Kiss Me First

Kiss Me First is a novel from 2013 that feels like it was written specifically for me and my set of interests, and I enjoyed it immensely. The story’s genre is technically “psychological thriller,” but it’s really about a sheltered 23-year-old shut-in with Asperger’s slowly making friends and learning to find her place in the world.

Leila, the first-person narrator, is completely alone after her mother dies of MS. She doesn’t know her father, her grandmother hates her, she never went to college, she doesn’t have any friends from school, and she works a part-time tech job remotely from her bedroom in a small apartment above a restaurant. She spends most of her time online, playing World of Warcraft and posting on a thinly disguised version of the RationalWiki forums called, appropriately enough, Red Pill.

Eventually she comes to the attention of the founder of Red Pill, a man named Adrian. He essentially grooms her into accepting the job of impersonating a 30-something-year-old woman named Tess online so that the real Tess, who has paid him for this service, can go off and commit suicide without arousing suspicion.

Leila takes the job very seriously. Although she insists on seeing Tess as nothing more than a client, it’s clear to the reader that Tess is becoming her friend, and that she and Tess come to care about each other quite a great deal. It also becomes clear to the reader (although not so much to Leila) that Adrian is a narcissistic sociopath. Along the way, Leila ends up inadvertently catfishing Tess’s old boyfriend Connor, who falls in love with the persona she’s created. Again, the reader understands that this man is creepy, but Leila doesn’t. She also takes on a boarder in order to help pay the rent while she devotes herself to writing what amounts to real person fanfic about Tess, and this character ends up becoming a nonjudgmental moral center who helps Leila understand the potential of the world outside the confines of “rationalism.”

The novel’s main mystery is what happened to Tess, and I think that’s sufficiently addressed. The conclusion of the story is very satisfying, and everything fits together neatly without any surprise clues only coming to light at the end. In addition, the consequences of Tess’s online behavior are dealt with honestly and realistically, which was refreshing. What I personally found interesting about the story, however, was how Leila gradually opens up to the people she interacts with and finally starts to develop meaningful relationships.

I have something of a strange fascination not with catfishing, necessarily, but with the difficulties and nuances of existing as a person online. The question of “could you find out so much about someone that you can successfully pass as them online” is intriguing, and the author digs deep into the mechanics of how this would (or wouldn’t) work.

If nothing else, it was fun to read a novel set mostly online that isn’t burdened with an older person’s bizarre approximation of how younger people speak to one another. This is a bit off topic, but this is one of the main reasons why I have a lot of trouble reading contemporary YA novels: I cannot deal with tone-deaf text exchanges, especially when two characters are supposed to be friendly or flirting. I can’t really explain why this is so grating, except to shake my head and mutter that no one actually speaks in Lolcat.

Theme Park Fandom

It’s Not ‘Weird’ to Be an Adult Woman Who Loves Disney
https://www.glamour.com/story/its-not-weird-to-be-an-adult-woman-who-loves-disney

The trio say they don’t go to the parks to relive their youth, though. Smith, Puga, and Walker all have successful careers in creative industries and approach Disneyland like a city’s downtown rather than a family-friendly vacation resort. They’re not alone: With a rotating offering of seasonal Instagram-ready treats, celebrity chef partnerships, and a record for being the single largest employer of sommeliers, Disney’s Parks & Resorts have a lot to entice adults with money to spend. To Internet savvy, culturally involved guests like these three, Disneyland provides the same experiences they’d have elsewhere, only better.

When asked about the stigma attached to adult women visiting the parks, they shut it down. As these three see it, everyone’s a fan of something—why should enjoying a roller coaster through space in an intergalactic Tomorrowland be so different? “People are always going to judge no matter what,” says Walker. “You just have to sort of own what you love and be proud of that. Maybe they’ll never understand, but they’re missing out on something pretty special, and that’s okay. More for us in the long run.”

