The Real Light of Tolerance

I wanted to post about something that’s been at the back of my mind, and that is tolerance. Sure, there’ll be a post coming up on tolerance as a theme in the books, but this one is about the general theme of acceptance and tolerance that was completely unintentional on CH’s part. I think it’s really interesting to see what’s going on in people’s heads – people who often talk about tolerance but then fail to actually actualise that.

Not counting random links that I surf through or places like Goodreads, I have eleven forums specifically devoted to SVM in my links – where I go to feel out the fandom – so that’ll give you a good idea of the aggregate opinions. It’s not just forums of course, it’s also other places. I like to get the big picture when I talk about this stuff, so I made sure to get a feel for some of the issues around. This is not just an isolated issue with a specific place – it’s a theme.

I found it quite ironic that one of the big themes was all about how “messed” up the tolerance ideas were in the book. Hundreds of posts about how Sookie was just not at all a role model for tolerance, and they’d know, being the authorities on tolerance, because they were masters of it. Which clearly didn’t show up in the rest of the discussion – there, that’s where prejudices that have been around for hundreds of years came to the forefront. The “tolerance” was shown only – as always towards vampires, and specifically about Eric. All the while splashing in the pools of slurs thrown at anyone not-Eric. I think it’s really illuminating myself – to see that contrast. So here we go.

Firstly, I’m going to deal with the whole sexist double standard. You know how it goes. It’s everywhere, as I’ve pointed out before. As I’ve been discussing in the comments here, CH has gotten quite a few personal attacks – people thinking it’s okay to use her rape, her children, her mental health, her moral character against her because she didn’t end the books the way they wanted. There’s demands that she sit still and listen to readers’ complaints, and when she lets them go full bore, she’s a coward, or answers those complaints, then she’s suddenly trying to re-coup her sales. She’s also been blamed for the attacks because she should know when to “keep her mouth shut” – like she is to blame for what other people say. There’s effectively no way for her to escape what are really over-the-line personal attacks. As I pointed out before, I’ve read some of the threats prior to their deletion. They weren’t fictions – although popular opinion says that this is yet another part of CH’s victim complex.

I find it striking that in my tour around, complaining about getting a death threat is somehow some sort of smear campaign against readers. I first encountered it when I entered the fandom years ago – prior to Dead and Gone – when I was a little horrified to read a poster admit that if the books didn’t go the way she wanted them to, that she would burn down CH’s house. And yet, despite the fact that there are thousands of people making such claims – that these threats are nothing – none of them have posted their real name so someone can track them down. I don’t have millions of readers, but I sure as shit wouldn’t post my real name on the internet, for arseholes to come find me because they don’t like what I have to say. Almost all of us shelter under an anonymous identity that isn’t connected to our full real world names. Somehow, if it’s CH, it’s part of her “victimhood” that her real name is out there, and therefore getting threats written specifically to create fear and intimidate her, she’s not actually supposed to mention them at all. She’s supposed to be quiet, and just let it continue or something. She’s merely “over-reacting” to a non-threat that many people will swear because they never saw it, it didn’t actually happen.

So, you say, she “betrayed” the fans. She “deserves” to get death threats, and inquiries into her personal life. It’s not enough for me (the dissatisfied reader) to just hate the book, I must hate on her personally. Well let’s do another little contrast on someone else who’s been accused of “betraying” fans and not giving them what they want.

Alan Ball. He didn’t do Season 4 right – according to majority opinion (my opinion, he lost it in Season 2) – and thus “betrayed Eric fans”. There were plenty of calls for how the series would crash and burn – much like Dead Ever After was supposed to. There was much complaining about how he ruined Eric, he ruined the story everyone was hanging out for. And you know what I see in contrast to this supposed “betrayal”?

