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Little Fish Swimming In A Big Fish’s Wake

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This isn’t a call out post, though in some cases you’ll be able to read between the lines. That’s not the purpose. Two of the few individuals I’ll single out by name are John Green and E.L. James, and they are largely passive players in the current online dramas their names keep surfacing in. This post is neither a condemnation of them or an endorsement. I bring them up here as examples of authors who have recently been made, perhaps unwillingly, into banners for much larger crusades.

With that in mind, I have to address something that has been bothering me ever since the #AskELJames hashtag last week. For anyone unaware, an individual who is either woefully out of touch or disastrously optimistic thought it would be a great idea for E.L. James to do a Twitter Q & A, in which fans would be able to ask questions and hashtag them with #AskELJames in the hopes of getting their queries answered. A domestic violence prevention group that has protested Fifty Shades of Grey many times in the past came up with the idea that critics of the violence, rape, misogyny, homophobia and racism in the books should flood the tag with questions about all of these issues, to see if James, who is notorious for hostile responses to criticism, would address any of them. But in the hours leading up to the event, some of the questions became, well, mean. People insulted her weight, her intelligence, her appearance, all the standard issue internet hate one would expect to get from just, you know. Being on the internet.

People felt sympathy for her, and that sympathy turned into statements like, “You have to feel bad for her,” which seems harmless in the rhetorical. But then it became an order, “You have to feel bad for her. Nobody would like to hear those things said about them,” before finally throwing in the b-word: “You have to feel bad for her. Nobody would like to hear those things said about them. This is bullying.”

One author came to James’s defense with a blog post imploring us to all be nice, and categorizing the event as a mean-spirited free-for-all in which an innocent author was attacked for no reason and with no means of protecting herself. People online are, after all, people in real life. Comparisons to Cersei’s walk of shame on Game of Thrones were made. E.L. James was, truly, a martyr to the irredeemable beast that is social media.

One thing everyone seemed to overlook was the fact that James herself famously said that criticism would be easier to take “with a nice fat paycheck,” and that she has behaved atrociously toward people on-line since her days in the Twilight fandom. But what goes around comes around is no longer fair, it seems; you should be able to have your cake and shit on everyone else’s without criticism or retaliation.

At the same time, a storm that had been raging for weeks seemed to have been blowing over. It concerned YA author John Green and a tumblr post made by a fan who criticized Green’s interaction with teens. Weeks ago, Green posted a rebuttal to defend himself from allegations of child sexual abuse that were never made. To be frank, I can see why he leapt to that ardent defense, as being an adult man with unfettered digital access to many teenage girls is a position that requires extreme caution. But when YA bloggers and readers pointed out exactly that, authors came out in droves to defend Green from allegations which, again, were never made. The Tumblr user was driven off the site by fans angry that Green had announced he would limit his use of social media. One author stated they “genuinely had reason to distrust male authority figures,” and were “ill” over the controversy, implying that teens who disagreed with them did not have a good enough reason to discuss the issue or their instincts when it comes to adult men.

A teen writer, Camryn Garret, wrote an op ed for The Huffington Post in which she pointed out the connection between silencing teens and fostering rape culture. And yet again, authors rode to John Green’s defense, with one of them calling Garret’s piece an “attack,” as though a teen writer openly acknowledging the power imbalance between bestselling authors with broad social media platforms and their largely anonymous readers put Green in very real danger.

Yesterday, news broke that another YA author, this one much further down the food chain than the others, had announced their resignation from the young adult genre entirely. They would no longer write YA due to the toxic culture that had formed on social media, and their decision was made not in defense of John Green, but in defense of one of the midlist names defending John Green. And of course, the merry-go-round began spinning again, with authors and readers lamenting the loss of this valuable voice and vowing to buy and promote their books.

So it would seem that the tide is turning back toward the Be Nice culture of yore, where readers stayed silent and were happy for the crumbs authors threw to them, and authors with smaller distribution gazed lovingly up at those who had made it. Interestingly enough, the only people who haven’t been weighing in on this subject are Green and James themselves. They haven’t defended themselves half so ardently as the handful of midlisters and bestsellers who stepped up to the plate to decry public response. So I have to wonder…

Is Be Nice the new marketing tool?

One of the easiest ways of garnering sympathy on the internet is to invoke the word “bully.” That accusation has so much power for a word whose meaning has largely been erased through misuse. Bullying implies a power dynamic, the strong preying upon the weak. In what conceivable way was James, arguably the most successful author of all time, disempowered by the voices of dissent in her social media Q&A? At what point was Green brutally oppressed by a larger discussion of concerns that had long gone unexamined with regards to YA authors and their access to teens through the internet, a discussion in which he was no longer the subject but merely the catalyst? More puzzling still is the “abuse” some of the authors defending them believe they’ve been unfairly subjected to when others have disagreed with them, even mildly.