I’ve been slowly making my way through Rebecca Williams’s monograph Theme Park Fandom, and it’s one of the best academic books I’ve read in years. In the Introduction, Williams opens the discussion by referencing a cringe-inducing opinion piece written by a gross older man saying that adult fans of Disney are creepy, which was picked up by College Humor and adapted into an even more cringe-inducing video.

I’m not personally a fan of Disney (or Marvel, or Star Wars), and I have no real desire to go to a theme park. (Maybe when Universal opens its Super Nintendo World attraction? But probably not, honestly.) Still, I don’t get why people think fans who go to theme parks are weird, aside from the obvious misogyny and homophobia. It sounds like the people who are into this sort of thing have a lot of fun, and they’re not hurting anyone. I mean, sure, Disney is a giant evil corporation, but we’re not going to get meaningful anti-trust legislation by harassing people on Instagram.

So I’m not planning on visiting Florida or California, but it’s been interesting to learn about the different subcultures surrounding the Disney and Universal theme parks, as well as how the fans participating in these subcultures have made use of social media to connect with each other while actually influencing the objects of their fandom at a surprisingly high corporate level.

I know “serious scholars” like to mock Fan Studies as an illegitimate subdiscipline of Media Studies, but I’m getting tired of “serious scholarship” about How Disney Is Anti-Feminist And Poisoning Our Children™. To me, it’s much more meaningful to learn about how this culture is created, who is creating it, and how it’s not just Rich White Men producing media that’s consumed passively. If nothing else, I feel that good scholarship should be like a documentary that shows you a part of the world you only vaguely knew existed and then explains how it influences its broader cultural context. Theme Park Fandom is really enjoyable to read, and it’s been helping me make sense of all sorts of aspects of contemporary American culture that I’ve always found a bit mystifying.

I’ve also been reading Carlye Wisel’s various bits of theme park journalism, and I’m a fan. I wonder, how does someone get a job like this?

Born to Be Bound

I was intrigued by the description of the novel Born to Be Bound in the New York Times article that I read last month about professionally published Omegaverse romance novels. ABO Batman fic with the serial numbers filed off? Sign me up!

I didn’t realize just how intense it would be. I can’t imagine being a literary agent and being like, Yes! This is absolutely the sort of thing that needs to be on the shelves at Barnes and Noble!!

(Content warning for everything there is to be warned for, probably.)

Starting with the Brontë sisters and moving on from there, the vast majority of het romance involves the subversion of patriarchal power structures by means of the domestication of decent and sensitive straight men who have been socialized to embrace toxic masculinity. What this means is that, at least at the beginning of the story, there is always some amount of bad behavior on the part of the male lead. Depending on how kinky the novel is, sometimes the bad behavior is indeed very bad, but at some point the man realizes that he’s wrong, changes accordingly, and is rewarded with affection.

In Born to Be Bound, the man doesn’t change. He’s an alpha, so he can’t change; that’s just who he is. It’s actually the female lead who needs to change by accepting her biological destiny as an omega. The title of this novel is just about as literal as it gets.

Basically, the male lead drugs the woman, imprisons her, and repeatedly rapes her with the intention of impregnating her against her will. When she resists him, he drugs and rapes her more. She still resists him, so he begins beating her, biting and hitting her in order to punish and mark her. This is the entire novel: drugging, beating, and rape until the woman eventually stops considering suicide as her only means of exerting her agency.

In addition, the author doesn’t come out and say that the female protagonist is fifteen or sixteen years old and “mated” to someone in his forties, but it’s strongly implied. Her youth and vulnerability make it difficult for her to cultivate allies and escape, and this is very sexy, apparently.

There’s an attempt at a plot, but it doesn’t go anywhere that isn’t a justification of why the woman deserves to be imprisoned and raped for her hubris in thinking she’s a full human being. Humans are slaves to their biology, after all, and she should have known that being claimed by the top alpha was the best she could hope for as an omega. The story’s catharsis comes when the woman “learns” to be grateful. There’s a lot of talk about how omegas exist to be dominated and bred, but no real exploration of how this has impacted society – just a lot of the female lead expressing her abject misery, trying desperately to get away from the male lead, and being drugged and beaten for her efforts.

