Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile ARX Previous Previous Next Next
Portrait of the Artist as a Younger Man, part III. (concluded) - Nothing New Under The Sun
(the ARX acta diurna)
Portrait of the Artist as a Younger Man, part III. (concluded)
In which everything which was implicit in the preceding story is made explicit, mostly in words of one syllable (and those of four letters)

First, before our main feature, an old fashioned "short" --

I'd like to introduce you to two new super-characters for the 21st century [fanfare and Dolby whooshing sound effects]: Privilegeboy and his stunning sidekick, the She-Kapo! Privilegeboy may look mild-mannered and frankly rather puny - but he has a devastating superpower, the ability to emit a constant high-pitched sound which, at a frequency of 20 kHz, drives his enemies insane, punctuated by abrupt staccatto bursts at a lower frequency but at a volume capable of shattering glass, calculated to startle and discombobulate any adversary not overpowered by his ceaseless whining... She-Kapo's brawn - enhanced by her perfect makeup-job and unlimited wardrobe - is employed valiantly against any who fail to show PB the appropriate respect. With her massive (but sparkly) truncheon she manages to lay waste to vast numbers of foes with ease, possessing the ability to unerringly strike only those with two X chromosomes. Both of them have superior stealthing powers (including reversible capes for Left and Right versions) and can fly under the radar undetected for long whiles, only to appear when most predictable!

They've been around for a long time, but they're just starting to be recognized for themselves in our generation. Stay tuned - they'll be coming to a blog near you anytime now!

And now for our main feature, in which we discover why you never want to be stuck in a lifeboat with Harlan...

III. "A Boy & His Dog",
story from 1969 the year he won the Hugo for the other short story "The Beast That Shouted Love", two years after "The City on the Edge of Forever", extended version published in 1976 making Harlan's "senile chauvinism" (film version from 1975 winning the Hugo)

I came across this piece's existence by googling "Ellison" and "misogyny" and this was the scum cream which floated to the top of the search engine, so I went to the bookstore and read it. (I'm not sure which version was in the anthology, probably the later more complete one, but it doesn't matter for the purposes of this discussion, since the plot wasn't substantially changed based on Ellison's own discussion of it on his boards.)

It did actually come up in the original blogospheric conversation about Ellison's Worldcon Insult, but since I didn't know the story the mention of it as something praiseworthy didn't set off any alarm bells for me - although it should have. Anyone who praises "A Boy & His Dog," either the story or the film version, is completely discredited as a humanist from hereon in, and has no claim to respect when it comes to defending HE against charges of sexism. Instead, they have just proven beyond denial their own sexist assholery, without even realizing it.

I did not make up the little blurb about "Privilegeboy" and his sidekick or put it as the lead-in to this post for no reason. The reason "Privilegeboy" has only his supersonic whining power to drive his opponents away, and the vigilance of his female enabler, is that this is what we see going on in America all the time, wherever/whenever feminists of either chromosomal arrangement start saying Enough Is Enough & We're Not Going To Take It Any More - particularly on liberal message boards, where the "ShutupShutupShutup!" reaches insane, hundred-plus-comment-thread volumes of squealing like stuck chauvinist pigs. "Not As Bad As X" is not an immunity card, guys. Nor is "I pay lip service to gender equality".

Ellison insists that his original story isn't misogynist, that any real misogyny was tacked on by the filmmakers. I haven't seen the film - although I 've read a lot of reviews of it the past few days and seen some stills - but I have read the words and I'm sorry, if he really thinks it isn't misogynist then he is "Exhibit A" in "The Blindness of Privilege" hall.

There is literally nothing that is not sexist about it, literally nothing which challenges the institutionalized sexism of macho America and the whole patriarchal mess going back to Gilgamesh.

And "it isn't my fault, it's the setting" is no excuse. You're the writer - you pick the setting. You pick the parameters and you pick how you're going to engage with them, too. You can write a world in which ethnic minorities are treated as stupid slaves who deserve no better by the ruling caste, and somehow manage to not convey that you actually believe this but rather the reverse. You can, likewise, write a world in which "that girls are raped/that two boys knife a third/were axioms" and nevertheless convey that this is not the natural order of things nor the proper disposition of humanity, even in dire conditions of poverty and war. [This is btw why Richard Adam's astonishing Shardik is a "feminist sf novel" and so many others, including many written by women, are not.]

