Saturday, May 4, 2013

Cerulean Sins--chapter 45

I think this chapter shows me what the biggest problem with Anita is.

The chapter opens with two of her people being driven practically catatonic on the floor, due to Valentina and Bartolome. The scary vampire children are hurting her people. And I realize that both Anita and Jean Claude are worthless characters because, above all else, they suck at being leaders.

I've been trying to figure out how to put this down into words for several hours, and I think it boils down to this: The only reason to have an uber-superpowerful character be both the Baddest Kid on the Block AND be a good guy is to enforce the consequences that promote healthy bounderies. AKA don't steal, don't lie, don't murder, don't stab people just to watch them bleed. That's why we like those characters. They make us feel safe. Not because they can protect us, though that's a part of it, but because they can make sure that we are allowed to be people.

The problem is that a boundery without consequences is just a chalk line. It only has meaning if you can add "Or else" to your "Don't cross this." It's why "don't steal" has to be followed up with "Or I'll have you arrested". Why "Don't hurt me" has "or I'll leave" attached to the end.

The appeal of big, strong male leads isn't "OH HE CAN RESCUE ME", or rather, it isn't only that the male can rescue the female. The appeal is the boundery thing. It's knowing that I do not have to be the biggest, strongest, bestest thing on the block. I can hand it off to the cops, or prince charming, or Superman, and I can relax once in a while. Whether or not this is a good thing in a story is immateral; I'm not discussing gender politics and I don't intend to. I'm talking about why the idea of being friends and/or lovers is appealing, and it is, quite simply, that the bounderies we have will be both respected and enforced by them because they love us, and that for once, we do not have to police our own borders, so to speak.

Of course, in a healthy relationship one of those bounderies would be "I police my own fucking borders, thank you very much." It's not the actual surrender that is appealing, and it sure as fuck isn't healthy to drop your bounderies at the first sight of a good set of biceps. The appeal, however, is in knowing that we could if we wanted to. People who like the big, bad strong guys like the idea that we're not just safe, we're safe with another person, and even if we fuck up and get hit on a day when we're not the strong uber-alpha wolf, that safety isn't going to go away because we have this guy in our corner.

Of course, if you don't understand this dynamic, you wind up writing Twilight.

Which brings us back to why Anita and Jean Claude are utter fucking failures as characters: They have no bounderies. At all. And they respect none. They consider someone with bounderies (IE Richard, Asher, the prude-of-the-book) to be someone beneath them, shackled to an arbitrary moral code, rather than an individual protecting their own individuality. They have no limits, and they are constantly testing other people's limits, and that is not a good thing. Superman testing your limits usually results in broken bones.

And they do not and cannot make any other person safe.

The purpose of a leader is not to sit on top of the heap and bask in adoration. The purpose of a leader is to protect and enforce the healthy physical and social bounderies of the individuals under their supervision. A leader ought to understand the job well enough to know, they damn well don't want the job. Both Anita and Jean Claude have gone for the leadership position with both hands, and are now occupying it without the first fucking clue what to do with it, and everybody else knows it. 

This whole thing with Belle and Musette is a limit testing party. Who has control here? What can we get away with? Belle moved into JC's territory and made demands. She threatened his people, she's threating his girlfriend, and he's done the absolute worst thing he could possibly do: he's folded like a pack of cards. Now we're going to read about Anita smashing things to try to fix damage, 45 chapters too late to actually fix anything. The rules should have been enforced the first time Musette asked for a person to break, and were not. So now the rules effectively do not exist for her and JC's so-called "leadership" is just a thing on paper.

So Anita moves in to rescue her people from Musette, and her way is barred by a black vampire. I'm just going to leave the description here and move on:

 He was also one of the few Black vampires I’d ever seen. Some people theorized that the same genetics that made many people of African descent immune to malaria also made them less likely to become vampires. He stood there looking at me, with his dark skin still somehow strangely pale, like chocolate ivory. His eyes were golden yellow, and the moment I looked into them, the words not human came to mind.
Yep. Oh, but that's not the worst part. The worst part should have gotten this book published with a big, fat TRIGGER WARNING on the cover. 

 Anita rescues Stephen and Gregory, who are the people freaking out, by telling Valentina and Bartolome about the abuse that happened in their past. Their own dad abused them both and pimped them out. She announces this to the entire room of strange, crazy vampires. Because that's going to make a crazy-as-fuck vampire back off. Letting them know potential victims have buttons the size of Texas they can push. And it works, the child-vampires back off their victims because I don't even. I really don't. I am losing my ability to even.