I’m mostly indifferent to romance as a genre, and I’ve never read the giant novels about sexy cavepeople that everyone keeps telling me about, but I’ve always enjoyed the work of authors like Jacqueline Carey who write dark fantasy with strong erotic elements. That being said, Born to Be Bound is on a different level altogether.

I’m not wringing my hands in moral panic like someone whose first encounter with female-authored erotica was Fifty Shades of Grey, and I actually appreciate certain Omegaverse elements like pair bonding and same-sex parenting. Hell, I’ve had to respond to people’s comments on my own stories on AO3 in order to explain that the characters do not deliver academic lectures on safe sex because this is fiction, not a manual intended for educational instruction in the current best practices for whatever community exists to serve a particular fantasy.

I mean, don’t like, don’t read. Your kink is not my kink, and that’s okay. Born to Be Bound isn’t for me, but I’m happy it exists for the people who enjoy it. But just, wow. This is not “soft” Omegaverse by any means. Instead, the author has dialed all the genre’s tropes up to eleven without any sort of explanation, reflection, or analysis. How in the world did this sort of thing become mainstream romance fiction?

When Fandom Drama Goes to Court

A Feud in Wolf-Kink Erotica Raises a Deep Legal Question
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/23/business/omegaverse-erotica-copyright.html

As the rise of self-publishing has produced a flood of digital content, authors frequently use copyright notices to squash their competition. During a public hearing hosted by the U.S. Copyright Office in 2016, Stephen Worth, Amazon’s associate general counsel, said that fraudulent copyright complaints by authors accounted for “more than half of the takedown notices” the company receives. “We need to fix the problem of notices that are used improperly to attack others’ works maliciously,” he said.

In the Omegaverse case, Ms. Cain’s claim of copyright infringement against Ms. Ellis has struck some as especially tenuous. “They are not very original, either one of them,” said Kristina Busse, the author of “Framing Fan Fiction,” who has written academic essays about the Omegaverse and submitted expert witness testimony for the case on Ms. Ellis’s behalf. “They both stole from fandom or existing tropes in the wild.”

This article is a wild ride, and I enjoyed every stop along the way.

You can bypass the site’s paywall by opening the link in an incognito browser window, by the way. It feels weird to have to attach that sort of “how-to-access” information for a nationally syndicated newspaper, but I guess it’s appropriate for an article about commercial fanfic writers suing each other over their novel-length Omegaverse stories.

As an aside, Anne Jamison covers a lot of similar drama regarding Twilight fanfic authors going pro in her (excellent) 2013 book Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World. There is nothing new under the sun, and what’s under this particular sun is people taking their vampire and werewolf erotica way too seriously.

Anyway, the article’s opening sentence?

Addison Cain was living in Kyoto, volunteering at a shrine and studying indigenous Japanese religion. She was supposed to be working on a scholarly book about her research, but started writing intensely erotic Batman fan fiction instead.

Relatable.

Consumable and Disposable

I’m going to say something that sounds like self-pity, but it’s really more of an observation.

I feel like, at the beginning of every relationship I have with another person, they grant me a certain number of “goodwill points.” These goodwill points will never increase, but they will steadily decrease. The only way for me to prevent them from decreasing is to be constantly active and productive, thus maintaining the level of goodwill this person felt for me when our relationship first began. I have to be very careful about what I do, however, because one wrong move might reduce the remaining goodwill points to zero in one fell swoop, thus influencing the other person to terminate the relationship.

I know this might sound like the deluded thinking of someone with anxiety, but I have no other way of interpreting the behavior of other people that, as far as I can tell, has no relation to who I am or what I do. From my perspective, I’m just being myself and doing the sort of work I’ve always done. I’m pretty constant, and I try not to cause trouble for anyone if I can help it.

