Books, news, & views from Karen Traviss

  • Is it true you hate Jedi?
    I get asked this a fair bit. Well, you asked, so you'd better be ready for the answer. Because it's not funny, on-message Karen talking now. This is about serious stuff - psychological underpinnings of attitudes.

    And "you" here means - if the cap fits, honey, then wear it.

    No sane human can hate someone who doesn't actually exist. From a writer's perspective, the more super-powers characters acquire, the harder it is to develop logical story arcs and true human drama...but I don't have any real feelings about fictional characters that stay with me once I step out of character-point-of-view-writing mode and get on with my life. The characters don't exist. I recognise, though, when they press a button in me and I see they're a conduit or a cypher for stuff I don't like in the real world. I'm very self aware. When a character pisses me off - not as a writer, but as a person - I ask: "Okay, what does this tell me about myself?"

    I can do that, however uncomfortable it is. It's the reason I can change my mind if I'm presented with new facts. I recognise I don't have a permanent right answer in my head, and that my own subconscious needs to be dragged out into the light of day on a regular basis.

    My real problem, then, is not with fictional Jedi, but with the people who refuse to believe they can do wrong. And by that I mean the people who really believe it, not the harmless majority who just enjoy Jedi-centric stories as entertainment. I know just how deeply held that conviction is by some folks, and when those people try to argue a certain specific point with me, I can see that their line between fiction and reality is way too blurred. I can see their real views on life surfacing. I know where my real views impinge on the unreal, so I can see it in others.

    The fiction you regularly choose, and the passion with which you defend it, tells me an awful lot about what goes on in your head. Very few people deliberately choose to read material - fiction or otherwise - that doesn't reinforce their real-life worldview. Most people don't set out to be alienated or offended by their reading material. They tend to settle with what they like - what fits their comfort zone. So if you get pretty het up about anyone suggesting the Jedi might have made a few immoral decisions - or anything else, come to that - chances are it relates to something you actually believe in for real. It wouldn't upset you otherwise. Would it?

    I start to back away from Jedi-worshippers at that point. I'm troubled by deferential forelock-tugging to supposed genetic superiors at the best of times, which is why I personally find the genetic Jedi concept sinister, but there's an especially disturbing kind of arse-kissing that makes me recoil. It's the kind that says the Jedi are always justified when they do seriously bad shit, because - well, they're the good guys, and what good guys do is never bad, right?

    Well, I worry that it's even less naively benign than that in adult readers. Like the big guy in black said: look into your heart. You know it to be true. Okay, you've been told they're the good guys. If you're a child, I'll cut you some slack. But if you're not - and the majority of Jedi-nutters are old enough to have the vote - I have to ask if you believe everything you're told as obediently and unquestioningly as that in real life. Because if you do, you scare me.

    Now, if you like Jedi because Luke is basically an ordinary guy who finds the hero in himself, great. If you like lightsabers and impossible martial arts moves, bully for you. If it's just fun for you, and you don't feel mortally wounded when someone suggests that the Jedi might not actually be completely perfect, fine. You pass the harmless test.

    But once you're past the age of puberty and you start arguing passionately with me that the Jedi were right to accept a slave army of cloned human beings and use them in war, and cloned humans aren't proper humans like us, and it was too bad the clones died, and the Jedi had no choice - well, sweetheart, I want to run a mile from you. Not the Jedi, who - just to remind you - are a figment of various writers' imaginations, just like the clones. You. If I see that you really mean it, and you're making excuses in your own mind for the Jedi just following orders on that delicate point, then you scare the living crap out of me. For real.

    Because it's clear to me that you believe deep down in real life that some human lives are worth less than others, and so it's okay to end them. Whether you realise that or not. Because if you don't believe it at that fundamental level, then why do you get so damned angry with me when I rock the boat of your fictional beliefs? It's just a kids' fantasy story. You could shrug and move on. But the fact that you rage about it means it's hit a real nerve in you, in the core of your real beliefs.

    So, either you're nuts, and you genuinely believe that an evil wizard who shoots lightning out of his fingers is threatening your well-being, or you might just have some ugly supremacist attitudes to your fellow man that you can't acknowledge even to yourself.

    Am I making you feel uncomfortable? I hope so.

    I'm sure you think you're a nice decent person who's kind to animals, recycles faithfully, and fills in tax returns honestly. Maybe you believe in God, too. But to me, you're someone who harbours a vile and degrading belief in the concept of Untermensch - the idea that some humans aren't human at all, and we can do as we like with them, for whatever arbitrary value we put on the words "real human." You're looking for ways to sift your kind of human from the humans who don't matter, and who can be consigned to the fate of animals. In fact, if you use the phrase "real humans" at all, my case is proven.

    That belief in a league table of humans - and the casual acceptance of it by nice people who were kind to animals and filled in their tax forms on time - led to the enslavement and murder of millions.

    It's slave-owner-think: it's Nazi-think. And yes, I bloody well hate it, and all those who think it.

    It's not about Jedi - who don't even exist. It's about you.

    ©Karen Traviss 2008