I’ve never read anything so damn personal about him. I’ve yet to read how some part of his personal life is under scrutiny because he didn’t play out True Blood like someone wanted him to. I’ve never read anything about his mental health issues, or his relationship with his partner, his past traumas, or anything like it. No, because – seemingly for no other reason than he’s a man – he gets to be told his writing and characterisation suck, but no one wants to go into how his personal life is, how he responds to fans. In fact, I even saw mention that he was “smart enough” to know threats would come, and that’s why he bailed on True Blood. Making him a winner, apparently.

In fact, one of the above forums in my links, where CH has the strips torn off her for her treatment of rape, and yet, even though Alan Ball outright said that Jason’s rape in Season Four was:

“sort of used against his will”
here at 1:24

Real firm statement there, amirite? And the guy determined by AB to convey his righteous treatment of rape says on the same video that:

“He kind of gets his comeuppance here.”
here at 1.03

That’s all apparently totally cool. Because what he’s really been doing for five whole seasons, has been showing the rape culture narrative up by playing up to it completely. That when he gave a nervous laugh here, it was because he was wilfully lying to the audience to show them how to see through that narrative. Or something. I’m not real sure how the apologia works, but they run with secret messages in props and costume design, which apparently justifies stuff.

I mean, he can bring Tara as low as she can go and put her into slavery, and have her like it, but that’s all just a cunning plan to show the exact opposite, and to encourage the viewer to critique it. Because we know no one has to be lead by the hand, right? They will critique it. I didn’t just…you know…imagine all the love in the fandom Franklin Mott got as a rapist, right?

So in the end, this fandom has failed to surprise me really. It’s shown what has always been there, and continues to be there. That women get a whole bunch of stuff said about them, people go way too far, and men don’t get the same treatment – they just get praise instead. Do I mind the critique of what they put out? Not at all. I don’t mind if you hated the book completely, although I don’t really want you here, fouling things up – they got the rest of the fandom for that, where they will welcome you with open arms to spew maliciousness. I mind the really big gulf between what Alan Ball and CH – what treatment he can expect that she apparently has no right to. And before you suggest cost is the issue, according to this blog, at $15 a month for 3 months, over 5 years, Alan Ball cost at least $15 more dollars than CH did – and that’s presuming you buy the whole book series and the Companion.

Tolerance in the case of CH means one thing, and tolerance in the case of AB means another. Even though they both made a mint out of their respective ventures, and even though they have been accused of “betraying fans” one of them got a whole lot better treatment than the other. Certainly, I’ve never read anyone threatening to go to Alan’s house and burn it down for Season 4. I’ve never read demands that he face the fans, or accusations that he hides away and happily takes their money. Nope, he only gets called out for the content of his shows, and really, not much about the really big issues that the show itself has. Certainly, no one called him a sell-out despite his net worth of $55 million or questioned his religious beliefs and how dearly he holds them.

And we find the same sort of differences with how someone is treated in the books based on gender. A whole lot of uproar about this element of the storyline:

“Sookie…it’s not just a straightforward decision, you over Freyda.
If it were only one woman over another…it’s you I love. That’s a
given, not a choice at all. But it’s not that simple.”

“My maker gave this to me as his last order,” Eric said.
Deadlocked, p. 288

Most of the discussion over this ignores the idea that Eric hasn’t made a simple, straightforward decision on which one to go for, and go right to the orders and the contract. There is much outrage that Eric apparently can’t form his fate. And this is where the post got away from me, and hence I posted on why Eric is not a sex slave. His autonomy and ability to make decisions for himself are seen as paramount by most readers to who he is. Rather than focus on the ‘simple, straightforward choosing one woman over another’ there is much emphasis on Eric’s excuses that he’s not good enough to find a way out of the contract.

