Things in Print Thursday :: a tangent, inspired by Mallory Ortberg

15 Jan

So a couple of days ago I purchased a book called Texts From Jane Eyre, written by Mallory Ortberg.  I know exactly one thing about Mallory Ortberg and that is the above video, which came across my dash on tumblr months ago.  I’ve played it maybe ten times since then because one, what the original poster on tumblr said is true, she “has a voice like an old movie actress” and I want to listen to her forever, and two, it’s hilarious to me.  It makes me laugh out loud.  It’s what I call “English major humor,” and that is for obvious reasons one of my favorite kinds of humor.

And the book Texts From Jane Eyre, which is text message conversations between literary characters and figureheads all throughout history (from Greek plays to the lake poets to the damn Baby-Sitters’ Club), made me laugh out loud as well.  The book intrigued me when I picked it up, but when I first opened it to a random page I landed on a text from Hamlet (responding to one from his mother Gertrude) reading

hes not my real dad
why do you even like him

and I was pretty much sold on the entire prospect.  There was a tiny part of me, I admit, that deeply regretted not having had the idea first, but most of me was just glad that someone else had the idea and was capable of carrying it out so well.

This is actually a digression.  So I opened up the above video to show to one of my (female) people and not a minute in one of my (male) people interrupted to ask a question, then said something along the lines of “don’t mind me, get back to your sexist video.”  My (female) person and I then proceeded to explain, or try to explain, why this isn’t sexist humor, and I don’t know if it was an effective explanation, but it piled on top of other things I was thinking about (the fact that seriously, everyone actually needs to watch Agent Carter  because the creation of future female-led Marvel projects depends on it; the disappointing news about the Oscar nominations being entirely white and male every time they could be male) to make me a little bit… angry.

I’m angry.

I’m angry about the fact that as of this article being published, these are the 10 most read books in high schools.

  1. Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare
  2. Macbeth by Shakespeare
  3. Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  4. Julius Caesar by Shakespeare
  5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  6. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  7. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  8. Hamlet by Shakespeare
  9. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  10. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

I personally had to read nine of those (I was only spared the last).  This, and other commonly taught books (as seen in my SparkNotes tag), are predominantly white/male/heterosexual.  1/10 of the books on the above list is by/about a female author/character (To Kill a Mockingbird) and another 1/10 is about a female character (The Scarlet Letter).  The two that significantly feature nonwhite characters (Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird) are written so that said characters are in positions where their fates depend on benevolent white characters.

And let’s not even get started on the above list (or any other books taught in schools) as regards LGBTQ* characters.

Pulitzer Prize winners and current popular titles according to the New York Times can be similarly discouraging, though at least the latter is starting to skew more equally, but numbers don’t lie.  The Mallory Ortberg video is hilarious because it’s true.  So many known (white, heterosexual) male novelists have been following some version of the same pattern for decades and have been lauded and adopted into the canon while other (non-white and/or female and/or non-heterosexual) authors are writing brilliant stories and being, in the scheme of posterity, rather more disregarded.  Same applies to cinema.

I am not saying anything new or interesting here.  I am just one voice to listen to, and maybe not even the one you need to listen most loudly to, but what I’m telling you is support a variety of creators and get their voices heard and challenge the idea that what makes something “great” seems to apparently be a certain variety of tortured genius cishet white manpain.  Challenge the idea that stories by female authors, or POC authors, or LGBTQ* authors, have to be a certain kind of story, or can only be seen as “niche,” not for everyone.  Challenge the idea that what has always been must continue to be.

–your fangirl heroine.

you don't say


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