Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Wish-fulfillment versus Tropes

Recently, I got a review for one of my books, "My Life as an Onion."

If you know me, you already know I can be snippy about the kinds of reviews I receive. That is: I can take honest criticism, but being "woke" and a writer (and therefore somewhat insightful) I often cannot help but see the unspoken subtexts going on in reviews. These subtexts are often religious, atheistic, racial, or sexist. If they weren't subtexts, if they were upfront, I probably wouldn't become snippy but when that insightful part of me detects the crappy foundational subtext upon which a review is built then ....yeah...this is when I get snippy.

In the review, the reviewer said my book was wish-fulfillment but still I kinda challenged some of the wish-fulfillment. He also said he doesn't like romances per se and likes fantasy and scifi. So, aside from reading a review where the praise is so reluctant that there is a sense that the reviewer is damning with faint praise, there is also the whole idea that somehow a book is not quite a book if it is wish-fulfillment.

So, is my book wish-fulfillment? And if it is, why am I getting so bent out of shape if a reviewer calls a spade a spade? And why am I seeing racism in everything?

Well, first of all...aren't most fiction --especially romances-- generally wish-fulfillment? It has been said that a story is the soul at war with the spirit. The author manages the battle. A story is often an exploration, and why not the exploration of a wish? It's been said, for instance, that Hamlet is a story where Horatio is a wish-fulfillment characters. He is the dear friend Shakespeare would want and he has given Hamlet such a friend a foil for all the other betrayers in Hamlet's circle. Hell, Shakespeare's plays are full of these perfect "friend" characters. No one sees it as some horrible thing.

But even more telling... White writers and readers are used to seeing their stories as the default. Therefore stories of the beautiful heroine who is beloved by every guy who sees her are normal. Especially if the heroine is what the general standard conceives as beautiful. So it is nothing to the American male, American white male , mind to take it for granted that a beautiful woman  with Euro-features is the object of lust/love of many men. The author of the romance might be not so pretty..but hell, her stand-in is. If the main character is depicted as ugly or dark-skinned, or fat, the typical American male has a problem seeing such a woman as being capable of turning heads. So I decided to write a story with just that... a slightly pudgy girl whom all the guy likes. Why? Cause I'm from Brooklyn. Cause I'm Jamaican. Cause white male tastes may not be the tastes of all the world. And maybe all white males do not want a lemon-titted girl. But also, because little Black girls should also be given stories where their beauty is seen as attractive.

The sad thing is that white male wish fulfillment is such a part of our culture that white society doesn't see it. How many times have we read about or seen movies where some old guy meets a young nubile thing who falls in love with him despite his age? Even worse, how many times have we read about or seen movies where the white guy saves the world? We are told it's a trope. But really, when we have stories where Asians or Blacks save the world, the saviors are usually white-washed because Asians and Blacks apparently can't save the world.

So yes, i'm kinda peeved. Why is my story called wish-fulfillment? But why is the male white story called a trope?
Especially when the typical standard trope often goes unchallenged in these genres. When was the last time the wrong kind of girl one the good guy in a romance? When was the last time the heroic white male didn't save the world? Yes, it happens...but in typical genre fiction, the typical genre writer does not question his wish to appear better than, happier than, stronger than.... etc.
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