And you can manage to convey the reverse, too - which is what the words of Ellison's story do, repeatedly.

First of all, and to get this out of the way, his worldbuilding reeks. I could spend an hour or so going into why, and not be finished; it would involve examples from modern tragedy in the Horn of Africa and the Hundred Years War and ancient Rome and 19th century Indonesia and other cases of people responding to massive natural disasters, war, and displacement, and cultural survival and social reorganization, but short version is, that there's no way in hell that you could have a situation where the entire continent of North America, in less than a hundred years, had been reduced to a state of barbarism in which there were no organic bands, no tribes and clans forming by association either of proximity or kinship or other common alignment, in which men have no Achaean sentiment and no capacity for friendship with each other, and no honor either, even in their warrior bands, where there is nothing approaching either the ritualistic warfare of Mesoamerica or the prudent, guerilla-style raiding of small and unsophisticated or outnumbered groups in the Amazon or the combination of ferocity and formality of the Woodland nations of the Northeast - a state of "all against all" in which there is no concept of the future or cooperation to build something better out of the postapocalypse rubble, but yet there is astonishingly-perfect recollection of the minutae of the past and references to even makes and models of cars as parts of jokes - this despite the fact that pop culture from seventy and a hundred years ago through a tradition unbroken by apocalypse has become nigh-incomprehensible in places due to contemporary references becoming obscure.

That is no more implausible however than the idea that despite the entire collapse of national civilization, and breakdown not just of the infrastructure but of all human community, that there would still be the ability to run film projectors with hundred-year-old acetate-stock movies on them, and that this would hold its own against any new invention of drama based on current or recent generations' Great Deeds--no more implausible than the idea that no male anywhere across the continent would want to settle down, raise a family, start farming his own food rather than living off rusty cans scrounged from the rubble and start building mud walls and recruiting volunteers to man them with pointy sticks against the orcish gangs outside. --As implausible as the idea that without an infrastructure there is still a functioning gun industry that doesn't involve blacksmiths and pieces of flint...which also require a significant infrastructure and stable society, btw. Stuff doesn't come from nowhere. But HE seems to be stuck in the badfic mindset where stuff comes from the store, even after the world has ended. (It's a lot like Pierced By A Sword in that regard, concerning the logistics/practicalities/Aristotelian plausibles.)

Okay, I promised I wouldn't go off on an amateur-anthropological/milhist tangent, so stopping now.

But you get the drift - in the post-apocalyptic 21st century, males run around the open countryside with guns sometimes in gangs, sometimes as loners, looking for women to rape and then kill for fun as they scavenge for spam and baked beans in the ruins of American civilization and get stoned on bad drugs (where do they get them? shutupshutup) and eventually die without a legacy. You'd think they'd be miserable doing this, but our viewpoint character - whose sidekick is a telepathic, literate, genius dog who knows all of Western history, mind you - finds the only annoying thing about it the fact that women are an endangered species and he has a hard time finding something to fuck. (Harlan - er, The Boy is also a homophobe, btw, lest you raise the obvious question about what traditionally goes along with rum & the lash. He slyly lets us know that he is a libertarian and thus doesn't have any ethical objections to it, it's just that those icky ukes are clingy weaklings and just as bad as women to have around for creating jealousy and friction in a gang. Yay for HE's progressive, liberal, humanist outlook!)