What I’m trying to explain with this model is how I can sometimes wake up in the morning and find that people have randomly unfollowed me on social media. Like, I don’t think I did or said anything weird, but I could have, or it could simply be that I reached the limit of someone else’s tolerance.

I should clarify that I’m not upset about losing one or two followers. Rather, since I became more active on social media about five years ago, this has been an almost daily occurrence – you gain some, you lose some. I know that it’s random, but it still feels a little personal.

I guess it’s become almost something of a truism that social media has had a negative influence on the way we treat other people as consumable, with relationships being ultimately disposable. It’s not entirely accurate to say that you have a “relationship” with someone who follows you on social media, but I think this mentality also applies to a lot of professional relationships, with the vast majority of people who have entered the workforce during the past fifteen years being treated as consumable and disposable.

I just read Emily Guendelsberger’s book On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane, and nothing she experienced surprises me. What she writes doesn’t just apply to low-wage work, however.

Speaking from my personal experience as a former tenure-track professor, I constantly felt like I was under an enormous amount of pressure. I worked seventy-hour weeks for five years, and (unsurprisingly) this ended up making me sick. I was forced to declare a disability in an attempt to temporarily reduce my workload to a fifty-hour week, at which point my tenure liaison gleefully informed me that there would “never be a place at this university for people like you.” Since reaching out to my colleagues in the field via various professional networks, I’ve come to realize that I’m far from the only person who has received this sort of treatment. Ironically, we’re the lucky ones who were at least on the tenure track, and we were spared many of the indignities experienced by the adjunct precariat who work just as hard (if not harder) and make exponentially lower salaries.

As painful as it’s been to be fired, it’s even more painful that none of the people I’ve worked with for the past six years has said anything to me. Like, it’s not my anxiety telling me that I’m not good enough, and it’s not my anxiety telling me that the people I was friendly with didn’t actually care about me. Employment in the twenty-first century, low-wage or otherwise, is deliberately designed to be exhausting, and it’s difficult to make real friends or form lasting relationships if you are constantly, constantly working your ass off to avoid being judged as unproductive and insufficient. Friends are wonderful, but “friends” aren’t going to pay the rent.

In the absence of real relationships, then, we’ve collectively developed a vague system of steadily decreasing goodwill in which your value as a person is measured solely by how productive you can be and how successful you are at regulating your behavior to remain on-brand.

Talking to Strangers

Talking to Strangers, Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, is about why we can’t catch people who are lying and don’t believe people who are telling the truth. Gladwell is very careful to divorce the act of not believing any given person from identity politics. What I believe he’s trying to suggest is that our cognitive failures have more to do with human psychology than the particularities of any given society in any given place at any given time. Moreover, suffering from a critical misunderstanding is something that could happen to any of us, regardless of race or gender.

Malcolm Gladwell makes a strong and convincing argument, because Malcolm Gladwell always makes a strong and convincing argument. Malcolm Gladwell is an excellent writer and very good at the sort of journalism he specializes in.

That being said.

Oh boy.

That being said, it’s a bit disingenuous for Malcolm Gladwell to remove gender from the equation when almost every single example he references involves people either not believing what a woman is telling them or not believing that a woman could be who and what she clearly is.

A clever reader will pick up on this, of course, but it would have been nice for Malcolm Gladwell to include, like, I don’t know. A single footnote? Acknowledging the existence of the incredible amount of research that strongly suggests that gender is a major contributing factor regarding whether or not we believe what someone is saying, especially when all available evidence supports their testimony.

For example, why does no one believe the female victims of sexual assault and abuse, even when the incidents are well-documented and reported by multiple unconnected parties? Is it because of complex psychological reasons, or is it because, I don’t know, women are lying liars who just want attention and will only cause trouble if you take them seriously? I mean, it’s always good to hear the full story and judge these incidents on a case-by-case basis, but it’s also taken for granted as a truism in the LGBTQ+ community (especially transgender and nonbinary communities) that people either start believing you or ignoring you almost immediately after you change your name and gender presentation.

