So, I have been thinking about my story, “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love,” for obvious reasons. I’ve spent a lot more time thinking about that story than probably anything else I’ve ever written, which is amusing, given how short it is. On the plus side, that makes textual analysis relatively simple.
There are a lot of legitimate critiques of “Dinosaur” and I’m cool with people disliking it. I’m not cool with some other stuff that’s going on, but I don’t have a problem with people disliking it. (Which, for the record, is not limited to the puppies – the story actually has a mixed track record with “SJWs”. It was initially rejected by a market specializing in “diverse” fiction, as being too much like other queer fiction that’s been done before, and therefore not really surprising. Nick Mamatas dislikes it on aesthetic grounds, although I’m not sure if he counts as an SJW or not. Etcetera.)
Anyway, I have thinky thoughts about a lot of the story, and maybe I’ll write those down at some point. But maybe not, because internet arguments, meh.
What I wanted to address in this post is the criticism of my use of the word “gin.” The assailants in the story are described as gin-soaked.
This has been interpreted as a class marker. Initially, I didn’t pay much attention to this, as some of the framing of the way it was brought up was irritating. However, that doesn’t really matter. If it’s a problem, it’s a problem.
I will say that I did not intend “gin” to be a class marker. My primary association with gin is hipsters. I have friends who make their own. (I pictured a college bar when I was writing the story, although I didn’t want that image—or any distinct markers–to be in the story itself.) My secondary association with gin is bathtub gin as discussed in musicals about the 1920s. My third is the inappropriate anecdote that Eliza tells about gin in My Fair Lady–which, I suppose, should have clued me into the class association.
I did not want the assailants to be marked at all, except that they were into beating people up with flimsy excuses, an activity of which I disapprove.
So: what can I do? My intent to not be classist isn’t significant. Some of my previous trespasses have been totally unintentional, such as the fact that the dwarf in “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window” is easily read as an evil stereotype. (My intention was that, since the main character is evil, her judgment is unreliable.) Readers of Alas, a Blog brought that to my attention after the story had been published. I apologized but didn’t revise–it would have required substantial change, and I feel like the best way I can actually address that problem is to do a follow-up story from his perspective sometime. (Though my writing ambitions, alas, outstrip my productivity.)
However, this is where the brevity of “Dinosaur” is helpful. The change would be tiny. The story is online, which is a medium that allows for revision. People are still reading it, apparently, so revision is also potentially useful. I can’t do anything about printed copies, but I can ask the editor of Apex Magazine to switch out the word. (And leave a note in comments about having done so, which would allow people to easily trace the history.) He might decline, but I doubt he will.
So: what alcohol is unmarked? Pabst is definitely too distinct. Is Vodka too dourly Russian? Tequila too college party? Rum too, I dunno, piratey? Whisky too hardcore masculine? Wine sounds sort of melancholy poet, and beer seems Homer Simpsony. (From this list, rum seems like the most likely candidate to me.)
I don’t drink a whole lot, and when I do, I drink girly fru fru drinks because I’m a wimp. So, I don’t really know what the subcultures of alcohol are. Help me out. Sad Puppies welcome to contribute, especially since you’re the ones who spotted it.
(I assume it’s a given, but I’ll note anyway: please stay on topic and civil. That means everyone.)
(I don’t think you can specify without marking, someone, somehow, someway.)
I think the gin/working class connection is primarily British, and somewhat antiquated. “Gin-soaked,” in particular, always struck me as a sort of quaintly old-fashioned way to describe angry drunks, with its sense of neutrality enhanced by the mildly archaic tone. Any other alcohol I can think of would probably not have that distancing effect, and would much more directly signify the nature of the attackers. Whereas you’re right, these days gin is a hipster drink.
Rum would be interesting, being more common in girly drinks. (Then again, gin cocktails are usually on the girly end of the spectrum as well. I can’t count the number of times I’ve ordered a nice-sounding cocktail at a restaurant and then ended up laughing as the server brings it out and saying “ah, I got the girly drink, I see.” Mind you, they’re always delicious.)
Maybe alcohol-soaked is the easiest way out? It doesn’t specify, but keeps some of the distance.
I think “gin-soaked” is a particular phrase and might come across weird if you switch out just the alcohol portion–in a quick set of Google searches for various sorts of “$alcohol-soaked”, gin-soaked is the only one that returned references to people instead of food (although, hey, now I’ve got some interesting-looking recipes to try).
The most class-neutral alcohol I can think of is beer–not a specific brand–but that has strong gender connotations, I think, even though I know plenty of women who drink it. And I guess maybe it does have some class connotations, in that drinking beer is associated with masculinity, but drinking beer to the point of drunkenness has some associations with class as well? Maybe? Is that just in my head?
You could lose some specificity and just say “boozy” or something, but that obviously has other tradeoffs.
I see beer as being consumed by people of all classes. But seems to me you could also just say “alcohol-soaked” or “booze-soaked” without getting specific.
Type of alcohol as an in-group/out-group marker goes back at least to Roman times, where the mark of germanic barbarians was their drinking of beer as opposed to roman drinking of wine (there is some pretty funny graffiti about it, showing times don’t really change). This stuck around through the norman conquest where the french normans drank wine and the english saxons drank beer; then it morphed into disdain for the scots and celts for their drinking of whisky instead of wine (beer having become neutrally accepted).
Today you see a lot of it as a regional marker, and with it the class symbolism tied up there, with a heavy dose of advertising coloring perception. Straight bourbon for example, is generally associated with the southern poor, but a mint julep (primarily bourbon) is associated with the upper class, because of the Kentucky Derby and its popularity with plantation owners. Whiskey is seen as a working class drink because that is how Evan Williams and Jack Daniels advertised it (fun fact, JD is the knock off, not EW, it is seen as such because of how prohibition shook out), but scotch is a white collar drink because it is marketed as such.
