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Innerbrat
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The FedEx arrow and how to deal with it. 
14th-Apr-2009 01:04 pm
sinfest
WARNING: The following post contains abuse of symbolism.

There's a arrow on the FedEx logo

If you don't see it, that's fine. Some people don't do negative space. But I see the damn arrow, I cannot unsee the damn arrow, and I would appreciate it if people didn't accuse me of being some kind of psychotic arrow fetishist, or accuse me of accusing them of being stupid and arrowblind, because I can see the friggin' arrow.

This has been linked a round a couple of times since it was written - but not nearly enough. I recommend everyone goes and reads it. From here on in in this post, I'll use the 'Arrow' as a symbol of gender/race/sexuality/ability fail in stories, which once they've been pointed out, simply refuse to go away; at least for me.

A few years ago, there was a movie about a comic. I enjoyed the movie; it wasn't brilliant, in fact it was rubbish compared to the two movies it succeeded, but it was 'alright, I suppose'. At the time I didn't know much about comics (fancy that), and although I considered myself a feminist and knew racism was bad, I didn't really look for arrows.

Then skadi pointed out that the take home message of that movie seemed to be "women can't be trusted with power", and I saw the arrow. And now I can't unsee it, and I no longer like that movie all that much. This isn't the case with everything; there are some books and films and TV shows I like perfectly well arrows and all; it's a matter of personal taste.

I chose, from then on, to train myself to see the arrows. To understand how women, and later people who are anything but white, heterosexual, able-bodied cissexuals being marginalised and portrayed in problematic ways in stories. I love stories, I dislike bigotry. Being able to see the arrows was something I took upon myself as a way to develop myself. Now I see arrows a lot.

Here's the thing though, some people can't see the arrows. Some people don't want to see the arrows. Some people are quite happy living in the world where "FedEx" is just five letters, and stories are just fictional tales.

That's OK. It is, it's fine. I am not going to hunt you down into your personal space and insist you see the arrow. But if you claim there isn't an arrow, that everyone who sees an arrow is deliberately looking for arrows that aren't there; if you come into posts discussing arrows and complain about how arrows are just in our imagination, then you're going to come off a little bit like a dick.

That's the gist of the discussion about FedEx arrows so far, and it's a little divisive; here are the people who see and talk about arrows, and here are the people wrapped up in their arrowless privilege who don't want to talk about it, thank you. It's an easy division to make; one group is self-important pompous complain-fetishists, the other ignorant bigots. Nice story, really. It plays to our tendencies to divide the world into 'us' and 'them' and means we don't have to reach out to people and actually have a conversation. A pity the world doesn't really work like that.

It seems more likely that people don't want to see arrows because they don't like arrows, and if they see the arrow they're going to have to abandon their fandom and start actively decrying a story they really enjoyed. I don't think that has to be the case. Since I first started seeing arrows, I've had a number of conversations about them, and some were more pleasant than others. I've also had conversations with people who saw arrows where I didn't, and that's fine too.

Here are a couple of take-home messages I think are important when discussing Issues in Fiction, especially if you wish to do so on either side without being a dick. I'll admit first off that I haven't got a particularly good track record with half of this; so this is as much a note to self as preaching to everyone else.

  1. Just because you don't see the arrow, that doesn't mean it's not there.
    Corollary: Just because you see an arrow, it doesn't mean everybody can.
    Different people approach stories from different directions, bringing their own experience and perspectives. The way you relate a story to your personal life might affect the way you see a story, and so might the mood in which you view it. Some people just glance and walk away, some people like to watch deeper. No way of looking at a story is 'better' than the other, and assuming everybody saw the same story as you is a little blind, whether you saw the arrow or not.

  2. Not seeing the arrow, or liking a story with an arrow doesn't make you a bigot.
    A trap both sides get into; the arrow people might not intend to start discussions from one side, but discussions rapidly degenerate when defensiveness comes into play. This is because calling someone out on somewhat bigoted actions and phrases has somehow become the ultimate insult, and 'are you calling me a bigot?' is an active form of defence by actual bigots. So use that line and you'll put yourself in the illustrious company of people like the BNP and NOM, both of whom use "How dare you call us racist/homophobic!" as common arguments.

    Defensiveness isn't needed. I'm pretty sure no one is actually claiming that every fan of Firefly is an anti-Asian racist. People who like The Hunchback of Notre Dame aren't ablist. Fans of Aerosmith aren't universally transphobic. Acknowledging the gender issues involved in The Dark Knight doesn't mean you have to chose between hating the movie or becoming a misogynist for life. It's OK.

