megwrites: Reading girl by Renoir.  (Default)
[personal profile] megwrites
You definitely need to go read this post about the whitewashing of the new covers of Cindy Pon's "Silver Pheonix" and "Fury of the Phoenix" books from [personal profile] inkstone. And then, you need to go buy the book in it's original cover if you can. I certainly am. It's book time.

Oh, and for those who don't want to deal with the Amazon monster:

Powell's has the on sale, original covered hardback. NOTE: The paperback version, however, is the one with the NEW cover.

Barnes & Noble has the hardcover for $15.38 and the paperback version for $8.09, though I wouldn't trust it's availability. (ETA: NOTE: These WILL eventually have the new covers, and while the art on the website is still the original cover, you might not get that version. Check when ordering!)

If buying the book isn't an option for you, you can request the your library get a copy of it if it doesn't already stock it. You can also, if you feel like signal boosting, link to [personal profile] inkstone's post, or you can post a review of Silver Phoenix and mention about the new covers. All these things would be helpful. I know people have different things they can and can't do.

Thinking of this and the entire Failbender (aka Avatar: The Last Airbender) thing reminds me that U.S. mainstream media puts PoC in an untenable position when it comes to trying get a wide range of fair representations. There's always a way to whitesplain away why we can't do that here in the U.S.

No matter what, even if by some miracle a publishing company or studio lets a positive, wonderful portrayal of PoC get out into the media, they find a way to turn that into a disaster. If, for instance, that One Asian Movie does well? All other "Asian movies" (scare quotes because yeah, that phrase is WAY problematic) have to exactly copy it. No, no, don't use it as a platform to say, "Hey, let's show this other aspect/thing/group of people! Let's tell other kinds of stories." Oh no, you must conform to the Preapproved Asian Model.

If you're not that lucky? Then there's the old Whitesplained Catch-22, which is a marvelous marriage of greed and circular logic.

If the book/movie/TV show doesn't do well either in a whitewashed form - it's the fault of it being Asian-theme/influenced/inspired/appropriated from at all. We should've just made it about white guys in L.A.

If it was a more honest incarnation that didn't sell well, it's the same. It's just good ol' classic "Asian books/movies/TV shows don't sell well". It's just another source these people can cite when passing on the next book or next script that may feature Asian protagonists. Or hell, any protagonists of color. Or, further than that, protagonists from a marginalized group period.

Never mind that the millions of media products that are all about white people that fail regularly. They're not taken to be a sign that audiences are tired of seeing so many white folks (actually, I am, IF ANYONE IS LISTENING). No, no. They're just regular failures. It happens. Got unlucky, the marketing support wasn't there, bad opening day against a much bigger movie, the writing wasn't up to par, Mercury was in retrograde - it's anything BUT an indictment of the marketability of white people and their stories as a race.

I think of all the white-dominated movies that have crashed and never once have I heard anyone say, "You know, maybe if we'd put Naveen Andrews in there instead of [insert white guy] or you know what? What this movie really needed was Michelle Yeoh. The white actress was totally a turn off to audiences, what with her weird nose and eyes and that weird yellow hair and maggot egg skin! White people just don't sell. Sigh. Audiences just identify better with brown people. *shrug* Whaddya gonna do? It's business!"

But the reverse logic works just fine.

And on the bottom rung of Racism Hell? If the whitewashed version does well, it's proof that the strategy works, that the audiences out there would've been put off if there'd been too many scary non-white folks. It's proof that What This Cover/Movie Needs Is a Honkey

Which is why my heart really breaks because of these new covers. Because if it helps, it isn't proof that a publishing house giving author's marketing support works. It's proof that not being "too Asian" and not scaring the nice white readers works.

If it fails, well, it's just another reason for agents and editors to say "Asian themed fantasy doesn't sell".

Coincidentally, this is why I get really, really pissed when I hear industry professionals talk about their jobs and the decisions they make in terms of, "It's [just] a business" or "we have to make money, too" - as though their way of making their paycheck doesn't have wide cultural repercussions.

I hear nothing but excuses and status-quo saving when I hear people talk about everything from these covers to projects like Airbender to not putting female authors' names on the covers of anthologies (only famous male names will sell!) even when they make up HALF the anthology.

No, it is not just business. It may run on a business model, but the decisions over what gets widely circulated, sold, and distributed in this country (and in many cases, what makes it onto the shelves of other countries to represent the U.S. around the world) is not JUST A BUSINESS DECISION. It is the height of privilege to undertake it as though profits are the only consideration, as though adding to already devastating cultural ideas about who is beautiful, who is marketable, who is interesting, who is normal, who is right, and who isn't.

The fact is? The U.S. publishing industry is a giant behemoth thing that needs a lot of major changes because it works on a model that doesn't fit with the world it exists in. It's a 19th century system in a 21st century world. The mechanics of it (how authors and agents get paid, how books are marketed and where they end up shelved) of a rusty and set up to make it an industry that doesn't take risks - especially social risks.

I think about my last post concerning agents and reading fees and how it galls me now to think of agents charging it just to tell, for instances, Asian authors, "Sorry, Asian lit doesn't sell. (Read: You and people like you just aren't that cool. Try to be more white.) Now gimme my money!"

The fact is, the control of who can and can't succeed in in the hands of people who ought not to have it, because it's not really up to great writing anymore (it should be). It's up to the people at one of a handful of chain retailers who decide what to carry/not carry - because that's all people have access to in many areas. I know. I've lived in such Commercial Dead Zones. One town? There were three bookstores. One of them was a Big Chain retailer. The other two were small Christian bookstores that sold Bibles, concordances, greeting cards, and knitted cozies for your bible (in case it gets cold in church? IDK?).

I don't lay this at the feet of readers. Readers read exactly as much as they can get their hands on. What they can't access, they can't read. And what they can't read, they can't buy. And what they can't buy can't become a commercial publishing success.

But of course, we all know that it's not about large retailers and companies shaping culture through the domination of wide access and the publishing industry conspiring to use that to squeeze marginalized voices out of contention. Nope. That would be absurd.

It's because Asian books don't sell (if Borders and Barnes & Noble don't want them to).

ETA (thing I thought of later): Oh, and readers who are not PoC or marginalized? Why should you care about these things?

Did you like Harry Potter? Twilight? No - maybe you didn't. Well, unless you want to read about NOTHING but a sea of things that are just like it in YA SF/F, you need to get concerned.

Because if we let things like this slide and don't at least raise some kind of noise about it and make it known that we, the readers, who still get some little bit of a vote with our dollars and voices are NOT going to accept these shenanigans? That's what you're gonna get. That's what you, in many cases, already have.

Don't believe me? Go look at the sea of privileged sameness in, say, Paranormal Romance or Urban Fantasy. I've been reading the same story about the same Thin Pretty Twenty Year old White Woman for over a decade. No really, the same story. The same damn, first person, shallowly told, meeting the oh-so-perfect man, doing some vague magic and angsting about it story. THE SAME DAMN STORY.

I am so tired of this story I want to spit nails.

Because even when I can find a different story - they put a Thin Pretty Twenty-Year-Old White Woman on the cover (complete with exploitative, illogical half-nudity and nonsensical tattoos! Yay photoshop!).

So, if that's what you want for YA, please, ignore this. Don't do anything. Let it slide.

But maybe, just maybe, if you (or the kids you give books to) would like to not read about Bella and Harry FOR THE NEXT FIFTY YEARS, then you need to say something.
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