You’d probably be best with referring to “watery beer”, since that covers your Bud, Miller, Coors, etc that make up the vast bulk of what is consumed, and is drunk across regional and class lines. Everyone, from the old factory worker, to the Ivy league college preppy, will drink that stuff. Generally to excess, and generally to the point of stupidity. You don’t really pound shots of expensive stuff, but cheap beer, well, that’s what it is for – getting hammered and stupid
“Gin soaked” always puts me immediately in mind of Gin Soaked Boy by Tom Waits.
Alcohol-soaked seems good to me. What connotation does “booze” have? I could see that maybe being seen as classist too, but it’s not to my mind.
BTW Mandolin, my wife and I came across “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” independently, and we both loved it. I remember how excited she was when she realized we’d both read it and loved it. It’s beautiful.
I think that connection is many decades out of date. As a Brit, I’ve only ever seen gin described as a working class drink in history textbooks when the Industrial Revolution is being discussed. In modern British society, I would suggest that gin is seen as more typically a middle class drink, perhaps with a gendered lean towards the feminine.
Huh – that hyperlink was supposed to be to a youtube video of Gin Soaked Boy, but either I’m just completely incompetent or there’s something about the site that prevents it (I’m betting on the former…). In any case, Tom Waits!!
When people are complaining about ‘class markers’ what are they meaning, exactly – WASPy? Hipsters? British working class, as Phil said? I mean, all of these are associations between gin and particular socioeconomic classes, depending on where you live and who you are.
(Frankly, if it were really a huge class issue, I would have expected Mamatas to take a bat to it.)
Being drunkenly violent is class marked. Alcohols that evoke drunkenly violent people are going to be class marked alcohols.
I think ‘beer-soaked’ or ‘booze-soaked’ works, but also, I don’t think it desperately needs changing.
Likewise. Next time you’re in the Bay Area, drop me a line, and we’ll hit a tiki bar.
Girly fru-fru drinks are CHOCK FULL of alcohol. They’re just also full of sweet things to cover up the taste.
Honest question: what is it about so-called “girly” drinks that’s coded as wimpy? Here is my experience as a committed lush: I taste a “girly” drink and find that it’s got a lot of nice fruity, sweet citrus flavors and seems fun and refreshing. Then I look at the ingredients list, and find out it’s basically a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster.
How does that get coded as wimpy, whereas low ABV macrobeers are seen as rough or manly?
Exactly. A Tough Man(TM) doesn’t need to hide the taste of his alcohol; a Tough Man(TM) just deals with it, because he is stoic and Tough Man(TM)ly.
(Aw man, we don’t get HTML superscripts? :) )
I think it’s the connotation from the 19th century.
I think it’s a bit tenuous, but when I heard that it had been interpreted that way, after a long moment of “huh?”, I remembered old literature and went “Oh, right.”
Is it out of date and a little inapplicable to a story set in the 20th century? Yes, in my opinion. But it’s also upsetting people and easy to change. I would have made the change if people had made the criticism from the left, so.
In general, gin to me brings to mind Hogarth prints and Henry Fielding polemics. I don’t know how much those kind of 18th century perspectives about the morally deleterious effects of gin or its association with the poor and destitute persist, though. To say more specifically “gin-soaked” puts into my head images of British colonials trying to ward off malaria. I can guess at why those are the associations I make; it’s interesting to think about the other associations that exist as well.
When I drink, gin is my preference. The closest I’ve every gotten to lower-class marked is “Gin? That’s for serious alcoholics!”
Don’t change it. Gin-drinkers are a tough bunch and we can handle it*.
* We gin drinkers actually, as far as I know, share no traits whatsoever.
I’m in the camp that favors “booze-soaked”, FWIW.
I am learning so much about gin!
Yeah. I’m going to vote for “booze-soaked” as the replacement. “Alcohol-soaked” sounds really stilted to me.
I read that story. I’ve read comments on that story. I made a comment on that story. Out of all the critiques of that story that I’ve seen and can think of, claiming that it’s flawed because gin is a “class marker” is about the stupidest thing I can think of. It’s a phrase denoting that the person involved is drunk. Gin’s history and current usage embraces both high-end cocktails and homeless alcoholics. Comb through any dumpster in a back alley where the homeless and hopeless hang out and you’ll find cheap gin bottles. Comb through a dumpster in a back alley behind a high-end hipster bar and you’ll find expensive gin bottles.
This is f**king absurd and I advise you to tell the people making this criticism to FOAD. I wouldn’t change a thing.
My personal preference when I’m buying is either a decent pale or amber ale or a single malt Irish whiskey that’s at least 16 years old (although I can live with Black Bush if that’s all the bar has). OTOH, if you’re buying I’ll happily consume just about anything with EtOH in it.
A few thoughts:
(1) “gin-soaked” makes me think of “Honky-Tonk Women,” which codes gin (to me) as female, debauched, tough, and wanna-be-decadent (that would be Jagger and Richards, not the barroom queen).
(2) I’m a woman. I drink gin all summer; in other seasons I drink single-malt scotches or George Dickel, the good Tennessee whiskey. That codes gin (to me) as middle-class, tasty, and tasteful.
(3) In other words, gin is a mixer — it goes with anything or anyone, and I think that the people who are accusing you of using it as a conscious or unconscious class marker are just looking for a stick to beat you with.
(4) It’s your story, and you can change it however you want to, but one of the things I particularly like about it is that it’s got meter, and it would be sad if changing the vocabulary messed with that.