Make no mistake: some comments made about both Green and James were inappropriate and mean for the sake of meanness. Lines were crossed. But that doesn’t mean they were bullied, any more than a handful of pebbles could bully a mountain. Neither of them are known to be silent in the face of criticism, so why the endless posts and tweets and arguments to support them?

Because if you care hard enough and loud enough, you’ll get a prize.

And that’s really all it is. If you call upon others to Be Nice, you appear positive and constructive, regardless of who or what you’re trying to silence with that attitude. If you flounce loudly from your own genre, you’re making the ultimate sacrifice to positivity because you’re just too Nice to handle all that negativity. If you can call enough attention to your niceness, the big fish might notice you. They might tell all the minnows in their pond about you. One day, you might even leap from your tidal pool into the vast ocean of their popularity, because you did them a solid by defending them.

Is this cynical of me? Maybe. But consider all of the authors out there who don’t put up Fifty Shades or The Fault In Our Stars numbers, many of whom are people of color, GLBTQA+ authors, young women writers (including Camryn Garret), who face hatred on social media and their blogs every day while they’re just out there trying to make their voices heard. Do they receive this kind of impassioned defense? Do they merit pages long blog posts, a series of tweets spread out over weeks, a rallying cry that this is the final straw, all of this meanness must be stopped?

No. They don’t get that. Because there’s nothing in it for a little fish to defend another little fish. And if they sit back and watch that other little fish get eaten? Less fish in the pond means more chance of getting the fish food.

John Green and E.L. James have always been very good at supporting their fellow authors and seem eager to do it, but I’ve never seen an indication that they do this as a reward for their faithful legions of white knights alone. So what do authors seek to gain from shutting down valuable discussion about real issues, and lumping legitimate criticism in with insults and personal attacks?

If it’s an attempt to gain readers, count me out. I’ve been turned off by a lot of authors in the past two weeks. The “haters” didn’t alter my personal opinions of John Green or E.L. James, but I certainly see the defenders in a new light, and it’s not positive.

But maybe that’s just me, not being Nice.

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47 Comments

  1. Fantastic post. It expresses a lot of what I’ve been feeling. We’ve lost the ability to differentiate between criticism and bullying. We’ve started calling every negative book review bullying, and people are running around trying to silence readers.

    I think the power disparity is an important distinction here, and I’m glad you’ve made it. Using the hashtag to throw fat comments at EL James was bullying, but we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater here and ignore the legitimate concerns raised by the domestic violence awareness community over FSoG.

    July 7, 2015
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  2. Rin
    Rin

    People keep saying in tumblr “hate is toxic.” I wish I knew what drugs they were talking, so I can take a break from all this bullshit.

    July 7, 2015
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  3. Lieke
    Lieke

    My mother often tells me that ‘if you can’t say something nice then don’t say anything.’ I think this is a very useful piece of advice when it comes to dealing with people in person and I have (mostly) adhered to it.

    I don’t agree with her when it comes to dealing with products. If I don’t like a product then I’m not going to shut up. I’m going to say that I don’t like this book/film/music and why, because that is more useful than keeping quiet. It allows me to express my feelings about the product (which is a relief, since a bad product is disappointing) and it allows other people to learn something about the product.

    Of course, people sometimes cross the line and start to personally attack the creator of the product, but that’s absolutely no reason to try to squash all criticism and debate. There will always be people who abuse something. That’s just the way of the world.

    I really dislike this bullshit ‘Be Nice’ movement. Especially because you can be nice AND express a negative opinion about something. The two are not mutually exclusive.

    July 7, 2015
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    • Especially because you can be nice AND express a negative opinion about something. The two are not mutually exclusive.

      THIS. I try as hard as I can to be kind and empathetic to people — even the ones I think are just living on a goddamn different planet because their views are so alien to me.

      But that doesn’t mean that I can’t criticize. And my polite criticism is not the same thing as the kind of asshole who bullies for fun. I refuse to be lumped in.

      July 7, 2015
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  4. Melinda
    Melinda

    Gah, I puffy heart love this post. The overuse of the word bullying makes it lose ALL meaning. Which diminishes the actual problem of bullying – bullying is a real problem with big consequences so I hate to see people who struggle with it be diminished. But people throw the word around like it’s nothing, like the people who actually deal with it are nothing.

    The Be Nice movement is such bullshit. I can have a negative opinion without being an asshole. It’s not hard. Some people are assholes, some people aren’t. I have a whole bunch of opinions but I respect those whose opinions differ from mine. I hate not being able to express my opinions in the book world in particular these days without someone crying “Be Nice!”. Bullshit.

