses an important truth: we “meat folks” are forever unwrapping layers of packaging from the products within them. Sometimes the process is simple and painless; at other times, there are contusions, abrasions, lacerations, and much profanity.

     Packaging and its significance are as evident in the field of ideas as in consumer items. It is a truth too obvious for words – nevertheless, words will be used – that you cannot express an idea without some sort of “wrapper.” The most successful polemicists known to history have also been skillful “packagers.” The very best of them learned to make the “package” as valuable as the “product,” such that it was possible to enjoy the “package” – typically, a story or other form of entertainment – even for those who reject the “product” – the ideas enclosed within it.

     Consider, among the great fabulists of the century behind us, the late Robert A. Heinlein. Virtually everyone who’s read his stuff agrees on his skill as a storyteller and entertainer. Yet not all of those who admire his gifts agree with his libertarian-conservative sociopolitical outlook, which was evident in virtually everything he wrote. He was so good a storyteller that it was possible to spurn the “product” and “play with the box” instead.

     By contrast, many contemporary writers, in every genre, have adopted the stance that all that matters is the “product:” the specific ideas they mean to promote. Some pay a modicum of attention to the “packaging;” others, more heavy-handed, give it comparatively short shrift. Their readers had better get full value out of the “product,” because the “wrapper” is little or no fun.

     It is noteworthy that those “product is all” writers are almost uniformly on the political left – mostly the extreme left. Equally noteworthy, they’ve striven to dominate publishing in its entirety – to exclude from the field anyone who differs with their opinions – as well as the various awards given out for works of fiction. And they’ve largely achieved that aim.

     In one field at least, the “speculative” genres of science fiction and fantasy, there’s been a reaction against them. They don’t like it. And they’re determined that we shall not pass.

     Any longtime Gentle Reader of Liberty’s Torch will already be familiar with the “Sad Puppies” controversy. For those who are unfamiliar: This whimsical name was adopted by a small group of SF and fantasy writers, notable among them Larry Correia and Brad Torgerson, as a label for a counter-movement to the blatant politicization of their field at the expense of good storytelling. Their counter-movement consisted of an attempt to open the venerable Hugo Awards process to a wider range of nominees: nothing more, nothing less. They, and those who have succeeded them as Sad Puppies organizers, merely requested that readers interested in the awards process pay the registration fee that empowers one to nominate for a Hugo, and to submit the titles, writers, and editors they deem worthy: again, no more, no less. For four consecutive years, this has resulted in a list of suggested nominees, which the organizers urged interested parties to read, evaluate, and thereafter consider for nomination: for the third time, no more and no less.

     Last year, works aggregated by the Sad Puppies 3 campaign were heavily represented among Hugo Awards nominees. This year, they and the allied but distinct “Rabid Puppies” campaign run by Theodore “Vox Day” Beale, have run the table:

  • Of the sixteen categories of awards, ten sets of nominees consist entirely of SP or RP suggestions.
  • Of the other six, only one – “Best Editor, Short Form” – is not composed of a majority of SP and RP suggestions. Even in that category, two of the five nominees are SP and RP suggestions.
  • The nominees that were suggested by the SP and RP campaigns constitute a broad spectrum of the sexes, races, and political orientations.

     Of course, the “social justice warriors” who have previously contrived to dominate the awards process are apoplectic over it. Last year, they managed by “bloc voting” to exclude SP and RP nominees from the awards, giving “No Award” in the five categories that consisted entirely of SP and RP suggestions. What they’ll do this year, we shall soon see.

     I write fiction as well as these endless op-eds. I have a “product” – freedom and Christian values and ethics – that’s “wrapped” in every story or novel I write. That’s the outcome of my personal sensibility. I can’t not embed those things in what I write. They inevitably animate my heroes and heroines. But I put entertainment value above all other things; I insist that the story be a good one by my standards: important, absorbing, and capable of surprising the reader. Needless to say, a “social justice warrior” who deems the ideas emphasized to be the one and only point of a story would spurn my “product” regardless of its “wrapper.” A few have written to tell me so.

     That’s part and parcel of their sensibility. To an SJW, entertainment as such is valueless; its sole function is to promulgate ideas – and they must be the sort of ideas the SJWs approve. I wrote about this last year:

     Fun – that which we strive to attain through the “play impulse” – is one of the keys to a successful life. C. S. Lewis noted its importance in The Screwtape Letters:
I divide the causes of human laughter into Joy, Fun, the Joke Proper, and Flippancy. You will see the first among friends and lovers reunited on the eve of a holiday. Among adults some pretext in the way of Jokes is usually provided, but the facility with which the smallest witticisms produce laughter at such a time shows that they are not the real cause. What that real cause is we do not know. Something like it is expressed in much of that detestable art which the humans call Music, and something like it occurs in Heaven—a meaningless acceleration in the rhythm of celestial experience, quite opaque to us. Laughter of this kind does us no good and should always be discouraged. Besides, the phenomenon is of itself disgusting and a direct insult to the realism, dignity, and austerity of Hell.