ETA: oh, I forgot (5)mrwednesday @ 6 above, the Anglo-Saxon nobility were wine-drinkers. Grapes were grown in England until the climate got colder in the later 12th century.
I have almost never drunk gin, but I associate it martinis, along with the many, many, many old jokes about how dry a martini is (pour the gin into the glass and wave it near the vermouth bottle, pour the gin and mention the existence of vermouth, etc).
Also, in recent years, for some reason, if you say, “gin” I might say, “and whiskey”. ;)
To your point, Mandolin, I like Myca’s suggestion. “…soaked in beer and malice” works okay. “Beer” is pretty darn generic. Twenty years ago it might have seemed like a hit against the lower class, but nowadays with all the microbrews and boutique beers, “beer” basically means “contains yeast and wasn’t distilled”. Also functional is “…soaked in booze and malice”, though “booze”, with its negative connotations, is perhaps a little less artful in giving the game away.
And I think that’s what leads me to tell you not to change it. First, I don’t think gin is strongly class-coded (though I suspect that this is highly variable by region and other demographics). But the word can’t be considered in isolation. It’s the set up jab for the right cross, “malice”. And as such, it has to have a touch of delicacy to work the combination; it has to pop the reader’s chin up just right before the hammer hits. Otherwise it’s just the first of two punches, and shifts a little into English legalese (“enjoined and restrained”, “null and void”), which is not the vibe you want.
I think that “gin” is about as generic as you can get while still retaining that, ahem, touch of class.
“Liquer” might serve. But for the rock-n-roll of the sentence, you really want a single syllable so that it+”and” form a duet with “malice”.
So, to the extent that “gin” has a touch of class, that’s part of what makes it work. Leave it alone. You were right when you wrote it.
Heh. I posit several dynamics striking an alliance, on this one. One, if you can’t taste it actually removing the topmost layer of cells on your tongue, then it’s wimpy, and therefore feminine. (Y’know, feminine like not wanting to trade punches until someone spits a tooth. Weak.) Two, holding one’s liquor is coded as a manly virtue, so if in fact the women are downing similar quantities of alcohol and still holding it better, then the men must save face by denigrating the alcohol which the women are downing. Three, (this one’s probably more historical) this way women can demurely sip their one drink and pretend to a vulnerability or virtue they don’t have, while the men nearby down their multiple pints of Guinness or their multiple “shots” of watered-down 40% whiskey measured in cheater’s shot glasses. Four, and more insidiously, this way women pay substantially more for the same dose of alcohol. It’s like the pink foam ear plugs I’ve seen Wal-Mart selling right next to the manly gray ones, but for 80% more.
And now I’m waiting for the time when some manly man ahead of me at the bar orders a shot of paint thinner, neat, while sneering at a woman’s choice, so that I can say, “Oh, I can’t handle those stiff drinks, I get all tiddly. Better give me a Long Island Iced Tea. Make it a double.”
Of course, for that to happen, I’d have to be in a bar off-duty, which basically never happens.
P.S.: My wife, Lioness, would like to add this comment: “My wife drinks beer because it’s basically bread.” Well, yeah. When I want to feel the effects of alcohol I drink alcohol. When I want something light and refreshing with yeast in it, I have a slice of toast or a beer.
…and I made the mistake of reading to the end again, and now I’m weeping again. Don’t change a single goddamn syllable, Mandolin.
My husband and I joke about it because he also likes frou frou drinks.
I am, however, a total wimp in terms of basically everything. I do not want to taste the alcohol. Like, at all. Wine is pretty alcoholly tasting. And I am oversensitive to capsacin so I can’t eat anything with even bell peppers. Spouse and I went to a whisky tasting once and with every sip of something expensive, he would whisper to me “IT TASTES LIKE MUMMY WRAPPINGS” and I would heavily consider whether to let it in my mouth. I gave a lot of whisky to a writer down the table.
Fireball whisky, that I can do.
1. I’m British and posh.
2. I am extremely familiar with gin as the thing that you drink on punt trips up the Cam with strawberries during Easter term.
3. Violent people drunk on beer seems pretty damn classist to me too, actually, from my background.
4. Fundamentally I am pretty damn certain that, as other people have mentioned, what’s actually going on here is classist assumptions about the kind of people who get drunk and beat others up, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about people transferring that classism onto the specific type of alcohol you reference (as demonstrated in comments to date, I think it’s quite clear that pretty much the full spectrum is associated with pretty much every generic type of alcohol, and the only way you can possibly avoid potential implications of classism is to use a deliberately upper-class-marked name, at which point you’ve got specific markers, which isn’t what you want).
Yes, it’s upsetting people. No, I don’t think there is anything you can do that wouldn’t upset people, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that whatever you change it to will upset a different group.
I haven’t thought about this extensively in the context of the story, but if the image in your mind was hipsters, maybe punching that up in the choice of beverage would be interesting. Microbrew-soaked? IPA-soaked? Artisanal-gin-soaked? Mezcal-soaked? Fernet-soaked? (I’m cribbing those last two from an aritcle on hipster drinks). Or perhaps a bog-standard, middlebrow, somewhat femme drink would be margaritas?
I rather like “soaked in gin” and something more generic, such as “alcohol” or “booze” weakens the image. Is it “classist”? I mean, I think this kind of analysis can go too far. Comb through any text with a fine enough comb and something will fall out. Nearly always. So we’ll always need to make a judgment call.
I appreciate everyone’s thoughts.
And Grace, thank you.
One more vote for rum. It’s a flexible spirit – it can be clear and light or dark and thick. Young and harsh or aged and mellow. Plus Nanny Og likes it.