And then of course, there’s much emphasis placed on his lack of choice. There’s a whole lot of the St. Eric phenomenon going on too – that he is a noble, self-sacrificing rape victim who is merely trying his best to protect Sookie and only married Freyda to stop the punishment by Felipe. A lot of concern is placed on the notion that Eric might have his choices restricted – that he may not have good vs. bad to choose from, but rather that he would have bad vs. bad to choose from. On one side, he gets Sookie, punishment by Felipe, dishonours the rule to obey his maker and possibly paying a lot of money. On the other side, he honours his maker, gets a rich and beautiful wife, escapes punishment, but doesn’t get Sookie. I think listing it like that just goes to show that one choice was bad, and one choice was okay but not good. The choices could have been evened out if Eric had asked for help, but he didn’t. He handled it all by himself.

Much angst is expressed that Eric didn’t have a good choice about his fate, that his autonomy is removed, and that he might just have to deal with having not everything he wants. Of course – he did try when he wanted Sookie as his Oklahoma mistress, but that dog didn’t hunt. And a whole lot of angst is put on that Eric can’t be with the woman he loves – that this is seemingly the worst possible thing that could happen to Eric – that he should be robbed because he won’t break the rules, and because he doesn’t get to get everything and the woman he loves. That this is only Eric’s injustice in the book – or at least according to fangirls.

But let’s contrast that with someone else who wasn’t consulted on her fate, and had her choices severely limited. Of which there has been zero uproar about. Surprise, surprise, it’s a female, whom no one is ever outraged about:

On my way back to my house, trying to move so silently through the garden,
I met Eric. There was no way to slip silently enough to avoid him.” For a
long moment, she was quiet. “And it really was the end of me.”

All Together Dead, p. 88

That’s when you find absolutely no critique of Pam’s being killed and forced to be Eric’s companion. No talk about Pam the sex slave, or Pam the virgin murdered and then groomed by her maker to have sex with him. After all, there’s more coercion in that scenario than there is in the Freyda/Eric one. For all the warbling about Eric having no choice but to do what Appius told him, well it’s made explicitly clear in the books that Pam doesn’t have any choice whatsoever on losing the woman she loved:

“Sookie, Victor has said I can’t give permission for Pam to make a child.”
“But you understand that Pam is giving me hell about this, and so is Victor.”
“Every time I bypass Victor, he finds a way to punish me.”
Dead Reckoning, p. 67

This was of course, what caused the fight on Sookie’s toaster. That Eric had disallowed Pam permission to make a child – as in, was given direct orders by Eric that she wasn’t to turn Miriam. Whether it was just that she respected her maker’s orders and had to watch her lover die, or whether Eric specifically prohibited her from making Miriam by compelling her, the result is the same. Miriam is dead, and Pam had to sit there and slowly let that happen. She had to lose a woman she was willing to turn and have eternally – and all because Eric didn’t want to take a punishment for breaking Victor’s orders.

I remember no outrage at Eric that this happened. That Eric didn’t just say “Fuck punishment, do it” – and took his lumps for letting Pam turn Miriam. Nor did Eric call in favours from other Areas, when he clearly has them – and told Pam to take Miriam over state lines and turn her in a friendly kingdom. In fact, he was reluctant to release her from his constant service too:

If this girl Miriam dies, Pam may decide to leave, and I won’t be
able to stop her. In fact, I shouldn’t. Though she’s very useful.

Dead Reckoning, p. 188

This is the Eric who supposedly feels that love is the most important thing (if one is to believe the fandom narrative anyway) and thus, he’s not at all looking at the practical impact on his life right? He’s only thinking about how true love will out, and everyone will get to be with who they love, and be all happy forever.

Despite the fact that Eric can actually compel Pam to obey, and has actually beaten her up in lieu of just compelling her to stillness, and yet absolutely no outrage about how he made her a sex slave and no outrage that she was robbed of a woman she loved so Eric could walk a fine political line? Colour me surprised. I mean it is Eric who’s doing the enslaving right? It is just a woman losing the woman she loves, which is nowhere as bad as the pain of a man, after all.

You know what I find most striking? That these sorts of complaints come up only in Eric’s defence. When Eric threatens to torture his female human waitresses in the first book…silence. When Eric allows Tara to go on being raped and calls her meat on the hoof…silence. When Eric enslaves a couple of women for eternity…silence. When Eric allows Pam’s lover to die to escape punishment…silence. When Eric does absolutely nothing about Bill’s rape of Sookie…silence.