    July 7, 2015
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  5. Lyn Never
    Lyn Never

    “Be Nice” is invariably for women and people of color. It’s tone argument, basically.

    July 7, 2015
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  6. Petra (Merlinslaugh)
    Petra (Merlinslaugh)

    I have huge issues with the whole “be nice” thing not least of which is that by its very nature it endangers those seen as being “not nice”; even as it labels them in a negative way. As we saw this week with both the James and Green issues, very often those being labelled are often vulnerable, already targets for abuse (so becoming “not nice” only further hightens the danger) and least able or in a position to defend themselves; in the Green discussions this was a teen woman of colour and James, victims of abuse who called her out. Of course this also provides abusive men looking for targets yet another excuse.

    What angered me most this week was a tweet by Camryn Garrett saying she had been made aware that there were authors preparing rebuttals to her article and she was “terrified”. No one, especially a teenage WOC, should be “terrified” of a response from authors; particularly authors who earn their living taking money from her age group (an element of this debacle I find increasingly discomforting and that I have yet to see adequately addressed). The “be nice” jerk circle only continued when women (one in particular) who came to this young woman’s defense, were called abusers and harassers and people were encouraged to “report” her. This inevitably led to abuse over social media. The circle completed.

    Of course the defining issue of “be nice” is who gets to decide what “nice” is? What is acceptable no what isn’t. As the above examples show inevitably the arbiters of “be nice”, the decider of what is or isn’t and who is or isn’t being nice is most often the person with the most privilege in the situation. Their privilege, their position, their voice, gives them enormous power (which is why they feel free to dictate the terms of niceness in the first place) and most often (as with the EL James hashtag) ends up shutting down legitimate criticism as it frames those making that criticism as “not nice”; thereby invalidating their comments and thoughts and relegating them with all the negative connotations implied by the terms they set.

    At the end of the day I’d like to see terms like “bully”, “be nice” etc removed from any discussions that contain legitimate criticism within them. I know this is unlikely to happen – the people (many of whom are writers after all) using these terms to shut down debate know their usefulness far outweighs the alternative; stoping talking, opening their ears and listening to the alternate point of view they are effectively trying to shut down, but a girl can hope.

    July 7, 2015
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    • Victoriana
      Victoriana

      That’s such a good point. I agree that it’s those with the most power and privilege (in this case authors with large followings and PR/social media platforms) who define “be nice” and “bully”. It’s a rhetorical weapon to silence legitimate criticisms of their work, often also intimidating and shutting out the voices of with the least privilege in the discussion, such as teenage girls and women, POC, etc (the response to Camryn Garrett was sickening and really angers me too). This is so troubling, and I too would be glad to see those terms disappear, but doubt they are ever likely to due to their usefulness to their wielders in shutting down criticism.

      July 7, 2015
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  7. Megan M.
    Megan M.

    Well put, Jenny. I always enjoy reading your viewpoint on things like this.

    July 7, 2015
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  8. mydogsPA
    mydogsPA

    Just because EL’s characters show no respect for each other or we hear the stories of how EL showed no respect to the director during the filming of the movie doesn’t mean that we, the readers & audience, should not show respect to her. True, her protagonist is a rapist-stalker-control-freak and the 4th novel “Grey” removes all doubt of that. But being mean to her only gives her sympathy and gets her back into the limelight again.

    As my wife pointed out to me, one day this will all fade away and her legacy will be that of a really poor writer. A good chunk of now ex-die-hard fans are learning this after reading Grey, say about 25% or so, hopefully more. As the other books are written, hopefully more will defect. But the more she is in the limelight, the longer it will take.

    So, if anything, Jenny, it appears like Grey is nothing but a rewrite of the first three books that prove that his thought process is that of a rapist-stalker-control-freak that never could have built the empire he did. I think we call this bad writing a result of what happens when the author wants things to happen, not because the characters could or want to make it happen.

    As much as I love your rewrites, by doing so you’re just keeping EL in the spotlight. I know your fans want to see more of them, but if you shorten them where each blog covers two or three chapters that only confirms Grey’s abusive traits, then we’d be done with the blog sooner and then EL will fade away that much quicker.

    Tough call, I know,a s you want to keep your fans engaged. But every word you write about the next series only keeps EL in the limelight, and at what point do we want to just let her go be a footnote in history that she deserves to be?

    July 7, 2015
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    • JennyTrout
      JennyTrout

      I see where you’re coming from, but this post wasn’t really about critiquing Grey or James as their own entities. James has stayed quiet about the hashtag incident, as Green stayed quiet about the drama surrounding him after his initial rebuttal. The problem here isn’t James at all, and while the post mentioned her for context, it wasn’t about her or the content of her book.

