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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 
15th-Apr-2009 05:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much for doing so :)
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