    Try to bear this in mind when you're talking about arrows to someone who doesn't see the arrow; defensiveness is a common reaction when arrows are pointed out, and I think this an understandable reaction when people find flaws in something you like. Being a fan involves a certain amount of loyality, and everyone's gone out of their way to defend something against less than savoury accusations. Try an keep the discussion about the topic of the story. Accusations of personal flaws can be reserved for when the person actually says something bigoted.

  3. Some people care about arrows
    Corollary: Some people don't care about arrows.
    I find it hard to enjoy stories with glaringly obvious arrows; I enjoy Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest less than I do the other two movies because of the tribal cannibal scenes. I would love The Dark Knight were it not for the treatment of Barbara Gordon and Renee Montoya Anna Ramirez. My discussions of these movies usually includes these issues because they do genuinely ruin the movie for me. It's perfectly possible that people might not give a flying toss about Babs and Renee because Heath Ledger was so awesome. That's OK; on those occasions I need to accept that yes, Heath Ledger was fantastic and the movie had many good points. It's easier to do that when I'm being told I'm "looking too hard" for issues and am out to ruin the movie for myself and other people.

  4. The arrow is not the be-all and end-all of the story.
    The FedEx logo has an arrow. It also has colours, font, letters and a message. The message doesn't end with "right". Remember that whether you're looking for the arrow or trying to pretend it's not there. The Lost World has some very problematic take-home messages about race. It also has a few things to say about friendship, loyalty, adventure and the evils of slavery. Also, it has fun and thrilling scenes with dinosaurs. There's an arrow. There's also the rest of the book.


So someone has pointed out an arrow in a story you like.
  1. Do you see the arrow?
    If Yes, proceed to question 3
    If No, proceed to question 2.
  2. You do not see the arrow. Do you care if there's an arrow?
    If Yes, then engage in conversation until you are satisfied one way or another. Then proceed to question 4.
    If No, then accept that person sees an arrow and move on.
  3. You see the arrow. Do you care about the arrow?
    If Yes, then proceed to question 5.
    If No, then accept that there's an arrow and move on.
  4. Do you see the arrow?
    If yes, then proceed to question 5.
    If no, then accept that person sees an arrow and move on.
  5. You see an arrow and care about it. Do you think other people might care about the arrow?
    If Yes, then initiate a conversation about the arrow and proceed to question 6
    If No, then proceed directly to question 6.
  6. You still care about the arrow. Do you still enjoy the story?
    If Yes then accept a story you like has an arrow and move on.
    If No then accept that you no longer enjoy the story and move on.

Bonus round: So someone has pointed out an arrow in a story you created.

  1. Do you see the arrow?
    If Yes, proceed to question 3
    If No, proceed to question 2.
  2. You do not see the arrow. Do you care if there's an arrow?
    If Yes, then engage in conversation until you are satisfied one way or another. Then proceed to question 4.
    If No, then accept that person sees an arrow and move on.
  3. You see the arrow. Do you care about the arrow?
    If Yes, then proceed to question 5.
    If No, then accept that there's an arrow and move on.
  4. Do you see the arrow?
    If yes, then proceed to question 5.
    If no, then accept that person sees an arrow and move on.
  5. You see an arrow and care about it. Are you going to continue creating stories?
    If yes, then try to avoid arrows in future
    If no, then accept a story you created as an arrow and move on.

Discussions about issues in stories are not going to stop. Neither is the desire that some people have to enjoy stories without having the issues pointed out to them. As I talk about the issues a lot, those people are more than welcome not to read my blog or engage in dialogue with me, just as I'm free to not post "there are issues!" on every discussion about that story I see taking place everywhere. But claiming there isn't an arrow just because you don't want there to be an arrow, that's just denial, and that's when I might just call you on it.
Opinions 
14th-Apr-2009 12:18 pm (UTC)
I loves you, and this post is the awesome.
14th-Apr-2009 12:43 pm (UTC)
I think this post wins in so many ways.

I'll admit, part of our distance lately has been busy schedules and conflicting periods of awake-time, and part of it has been that your journal features a lot of arrow-illumination lately (or that I'm noticing, I don't know). I'll use SPN as an example because I talk about it so damn much. It's a show I feel strongly about for many different reasons and you've pointed out a few arrows in it that, once I noticed, I can't unnotice. It hasn't ruined the show exactly, but it's brought down my enjoyment of it a fraction or two.

There are arrows there. Once pointed out, I can't un-see them. But I can accept that arrows exist and move on.