Also, I keep saying this, but it’s not necessarily the case that people don’t believe women, but rather that they don’t care and hope the problem will go away on its own. Based on my own experience, I would say that this is doubly true when it comes to women refusing to act on the testimony of other women, as the credibility of the woman who takes concrete action based on the report will be disbelieved or disregarded by association.

Personally speaking, as someone who is not female but presents as female for the sake of job security in a precarious environment, I have deliberately made myself unavailable to meet with female students whom I’m reasonably certain intend to speak with me about being harassed by a male student or by one of my male colleagues. I know this sounds evil, but listen.

If I can only justifiably report one incident of sexual misconduct or gender-based discrimination in any given academic year, I need to make sure that the case I report is worth it, meaning that the report will add evidence against a serious repeat offender instead of “merely” giving the student a sense of support and closure. Title IX “compliance” offices at American universities need only to “address” an incident on paper, so it’s unlikely that anything will be solved – or even change – for the student who has experienced abuse, harassment, or discrimination. As a result, the only way I can help anyone is by not “wasting” the impact of any given report.

(How did I arrive at this conclusion? Believe me, friend, you do not want to know. Not to mention that no one believed me or cared when I tried to tell the relevant story in any number of informal and professional forums.)

If you’re disgusted by this, you absolutely should be. If you happen to be a cisgender man (of any race, ethnicity, nationality, or sexual identity), you should also take away from this that your privilege gives you an incredible power to do good in the world through allyship and advocacy.

Speaking as someone who is often on the receiving end of not being believed, even with impeccable credentials and a strong and assertive affect, I think all of the reasonable, intelligent, and sane reasons Malcolm Gladwell provides for why we can’t catch people who are lying and why we don’t believe people who are telling the truth apply if and only if gender is not a factor – but let’s be real, gender is absolutely fucking always a factor.

How Instagram and Tumblr Work

I’m a big fan of Gal Shir’s texture brushes, and yesterday I read his self-published book View Insights, which is about how to grow a following on social media, specifically Instagram.

The first 2/3 of the book contains good general life advice, such as:

(1) Do what you actually enjoy doing
(2) It’s not necessary to quit your day job
(3) Divide your ideas into “big projects” and “small projects”
(4) Learn how to balance and prioritize your projects

The book also contains a few pieces of advice that are predicated on assumptions that strike me as somewhat “masculinist,” such as the idea that no one cares about pictures of your face or your personal life – which is not even remotely true in the online spaces I have experience with, where people tend to care just as much about the artist as they do the art. So your mileage may vary, I guess.

What I found interesting about this book was the last third, in which the author digs deep into how Instagram’s algorithms work and why they work in the ways they do. Tumblr is an altogether different platform that works in different ways for different reasons, but Shir corroborates some of the tendencies I’ve noticed on Tumblr, such as:

(1) The “value” of a post is algorithmically ranked within a limited number of tags
(2) This “value” is partially dependent on the “user rank” of the poster
(3) This “value” is also determined by interaction from other “high-rank” users
(4) The level of interaction needs to be significant, like commenting or sharing (and not simply liking)
(5) This “high-rank” interaction needs to happen within the first few hours of posting

A while ago I speculated (here) about what I called “anchor blogs” on Tumblr, which are blogs that may not necessarily post original content but still manage to be influential. I was thinking about how actual person-to-person social networks tend to function within fandom; but, if this algorithmically based “user rank” theory is true, this would help explain the patterns I noticed relating to how any given post spreads.

Tumblr has passed its prime, so I’m not sure if any of this still applies; but, according to this theory, this is what you would have needed to do in order to become a “high-rank” user:

(1) Interact with a lot of content
(2) At a significant level
(3) Within hours of it being posted
(4) And follow a lot of people
(5) While having “high-rank” followers

What all of this boils down to is that these two platforms reward “engagement,” which is essentially extroverted behavior combined with the condition of being on your phone all the time. Shir says that, when he first started trying to build a following on Instagram, he would devote three hours a day to interacting with other posts and people on the platform during peak hours. Unlike Instagram (and Facebook), I’m almost 100% certain that Tumblr doesn’t apply a secondary “positivity rating” to posts and comments, but actually being genuinely friendly probably doesn’t hurt.

