I can easily think of things from my youth that I don’t like now as much as I once did, and that other people would consider silly or unworthy: soapy mystery novels (Julie Smith and Martha Grimes were my favourites), Strangers in Paradise (as I’ve discussed before), Wolff and Byrd: Counselors of the Macabre (that’s a unique case, cause I fell all the way out of it, but then met Batton Lash, who is the nicest guy ever, at a con a couple of years ago and fell all the way back in, so now I love it down to its last bad pun, heavy-handed moral, and character missing the back third of their skull), Elton John (I still listen to his albums semi-regularly, but they have nothing like the presence they had in my life when my brother became obsessed with him*), Moxy Fruvous (listening to them now brings up intense feelings of embarrassment, but I’m really proud actually, to have followed an obscure dorky band around as a highschooler, and it did get me my husband)… but even though I’m no longer a fangirl, I can’t conjure up any shame about them.
It’s not even shame I feel about having been into Piers Anthony, and reading almost all of the Xanth books and most of the Incarnations of Immortality books (it was during this series that my enjoyment turned to disgust). I’m not ashamed because, as I’ve found out, almost everyone who’s into fantasy was into those books at one time. So if I don’t judge them, how can I judge me?
What I am, is regretful of the time I spent on those damn books, and of the awful ideas about sex and gender they were allowed to plant in my head. As I recall (I haven’t picked up an Anthony book in fifteen years or so, and I wouldn’t without a substantial cash advance), it was mostly your run of the mill virgin-whore women-have-no-sexual-desire-except-the-desire-to-be-looked-at-by-men (sometimes in a nice, sex-as-reward way, sometimes in an evil-temptress way, of course) blah blah. It was a lot of what you get from the rest of the culture anyhow, but something made it worse in Anthony. Maybe it was because he was a fantasy writer who, if he wasn’t technically Young Adult, certainly had lots of books with adolescent protagonists. And most people who read YA and a good percentage of people who read fantasy are young girls.
Maybe it’s something I’m still repressing that made Anthony worse. Noah here mentions rapey bits, which I don’t recall, except one notable one, and it’s the event which finally pulled me out of the books and made me question who this Anthony guy was and what he was trying to tell me. Early on in the first Incarnations of Immortality book, our hero saves an undead woman from being gang-raped, and she promptly offers to have sex with him, in order to show her gratitude (he declines, being a nice guy and having heard that undead women were trouble).
I was like, um. I have never been nearly-gang-raped myself, but I am pretty sure that, having just emerged from such a trauma, I would probably not want to immediately have sex, with a random stranger no less. What kind of person thinks your average woman would? (curiously enough, this scene was repeated exactly, except for the undead business, in the contemporary Batman and Robin film. Pretty much the only thing I still remember about those two pieces of… art).
Thinking about it, that scene is the NiceGuy fallacy in a nutshell. Men who act with basic human decency toward women deserve sex as a reward and an incentive, and any woman who accepts any sort of help from a man better pay up in sexual favours, or it’s her own fault when NiceGuys are forced to go bad in order to get any.
This is sample bias, but I get the feeling that nerd/geek culture is especially susceptible to the NiceGuy fallacy (because girls who consume western nerd/geek culture are presented with more opportunities to empathize with fictional and actual nebbishes, at the expense of empathizing with, you know, themselves). Presenting it again (and I doubt my remembered example was the only time, and the “polemics on rape” Noah mentioned are probably even worse), in fun, slightly risqué YA-ish adventures, makes Piers Anthony an evil bad man, and makes me want to smack that book right out of my poor twelve-year-old hands.
Which I can’t really say about Billy Joel, no matter how many trees he crashes into.
*my totally straight, currently ultra-Orthodox brother. His gay-ass taste in music is one of his saving graces.