I do like the line “soaked in beer and malice”–but check to make sure it doesn’t
f–k up your awesome rhythm. I think it’s really important to note, however (as a fan of this story & your work) that the vast majority of the SPs are arguing in bad faith, so just make sure to see if the line bumped anyone who *liked* your story before changing it.
That being said, the image of drunken people severely beating up someone in a bar automatically carried for me a lower-class image, regardless of the alcohol. Not sure what to do about that.
I remember reading this story and thinking how absolutely gorgeous it was (and is). This is the ostensibly offending passage:
With the exception that I mention below, I don’t think you should change it. I have several thoughts about this:
1. Granting for the moment that “soaked with gin” is a class marker in the way the critics say it is, then it marks the narrator, not you, Mandolin. Now, if you, Mandolin, don’t want your narrator to be marked in this way, that is one thing, but what’s wrong with having her so marked? Even if you were to change it to “soaked with booze” (or whatever), it seems to me, frankly, that the fact they used pool cues to beat up the fiance is also a kind of class marker in the images of the particular kinds of pool halls it conjures up–ones where people get drunk enough to beat someone up as described in the story. And are you, then, to take out the pool cues, too?
2. There is already, I think, an inescapable class element to the story. The simple fact that the narrator can imagine at the sophisticated level the story portrays, the kind of wedding she imagines, etc. marks her as something other than “uneducated working class” and nothing in particular, as I read it relatively quickly this time, marked her as a working class woman who has become a paleontologist. In other words, the level of her diction, her thought, etc. already mark her as belonging to a particular class. She is clearly not an omniscient third person narrator.
3. Were I in the narrator’s position, no matter how sensitive I might be to these issues, I hardly think I would be worrying as I sat next my fiance’s hospital bed that I was using language that others might offensive and that might even be, legitimately, offensive. I might, in my anger, and there is a strong current of anger running through this story, even resort to that kind of language consciously, purposefully. (I might regret it later, the way the narrator regretted even imagining the deaths of the men who beat her fiance, but how to handle that is a different issue.)
In other words, these are the words of a character and to take those words out of the context of everything else about the character and decide they are offensive, and then criticize the writer, as if the words reflect on her or his sensibilities, is to do violence to the story in which they appear.
Now, as I suggested above, if you don’t want your character to have these particular markers, that is another story, but I don’t think that changing one word is going to solve that problem. Equally to the point, though, if someone is going to read this narrative through a class-conscious critical lens, then I think it’s a good deal more interesting to ask how the class markers–all of them, in every paragraph of the story–function. If they don’t work, that’s one thing; if they end up revealing biases in the narrator that make her less sympathetic to some people, that’s something entirely different; but even classist people are entitled to the forms and structures of their own grieving.
One last way of saying this: nothing about “soaked with gin” feels gratuitous in the context of the rest of the story. I don’t think you should change it.
So many college bars. So many pool tables. I feel this total weird frame of reference mismatch.
I’d never heard of gin as a working-class marker before. My first thought when I read “gin-soaked” was The Thin Man. For whatever it’s worth.
I also like fruity girly drinks because I like the taste of fruit, pretty much.
The “manly” discussion reminded me — when I was in grad school, one of my officemates got a bottle of really nice Scotch, and the four of us who shared the office would all have a drink whenever one of us passed a qualifying exam or got a job offer or anything big like that. I was the only woman in the office, and I was also the only one who took the Scotch with soda. I totally did not understand why the guys didn’t have it with soda — they’d all wince and grimace every time they took a sip, while I was getting the same amount of alcohol in a relatively pleasant-tasting drink.
I don’t have a strong opinion on the use of gin in the story, but for whatever it’s worth, Jaegermeister is apparently the drink most associated with gay-bashings in Seattle right now.
I would never add soda to any whiskey of any quality. I might add just a little bit of water after sampling it neat, since that often opens up some flavors.
And if it’s good whiskey at all, after I sip, this happy satisfied smile spreads across my face.
Sounds to me like your officemates simply didn’t like the whiskey. Which, y’know, no accounting for taste and all that. If this happens to you again, I volunteer to throw myself on that grenade and save your officemates from themselves. Just ship the offending whiskey to me and I’ll make sure that it causes no further damage. I’m selfless like that.
Honest question: what is it about so-called “girly” drinks that’s coded as wimpy?
US culture has an amazing number of gender-based taboos. If something as coded as feminine or ‘for women’, then men aren’t supposed to enjoy it or consume it. Drinks that are sweet and brightly-colored are supposed to help the ladies deal with all that harsh alcohol. Fruity drinks, yogurt, salads, chocolate, white wine = for women; steak, beer, potatoes, fried food, nachos, chicken wings = for men. It’s sometimes OK for a woman to show she’s one of the dudes by enjoying manly things, but demeaning and questionable for men to do the reverse. (There was a minor kerfluffle several years ago when the evo-bio pop scientists were attempting to prove a biological reason that women preferred chocolate, which quickly got deflated when it turned out that in countries that don’t code chocolate as “women food”, men and women like it in equal numbers.)
I think that whatever alcohol or word you use, it will be interpreted as a class marker to someone, because of that someone’s cultural references. To me, gin-soaked sounds literary because of the connection to Britain a few hundred years go, being the main popular period of gin drinking. Not that I know the drinking habits of a lot of people, but the only people I know who drink gin aside from students (who drink anything) are people who can afford Bombay Sapphire. The only specific drink I associate with “the lower class” is bourbon because the only time I’ve seen anyone drink it was at a party of mostly people fitting into that category. Interestingly I just looked it up, and bourbon is apparently used in Mint Juleps, which they talk about in the Great Gatsby, and thus Mint Juleps are my alcohol marker for that end of the social spectrum. So bourbon apparently goes both ways for me after all.