      However, I will address one of your points here. I do not believe that critics ignoring her will make her fade away, nor do I think one person (in this case myself) vocally criticizing her is the cause of her visibility. James has a legion of fans that outnumber her critics, and they’re the ones supporting her career and causing that visibility. With two more movies and books on the way, she isn’t going to fade away if I just stop writing about her.

      July 7, 2015
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      • Funny (often brilliant) recaps here and elsewhere are worthwhile writing and reading in and of themselves. History is scattered with witty and clever and biting reviews of books, movies, and plays, some of which reviews are better known than the works critiqued, which may themselves have been completely (and deservedly) forgotten. Reviews may not a major part of the commonly-known literary canon, but maybe someday they will be.

        In any case, I have no desire to read any more EL James than I already have (a few chapters of the first book, then I tried it in French, don’t ask), and no desire to engage with her on social media, but recaps and smart criticism brighten my day, entertain me, and encourage me to get my own writing done (and hopefully never be skewered in a recap!).

        July 7, 2015
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      • Katsuro Ricksand
        Katsuro Ricksand

        Thanks for saying lots of what what I was going to, Jenny. Even if 70 million people read your excellent recaps, that’ll still mean that 99% of humankind haven’t.

        Fifty Shades is huge. Damn huge. It’s gigantic. Enormous. Humongous. Gargantuan Brobdingnagian. It is, in short, very very big. Tons of people are raving about how good it is. If the critics of Fifty Shades were to stop pointing out the misogyny and rape culture support in the series, there’d still be tons of people ranting about how great they think the books are. And nobody telling them they’re wrong.
        We’d create a situation where evrything people say about Fifty Shades is positive, and that obviously wouldn’t decrease sales.

        Ask yourself: What’s the most likely? That books that have spent a total of over six years on the NY Times bestseller list will go away because nobody criticizes them? Or that people will refuse to read the books because they’ve been told how horrible they are?

        (Oh, and in case anyone misunderstood me, I’m not saying that the books have been on the best-seller list since 2009. I added together the amount of weeks every book has spent there.)

        July 7, 2015
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      • mydogsPA
        mydogsPA

        Jenny,

        Actually, EL is doing most of the work herself as more and more people read “Grey.” But do with it what you will, all I ask is that EL gets no opportunity to appear sympathetic to her fans.

        Oh, as an aside, in Chapter 6 when Grey wakes up next to Ana after her drunk-binge and he kidnaps her to the hotel room he says ” but to wake up beside an alluring young woman is a new and stimulating experience. My cock agrees.” His junk would agree with any thought he has when he first wakes up because the author clearly doesn’t understand male physiology. At that age (and for the last 15 years since puberty) he would have woken up with a boner. So why is this new to him?

        Dork.

        July 7, 2015
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        • Vivi
          Vivi

          You’d be surprised how many people are clueless about male physiology. I’ve yet to encounter an author who doesn’t treat nocturnal erections / morning wood as a sure sign of wet dreams and/or an attraction to whoever the character is sharing body warmth with. Now, I mostly read female authors, but even the male ones tend to do this (like Jim Butcher, for example, or many TV writers). At best, some fanfic writers (presumably female) know enough to understand that it’s not an unusual occurrance and put it down to pressure from a full bladder. And I – not a penis-owner, and asexual to boot – keep scratching my head and wonder if Wikipedia and the medical literature are lying to me when they say that NOT having nocturnal erections during any REM sleep phase (regardless of the contents of the dream) or morning wood after suddenly waking from a dream would be a serious reason for worry (apparently they test for that specifically to make sure someone complaining about impotence during sex isn’t actually badly ill), in any penis-owning person, even before puberty.

          July 10, 2015
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    • Laina
      Laina

      I believe you have to earn respect, and James has not earned mine. In fact, she’s very much lost it in her treatment of fans and critics alike. Respect is not a right.

      July 7, 2015
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      • mydogsPA
        mydogsPA

        I dunno, just because her work is bad doesn’t mean I’d have liberty to trash her personally. Her work, yes. But the vitriol against her personally just makes her sympathetic to her fans and they defend her that much more.

        July 15, 2015
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  9. Zee
    Zee

    I’m no fan of John Green (sorry Jen, I know you are) and at first I thought his reaction was a little OTT, but then … There was that thing a couple of years ago, wasn’t there, about some of the kids on his YouTube label or whatever it is. Alex Reid was one of the guys accused, but not the main one (name’s not coming to me, sorry) where girls had accused them of preying on underage girls, or barely legal girls. Maybe his knee-jerk comes from thinking that debacle was coming back to haunt him through tumblr?

