facetofcathy: four equal blocks of purple and orange shades with a rusty orange block centred on top (Default)
[personal profile] facetofcathy

That's the question going around about That J2 Haiti Fic®.  I'm taking a stab at answering it. 

A few points first.

1.  The following is my opinion, and I don't think any of this is revelatory or particularly hopeful. I think it needs to be said in plain language, and I'm not pulling any punches here.  I don't think the author's feelings warrant much consideration at this time.

2.  I haven't read all of the fic.  I'm not apologizing for that, nor do I think that fact negates my right to say what follows.  I read the opening scenes, skimmed sections, and I read half of the pull quotes collected by bossymarmalade here.  I cannot be directly hurt by this story.  I am in a position of privilege that allows me to read things this dreadful and not be harmed, and still I could not force myself to read all the pull quotes.  I do not believe that this story is merely a mistake, a poor choice, a bad idea or even a series of bad ideas.  It is offensive in concept and in execution. 

3.  I'm pretty much setting aside the author is dead idea for this post.  I'm not claiming to be able to see inside this particular author's mind, but I am stating bluntly what I believe are the prerequisites for the existence of this story. 

4.  I absolutely believe that the author did not know this story was offensive.  I absolutely believe that the author did not know they wrote racist depictions of Haitian people.  I absolutely believe the artist did not realize that using pictures of Haitian people was offensive.  I absolutely believe that the artist did not know that was a racist act.  I just don't think any of that matters.

How? How could anyone?

First and primarily: in order for this story to exist, a person has to be able to sit down in front of the television, watch graphic depictions of horrific tragedy, destruction, pain and death, and react as if they are watching a drama unfold for their enjoyment.  Like it's a story not very different from the fight against the apocalypse on the next channel over.  Infotainment.  Emoporn.  Nothing more.  There has to be a disconnect between the viewer and the scenes they view, a dulling or total dissolution of empathy for the people harmed in favour of the thrill of watching events unfold in real time.  The viewer has to be self-centred.  The most important element of the event for them is their emotional response to the images they see on the screen, not the event itself. 

There's lots of parts, both within and without an individual, that make up the whole of that initial response to a natural disaster that claims thousands of lives and devastates a nation.  White privilege certainly helps with the lowered empathy and the self-centred thing.  CNN thrives on this response.  Literally.  Their profit depends on large numbers of viewers wanting to view their programming passively and uncritically and see Anderson Cooper as the focus, not the stories he covers.  A cultural devaluation of critical thinking doesn't hurt either.  Racism is key.  Racist images, rhetoric and media that devalues and dehumanizes People of Colour is the crucial thing that lets you look at scenes of devastation and see, not people like you, but some other thing altogether.

Secondly and with roots similar to the primary prerequisite: a place like Haiti has to be unreal to the viewer before the specific images are ever seen.  Racism, ethnocentrism, American imperialism, colonialism--centuries of all of those foundations of white privilege have made much of the world into a vague and ill-defined elsewhere that has no meaning or relevance to the viewer.  In this way, Haiti becomes a stage of conveniently placed, or rearranged, rubble that has no history, no culture, no significance or reality outside the story. 

Thirdly: poor People of Colour  must be seen as noble but foolish, ignorant as well as stoic, simple and lesser but still mysteriously different.  They are--well, them.  Not anything at all like the white protagonists.  They become thin stereotypes who speak some infantalised form of Creole and broken English, but not French. Never French.  And the white characters who dance on their graves find their good white French unusable in this strange other world. 

And finally: in order for that initial response to become part of a story, to become this story, it is necessary for there to be an overwhelming history in literature and film of stories told only from the white point of view.  The people and location make up an exoticized background, plot device, thematic colouring, but are never the focus.  Never the point.  There are rarely stories about Haiti and Haitian heroes out where they can be consumed by the massses.  Even when mass-media stories are not this egregiously formed, they still make up a part of the whole of the single story.  The white story.

It's possible, if you can achieve a little dispassion about this (white privilege helps with that too), to see what a person gains by the above responses to this and similar events.  There's a comfort in simplifying the human suffering from random earthquakes, systemic racism and inequalities, the culpability of the US and the rest of the wealthy, white-dominated nations into nothing more than a stage with players upon it.  There's a relief in giving up the analysis and the history and the critical thinking.  Giving up responsibility.  Focusing on yourself.  And I don't think I'm immune to any of the influences that led to this story.  I don't think I have any purity of heart or mind or thought on this front.

This story doesn't actually deserve that bitter, tongue in cheek trademarked name I gave it up above, because it's not unique.  It is not unique to  J2 fandom, slash fandom, SPN fandom or to fandom in general.  It is not an artifact just of fandom, but of the world at large.  I don't think it's even a uniquely bad example of the genre it makes up a part of.  I do think it is a foreseeable outcome of what happens when white people in wealthy nations choose to selfishly indulge their privilege and passively consume the reality of the rest of humanity as entertainment.

That's how I think they could.  That's how I think anyone could.

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