You might also wonder where more people keep coming from if there's no proper villages and they keep killing off the women after they get bored with using them as sex-slaves, in this supposedly-generations after the collapse, but that's in the same category as where do they get their rifles and gunpowder without factories and wagon-trains or where do they get the raw ingredients for their meth-labs in the ruins or where do they get the electricity to run movie projectors and how do they keep the film stock from decaying without all that archival infrastructure and so much as a local government to run a power grid...It's needed for the plot, silly! So The Boy, aka Vic, lives the independent life of the lone frontiersman out in the prairie, using Blood, the dog, to help him hunt when he can't find more stores of spam and vegetables in cold war bomb shelters, and to help him find women to rape. But when he can't find a she-thing to fuck, he goes to whack off at the handily-still-running porn movies in town. Where of course Blood sniffs out that one of the men is really a woman in drag, and not only that, from the Underground Cities™ far beneath the earth, where Civilization still endures after a fashion mostly because there is no communion between the two groups, the isolationist hedonist barbarian males on the surface and the cities underground. (Again with the logistics, but shutupshutupshutup--)

So they track her down - Blood knows that there are after all a few adventurous Bad Girls in the underground cities (someone needs to do a Rough Guide to the Post-Apocalypse Landscape) who are tempted to sneak out and see what the outside world is like, disbelieving their elders' warnings of barbarian rapists, so they can watch grainy old spliced-together porn movies surrounded by ragged thugs wanking - and find her undressing and of course Vic goes to rape her, but find she's willing and in fact wants him to overwhelm and ravish her.

And, of course, being a red-blooded American male, he freaks and finds this unnatural and off-putting and somehow shameful, although not off-putting enough to stop him from screwing. Women aren't supposed to want sex, dammit! They're supposed to say "no!" and fight and force males to take it from them!

If you're thinking that this sounds a little bit like the anecdote in "The 3 Most Important Things in Life" - I can't imagine why.

They're also attacked by a gang and fight them off and he starts having some protective feelings towards her - and there is Mad Rampant Buddy Jealousy on the part of Blood, who feels betrayed and shut out by this burgeoning proto-love and insists that the girl Quilla is bad news, the snake in their primitive masculine (but resolutely heterosexual!) Eden.

If you're thinking this sounds a little bit like the triangular dynamics between Kirk and Spock and Edith Keeler in "The City on the Edge of Forever" - again, I can't for the life of me imagine why you would. [cough, cough]

And she tries to get him to come back to her city with her but he doesn't want to, so she knocks him out and leaves, since he wants to keep her as a sexbot (even if it is kind of squicky that she enjoys it.) So of course he has to follow her below, but Blood can't come for reasons of plot mechanics, and he gets arrested by the city people, who say he can stay there and screw Quilla forever so long as he also screws all the other women, too, because the men are going sterile living undergound on "artificial" food (what the hell is the "artificial food" made of? Soylent Green? -but I said I wouldn't get off on all the bad worldbuilding--) and otherwise they won't have any children and will die out.

In the movie, they have to make the underground city a lot more cartoon-Eeeevil than it is in the story - and for a very good reason. If they didn't, if they had filmed it as written, Vic would come out as inescapably insane as well as viciously bloodthirsty and without any social redeeming values at all. The only reason he can't take it any more is that it's boooring plus it's underground, and he'd rather be like Peter Pan (only a rapist Peter Pan) running free through the sunlit prairie of Middle America hunting squirrels and rabbits and rapeable women with his dawg, just like a normal kid, rather than living indoors and having 3 meals a day and no gangs of gun-toting pyschotics shooting at him for his spam or because he's there, and no worries about strung-out mutants lurking in the shadows, and nothing to do for his keep but have sex with women all the time like a prize stud bull. It's captivity, but a captivity which on the surface seems to give him everything he wanted while on the surface, food, safety, shelter, and unlimited copulation, with no onerous burdens or pains - a lotus-eating idyll where the worst thing is boredom.