I have a tendency to enjoy things without looking too hard at them, because what they mean to me personally is so much more important to me than whatever universal message they're putting out. I don't see myself as important enough or influential enough that my personal opinion on something will make or break it. So to have arrows pointed out (assuming I don't notice them myself first, assuming that the arrow is in something that I've truly enjoyed in the past) can be really upsetting for me, even though I don't see my opinion as all that important, just because now the message that meant so much to me has a stain on it that I can't ignore.

And... I'm not entirely certain where I was going with this. Basically, it was the TL;DR topic-specific version of "I'm sorry if I've been passive-aggressive annoyed at you for a while because it's really my own damage and also, you're a brilliant writer and I'm glad that you make posts like this."
14th-Apr-2009 12:52 pm (UTC)
I accept your apology fully.

I think I have been talking about arrows for a long time, but it's only with SPN that I've been talking about arrows in a fandom we share, and the arrows in SPN are very glaring ones (for me).

I also thought I detected some distance, and worried it was about things more than this, so I'm glad it is just an arrow thing, if that makes sense?
ANYWAY, I accept your apology and thank you for commenting. I'm also sorry for being annoying. I do need to bear in mind what I've said here and learn to not attack people with arrows.

(I'm trying to practice Right Speech, and it's HARD.)
14th-Apr-2009 12:57 pm (UTC)
Excellent post!

I see some arrows, but others have to be pointed out to me. It's never a good feeling to have something like a racist/sexist subtext pointed out in a piece of entertainmnet that I've enjoyed, but I try not to let that cloud my perceptions.

It creates a dilemma. How do I reconcile my enjoyment of something that may have a message that I disagree with vehemently? For example, I enjoy the work of HP Lovecraft and Robert E Howard, and both wrote stories crammed with racism and sexism that make me cringe. But the stories themselves are superb examples of horror and fantasy pulp. I suppose the one that I wrestle with most is - are the stories good in spite of their creators' ugly world-view, or because of it?
14th-Apr-2009 01:21 pm (UTC)
If an element to a story you like makes you cringe in a not-good way, and you enjoy the rest of the story, I'd venture to say that's 'in spite'. If you enjoy even those bits, then the line blurs more, but it's possible it doesn't even matter.

I let the reconciliation just happen. I explain away the race issues of Conan Doyle as being a Product of that Time - not repeatable, but not hindering my enjoyment of the book. The race/gender issues in Supernatural do hinder my enjoyment of the show, so I may comment on them or ignore them and get on with watching. The gender issues in one of my comics titles is enough to get me to abandon the title. I think it depends on the work in question, but the reconciliation is personal.
14th-Apr-2009 01:46 pm (UTC)
I just couldn't spot the FedEx arrow, no matter how hard I looked and then there was that little outline of where it was. Then (and only then) I could see it. And I think I have universal arrow blindness or something because I never seem to see those other arrows, never until someone draws another one of those "little outlines" again.

It's not that I don't want to see the arrows because I really do but I just don't. One of the things I have really liked about reading your journal is that you are very good at arrow-seeing and that has helped me to see a very small number of what I suspect are very large and bloody obvious arrows, but at least I see a few before I get skewered by them.

When I first started watching BtVS, I would read all these posts about how this was a metaphor for that and how these symbols linked to produce this and I would miss every single one of them. It's frustrating because I know people who saw the Buffy arrows had a much richer (or at least different) reading of that episode than I did but matter how hard I looked, I just didn't see them.

This may seem tangential but bear with me - I saw Wolf Creek when it first came out. I think it was my first exposure to the torture porn sub-genre of horror movies. To this day, I am nauseated even to think of that movie and yet I've seen movies with far more violence, far more graphically portrayed and I could still watch them, even if I didn't necessarily like them. In the end, all I can put it down to is the celebration of sadism in that movie and that the movie glorifies the "art" of the antagonist. It's not a subtle arrow, I grant you, but I think I finally got it ..... I think!

All of which was an immensely long-winded way of saying that, though I don't reply frequently to your posts, it is sometimes because I just got an arrow in something I read/watched earlier. More often it is because I go to re-read/re-watch an earlier book/episode in search of some vague "arrowy" feeling I got the first time through. I still don't get those arrows often enough but at least I'm looking. Thank you because I feel like it does add depth to my reading/viewing experience and, whether I like the arrow or not, at least I become a little more aware of it.
14th-Apr-2009 02:38 pm (UTC)
Brilliant post. I love the arrow analogy, and I agree, sometimes the arrow can stare you in the face, sometimes other people point it out and yes, once it's there, it's there for life.
14th-Apr-2009 02:59 pm (UTC)
Here's something funny:

I recently 'saw an arrow' in a story I'm telling. Mostly in things that are planned and aren't happening yet, and I'm now scrambling to shift things around a bit. But the thing is--it made me realize how easy it is for unfortunate implications to sneak in, or for a useful symbolic binary to get out of control and take on the appearance of a statement about the symbol that drowns out your actual message.