    July 7, 2015
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    • Rei Scar
      Rei Scar

      It was Alex Day and Tom Milsom, both of whom I was a fan of until this broke (although I’d been steadily going off Day). In fairness I think it was dealt with reasonably – the accused were axed from the label – although Hank Green had more to say about it than John did. And it started a discussion about the YouTube community and the influence its big names can have on its fans, and where you need to set boundaries, that seems to have died down and it shouldn’t have done. I’m a fan of the Green brothers and I respect a lot of what they do, but…yeah, that whole thing still stings to think about.

      July 7, 2015
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  10. Peahat
    Peahat

    Man, this whole thing actually got a lot creepier than I thought it already was, after reading your post. I’m actually a pretty big fan of the vlog brothers and I can definitely believe that John Green has the best intentions and is not trying to creep on young girls. But I have started to feel this creepy vibe around him, and it started when he and his friends tried to crash a high school prom. Did anyone see that post of his??? He posted that he and his friends tried to crash a prom and got kicked out, but he posted a blurry pic of what the prom looked like on the inside.

    I’m not saying that post PROVES that he sexually abuses kids, but it does tell me that he isn’t clear of his boundaries as an adult who interacts with teens and kids. And THAT is what makes him creepy. You can make videos and write books that help those teenagers grow and feel better about themselves, but that only makes you their mentor. It doesn’t make you their friend. You can’t crash a party that was meant for teenagers only!!! I feel like that incident (which I don’t think he ever apologized for or acknowledged as creepy af) is largely absent from this whole discussion about him. In fact, I’m really wondering whether any of these famous authors defending him even saw that post. For me, knowing that he crashed a prom is enough to justify girls thinking he’s creepy, whether he actually abuses anybody or not.

    July 7, 2015
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    • Zee
      Zee

      A teenage girl can think he’s creepy just on her gut. I used to think Michael Barrymore was creepy (he was a comedian/TV presenter over in the Uk) and several years ago he had an orgy party in his house and someone died in his pool. I’m not for a second suggesting he killed the guy in his pool, though it’s been speculated, but all the details around that party were enough to confirm to me that he was just as creepy as I’d believed.

      Likewise, you hearing about that prom, that girl reading his rebuttal … They’re all things that are just going to strengthen her gut instinct – and yours- that there’s something off about him, whatever that is.

      And what you say about boundaries, I think that must be a theme around him. The incident I mentioned in my post with his youtubers was definitely from a lack of awareness about boundaries, although in that instance his poor judgement only extended to picking the people for his label. It was their poor boundaries that led to their accusations.

      I said in my comment that I’m not a fan, there’s something about him that creeps me out too. Doesn’t mean any of us are wrong, or are not being nice, or deserve to be told our opinions don’t matter. I’d just like it if my intuition about him is wrong.

      July 7, 2015
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      • Kitty
        Kitty

        For some strange reason, this post reminded me of this one:
        http://www.doctornerdlove.com/2014/03/socially-awkward-isnt-an-excuse/
        Green could be the nicest person on the planet, but if someone finds him creepy, then they have a right to feel that way. Maybe the OP could have framed it better, but sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint why something makes you uneasy and the best you can do is relate it something else that made you feel similar. I feel like everyone jumping on that girl to make her accountable for her actions missed the part where they should have asked their friend to be accountable for his actions. You have articulated a problem that I have been uneasy about, but unable to quite pinpoint myself in social media of late. Yes people tend to jump on bandwagons and can cause damage before they know the whole story, so making observations can be dangerous. On the other hand, that same power can be used by people to silence legitimate concerns. I think in this situation I feel more sympathy for the teenager trying to articulate why Green’s platform makes her uneasy. Thank you for giving words to the matter.

        (Also, completely off topic, but I loved your Infernal Devices book. I know it’s only like 3 or 4 dollars, but I’m going to school and lost my full-time job so I’m stuck with my part time only at the moment and catching up on my bills. I was wondering if the second book develops a side plotline for Richard? Since all the guys were described as pretty hot, and the only difference is he’s skinny because he’s in the wheelchair my brain jumped to Ben Whishaw. That sort of became my head cannon for what Richard looks like, and now I’m really interested in seeing how a relationship with a really hot genius guy who is socially isolated would play out in that world. Does the sequel address him at all? If so, I will absolutely eat ramen for a few days to see how that pans out. If you haven’t yet, would you ever consider writing another book that addresses Wallace’s brothers?)

        July 9, 2015
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        • Lieke
          Lieke

          I love that link!

          Someone giving voice to a feeling they have about a second person is not the same as someone accusing that second person of something.

          July 10, 2015
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        • Sophie
          Sophie

          The 2nd book focuses on the other brother, Horace and it’s a lot of fun to read. However I agree it would be awesome to get a book about Richard, there isn’t a lot of erotica starring people with a disability especially those who are paralysed. Plus he’s invented of all these amazing steampunk sex toys, so he’s clever and kinky. I would definitely buy that book, even just because representation matters.