Fun is closely related to Joy—a sort of emotional froth arising from the play instinct. It is very little use to us. It can sometimes be used, of course, to divert humans from something else which the Enemy would like them to be feeling or doing: but in itself it has wholly undesirable tendencies; it promotes charity, courage, contentment, and many other evils.

We play – i.e., we engage in activities that have no deliberate gain in view – specifically because it’s fun. It comes naturally to us to do so, especially when in the company of those we love. One of the great quantitative differences between America and other nations is the fraction of our resources we have available for play. It could justly be said that Americans are the world’s foremost players – no pejorative intended.

Americans are so fun-oriented that we devote whole industries to it, most emphatically including the video gaming industry. We even seek to make our work lives fun, to the extent that might be possible. My favorite source of business advice, Robert C. Townsend, put it this way:

If you don’t do it excellently, don’t do it at all. Because if it’s not excellent it won’t be profitable or fun, and if you’re not in business for fun or profit, what the hell are you doing here?

     Note the contrast this makes with the SJW attitude:

     In this connection, ponder well this essay on the Sturm und Drang besetting the video gaming community. Take particular note of the following highly revealing snippet:
[W]hile watching a video about GamerGate, I clicked on a link to an archive of one of the original articles, “A Guide To Ending Gamers” by Devin Wilson at Gamasutra....

I was scrolling down through the article’s list of strategies for eliminating gamers, trying to keep an open mind, and actually thinking there were one or two somewhat valid points. Then I got to item #11:

We stop upholding “fun” as the universal, ultimate criterion for a game’s relevance. It’s a meaningless ideal at best and a poisonous priority at worst. Fun is a neurological trick. Plenty of categorically unhealthy things are “fun”. Let’s try for something more. Many of the alternatives will have similarly fuzzy definitions, but let’s aspire to qualities like “edifying”, “healing”, “pro-social”, or even “enlightening”. I encourage you to decide upon your own alternatives to “fun” in games (while avoiding terms like “cool” and “awesome” and any other word that simply caters to existing, unexamined biases).

     Clearly, never the twain shall meet.

     The message from this year's Hugo nominations could hardly be clearer: the “wrapper” matters. No matter what “product” you’re trying to “sell,” it must be packaged attractively. Thousands of readers of SF and fantasy have poured into the nominations process to state their opinions, and in so doing have made the awards meaningful as awards for fiction for the first time in many a year.

     To sum up: You write, and you’re politically to the Left? That’s your business. Please try to entertain us. Otherwise, your idea won’t get any traction. It’s really quite simple. If you insist that your ideas are all that matter, and slough the work of entertaining us while you vend them, you won’t close the sale. That you should turn from that to castigate us for preferring entertainment, whatever ideas it’s wrapped around, to your naked polemics only reinforces the pity we feel for you...which will, doubt it not, be reflected in your sales.

     Other articles relevant to this subject:

     All are excellent food for thought.


Malatrope said...

SJW's are communists, plain and simple, and I've known few communists who weren't grey, drab, intense, and utterly humorless people. If they find they cannot interfere with your life, rather than going away they will redouble their efforts. I believe the tendency to this attitude is genetic, because they are all so damn similar – and yes, that is a vast (but I believe accurate) generalization.

Unknown said...

As for "excellent food for thought," I think your entire article is that. So many things to comment on, or dialogue about. And even 'Screwtape' ...I had to get my copy and read the several pages around where your excerpt was from. I know very little about the Puppies and Hugo, but I suspect it is similar to the decay of Scientific American magazine. Gary Stix sticks in my mind ...oh, well, let us exercise our love of humor often, realizing the Gift that it is.

Eskyman said...

Excellent article, Fran!

I've actually lost a friend- one of my oldest (and I thought best) over this Hugo controversy. My point was that so many so-called SF works these days are just untalented jerks moralizing at their "readers"- if they actually have any. Further, I said to him that authors like Heinlein, Asimov, Van Vogt- none of them would even be nominated today, let alone win the Hugo, for works that are still in demand decades later.

He replied along the lines of "change is good, and those old writers don't speak to today's needs" or some dreck like that. I couldn't believe my ears, I was incredulous. He was adamant that no one should "interfere" in the Hugo Awards, that there was nothing wrong with their method of choosing winners (which reminds me of the way some of the caucuses have chosen delegates; popularity doesn't matter, nor do votes; what matters is what the establishment wants.)

One additional link for you, that's the "Supreme Dark Lord's" own website:
Vox Popoli

Many denigrate Vox, and say that his website is full of racists, crazies, etc.- oddly enough, most who denigrate him are people I despise. They're also people who think crap like "If You Were A Dinosaur, My Love" is a really good SF novel (words fail me to describe that, um, thing.)

I miss the friend I thought I had- but if he thinks crap like that deserves a Hugo (which it DID GET)- well, maybe he never was really my friend at all.