Don’t F**k With Cats

This three-part documentary series on Netflix is really upsetting, and I mean really upsetting. It’s difficult to write a summary, but basically, a group of people on Facebook tries to track down a man who posts videos of himself killing animals, thus giving him the attention he craves and inspiring him to post a video of himself killing another human being. The documentary itself is well-made and doesn’t show the grisly bits of the actual videos, but it’s still not a pleasant experience to watch. Thankfully, there’s nothing particularly sensationalist about the project, and the “internet nerds” are presented as normal and intelligent adults.

The director has said that he created this documentary for the purpose of spreading awareness, which I appreciate. My experience with trying to get my anxiety treated over the course of the past year has been that a lot of people – especially people born before around 1980 or so – just don’t understand how violent and upsetting online engagement can be sometimes. Even people my age and younger haven’t responded well when I try to talk about this, and common responses include:

– Maybe the person attacking you has a mental illness. (That’s not a valid justification.)
– Maybe you shouldn’t spend so much time online. (That’s not the problem.)
– Maybe you deserve this. (No one “deserves” death and rape threats.)

What I think people who haven’t experienced extended episodes of online harassment aren’t getting is that sometimes it’s possible to encounter people on the internet who are genuinely scary. When you become the target of a person like this (as one of the primary “narrators” in Don’t F**k With Cats does), it has nothing to do with you specifically, and there’s really nothing you can do about it.

I also recently read the book Nobody’s Victim, which is written by Carrie Goldberg, a lawyer and advocate for victims of internet stalking and harassment. This book is just as upsetting as Don’t F**k With Cats, especially since many of the people Goldberg represents (as well as Goldberg herself) have had to suffer through intense and pervasive victim blaming. No one they go to for help understands what happened to them, and everyone thinks the fact that they became the targets of scary people is somehow their fault. Very few people believe what they’re saying in the first place, and a lot of the evidence they produce to document what they’ve experienced is used against them.

I personally haven’t been the target of anything as severe as what appears in Don’t F**k With Cats and Nobody’s Victim (thank goodness), but it was still very easy for me to recognize the patterns of how popular online platforms enable abusive modes of behavior and the hate crimes of disturbed people. I’m finally starting to see people within fandom share resources (like this) discussing best practices regarding how to process and handle these types of encounters, and that’s wonderful, but I’m really looking forward to there being a greater awareness of these issues in mainstream society as well.

Decontextualizing Harry Potter

From the beginning of the 2016 American election cycle, a popular way to signal social belonging on Tumblr has been to reblog angry posts about J.K. Rowling like the one above.

J.K. Rowling isn’t perfect. No human being on this earth is perfect, and Rowling is no exception. Rowling’s books are far from perfect, and I have to admit that I personally don’t particularly like or enjoy them. It’s important to critique popular media, and it’s reasonable to hold public figures to basic standards of decency. Still, I’m concerned about posts like this, which promote decontextualization as a performance of progressive political ideology.

It’s difficult to make generalizations, so I want to refer to the post above to demonstrate what I mean.

To begin with, most of these posts about the Harry Potter books are coming from an American perspective that doesn’t attempt to address the cultural context of the original books. For example, while Americans tend to think everything is about race, British people tend to be much more sensitive about class. Class intersects with race, because of course it does, but class is widely perceived to be the basic framework of social hierarchy in the United Kingdom, and it’s coded in complicated ways that may be unfamiliar to many Americans.

What’s going on with the “house elves” in the Harry Potter books is that the author is taking the well-known figure of the brownie from Celtic folklore and using it to make a statement about class, specifically the class of people whose labor has always enabled the “great institutions” of the United Kingdom to function properly. Without bothering to talk to them or to listen to what they have to say, Hermione sees this class of people as “slaves,” which the house elves themselves find extremely insulting.