And now JC grows a spine. He tells the room that he warned Musette about the abuse, and that Musette elected not to tell the child-vamps about it because she knew they wouldn't want to retraumatize the two men, and I'm wondering what on the blue bloodied earth could have made Laurel K. Hamilton think this was an okay plot event. Seriously.

So Musette declares that rats are her animal to call, and none of the were-rats can put her in house arrest. Anita orders the other shape-shifters to put her in her room, and she orders the were-rats to kill them. They don't. So Musette orders two vampires who turn out to be the servants of the MOAD to protect her, and this results in a who-is-bigger arguement.

*looks back* yes, the child-abuse subplot is still there.

Anybody who's read any of my books should know I do not object to writing about abuse. Of my primary cast I think...two people, maybe, don't have abuse or violence in their history, (Tim Anderson and Adrienne Parker, as long as you discount the whole works-triage thing) and they're not exactly destined for a happy ride. In short, I don't find a character with rape in their backstory offensive. It happens in real life. Not writing about abuse isn't going to make abuse magically disappear. Keeping fictional women from being raped isn't going to keep real women from being traumatized. BUT, and here's the thing, it only has value in the aftermath. In getting over it. In recovery. In standing up and saying "That happened, here are the scars, I still have these issues, but you're not getting anything else from me." Abuse doesn't make a character strong. Getting over abuse makes that character strong. Getting over abuse, and trauma, and difficulty, is what makes a person strong. I find abuse and violence to be hideous, awful and monsterous, but I find the growth of the human spirit after an event like that to be the most glorious thing I've ever seen. I wish we didn't live in a world where survival and recovery had to be part of our daily vocabulary, but we do. Rape and violence exist. Erasing that in fiction won't fix it; the only counter I can think of is to show the beauty that defeats it.

Or to quote a dead white man, Fairy Tales don't teach children that dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy Tales teach children that dragons can be killed. 

Replace "Dragon" with "rape".   You'll see what I mean. The status of victimhood is a transitory state, and when it's over, it's over. It does not consume you. You are allowed to get up and walk away. But sometimes hearing that isn't enough. We have to be shown. And stuff that won't penetrate in a heart-to-heart talk might maybe, please God, hopefully, get through in the theater of a story.

I know it worked for me.

This bullshit? It's rape as a plot bunny. And now that we've gotten Musette into a corner, we're forgetting about the two traumatized men and, in the process, telling abuse victims that they are and always will be victims.

So Anita shoots one of the servants of the Mother of all Darkness in the head, just to prove that she can. Because this story is all about how bad-ass Anita is, and not about actual leadership or growth or recovery or anything like that. Anita reflects on how she just complicated everything for everyone (no shit, sunshine) and Belle Morte possesses Musette because I don't even care anymore.

This chapter was horrible, awful, dreadful, disgusting, and I think when I'm done with this book I'm buying a brand new print copy and using it to decoupage a toilet.

This chapter goes on the seat.

6 comments:

  1. Maybe you could line the actual bowl with it.

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  2. There's too much I could say on exactly why you're right about JC and Anita not being good leaders and why the author terribly misuses rape, so I'm going to focus on black vampires.

    Her excuse for them being really rare is the sickle cell gene, which is admittedly high in African populations...but also in certain white populations, such as Mediterranean ones. Yet they don't get excluded from being vampires too. And the vampires are the height of cool in these books--they represent the best sex, power, money, and class. So you just kind of have to ask yourself exactly WHY an author would choose to make sure in some way that black people would be virtually banned from that....but not similarly banned from lycanthropy, which is associated with giving in to a more feral side, rough sex (rape rituals, really), etc., all of which are disturbingly close to old stereotypes about black people as animals, as inherently and uncontrollably lascivious, etc. So, they get to be a part of the group that shares these negative connotations with them AND banned from the group that holds a lot of ideas traditionally denied to them (money, status, etc.). That's just not a nice combination. Like, I don't know if I can totally believe it's a coincidence that she managed to hit BOTH these things in such a way.

    And has anyone else noticed how PoC vampires are ALWAYS bad? Oddly there are good PoC therians (Rafael, Vivian, Jamil, etc.) but every PoC vampire I can remember--Kissa, Yasmeen, Padma, Alejandro, Red Woman's Husband, Itzpapalotl, possibly the also 'dark yet pale' Vittorio--has been an enemy. The closest thing we have to a 'good' non-white vampire is Meng Die, who was introduced as a violently jealous sadist who tried to kill one of the harem (Requiem) and was only with JC & Co because they're on top and therefore she benefits from being on their side. Please, if anyone can think of an exception to this, do let me know, I'd love to be wrong about it.