Another gin drinker here who’s never heard of gin as a working class drink. I think of roaring 20’s when I hear “gin soaked”.
I also think Richard and Grace both make good points above, too – particularly about the rhythm of the passage.
If you’re taking votes, I’m for keeping it as it too.
I’m sorry, but to me “soaked in rum and malice” screams “pirates.” :-p
I’ve always had the perception of gin as an older person’s drink (unless its just part of some complex cocktail), probably because I don’t really know anyone of my generation that actually drinks it regularly. Although seeing Bombay Saphire mentioned by standgale did make me recall that I did try drinking gin and dry for a short while. I tend to stick with bourbon and coke for the most part. A cold dry ale on a hot afternoon, or a good red on a cold night can also be great.
If I were to replace ‘gin’ with anything in the dinosaur story, it would probably be ‘grog’. It’s got the general alcohol meaning of booze, but seems to fit a bit better in the sentence. I’m not sure how widely used the term is in the US though.
As for the ‘manly’ discussion, I imagine that the ‘manliness’ of the drink is related to the male virtue of having a tollerance to phyiscal hardship (unpleasantness?), and this is just another example of how that virtue is socially enforced. Where as women as seen as the more fragile sex, so it’s seen as socially acceptable for them to take the easy route in alcohol consumption. Whether or not it’s seen as sexist, I suspect that shifting an already problematic drinking culture to focus on drinks that actually taste good isn’t going to help reduce binge drinking or alcoholism.
Twentieth-century onwards, neat gin reads as mildly ascetic, un- or a-pleasurable, employed purely “medicinally*,” or rationed out by the State at war-time (cf Green for Danger) or post-apocalypse (1984). English, certainly. Gin is an English choice. You’d have to be consciously making your narrator English (possibly Welsh) to draw upon this legacy.
In the context of the story, I agree with Richard that however conscientious the narrator, however careful, the word selection in this passage would be at most semi-conscious. The violence she imagines is not theoretical, and she perversely and masochistically revels in it. That tinge of desperate, quickening hyperbole could be useful if you want to remove or alter the class coding (the bar or pool hall, the pejoratives the attackers utter). As it stands, it doesn’t read hipster (but “towel head” and “shemale” are modern and American enough that the gin feels like an obscure and slightly wrong-footed choice, made more for sound than sense) nor the men as college students (referencing later their widows and children).
*but not like, say, brandy, as a pick-me-up after a shock, but rather one’s fair dues in an environment rife with uncertainty but no excitement and no hope
Agreed that criticism singling out the gin appears to either be in bad faith or be done in the absence of close reading, as part of the complaint is often that Southern working-class drunks don’t drink it. Makes no sense unless they’re assuming that one of those people they see as their ideological enemies would only ever have stereotypical Southern bigots gay-bashing.
I have read approximately way too much on the Hugos this year, oh yes I have.
Ledasmom — So, this is where I’ve been stupid. I knew that people associated with the puppies were fixated on the gin detail as a class marker, so when I heard people associated with the puppies were fixating on it in other places, it didn’t occur to me that they’d have opposite positions on why it was wrong. I have no intention of changing the alcohol to *mark* these guys as southern, and I’m pro-redneck anyway (“poorer inhabitants of the rural districts…men who work in the field, as a matter of course, generally have their skin stained red and burnt by the sun, and especially is this true of the back of their necks”).
For those who have been asking whether it’s marked as hipster, and saying it’s not–I agree that it isn’t. I didn’t want it to be. However, inasmuch as its marked (and I’d rather it not be marked at all, because all sorts of people commit crimes), I think it’s marked because the paleontologist is there. This is more likely (though not exclusively likely) to suggest a college bar than a dive across town.
Disagree that pool cues mean lower class. I kind of wonder if the problem is a cultural association of ‘bars’ with ‘lower class’ which is played out in the media. But it’s so out of step with contemporary behavior I don’t feel the need to bend things to breaking over it.
Unfortunately, I think all this means I can’t actually change the word. People have successfully argued that not only is the meaning of “gin” culturally coded in like 20 different ways, but other alcohols are as well. Also, if the reasons I’m being asked to switch it are opposite, there’s really nothing I can do to settle it.
I’d like to make people feel happy and comfortable to the best of my ability. Changing a word? Yes, I can do that, it’s a tiny concession, and they say it matters to them. And one of the things that bugs me about some of the puppy rhetoric is that they seem to assume I’m acting in bad faith, and I’d rather not turn that back. So, if I can reach out a hand, I will.
But given the discussions, I don’t see how I can make this particular hand work.
I was at a Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert a couple of years ago. Some vendors were handing out samples. One was handing out samples of chocolate. I grabbed a few samples of dark chocolate, because that’s what I like. Upon reaching my seat, 3 young women in front of me noticed that I had some chocolate pieces. Being a friendly guy, I offered them some. They took them – and then noticed they were dark chocolate, not milk chocolate. “Ewww, they’re dark chocolate.” “Well, what do you expect – he’s a guy!”
Guys like dark chocolate but women don’t? Is that a thing? Those three thought so, but I don’t know if that’s a common conception or not.
Huh. You’d think if the stereotype is that women prefer chocolate, we’d want the chocolatiest of it. (Personally, I do.)
Mrs Squid loves dark chocolate. The darker the better. I love milk chocolate and my tolerance for dark chocolate is limited to those times that I’m out of milk chocolate.
I’ve never heard of dark chocolate being masculine and milk chocolate being feminine, either. But that’s the thing with gender coding – if you don’t know that particular coding it’s going to seem bizarre to you.