I don't know, that may be opaque. Maybe I'll come back to this topic once everything is played out and I have a sense of if I managed to sort things out satisfactorily or not.
14th-Apr-2009 03:18 pm (UTC)
I may have to link to his post in this thread.
14th-Apr-2009 03:26 pm (UTC)
Oh! Please do so if it'll help!
14th-Apr-2009 04:46 pm (UTC)
Shouldn't the corollary to number one be: Just because you see an arrow, doesn't mean it's actually there?
14th-Apr-2009 04:59 pm (UTC)
No. That's not how pattern recognition works. If you perceive a pattern, it's there.

It doesn't mean it was put there, or that perceiving it when nobody else does makes you insightful and everyone else blind.
14th-Apr-2009 05:10 pm (UTC)
I love you and your way with words.

14th-Apr-2009 05:12 pm (UTC)
I keep being impressed with you and your logicalness. *hugs*
14th-Apr-2009 05:17 pm (UTC)
Finding an arrow doesn't mean there's some radical pro-arrow agenda. Sometimes there's just an arrow.

There are some women and genderqueers and transwhatevers and black people and blondes and atheists and whoever-the-fuck that are less intelligent or less witty or less physically fit or less attractive or less whatever than some straight white male Protestants. It does happen; not everyone is equal, and having the woman be emotionally needy or the token gay dude be a complete whore doesn't necessarily mean the author thinks every woman or queer is like that.

Sometimes the letters just happen to form an arrow. Sometimes Mexicans actually are lazy. Sometimes people just have flaws, completely independently of whatever minorities they're in. I've seen people who seem to think that no story should ever have flawed characters that match a known social bias, and that makes me just as uncomfortable. See the commenter a few threads up; rewriting a story you're telling because you happened to make a character with X trait also have Y trait? Really?
14th-Apr-2009 05:31 pm (UTC)
Sometimes there's just an arrow. Yes. Most of the time, in fact.

However. If one lives in a larger context where a pro-arrow agenda does in fact exist, and one does not support said agenda, one may (or may not) want to make sure that one's own work doesn't have any Just Plain Arrows. For any number of reasons.
15th-Apr-2009 08:28 am (UTC) - Let Me Type Through The Rage
User redbrunja referenced to your post from Let Me Type Through The Rage saying: [...] has a great post about 'seeing that arrow'; in essence, problematic elements in media that is well worth a read. For me, one of those things that I can't not see is issues of gender. For example, while I adore Hugh Jackman and ... [...]
15th-Apr-2009 02:28 pm (UTC) - Arrows and prejudice
User damanique referenced to your post from Arrows and prejudice saying: [...] voice. Or other talents. That's the kind of prejudice that nags at me. Something posted about the FedEx arrowreminded me of something similar: that once you become aware of 'hidden' prejudice and discrimination you can't quite un-see ... [...]
15th-Apr-2009 04:16 pm (UTC)
I read this. I linked to it.
15th-Apr-2009 05:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much for doing so :)
15th-Apr-2009 06:30 pm (UTC)
While I have a moment, let me just say: THANK YOU for this.
15th-Apr-2009 06:34 pm (UTC)
No no, thank YOU for the imaginary chocolate!
16th-Apr-2009 10:26 pm (UTC) - Sometimes, it's just you.
Sorry, but...

There's this lovely essay about homosexual subtext in one of the stories in the Eddas -- where Loki steals Thor's hammer -- with much loving writing about how Loki and Thor waking up beside each other means they had hawt mansex the night before, and this is one of the key 'arrows' in the woman's argument that it's all about Thor's...other hammer.

There's only one, minor problem.

It was normal to share beds in a very non-euphemistic sense -- she was reading modern cultural norms into what was, at the time (and until rather well into the Industrial Revolution in the US) a perfectly normal way of coping with having more people than you have beds.

There was no sex going on. Period. Not even in what pr0n I've read from periods where bed-sharing by unrelated people was normal. My guess is that everybody felt that if you were doing that, you were there to get completely-non-euphemistic sleep.

Moral of the story? Sometimes the arrow's just you.
17th-Apr-2009 09:04 am (UTC) - Re: Sometimes, it's just you.
There've been a lot of comments both here and elsewhere that have tried to derail the conversation by claiming 'sometimes the arrow wasn't deliberately put there'. This says to me that I have failed to make one point clear: creator's intent isn't what I am talking about.