This plot line is resolved as Hermione gradually learns that it’s offensive and counterproductive to claim to speak for an entire group of people whom she believes, as an outsider to that group, to be marginalized. Meanwhile, actual members of the group take up activist work based on their own experiences and achieve real change; but, in the end, the “group” is a collection of diverse individuals who have different opinions regarding their “oppression,” and many of them subtly or actively challenge the notion that a privileged group should be allowed to ahistorically define their entire existence as “oppressed.”

Ron tells Hermione that she’s crazy for caring and that nothing should change because this is the way things have always been, but his traditionalism and intellectual laziness are shown to be just as misguided as Hermione’s naive activism. Harry (who is still a teenager, after all) admits that he can see both sides but doesn’t care about the discourse. Nevertheless, when someone close to him is clearly a victim of discrimination, Harry will stand up to protect them, even if he doesn’t like that person.

I don’t agree with the position that ideology doesn’t matter as long as you treat other people decently, which I think is simplistic and reductive, but I can understand how it works as a thematic element in a series of books written for ten-year-olds.

Rowling herself doesn’t entirely agree with this position either, and she addresses the very real and practical problems of the “I see people as individuals” mentality directly in her work for adult readers, including the book she wrote immediately after concluding the Harry Potter series, The Casual Vacancy. The people writing and reblogging posts like the one above don’t acknowledge this, however, perhaps because their only encounter with contemporary British fiction is a series of kid’s books about teenage wizards written during a decade in which a lot of the conversations we’re currently having about social justice were still evolving.

I should add that these books only got as popular as they did because of their cinematic adaptations. These movies are gorgeous and artistically well-crafted, but they tend to flatten and even erase the nuances of the novels. The posts on Tumblr that are critical of Rowling don’t hold the directors and producers accountable for failing to emphasize the progressive themes of the books in order to achieve a broader commercial appeal, nor do they challenge the systems of privilege that have limited the contributions of minority voices to the cinema industry. Instead, these posts pin all faults of the franchise, both real and imagined, on an individual female writer who was very poor for most of her life (thus her various explorations of the theme of class) while decontextualizing what she wrote decades ago in fantasy novels meant for young readers.

Again, it’s vitally important to think critically about popular culture, and I strongly believe that public figures should be held to basic standards of decency. I am all for critiquing the Harry Potter series and Rowling’s creative decisions. That being said, the trend of posts on Tumblr that hold one progressive female artist or activist responsible for everything that’s wrong in the world by means of aggressive decontextualizations of what she’s actually doing and saying are frightening, especially since they’re starting to recirculate within left-leaning spaces in advance of another election cycle.

In the end, who does it benefit to say that books about respecting difference and resisting authoritarian violence even when not everyone on your side is perfect are “problematic” and are only read by bad and stupid people? Moreover, given that the Harry Potter series is the primary gateway a lot of younger kids have into enjoying books, who does it benefit to say that reading itself is something that’s only done by bad and stupid people?

Why I Buy Books on Amazon

Amazon is evil, and I’m afraid of them. So why do I still use their stupid website to buy books? Let me give you six reasons.

First, I read a lot of scholarship. Since it’s easy to get distracted while reading an academic book, I find it more productive to read paper copies than digital editions. I highlight text and take notes in the margins, so library books are out of the question. Bookstores don’t keep academic books in stock, and I’m not about to order them for full price (which is often more than $100) from the publishers.

Second, I read a lot of literary fiction in translation. I’m not trying to sound cool, because I don’t think literary fiction in translation is ever going to be cool, but I enjoy reading the sort of books that you can only find if you can search for them by means of an aggregate of hundreds of independent storefronts.

