In the 1977 movie Annie Hall, the main character, comedian Alvy Singer, saw hidden anti-Semitism everywhere. One example is his hearing the quickly spoken question “Did you eat?” as “Jew eat?” I know people like this.
Who you are often determines what you see…or hear…even if it’s not meant that way. And nothing can convince you that you might be wrong.
Also, when George Lucas was making The Phantom Menace, he paid special attention to language. It bothered him that in SciFi movies and TV shows, aliens all spoke perfect English with no accents, or no speech impediments because of sounds that didn’t exist in their native tongues. So he spoke with linguists about what people from different planets and cultures should realistically sound like, and used what he learned for the speech patterns of the Gungans and members of the Trade Federation.
And for his efforts he got criticized by many Asians and blacks as being racist for “mocking” their speech patterns. Those, and the supposed characterization of Jar Jar Binks as a “Stepin Fetchit-like character”, have been used as examples of his unconscious racism.
Even though that was probably the farthest thing from his mind.
Again, who you are often determines what you see…or hear…even if it’s not meant that way. And nothing can convince you that you might be wrong.
A saying often attributed to Sigmund Freud, who saw phallic significance in everything, and loved to smoke, says that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. But sometimes who you are prevents you from seeing the plain old cigar, and insists on imbuing it with some deeper, and darker, meaning. Being a member of certain oppressed groups prevents you from seeing an honest coincidence as a coincidence, and instead has you seeing it as either a conscious or unconscious attack on your group.
All of which brings us to book titles.
In library circles, there’s a popular book display idea of books with titles like The Bonesetter’s Daughter, The Time-Traveler’s Wife, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; and a sign over the display that says “Her Name Is…” These books are seen as signs of the pervasive and unnoticed misogyny in our culture, where women have no identity aside from their relationship to some male.
I call “bullshit” on this one. I say that if you look at the books carefully, if you look at the genres, if you actually read the books, and if you look at the data for thousands of book titles, you’ll find that it’s nothing of the sort. But if you’re like Alvy Singer, who saw anti-Semitism everywhere; and the blacks and Asians who saw racism in the application of George Lucas’s linguistics research to the dialogue in The Phantom Menace, well then, this is just proof of a problem that’s so common that we don’t notice it.
But let’s face it…we tend to notice the things that affect us and bother us, and not the things that don’t. Did anyone complain about Wonder Boys, The Boys in the Boat, or The Bishop’s Boys? How about Navy Husband or The Husband’s Secret? What about The Man in the Iron Mask or both Invisible Man and The Invisible Man? Are there reasons for the man in question having no identity in the title? Is it part of the genre?
And what about those thousands upon thousands of titles that have no one’s name in them at all, male or female? Books like Gone with the Wind, Cold Sassy Tree, To Kill a Mockingbird, or The Color Purple?
I think that if you look at the data, you’ll find that this perceived “hidden misogyny” is nothing of the sort, and it’s just another case of the Alvy Singer effect.
But I know that I’ll be told by many people that my opinion here, backed up by facts, counts for squat…because I’m a guy.
And that’s oppressive.