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Posts tagged ‘rue’

It’s Time To Stop Pretending Dumb Twitter Reactions Are News Stories

Olympic gymnastic Gabby Douglas holding her gold medal.

There was a very, very, very pointless news story last week regarding Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas’ hair. A handful of idiots took to Twitter to complain that her hair looked unkempt. Now any reasonable person reacts to this “story” by not reacting at all, because what an athlete’s hair looks like is about as important as what shoes a surgeon wears. In this case, a high and tight bun is standard operating procedure for gymnasts, so I really don’t know where the conversation came from in the first place.

Oh that’s right, it came from a handful of idiots. Turns out when you give everybody a voice through social media, idiots will say idiotic things.

What I don’t see is how that handful of easily ignored idiots got to dictate headlines. Tell me what’s wrong with the following real headlines:

“Controversy”? “Debate”? “Outrage”?

"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

You all do realize that for a debate, you need a point and a counter-point. All we’ve got here is a counter-point. Nobody is actively arguing that Douglas’ overly practical hairstyle is unacceptable. But the press, blogs, and other commenters are keeping this one-sided conversation going anyways. It’s blossomed into a full-on “debate” but the only people having the debate are the ones still acting like there’s something that needs refuting.

Check out this lead from NBC’s Today Show website (the first link above):

Just before the scoreboard showed that Gabby Douglas had won the gold in individual gymnastics last week, her mom Natalie Hawkins had only one reaction: relief. It was relief that came after ten years of training, after her daughter said she dreamt of being an Olympian, and after she let her daughter move away from home at 14 to chase her dreams.

The relief didn’t last long, as Hawkins soon found herself defending her daughter’s hair, which had been swiftly criticized for being both “unkempt” and “embarrassing” very soon after Douglas made Olympic history.

“The relief didn’t last long”? Give me a break, Today Show. I seriously doubt Gabby or her family give any thought whatsoever to this “controversy” beyond when you and other media outlets bring it up. This all grew out of a handful of Twitter posts. Don’t you all know how easy it is to ignore a dumb Twitter post?

Creating a news story from Twitter stupidity is incredibly easy. You can do it yourself. Next time any sort of news or sports event happens, just search for keywords that could be linked to the most offensive possible interpretation. You are bound to be hit with big pile of ignorance and failed wit. That’s what one story did after the women’s soccer match between Japan and the U.S. I’m sure you can imagine what the keywords were for that.

Now, admittedly, we ran a story back in the spring about Twitter reactions, regarding The Hunger Games and the casting of actress Amandla Stenberg as the character Rue. Actually, it’s remained one of our most popular articles on the blog. But, as the writer of that article, I’d argue there’s a difference between stories that ask broader cultural questions — in that article’s case, people judging a film based on how it matches up to their own imagination, not to the descriptions in the book — and stories that simply point out dumb people saying dumb things.

We’ll always have idiots. Let’s try to limit how often we give them a stage.

 

 

 

Racism, The Hunger Games, and Bad Reading Comprehension

Rue from the Hunger Games

Source: AceShowBiz.com

I’m sure by now many of you have already heard about the Tumblr page “Hunger Games Tweets.” It’s a collection of tweets by people griping about the casting of a character named Rue. You see, the film cast 13-year old actress Amandla Stenberg (see above). The tweeters targeted by the Tumblr page bemoaned the fact that the film version of Rue just had to be black. Which is confusing, because in the book she is black, in no uncertain terms. She’s described as having “dark brown skin and eyes,” and later, when the reader is introduced to another character named Thresh, we’re told that he “has the same dark skin as Rue.”

Plenty of whatever the online equivalent of ink is has been spent on this story — what it says about race in America, connecting it to Trayvon Martin’s tragic murder, etc. — but I want to focus a little bit more on what the Tumblr creator’s intent was. His blog has said, essentially, that the main problem is not poor reading comprehension. Rather, it’s that readers naturally assume that Rue, a portrait of doe-eyed innocence, must have pale white skin.

For the sake of this column, we’re going to ignore the insane, aggressively racist tweets. That bigoted nonsense isn’t worth anyone’s time. The more interesting ones are subtler. A number of the tweets say that Rue “should have” looked like some other literary characters, like Harry Potter’s Luna Lovegood or The Lovely BonesSusie Salmon. Notice the theme? Characters who represent sweetness, naiveté, and innocence (or innocent victimhood) are automatically assigned long blonde hair, big blue eyes, and very pale skin.

If you deconstruct this story even further, it asks interesting questions about how we read and how we imagine. When we’re not prompted with details, how do we fill in the blanks? If a story just begins in media res, with no description of the narrator, what do you assume he or she looks like? Do you picture yourself? Do you picture an “average” person? What does “average” mean? Is it, as this Destructoid article pointed out while criticizing modern video games, a middle-aged white man with brown hair and stubble? Or do just keep you mind blank about the specifics until some details can paint a fuller picture?

I’m not suggesting that defaulting to a white male protagonist is racist and sexist. But I do think it’s worth reflecting upon where our mental casting assumptions come from. It’s the classic chicken-or-the-egg question. Are fictional characters assigned certain racial archetypes because that’s what the audience assumes, or does the audience assume certain racial archetypes because that’s what their fictional characters have always looked like?

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