The Problem With Taste Tribes
Adam Sandler comes in two modes. He can be a good and fascinating actor. The issue here is that he needs to be controlled by another director and just appearing as an actor. The finest example of this is Paul Thomas Anderson’s Punch Drunk Love. Punch Drunk Love featured Adam Sandler as a strange, lonely and emotionally abused man prone to rage and weird schemes to get frequent flyer miles. He was actually acting. He has tried to do the acting thing since Punch Drunk Love with varying degrees of critical and commercial success. Normally not that much commercial success.
The other Adam Sandler mints money. This Adam Sandler does movies that are willfully immature, juvenile, scatological, and perpetually offensive without any charm or wit. This is the Adam Sandler most known to the public and produces love or hate reactions. I am on the hate side.
The usual Adam Sandler was in the news yesterday for being obnoxious, immature, and jerky. Native American Actors walked off his set for offensive jokes and humor including “offensive names for Native American female characters and a scene where a Native American woman urinated while using a peace pipe.”
Like many people, I don’t find this very funny and I never understood why Adam Sandler is supposed to be a comedy legend. I didn’t even like his stuff when in High School. What I’ve seen errupt over this issue is the problem of taste tribes and the Big Sort.
A lot of my friends are on the left and their friends on the left so I saw a lot of stuff about the Adam Sandler story yesterday. Maybe more than most because a lot of friends are or were involved in the performing arts as well. One person made a comment about how Adam Sandler is already Box Office poison and this is going to make him especially so.
The problem with this comment is that it is absolutely not true. Grown Ups 2 was budgeted at 80 million dollars and made a gross of 247 million dollars. This is a rather big return on investment. And here we have a problem of taste tribes in which you assume your view is the conventional wisdom because everyone around you has close enough opinions and tastes. There are 300 million people in the United States and it is silly to think that your side (whatever that might be) will always be in the majority on every issue.
There are probably conservative or right-wing variants of people being shocked that a particular entertainer is popular and well-selling but I think that the far right-wing is more atuned to the idea that their tastes and ideas might be on the outskirts and they are willing to fight for it. Gamergate and the Hugo fight are vile and noxious but the proponents of both idiotic arguments seem to recognize on a deep down (and potentially unconscious level) that their tastes are no longer dominate.
This is what the Sad Puppies say:
A few decades ago, if you saw a lovely spaceship on a book cover, with a gorgeous planet in the background, you could be pretty sure you were going to get a rousing space adventure featuring starships and distant, amazing worlds. If you saw a barbarian swinging an axe? You were going to get a rousing fantasy epic with broad-chested heroes who slay monsters, and run off with beautiful women. Battle-armored interstellar jump troops shooting up alien invaders? Yup. A gritty military SF war story, where the humans defeat the odds and save the Earth. And so on, and so forth.
These days, you can’t be sure.
The book has a spaceship on the cover, but is it really going to be a story about space exploration and pioneering derring-do? Or is the story merely about racial prejudice and exploitation, with interplanetary or interstellar trappings?
There’s a sword-swinger on the cover, but is it really about knights battling dragons? Or are the dragons suddenly the good guys, and the sword-swingers are the oppressive colonizers of Dragon Land?
A planet, framed by a galactic backdrop. Could it be an actual bona fide space opera? Heroes and princesses and laser blasters? No, wait. It’s about sexism and the oppression of women.
Finally, a book with a painting of a person wearing a mechanized suit of armor! Holding a rifle! War story ahoy! Nope, wait. It’s actually about gay and transgender issues.
Or it could be about the evils of capitalism and the despotism of the wealthy.
Do you see what I am trying to say here?
The basic gist of all of this can be boiled down to “Our tastes are no longer dominate or important to a large section of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Community. We need to do something about it!”
My big problem with the Hugos is that it is more like the People’s Choice Awards because of the voting structure over being like the Drama Desks or the Obies. Anything picked by a mass number of people is going to get extremely political. Stuff picked by so-called industry experts and professionals can also be political and the experts can make bad or inexplicable choices but a good source of reform can be having panels of published SF and F Authors, Editors, and Reviewers pick works for Hugo nominations instead of having an open process that can be easily gamed.
The real issue here is that taste tribes and other acts of political polarization seem to allow people to imagine world’s of total victory. A world in which they are always the dominate viewpoint, the decision maker, and the dissenters exist in nothing more than silence and shut-up. This is not going to happen. Karl Rove imagined that 2004 would start a decades long Republican majority. Likewise people thought 2008 would be the start of a Democratic majority. Rather we seem to be entering into something that more resembles prolonged trench warfare at Verdun.
I am not completely against the idea of sorting based on taste tribes. A former OTer with libertarian viewpoints is facebook friends with a former OTer of very right-wing view points. I don’t know what they get out of their frequent and high-intensity fights over various issues besides a heightened probability of hypertension. I do think we would be better off learning that in a nation of 300 million and a world of 7 billion that not everyone is going to agree with us or have the same tastes as us and that is okay. We might learn to live together.