There are some places where dark chocolate is coded male.
Gender coding is extremely flexible and arbitrary.
I once overheard someone express surprise that pumpkin spice lattes were a female coded thing. (The terminology was less academic but you get the point). I don’t even know what planet I’m on sometimes when I hear things like that.
Edited because auto correct reversed the meaning of what I said.
To recap –
Mandolin, if someone is claiming that referring to someone drunk as soaked in gin is an example of “class war”, it think it’s ridiculous and you should ignore them and leave your work precisely as you wrote it.
Considering the number of TV commercials I’ve seen over the past few years (originally just for Dove, but now for many, many makers of chocolate, but not Hershey’s) that seem to my eye to visually equate chocolate of several varieties with female orgasms, I’m surprised that men who are afraid of girlie-cooties will eat any sort of chocolate at all any more.
I only became aware of pumpkin spice lattes being coded female within the past year or so. It seemed to go along with the “stuff basic girls like” things that were all over the place this past fall, where apparently “basic girls” like posting pictures of autumn leaves and talking about their favorite things about autumn, including pumpkin spice lattes. (It took me a while to figure out what the heck “basic girls” meant, and when I found out, I was still asking, “That’s a thing that needs a name now?” Because it just means “generic,” more or less — young women who shop at Target, who get coffee at Starbucks, who like adding ribbons or colored tape or various other crafty colorful things to their decor to make it look pretty, who talk about their family and friends by saying how “blessed” they are to have all these wonderful people in their lives. And who drink pumpkin spice lattes. I’m still puzzled as to why this is a thing that needs a name.)
And I became aware of it today, so you’re still way ahead of me. Of course, I’m extremely unlikely to be anywhere pumpkin spice lattes are available so…
I’m somehow finding this tangent relevant to the original post but I’m having trouble figuring out how to explain it. It’s got something to do with how commonly known a thing is. My failure to know about pumpkin spice lattes doesn’t mean it’s not commonly understood. Your readers’ objection to gin-soaked is the same thing, only different.
Yeah, Ron, thanks. I actually find that you deem it so to be pretty persuasive, in that I know you’d say if you objected politically.
Now I’m googling articles about pumpkin spice lattes. Starbucks only sells them for a few months a year — roughly September through December. The articles from 2013 generally make no reference to gender, and only a tiny portion of the comments on them do. The articles from 2014 sometimes mention gender, but the comments on them pretty much all talk about how it’s a drink for “basic white girls” or “basic bitches.” What happened there?
I call ’em as I see ’em, Mandolin. I had no impression when I read the story that there was any class issue intended in that phrase. I see no reason to change that now regardless of the politics of people who think otherwise. Glad to be of support.
Coming late to the party: Did the original work have “gin-soaked” in it?
Clearly whatever trigger that phrase had for someone, it didn’t have for me.
1. I share the view of Patrick and Greg and Richard Jeffery Newman:
I hadn’t noticed “gin-soaked” before. My mind had automatically replaced the alcohol in question with beer because, in my mind, that’s what drunk guys drink around a pool table in a bar. Gin would be too expensive.
That is, unlike some commentors on the web, and like many commentors here, I associate gin with the middle- and upper-classes. But as kaberett anticipated, I associate a drunken assault around a pool table with working-class people. Given a conflict between these cues, what image came to mind? Working-class people – no contest.
So yeah, it’s a class thing. But the mark of a good work of fiction is that it provokes specific images in the reader’s mind. Images of people. And people have social classes. So if a good work of fiction is going to call an image of people to mind, it must inevitably call an image of people of some social class to mind.
If Mandolin desires to provoke an image of, say, a drunken collection of fraternity guys from the Ivy League, then she’d have to include a lot more cues for that. Otherwise, the simple fact that she’s describing a gang of drunks beating someone up around a pool table provokes in me an image of working-class people. And a passing reference to a middle-class beverage won’t alter that.
2. So far, only Grace and Greg have had the guts to address the real issue here: sound and cadence.
‘Cuz even if “gin-soaked” seems odd upon reflection, the beauty of it is that the phrase doesn’t provoke reflection (in me, anyway). The cadence of the words is smooth and familiar, and doesn’t draw needless attention to itself. In contrast, “alcohol-soaked,” while neutral, sounds cumbersome and clunky and kinda contrived.
Amp’s right: “rum-soaked” = pirate.
And the phrase “girly-fru-fru-drink-soaked” is right out.
In short, “gin-soaked” worked for me, largely because it didn’t distract from the story’s visual elements.
3. That said, “soaked in gin and malice” works even better. But now we’re going the opposite direction: the phrase definitely calls attention to itself – but it’s a good phrase! If you got it, flaunt it.
Yeah, “soaked in beer and malice” works, too. And “booze and malice.” But if we’re gonna draw attention to the phrase, I like the smooth sound of “gin” over these more percussive alternatives; it puts no bumps in the road leading to “and malice.” And that’s where we want the reader to go, where the punch awaits. I can’t improve upon Grace’s remarks at 24. So I’ll stop.
For me gin-soaked in this context evoked A Clockwork Orange, which added to the richness of the piece. I don’t think you should change it.
Agreed that the word “gin” sounds good in the sentence. I would object to “booze” because the word is too informal – doesn’t quite fit the tone – and has a slightly humorous feel, at least to me. Breaks the mood.
Lets structure this as annoyingly as possible, to emulate how the SP/RP arguments seem to my (obliviously) untutored SJW mindset.
(1) lovely story
(2) don’t change a word.
(3) “gin-soaked” denotes drunk, likely habitual, possible just binge
(4) the choice of gin as the libation is not indicative of class unless you’re required to do deconstructive analysis for a lit 101 course – see (3) above
(5) the setting evoked for me would be VFW halls, as that is most familiar or me with pool tables.