Third, I read a lot of fiction and graphic novels that haven’t been translated, and Amazon ships internationally for cheap. In fact, buying a book shipped via DHL Global Express from Amazon Japan or Amazon France is often cheaper than buying the translation at an American bookstore. True story!

Fourth, I read a lot of garbage, and I mean A LOT of garbage.

Let me give you an example. I love the manga series Black Butler, but I do not want to walk into an actual bookstore and ask an actual human being to special order the latest volume for me. In fact, I don’t even want the latest volume to be physically in my apartment, which is why I buy the Kindle editions. I also read a lot of Kindle singles, some of which are so bizarre that they’re probably intended to be performance art. Like most performance art, there’s a lot of potential for misunderstanding. Can you imagine yourself going into an independent bookstore and asking, “Hi, I was wondering where you keep your chapbooks of short experimental fiction. I’m looking for I Got Pounded in the Butt by a T-Rex, could you tell me if you have it in stock?” I guessing that you don’t need any help imagining the look on the face of the English major at the till, which brings me to my next point…

Fifth, I tend to dislike independent bookstores. Don’t get me started on the snobbishness of book culture, because we will be here all day and all night and I still won’t have said everything I have to say about literary gatekeepers and their bullshit.

(I love independent comic book stores forever and always, but that’s another story for another day.)

Sixth, I don’t dislike big chain stores as much as I dislike independent bookstores, but they’re still awful. Let me tell you a short story to help explain why.

The other day I decided that it’s finally time for me to read Pride and Prejudice, so I went to a Barnes and Noble in the suburbs. The entire store was very cringe, with lots of Harry Potter and ghostwritten politician “autobiographies” everywhere. But fuck me, I’m very cringe myself, so I went straight to the super discount shelves to check out those giant glossy books about “How to Make Your Own Healing Crystals” or whatever. I was carefully studying the covers of all the garbage books no one else wanted, and I was about to pick up one of those “witchcraft in a box” packages when a store employee came up to me. She was a super cheerful teenager with bouncy blonde curls, and she asked if she could help me find anything.

I did not in fact need for her to help me figure out where Jane Austen is in their fiction section, but I couldn’t help imagining the awkward conversation we’d have if I requested that she take me there. She would ask if I’ve read the book, and I would have to tell her I haven’t. The reason I’ve never been able to get more than fifty pages into Pride and Prejudice is because Jane Austen has always struck me as a mean girl, and I don’t like the way she makes fun of Elizabeth Bennet’s mom. I’m not sure how I would explain this to the rosy-cheeked teenager, who might respond by repeating some nonsense about the book that she read on Tumblr – where there happens to be a lot of angry and impassioned Jane Austen discourse, if you can believe it.

While this awful conversation was flashing through my mind, I realized that the girl was probably ordered to approach me by one of her supervisors, who saw me concentrating intently on something no sane person would actually buy and was therefore worried that I was a shoplifter. I then got a ridiculous mental image of myself sneaking out of the store with a giant “Witchcraft for Dummies Starter Kit with Bonus Crystals” box under my shirt, which would honestly be only slightly less embarrassing than taking it up to the cash register to pay a whole $8.99 to another teenager who would have to keep a straight face while asking me if I wanted to sign up for a store card.

What I mean to say is that this girl surprised me, and I ended up replying to her offer of assistance by saying “no.” Not “no, thank you” or “no, I’m good,” or “no, but I’ll find you if I need anything.” I just said “no” and walked away. Even though it was a little rude of her to interrupt me, this dick move instantly turned me into the bad guy, because what sort of douchenozzle treats retail workers like that? I felt like such an asshole, especially when they didn’t have Pride and Prejudice on the self with the rest of the Jane Austen books and I was too embarrassed to ask where it was.

And that’s why I don’t like going into bookstores, thank you for joining me on this journey.

In conclusion, I love books, and it makes me happy to support writers and publishers, but I’m also a weird little gremlin who probably shouldn’t be allowed to go out in public. Amazon enables the full extent of my reading habit without being judgmental, and that’s why they get all my money even though they’re evil.