The 'arrows' I'm talking about are a function of how they're viewed with the context of the viewer. Once the story has been created, it's out of the author's hands and it then only exists in the people reading it; their interpretation is what they bring to the discussion. Even if your interpretation contains knowledge of the author and the wider context in which the author was creating, that doesn't make your interpretation the be all and end all of interpretations.

Other readings are just as valid.

edited for grammar and clarity.

Edited at 2009-04-17 09:06 (UTC)
13th-May-2009 10:31 am (UTC)
"women can't be trusted with power"

Was that X3?
13th-May-2009 11:34 am (UTC)
Yes, yes it was.
15th-May-2009 01:17 pm (UTC)
Also there's a bear on the toblerone logo. In context that might be a more unfortunate metaphor.
15th-Jan-2010 07:42 pm (UTC) - Hey, I just got linked to this...
This is an awesome post and I agree completely. Especially with your mention later down in the comments about how when you get right down to it, interpretation is not about what the author was trying to say, but about what the reader can take from the text.
15th-Jan-2010 10:58 pm (UTC) - Re: Hey, I just got linked to this...
Thanks for taking the time to comment! It's great that people are still reading this post.
16th-Feb-2010 05:51 pm (UTC)
Very well put :)
16th-Feb-2010 06:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

Incidentally, I appear to have had 70 visitors to this entry suddenly today. Was it linked somewhere?
16th-Feb-2010 07:13 pm (UTC)
This may be the most amazing thing I've read in a long time and I thank you for posting it!

It's really hard sometimes, trying to explain to male friends about sexism* in movies and books and whatnot, because they often get defensive and think that I am accusing them of being sexist. That's not the case at all (in fact, most of my male friends are pretty open minded) but they don't come from the experiences I do, being female, and don't always see things the same way I do. It frustrated me, I don't mind admitting, but this post helped me understand where THEY'RE coming from, and perhaps I can use it to make the opposite happen.

Thank you for posting this! It's worded so excellently!

*singling out sexism because I'm female. This generally doesn't happen in regards to discussions of racism or ablism
19th-Feb-2010 07:31 am (UTC)
This is wonderfully written! Well done. Adding to my memories, if you don't mind!
20th-Feb-2010 11:11 am (UTC) - Here via the Amanda Palmer Debacle
[ Edited to add apologies/clarification - I think I posted this twice somehow! ]

That [tracking down the link on Amanda Palmer's blog that led me, and probably several folks, to this post] didn't take nearly as long as I'd feared!

http://blog.amandapalmer.net/post/396762227/evelyn-evelyn-drama-drama#comment-35062042

The text:

I'm tired, so I don't have time to see if this has been posted anywhere in relation to all of this, but I'd like to post this link to all the "FUCK THE HATERS" types.

http://innerbrat.livejournal.com/624852.html

I think the analogy described in that post is pretty good. It's not a matter of "haters", it's a matter of people being triggered by different issues - if you're not bothered by something, and someone else is, well, okay then. But that doesn't mean they are a "hater".

Elsewhere yesterday, I made a polite comment about this whole thing, and was told in response to fuck myself and burn my AFP merchandise. I don't think the person replying even understood what I was saying, they just understood that I wasn't 100% behind something Amanda was doing, therefore I = EVIL EVIL HATER. It's... ridiculous. Come on, guys. We can disagree about things without having to shun each other.

Actually, that post could be interesting to everyone - it's a good discussion of "Issues in Fiction" and how to deal with them, and how to deal with others who do or do not see the same issues you do/do not.


I hope many of AFP's defenders DO come over here to read this post. Definitely some enlightenment needed by some. It is a GREAT example of people willfully ignoring the arrow (in this case, it's ableism and...I'm not sure what you would call "making light of sexual abuse survivors," but yeah, that, too), and being rather spiteful toward those who are trying to point it out. Fingers crossed that even ONE person tilting at windmills over there is rescued by your post, innerbrat.

Edited at 2010-02-20 11:14 (UTC)
4th-May-2010 08:10 pm (UTC)
I know this has been here for a while, but someone just linked me to it today, and I have to say: thank you, thank you, thank you so much for making such an excellently clear and concise post about this stuff, and for reminding us all that being calm and polite is more important than ever when touchy subjects are being discussed. You've been very clear-headed here, and I'm sure lots of people have benefited from reading your thoughts. Awesome.
4th-May-2010 09:39 pm (UTC)
I really love it that people are still reading and linking to this thing. It makes me smile. Thank you.
10th-May-2010 12:38 am (UTC)
Hi, I'm here via afro_dyte. Do you mind if I cross-post this. I belong to several forums and I think you analogy nails it in so many ways.
10th-May-2010 07:05 am (UTC)
I absolutely do not mind, thank you!
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