Lest you forget, he found Sookie and Bill in the trunk of that car. He did nothing – not take Sookie to a hospital, not give her a blood transfusion, not punish the rapist in any way. In fact, on the way back home, Eric helpfully pointed out that Sookie tended to walk away when things got “rocky” in her relationship with Bill. 99% of the critique that I’ve read about this, is all about how Sookie deals with it. Which is a nice way to blame the female victim for not dealing with it the “right” way, and completely ignoring that the man who had control over Bill at all times throughout the books fail fucking completely.

So it seems that non-consent really only matters when it’s in Eric’s favour, and not when it’s an indictment on Eric’s character that so far, he’s killed two women and made them his companions for no other reason than loneliness, and planned some day to add to them. He’s ignored the rapes of two characters – Tara and Sookie, and yet when it comes to what justice he should get, that’s an important issue. Just like a marriage against your will only matters when it’s against Eric’s will, and not against Sookie’s. No cries of the whole twisted thing going on there. It’s only when it happens to a man, that it seems to be a problem.

I think that shows both the micro-issues and the macro-issues. In both cases, the man or the male character get a totally cushy ride. If you have to rail and rant and call names, choose only to do that against the woman, or the female character. Never fight to treat them equally – always see this incredibly unequal treatment as tit for tat. It is no surprise to me that the fandom holds true to form. It’s always been like this. It’s sad, but it’s totally expected.

Another interesting thing that this whole debacle made me think about is the discrepancy between vampires and twoeys. I always wondered why in the books that the weres would get such different treatment, and whether that would actually play out like that in the real world. I think this was a particularly astute difference that CH made in light of the comments after Dead Ever After.

Truly, thousands upon thousands of references to Sam, and all of them disparaging his common shifter form. References to him sniffing Sookie, sticking his head in her crotch, about him eating his own vomit, or spawning puppies. A fair amount of bestiality joking and stuff – and sorry, but these are the readers wanting more tolerance in the books? The same readers who didn’t call Eric “the walking blood sucking corpse” but are fine with picking out – of all the things – part of Sam’s genetic makeup. I’ve only read one anti-Eric fic, in favour of Alcide on True Blood, and that likened him to a metronome in bed, and picked on his age. Nothing on his race or species. And anti-Bill fic usually doesn’t say anything about him being a vampire, only such things like “pathetic” and “rapist”. That’s not what we find with Sam – with him it is all about what sort of genetic history he has.

Not only that, but many hopes that Sookie’s telepathy would mean that she could read Sam’s thoughts all the time and hear those bad thoughts. I think that this is an interesting insight into how people really feel about disabilities, or someone who is different. That’s when their differences get used against them. If there are those of you who haven’t experienced what it’s like to be marginalised, I think this shows good insight into what it’s really like. Sure, when everything is going well, your gender/race/sexuality/disability is not an issue. You are a champ who fights through oppression. When, however, you do something people don’t like, that’s when your gender/race/sexuality/disability is used to make fun of you.

I think that in this situation, CH was right on the money. People are happy to be all tolerant and accepting when they think you’re doing what they want, but when it comes to not conforming to popular opinion, that’s when the hatred gains traction and there are no holds barred. We did actually see that too in Dead Ever After – that Sookie is quite aware that you become ‘untouchable’ when you do things wrong – and hence why those people standing up for her in the court room when she’s been publicly accused of murder is actually more heartwarming than if she’d saved vampire’s arses in Rhodes and they held some sort of honouring ceremony for her. They did that…right?

It’s when you’re actually not conforming with what either human society wants, or what the fandom wants that the ‘true colours’ come out. That’s when it becomes okay to make fun of something that a person is rather than what a person does. It’s the same issue as it is with issues with gender, but truly, disabilities don’t get spoken about much. Sookie has always gotten picked on for her disability – she’s not “doing it right” – but now this is hoping that her disability causes her pain.