          July 11, 2015
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          • Kitty
            Kitty

            @Sophie
            Huh, I wasn’t actually considering the representation aspect. I’m more interested in how he would end up meeting anyone when he seems so reclusive. Also, I bet he has some really great ideas for getting around any limitations since he seems to be the brainy one (which I admit is a bit of a weakness of mine). Lot’s of cool characters in the series, but for some reason the possibilities of his story jumped out at me. I think I just really want to see what kind of man or woman can catch his kinky attention. Oh, wow, I think my brain just exploded in a million different directions. I’d love to start to write my own fanfiction for it, but I know for a fact that just ends with me cutting off all human contact so I can sit hunched over my computer in the dark while I call it, “My Precious,” while I pet it.
            Is there like a place we can sign a petition for making Richard’s story happen? That’s way less depressing than thinking about the Green and James drama.

            July 11, 2015
    • Megan M.
      Megan M.

      I hadn’t heard about John Green-gate until someone posted about it in a forum I frequent. I used to follow his Tumblr and watch a lot of his videos but I gradually stopped. Anyway, I read the original Tumblr convo and Green’s response, and then a Storify post of Jenny’s tweets about it (because the forum-poster linked to those things.)

      John Green never gave me creepy vibes, but if John Green WASN’T an uber-famous YA author, he would definitely be the weird middle-aged uncle who tries too hard to be cool. And it would be very strange that young women (like Shailene Woodley) fawned all over him every chance they got. And the prom-crashing thing? Whoa.

      Do I think he’s crossed the line with young girls? No. But if he had, or ever did, who would believe them?

      July 7, 2015
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      • JennyTrout
        JennyTrout

        I think that’s the biggest thing. I don’t think he did anything out of line, and most of the time I think he genuinely doesn’t have a grasp of how famous he is. But the point isn’t whether or not he’s creepy, the point is that the response to even just, “I think he’s creepy” was so alarming because what if a beloved YA author *did* abuse that access to teens? No one would believe it, as we’ve clearly seen.

        July 7, 2015
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        • t
          t

          Yes, exactly! That’s what worried me so much in reading about this debacle.

          July 10, 2015
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  11. Cari
    Cari

    Changing the meaning of the word bullying is just the newest fad. It’s been done with ‘sexual harassment’ &’racist’ (and I’m sure others) for a while now. We now live in a society where if you simply have a difference of opinion you are labeled a bigot. The people doing the labeling never think about the fact that they are the bigots in that situation. They think if they can label you and shout louder than you then they are right.

    Excellent article!

    July 7, 2015
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  12. Hey, Jenny? Do you need to borrow one of my mics? You know, for dropping?

    <3

    July 7, 2015
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  13. Kayenjee
    Kayenjee

    This thinking can be applied to so many facets of life. Being a WOC and having studied and worked in white male dominated environments, I can say that I definitely have felt the pressure to be nicer and more PC than male counterparts for fear of being labeled. In my case that b-word wouldn’t be bully, but rather a bitch. As for the defenders/sympathizers with selfish agendas, I think you hit the nail on the head.

    July 7, 2015
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  14. Anon123
    Anon123

    I’m not on social media virtually at all beyond a very small circle of Facebook friends, so I usually have no idea what’s going on until I read it here. And on those days, this blog may as well have, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,” as the tagline. I was having this really productive morning, and now I’m like, “I don’t even want to be a writer or get noticed as an author anymore, because I know I would not deal well with this level of drama.”

    Is this really what it’s like out there? I just want to write my books, get picked up so I can have a professional do my covers/marketing for me for a change, and bump my income above the poverty level. But I’m really mentally shaky when it comes to public criticism and conflict in general, and I just don’t know if I could cope with it constantly. Is publishing something for mass consumption tantamount to inviting vitriolic debate to rage over one internet comment? Is there anything positive to be said at all for involving other people in the creation of my stories and books?

    I keep checking back here for more Grey snarks and I really enjoy your voice in general, but on days like this, I wish I hadn’t looked. This is why I don’t follow the news–too much despair for me. If that makes me a hothouse flower, then so be it and I’ll start demanding my own personal “TW: Social media conflict” at the top of posts. 😛

    But seriously, you do you, and I’ll figure out what I want my relationship with this blog to be. That’s not your problem, but I did want to express myself on this a little bit all the same. Peace out.

    July 7, 2015
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  15. Carolina West
    Carolina West

    Where did this whole “Be Nice” thing come from, anyway? I’ve been hearing about it for a couple years now, but does anyone have any idea about what might have started it? And how we can get it stop?