(6) For those in the “upper crust” (see what I did there! see!) the locale could just as easily be a private club or private residence.
(7) for “middle-class” (see! I did it again!) the locale could be in a finished basement rec room
(8) don’t change a word
(9) lovely story
I don’t think you should change it. Gin has two class connotations–they’ve run in parallel for well over a hundred years. Poor people drink straight gin. Rich people drink gin as part of mixed drinks. That’s part of what gives the kick to those jokes about mixing a martini with only a pretense of adding anything but gin, so a rich person can drink what seems to be a cocktail while really drinking plain gin. And I love the idea of a cocktail called “gin and malice.”
Hm. I wouldn’t say so. I’d say the class marker there is whether or not you get away with it by having it hushed up either before or after the cops are called.
I very much dislike people trying to inject political or social connotations into someplace where it actually isn’t regardless of the politics of the people involved.
Hell, I don’t know that I necessarily agree with everything you wrote there. But so what? Take any collection of critiques on a work of art or literature and you’ll find numerous different interpretations of it’s meaning. A consensus may form – and 20 years later, get tossed away and something completely different is adopted. What DOES LaGioconda’s smile mean? I’m not sure even DaVinci had the right to say “There’s only one reason why she’s smiling, and it’s because …”.
So if that’s what it means to them – well, that’s their perception and their problem. But that doesn’t mean that it’s the only or even the definitive meaning, and they have no more right to claim that it is than someone on the left who tries to do the same thing to something said or created by someone on the right. No one has the right to co-opt a piece of art and claim that they have the sole truth of its meaning.
The connotations I attach to gin are
1. Working class people in a Dickens novel.
2. Alcoholic elderly upper-class spinsters.
3. All that was left to drink after a female serial killer contaminated the local water supply by petulantly drowning her father in it.
About some men I’ll sing a song
About some men I’ll sing a song
They dined and swore all day long
And not only did their victims wrong
They did it while soaked in gin, in gin
They did it while soaked in gin.
(Apologies to T. L.)
(at first I had “thugs” rather than “men”, but given that the whole thread is about marking, I thought it best to eschew)
Now I get the reference! Thank you, Owlmirror! Would “soaking” scan better than “soaked”?
I love that song, and I love Owlmirror’s parody of it. And yes, soaking would scan better, at least to my ear.
So, I have some feedback, and I think this is a bit different then a lot of what I’ve been reading. First off, I was introduced to your story through reading about the idea that the award was controversial. I did not see the assailants in the story as being class identified. To some extent, that strikes me as an attempt to invent a political criticism from people who don’t like your story for political reasons that could be sympathized with on the other side of the spectrum.
I do however, understand the controversy. There is a need for more inclusiveness in sci-fi, and there are various feminist and related criticisms that certainly make a lot of sense.
I think the thing is, to be brutally honest, the story just didn’t seem to fit into the genre to a lot of people. Speculative or science fiction generally entails imagined technology or science that is the setting for the story. Science fiction has always had a tradition of political messages, allegories, and so on. Your story or poem could have been similar if you substituted the dinosaur for some other type of typically ferocious animal. The fear that some people have I think, who aren’t motivated by racism/sexism/homophobia/transphobia etc, is that in trying to be more inclusive and open things up to a bigger audience, you might change the essence of what that thing is.
To give a loose analogy, let’s say we were trying to promote more female participation in say, punk rock music. We wouldn’t to take a classical piano piece and say, this was the best punk music because we liked the message.
Of course the limits of genres are always pushed, and what remains essentially part of a genre and what is outside of it is a subjective thing.
There’s another aspect to the style of this particular work that I think adds to the complication. It is essentially a prose poem, and there are I think gendered stereotypes about what styles appeal to what genders. I don’t think these are true, but one can get the mistaken sense that by defining it as sci fi, one needs to make sci-fi “more feminine” as if sci-fi would only appeal to women if it was in the form of personal emotional prose/poetry.
I hope you don’t take offense to anything I said, that wasn;t my intention. I heard of the controversy and I sort of got it, and I hadn’t seen it really articulated quite this way. Discussing controversial aspects of art and culture can often devolve into personal attacks/debates, and this wasn’t the spirit of my reply. Sometimes there are subtleties in these discussions that people don’t like to talk about, because the conversation becomes so polarized that people are afraid of “signalling” allegiance to a side.
Anyway, i would be happy to discuss further if this topic interests you.
David, welcome, and thanks for your comment. (I’m not Mandolin, obviously, but I am one of the blogrunners.)
Okay, but with all respect, why would that matter?
First of all, she didn’t use some other animal. It’s not, and never has been, a requirement that for a story to be sf/f, there must not be any “substitution” imaginable. Maybe Connie Willis’ story “The Last of the Winnebagos” could have been done with passenger pigeons being the extinct species the POV was obsessed with, rather than dogs.But it wasn’t done about passenger pigeons, and the story as it exists is a sci-fi story, even if a similar story could be imagined that didn’t have a sci-fi setting.
And secondly, even if it had been – say – “If You Were A Tiger, My Love,” then the story would still have had sf/f elements. It’s not as if in the real world tigers typically sing on the Broadway stage.
(Also, technically, there are elements of the story which wouldn’t work with a tiger or any other non-extinct animal instead of a dinosaur (like the need for scientists to construct a mate)).
* * *
Someone once argued that presenting “Dinosaur” as a sf/f story makes it be read in more interesting and different ways than if it had been presented as mainstream lit-fic. I don’t think that’s an argument for it being sf/f or not, exactly, but it is an argument that it’s beneficial for some sf/f readers that it be presented as part of the sf/f genre.