It happens in real life too – when someone in a wheelchair is nice, people treat them as saints (which is honestly no better and just as stereotypical – they’re people with disabilities, not homogeneous lumps meant to demonstrate a life lesson to you) but when someone in a wheelchair is not compliant, that’s when they’re called names and the discrimination – that is always there – comes to the surface. People didn’t really feel differently before, when the person was nice, they just kept their mouths shut about it, because you’re not a nice person if you hurt nice people. But it still undercuts their conception of disabilities, and the way that someone with prejudice deals with people with disabilities. If you think that someone born with a disability hasn’t had a gutful of that by the time they’re 18, and can’t recognise it instantly? You’re a fool.

I think that this was a really interesting meta idea. That like Sookie, like in the books, all is well if you’re nice, meek and mild and serving others. As long as the disabled person can be shown to be “really brave” or “an angel from Heaven sent to learn us in suffering” that that is not really the true thoughts. It’s when the disabled person refuses to serve the desires of others that people really pull out all the prejudice that they can get. That’s when the racial epithets and the slurs on people with disabilities start. They are essentially not allowed to have mean, petty or nasty thoughts – they’re meant to be a karmic lesson, not a real person. This is at least part of what people with disabilities tend to take issue with – the hypocrisy that they face if they don’t comply with a strict social model. And it manifested again here in fandom.

Finally, another observation that I think is really interesting. Sookie is getting strips torn off her for not opting to go with the rich guy, and instead choosing to stay in a “backwater”. Like her disability, it has always been an issue, but now it’s become an issue to yet again, to disparage her with. Even though Sookie marries a guy who was the former sports star of his high school, former soldier who served his country, who owns his own business, this is not good enough. She’s considered some sort of fool for not “marrying up”.

I think it’s both a class issue, and a commercialism issue. Truly, I’m not much for commercialism. I lean heavily towards anarchist and anti-capitalist ideas. I was also raised poor, and definitely in the same class as Sookie. My parents never bought me a car, and they saved up to buy me a garnet ring, because they couldn’t afford ruby – which is my birthstone. Part of my interests in criminology spawned from that time, and I have former friends who are now in jail, and I’m the unusual one who went to university, which is roundly scorned by most people in the lower classes.

I’ve found over time that there’s a lot of classism on the internet. I think that’s because for example, my sister, who worked as a bus driver and never had more than a Year 10 education sticks mostly to Facebook, and doesn’t use the internet to discuss stuff. She doesn’t see the point, and she never reads. She’s not interested in the same things I love doing – which is a key class difference. Lower class people tend not to value higher education, or more education than is necessary to get a job. That doesn’t make them bad people by the way, but most discussions on the internet view it through a middle class lens – that getting an education and working in something cerebral is far better.  As a result, you find a whole bunch of people who think the same way in discussion forums, and who don’t really understand what it’s like to live in lower classes. On the internet you can find lots of stuff about bootstraps and the meritocracy. Sookie is seen, I think, not to have “pulled herself out of poverty” – she’s accepted being in her “backwater” town, and that’s somehow bad.

I saw quite a few insults to Sookie about how she “let” a rich man get away in favour of someone who has to borrow money. Scorn is greater for her because she didn’t go with the guy who had the potential to buy her things, and the (supposed) willingness to treat her like a Queen – or at least the money to do so. Her choice to stay in her town is seen as lesser – that if she didn’t move out of her semi-rural town, where she didn’t have some obvious sign of riches – like a cattle ranch or something similar that is seen as rural richness – that she was throwing away opportunities to increase in class.