    It gets worse when one considers vampires become literal owners of many therian groups later, and how odd it is that pretty much every wererat except the two women are Hispanic males, many of whom are stated to be "bad men" (implied criminals), and how nicely stereotypes of Hispanics line up with stereotypes of rats, which is another rant in itself.

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    Replies
    1. Plus (if a white girl can make the comment) you have the demarcation of the brown person as "other". To me the creapiest part of that isolated paragraph is the "Not human" part.

      I do understand, sort of, why non-white people keep winding up on the bad and/or ambivalent side of the character line. The issue is that to a white author, a white person is the default. You fill the primary roles with the default, and then realize oh fuck, my book is full of white people. And rather than change the race of an established character, they introduce a new character at a point in the story where any new character has to be on the "bad" side of the line, or else be on the sidelines of the primary storyline.

      South Texas is mostly hispanic in population. The local debutante group is Las Donas de la Corte (The dresses. The DRESSES. OH MY GOD THE DRESSES) we have a literal shrine to Selena Quintanilla-Pérez (google it). The whole hispanics=rats thing has me seeing red in places I didn't know red could go. I had not made that connection before. The brain process was kind of "Yeah, I could see that if I squint at it side-WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH HUMANITY"

      Yeah, between that and the SON OF A BITCH who stripped all the nests at the local birding refuge, (SOMEBODY KILLED ALL THE BABY WHOOPING CRANES. THEY DESTROYED THE NESTS AND KILLED THE BABY ENDANGERED SPECIES BECAUSE PEOPLE ARE AWFUL. I WANT TO TURN MY HUMAN CARD IN NOW) I'm about ready to shove the entire human race into the nearest sun. Puppies will take over the earth. We will all be happier.

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    2. THAT IS TERRIBLE WHY THE FUCK WOULD SOMEONE DO THAT?!

      And yeah, for the longest time it was just something odd to me ("Why is every male wererat but Bobby Lee a Latino guy?") because St. Louis has a tiny Hispanic population and rat is supposed to be the easiest to catch, so it doesn't really add up...and then it hits you: Rats are prolific breeders; Hispanic people are frequently accused of having "too many" children. Rats are associated with dirty and impoverished areas and homes, as are racial minorities including Hispanic people. Rats are considered thieving scavengers that take food from human homes, Hispanic people are often seen by bigots as welfare parasites. Rats are seen as invaders to the home, Hispanic people as invaders to the USA. And best of all, by the book I'm on, the wererats are grunt-workers for Anita &Co whose jobs are to protect them. But of course they're never important for it. Basically, background labor.

      Probably the BEST case scenario I could think of for this is that maybe she just thought that since Rafael is Hispanic, she'd just go and make the other rats (at least, the non-important ones--not Claudia or Lillian or Bobby Lee or Louis!) Latino as well. But even then she should have fucking thought that firstly it doesn't make sense given how contagious rat therianthropy is that they'd only get mostly one specific kind of person, especially one uncommon to the area, and secondly UNFORTUNATE IMPLICATIONS LIKE WHOA.

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    3. WE DON'T KNOW. BUT WE ARE ALL HORRIFIED. (Birding is HUGE in this town, and the whooping cranes are severely endangered. Numbers are in the mid-hundreds COUNTING the animals in captivity. The collective outrage right now is KILL NOW, QUESTION LATER)

      I could see a were-whatever population being limited to a single ethnicity IF THERE WERE A GOOD STORY-RELATED REASON. Like if there were circumstances in a pocket population that made infection more possible than in the general population (IE how the first outbreak of Ebola in Zire was traced back to a hospital using dirty needles for malaria immunizations) But far as I know there isn't one.

      And I'd add "hispanics are in gangs" to that list of unfortunate implications, because in wracking my brain to find a reasonable explanation for "all were-rats are hispanic" the only possible one I could come up with was "Well, maybe it's an initiation ritual and/or a cartel is promoting this" and then my brain jumped several tracks and had to be put down for a while. There's this veneer of "rich gang leader" around Rafael--the Limo, for example--that Richard and the rest don't quite have. They ought to have it, but it feels a little more blatant for Rafael than it does for the other factions. Given how big an issue gang violence is for hispanic populations, it's more than a little creepy.

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    4. http://www.rockportpilot.com/news/article_6b7d03c2-b413-11e2-92a3-001a4bcf887a.html

      That's the article about what happened to the birding island. I really, REALLY hope whoever did this is selling the birds. Which would be illegal as fuck, but it's better than the alternative. Esp. the whooping crane population. The drought this year was VERY bad for the birds. According to wikipedia there's only like 75 breeding pairs for the entire species. We're not talking just the Texas population.

      It's probably not a big deal to anything anywhere else in the country, but these birds were special damn it.

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