    Also, as someone who’s been bullied, I totally agree that calling legit criticism bullying is taking the attention away from the actual problem. Telling someone you’re not fond of their work and how they could improve is way different than psychologically and/or physically damaging a person.

    July 7, 2015
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    • Ray B
      Ray B

      I think it’s impossible anyway. Ideas of ‘nice’ behaviour are so subjective that it is not feasible that everyone could be nice anyway. People are always going to be offended by others, particularly online, when it’s difficult to judge the context of what’s being said. Yes, some people are gratuitously nasty, but, unlike real life, nobody is forced to be on the internet. Finally, if James didn’t want to be personally abused, then maybe writing 4 books where women are relentlessly criticised in nearly every way (including weight!) over the course of 100,000s of words may not have been a good idea.

      P.S I’m English, middle-aged, middle-class housewives like her are some of the meanest and most intolerant people in the country.

      July 8, 2015
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  16. Suzy
    Suzy

    I always say to people that I’m not a “nice” person, but I’m a “good” person. I strive to do the right thing, be sensitive in my statements and always keep the other point of view in mind.
    However, this whole “be nice” campaign is bullshit. When someone crosses a line, you do not have to be nice. If someone says something hurtful, you are allowed to respond. If you don’t like something, you are allowed to voice your opinion. Personal attacks are way out of line, especially ones about personal appearance or sexual orientation, but you should be allowed to not like a thing and say it. You can see something problematic and outline those issues to others. It is not bullying anymore than a teacher giving a student a bad grade on a poorly written paper(otherwise I know a lot of bullies!).

    July 7, 2015
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  17. This John Green shit is weird and makes me glad I’ve never read his books. Unless people are like doxxing EL James’ personal info I don’t think saying some mean things about her on a public hashtag is bullying. The saddest part of this post is the fact that James is “arguably the most successful writer of all time.” I weep for humanity.

    July 7, 2015
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  18. I feel like I’m in such an awkward position. I’ve worried about being too critical about media online with my blog for fear of this kind of backlash, and I’m grateful to see this kind of perspective. It helps me work through that fear and anxiety. So thank you.

    I wrote a post about the whole John Green mess back when it initially happened, and it stood out to me how focused people were on John Green being a person. Which, yeah, he’s human, too, but he’s not anonymous. He’s not on equal playing field with a more or less obscure tumblr account.

    To be honest, I’m sort of meh on John Green as a whole. I don’t hate him, but I’m not super impressed with him(?) He’s okay? He never really came off as creepy to me, but I’m not the best person to ask anyway.

    July 7, 2015
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  19. You’ve pretty much summarized my thoughts on the whole ordeal. With John Green especially, it’s become so increasingly difficult to have thoughtful critiques of his books in other areas of social media without people saying things like, “you just don’t like him because it’s cool to hate him now.”

    Same with Fifty Shades of Grey. No, I am not jumping on the Fifty Shades Hate Bandwagon when I say I dislike the books and some of EL James’s behavior–I have my reasons. As I have my reasons for disliking some of Green’s books.

    Like you said, Jenny, it’s not impossible to give criticism without being a total dickhole.

    July 7, 2015
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  20. Victoriana
    Victoriana

    What bothers me the most, especially about the John Green thing, is that there is no sense of proportion. A teenage girl expresses her OPINION on Tumblr that an author comes off as “creepy” to her. Nowhere was it suggested in her post that he committed child abuse or assault, so his response was not only overblown, but deliberately meant to cause outrage and backlash against her in my opinion because there is no way an author as good with words as John Green is not literate enough to understand a simply written blog post. It was deliberate-and extremely harmful-hyperbole.

    It’s like someone calling someone else “intimidating” (translation: they felt intimidated) and the other person blowing it up into accusations of bullying and harassment. When the girl said he was “creepy”, she was simply describing her own feelings and perceptions. He could be the loveliest, gentlest person on earth and fart rainbows and unicorns, and her feelings would still be valid and legitimate to her and she would have every right to express them with others, online or offline, without being publicly shamed and humiliated for them by a bunch of powerful adult public figures. The rational mature response (if JG had to respond at all, which he didn’t, especially since the OP didn’t even tag him) would have been to say “I’m sorry you felt that way. That certainly wasn’t my intention to make you or any of my other readers uncomfortable, but you have a right to your feelings and I’m sorry if I did anything unconsciously to help foster them.” And then he would have reflected on his own behavior to see if he had ever acted insensitively or in a way that could be misconstrued and made his teenage readers uncomfortable, and make changes if necessary.

    July 7, 2015
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  21. Cat
    Cat

    “Yesterday, news broke that another YA author, this one much further down the food chain than the others, had announced their resignation from the young adult genre entirely. ”

    Who is this?