Her comfort is not seen as paramount here, because she’s still in a “backwater” town, and she had sex in a double wide trailer, with a man wearing denim shorts. That it doesn’t matter if that sex was good, or that she was happy, she chose to be the class she was born, and not have sex with someone who’s in a gated community, wearing Armani suits – which is the height of offence. That money should matter when it’s good and there’s happiness – it’s not about people, it’s about social standing. Even in your intimate relationships, it shouldn’t matter if the bed serves for fucking on – that bed should be expensive and tasteful, even if it’s a bed your boyfriend shares with you only when his wife gives him time off. That’s what makes things good and right. Happiness be damned when you can move up in class and marry a successful business man.

Now judging by the amount of shopping lists for Eric I’ve seen in fanfic over the years, it’s possibly an issue of commercialism. That it’s all about who can buy you the most stuff, and the best stuff. That other things are bearable – even being the kept woman of someone – as long as they give you what’s on your Amazon wishlist. I think that’s pretty fucking sad. I’m pretty sure most traditional wedding vows – which most girls dream about – say stuff about “in rich or poor” but that’s seemingly not the ideal. If you can sleep your way to a better social position, then that’s all good stuff. I realise that there’s an element here of wish fulfilment, but the whole thing makes me sad that women think that way, and hate on women who refuse to comply with such a model.

I do think that for some the wishlist is the reason, but I think that for others, acceptance of a lower social class when you could have a higher one is what makes the biggest difference and draws scorn. This goes directly against the concept that if you work hard, you too can have the American dream and be rich, and do what you like to others. Men traditionally are expected to make their own fortune, while women are traditionally expected to marry a fortune. Sookie refused to compromise her values to become the mistress of a famous and wealthy vampire, and thus seemingly to their horror accepts being a small business owner in a small town.

This is the antithesis of the meritocracy. Sookie refused to put her nose to the wheel and claim a part of Eric at any cost, and merely was happy staying in her “backwater” – which is unthinkable, and quite the betrayal of the concept that she could marry up. Therefore, if she refuses to pull herself up by her own “bootstraps” then she must somehow like being poor, or must somehow deserve to be disrespected and scorned. So like all the other people who are marginalised, Sookie is marginalised by the fandom due to class. Poor people who don’t try to get out of poverty deserve not to have happy lives. Not buying into this lie gets you quite a good deal of scorn, and thus, it’s hoped that the townspeople (ie. all those other poor people) will turn on her, and give her a terrible life for not being upwardly mobile.

All of these issues I think are really interesting in the context of the release of the final book. I don’t think CH expected that she would create such a stunning aid for showing what tolerance actually looks like, by showing its absence. I think it’s a little saddening that dissatisfaction with the ending has lead to such things, but I think it shows the overall importance of the whole issue. These are all issues that Sookie had to face as a marginalised person. The contempt for her social status, the contempt for her as a woman, and the contempt for her disability. I think that this little sojourn points out just how much needs to be done.

For me, while these things happened in the book, it’s a valid reflection of real life and the discrimination some people face, as proven by the nature of the discussion. It’s all very well to hang your hat on some sort of Disney ending where the bad people are punished (not including Eric apparently, since he only spread sweetness and light and justice for rape victims) and the good people triumph and get what they want. I think it is the Disney ending that harms people more than the real one. I think it’s about time that books and TV stopped sending the lie that the world is a just one. That if you strive hard enough, people will recognise your worthiness and give you the outcome you deserve – which is then used to lash at victims, blaming them for being all poor, female or raped. They didn’t get justice because they’re not good enough and other nasty shit you can think about people.

What we see reflected in the books is exactly what happened in the fandom. Men get it easier, and escape punishment and flack that women get. You don’t find a surrounding circle of worldwide supporters who won’t use your disability against you. You don’t get respect unless you’re upper class, because everyone knows the rich are a better kind of people. As it happened in the books, so it happened in real life. Sookie did not win everything, and end up being a goddess worshipped and valued for what she was in the books, and get everything she wanted. And what do you know – same thing in the fandom. I like the fact that none of these things became something for which Sookie was praised in the books – even when discussing fictional characters, it’s how the real world shows the real light of tolerance.