* * *
Is there any necessary contradiction between something being a story and a poem? I don’t think I’d call “Dinosaur” poetry, but if it is, does that mean it isn’t a story?
I’m actually fine with the idea that some people don’t read it as SF/f. But a lot of people did, also, and I don’t see why their readings don’t count. They’re allowed to nominate and vote for things that meet their definition, just as people with different definitions are welcome to theirs. To be clear, it’s okay if you want to argue the point. I just don’t like the assumption that here’s a definitive answer to “it is” or “it’s not” — people really came with different approaches which is fine with me.
The definition of poetry v story is interesting. First, very few (if any) magazines would publish this as poetry which is a good sniff test. Secondly, I can construct an argument fairly easily that the piece employs traditional praxis plot structure. Again, I am fine with people saying they have an opinion on that, but many people, intelligent people who are excellent readers, did read it as a story. So, again, there were a broad range of approaches.
Debate doesn’t bother me. The intimation that readers who encountered the piece one way are all wrong vexes me a bit.
Maybe further reply later; I’m at a con.
Oh, also, thank you for your engagement and for approaching me in good faith, and extending good Faith to me. I really appreciate that a lot.
Yes, definitely, what constitutes the boundaries of a genre is subjective. I suppose when I think of what sort of defines something as sci-fi, I think of the presence of a fictional world, based on notions of some type of technology or other futuristic occurrence that is not currently present. Fantasy is a similar genre, but one based on a fictional world based on the existence of magic or some other similar feature. Often these fictional elements have allegorical reference to things in our real world. By putting a story in such a context, it can let us treat themes and situation outside of the immediate reality, and say something unique about them in a different way.
As far as the point about a different animal, the story seems to be about someone reflecting on their partner and comparing an idealized version of them to the one that exists. I mean, there’s a lot more to it and the story has depth and nuance and is subject to multiple readings. But it seems to me to take place in the real world, not so much a story about a fictional future as using the animal as a comparison point for reflections on the partner. It seems very grounded in real, visceral experience of the world as it contemporarly exists
Again, I think this is a good work, not just not one that I would personally view as sci-fi. There is always going to be some conflict between pushing the boundaries of a genre and preserving its core elements.
You have course have the reactionary, far right elements who inject their politics into this.
On the other hand, there is the danger of people taking some of their argument, and reacting to it as the equivalent of a political argument.
For example, on a different comments section, (and this is really what got me thinking about this) someone made a comment along the lines of “This isn’t sci-fi. Asimov must be spinning in his grave.” Now that’s a fairly nasty and dismissive way of expressing criticism. However, there was a reply to his comment “Good, as long as he stays buried.”
Now this is the kind of thing I’m referring to. It’s one thing to expand the boundaries of a genre, and quite another to say, “this should replace what we think of as sci-fi.” To be clear, I’m not accusing the author or anyone on this blog of doing that. But these things get messy, and there is the tendency of “these people whose politics I don’t like represent a certain vision of what style the genre is, and since their basic argument is wrong, that vision of the genre is an inherent part of their political ideology, and I should be against that.”
I also like the irony of the critic assuming they would know what Asimov thinks, and the reply to that ceding that ground and thus criticizing Asimov on the basis of a strawman argument.
But we humans are very prone to such cognitive biases, especially when the intersection of politics and art comes up.
I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said. (By the way, I’m the author.)
There are actually a fair amount of folks who don’t fit into the assumed right/left divide who don’t like the story, or think it’s not SF/F, or think it’s a poem instead of a story. Those are definitely legitimate arguments!
I do admit that I think these arguments are sometimes used, by some folks, to mask political agendas. But that’s absolutely not everyone.
The Asimov thing is funny; my first Hugo nomination was widely discussed as an homage to Asimov. (It wasn’t one, deliberately, but it took echoes of his work, I suppose.)
I support the broad diversity of the field and many people having different tastes. I don’t want all SFF to look like mine; that would be boring. I really hope that puppies continue to make recommendation lists (as opposed to slates) because the more diverse voices we have, talking to diverse audiences, the better and healthier our field will be. Will all those things match my taste? Absolutely not; for SF, I’m on the literary end (for lit, I’m on the commercial end). I want folks who aren’t me to have a vote and a voice, but unfortunately, I feel like mine was blocked this year, which makes me a bit sad.
I find the idea that literary/complex prose is considered left wing, while workman-like prose is considered right wing, really interesting. There’s nothing mandating those be the divisions. And actually, of course, we can see more commercial work from Lois McMaster Bujold or Eric Flint. Likewise, more literary work from Gene Wolfe. This politicized idea of the *form* of the art has crept into the culture enough that I think it does influence what people write and read. But there’s no reason it has to divide the way it has. It could easily have divided the other way. Preferably, the aesthetic divide will stop being so heavily associated with politics.
I hope I’m making sense.
“I find the idea that literary/complex prose is considered left wing, while workman-like prose is considered right wing, really interesting. There’s nothing mandating those be the divisions. And actually, of course, we can see more commercial work from Lois McMaster Bujold or Eric Flint. Likewise, more literary work from Gene Wolfe. This politicized idea of the *form* of the art has crept into the culture enough that I think it does influence what people write and read. But there’s no reason it has to divide the way it has. It could easily have divided the other way. Preferably, the aesthetic divide will stop being so heavily associated with politics.
I hope I’m making sense.”
Yes, totally. I pretty much agree with everything you’re saying. It would be interesting to think about how that type of sense of aesthetic divide occurred. . I’m sure there’s been scholarship on this subject. It’s a pretty silly notion.