    July 8, 2015
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  22. Taylor
    Taylor

    To be fair, a few years back, someone did accuse John Green of groping her at a book signing. The allegations fell apart quite definitively (something along the lines of it being proven that she didn’t even attend the event, in addition to him providing documentation about his mental illness that stopped him from being able to physically touch anyone he didn’t know incredibly well) and I don’t blame him for jumping the gun on stopping a long-dead rumor from being revived, but he should have realized what that supposed leap between what the newer post said and his response would look like.

    Thanks for another thoughtful and illuminating post, Jenny.

    July 11, 2015
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  23. Artsy Martsy
    Artsy Martsy

    I though I might comment since most people here don’t seem to have a tumblr account. I think most of the reaction to the John Green accusations seem to have more to do with tumblr’s general attitude towards ‘problematic’ people.

    There is an app for tumblr called x-kit. It has a bunch of useful features which makes tumblr life a lot better and it fixes a bunch of bugs. The is app is programmed and financed by one guy and is extremely popular. A few weeks before the John Green incident a blog named predators-exposed asked for information on the x-kit guy because someone anonymously accused him of sexual harassment. They never got any info and all allegations remain unproven but some parts of tumblr took it upon themselves to tell to guy how evil he is. End of story he got a nervous breakdown.

    Maybe two months before this a blogger found a bunch of anonymous gossip about Kevin Spacey exploiting young boys. She asked for victims to come forward and planned to notify the authorities.

    Last year a post was going around tumblr about Michael Fassbender beating his ex-girlfriend up. He was acquitted of all charges (because he wasn’t even in the country at the time when he was supposed to be hitting the woman) but somehow tumblr missed this little detail. This post is so popular and so widely believed that I get hate mail every time I reblog a picture of MF.

    You see the problem isn’t that people/young girls are expressing their opinions it’s the language and manner they use. They didn’t simply say “hey I’m uncomfortable about the power imbalance between teenagers and a 40 years old author” they compared him to a sexual predator. No one wants these people to shut up, they simply want them to express their concerns in a civil and educated manner and do not accuse someone with everything under the sun.

    July 11, 2015
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    • Kerlyssa
      Kerlyssa

      Christ, this is depressing. Summing up the original post as the tumblrite merely finding Green ‘creepy’ when in fact he was accused of writing his work in order to groom a cult following of teenage girls- not cool. And that’s just the OP. There was plenty of other nastiness appended to the post as it made the rounds. And that’s the point- a response to a post on tumblr isn’t (just) a response to the OP, it’s a response to the 46k+ other users who added to that post, and took other actions because of that post. The tumblr hate machine is real and nasty.

      Jenny writing this crap after the All About The Bass thing is especially infuriating- I mean, she should have shrugged that crap off because she was a more influential internet presence than any single responder, yeah?

      July 20, 2015
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      • JennyTrout
        JennyTrout

        It wasn’t the 46K+ people who replied who got targeted and attacked by countless YA authors, though. It wasn’t even the person who tagged Green and said he should answer for whatever non-existent crimes they though he’d committed. It was the original poster who was very publicly raked across the coals, and who had to vanish themselves from the internet. The authors who responded on Green’s behalf were going after the OP and sending their fans after them, too, and some of their responses were tone deaf and insensitive. That’s what this post is about, not whether or not John Green had a right to defend himself.

        I never said anyone should shrug anything off here. I said that the responses of some of the other authors were inappropriate, and they were. I didn’t say Green shouldn’t have defended himself. I even said I understood why he had to defend himself, rather than ignore it.

        July 20, 2015
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        • Kerlyssa
          Kerlyssa

          Because there aren’t any names, links, or quotes other than naming James and Green, all I have to connect your post to is my knowledge of That Post from Tumblr. It’s a bit hard not to connect what you’ve said to Green and the Tumblr camps when there is noone else specifically mentioned in your OP. What I have seen of that particular ‘debate’ on Tumblr hasn’t involved any authors other than John Green, and Googling the matter doesn’t actually tell me what particular statements and authors you have issue with.

          Rereading this a couple times hasn’t added clarity, and instead makes me feel like I’m reading one of those blind gossip column items.

          July 20, 2015
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          • JennyTrout
            JennyTrout

            Ah, okay, I see where some of the problem is. If you read the piece by Camryn Garret that’s linked, some of the authors involved are named there. I didn’t mention the YA author who retired because she doesn’t have a large following and I didn’t think she needed to be harassed; she was roasted over twitter and I didn’t feel the need to add to it.

            July 20, 2015
  24. […] I’m not trying to tell everyone to “Be Nice.” Jenny Trout talks at length on her blog about her problems with the phrase “Be Nice,” and I agree wholeheartedly with her on […]

    November 12, 2015
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