Despite his having followed Quilla to this fate, he's not "gone in to her" until he decides to make a break for it, which he does by playing on her father's sublimated lust for her to get the drop on him and murder him and another male relative, and then escaping with her through the tunnels. Now, why he doesn't just sneak out on his own, since he hasn't wanted to touch Quilla since he came there, is easily answered by bald plot mechanics a puzzler, since he hasn't wanted to touch Quilla since he came there, and why he so desperately wants her now that he drags her along on his escape attempt sans underwear (hyuk, hyuk - the fact that she's run off without time to put her panties back on gets repeated an awful lot in a couple of pages, this being more important than that they're on the run for their lives now.) In the course of their breakout, they have to shoot their way out past the angry citizens and we find out just how bad a Bad Girl young Quilla is - not only is she a dab hand with a revolver, she gets off on killing her relatives and even though he has just bashed her father's brains out with an improvized blackjack, Vic is still bourgeois enough to feel outraged at her would-be matricide and to stop her from shooting her old lady. (How sheltered-city-raised Quilla got to be so good at "masculine" behaviors like sharpshooting and walking with, er, a socky style, is another one of those unhelpful questions like where do they get the gunpowder aboveground and food downbelow from.)

So, anyway, it's stressed that Quilla is getting all hot from the violence and massacring her relatives (a good or at least better writer would have used the scene where the narrator insinuates that her father wanted to commit incest upon her for something other than cheap sexploitation and had an angry-at-being-used in all kinds of ways Quilla breaking out in rebellion and taking her vengeance at long last upon her abusers and their enablers a la Kill Bill) and that this being-sexually-turned-on by gunplay and adrenaline and slaughter is really kind of oogy when a GIRL is doing it, no matter how proper and manly it is for warrior-guys to get a woody in a fight and need to get their rocks off afterwards.

And so they make their escape, and up above find poor old Blood still waiting, dutiful dog lying where his master was buried, trapped because they've been stalked by the rival gang they had the shootout with at the beginning, so he hasn't been able to hunt, and is now starving. But they've run away from the city unprepared, unequipped, and have no food to give him.

Now, if you are in the classic lifeboat scenario, and there are three of you, and there is only enough food/water/oxygen for two, and you love both of the other people trapped with you very much, and you're supposed to be a not-entirely-base and selfish sort, what is the obvious choice? (Especially in a work of fiction, where everything is under the author's control, including all reactions and rationalizations and irrationalities.) In such a scenario, in fiction, if the main character doesn't sacrifice self so that his/her friends may live, but instead sacrifices one friend - involuntarily - over the other, then you have to conclude that the victim wasn't valued very much by the sacrificer, and that the main character's altruism doesn't extend past self-preservation.

So Vic shoots Quilla and feeds her to Blood. It's been denied that he shared in eating her, but I'm not entirely convinced of that being an unwarranted interpretation of the ending. The whole cannibalism thing is treated very coyly and oh-isn't-that-outrageous! in all the reviews I read for some reason, apparently because they didn't play didn't read the Scholastic book about the 1972 crash in the Andes at a formative age, or the Bible, and are therefore scandalously titillated by the concept of starving people resorting to cannibalism a la the Donners.

Frank Church
- Sunday, December 2 2001 13:28:30 * Reading, "A Boy And His Dog" is definetly preferable to the movie. Even though I know those classic last lines, I always seem to have a tear in my eye when I read them. I get a gait in my heart that starts to rev at maximum speed. If awards could be given out for classic last lines that one would be a shoe in. Killing the girl was an act of love for Vic, as well as survival. He loved the dog, and we seem to have symnpathy, even though killing the girl was barbaric. But the nessesity for the barbarism makes a lot of sense. Some knee jerk feminists dissagreed, but that is not important. The art always wins over hand wringing.

--From Harlan's own message board - keep reading the whole thread to hit more denial and self-congratulatory bs from the author himself

Ellison & fans defend it as not misogynist, but just "nessesity" [sic] the same way that people defend "The Cold Equations." (In fact, it's just as dumb and contrived as "The Cold Equations" and as faux "shocking" and "outrageous.")

However, Quilla is presented not even as the Pathetic Victim, the poor Sacrificial Lamb, the way the girl in "Cold Equations" is, Doomed Beauty and Helplessness who doesn't deserve to die, nor even Valiant Friend & Comrade Whom I Must Reluctantly Sacrifice. Fortunately my memory is quite good for detail, and I made a note, as I downloaded the book into my RAM the other night at B&N, of the specific ways in which Quilla is described in the moments prior to her death. They're all unattractive. Following the whole wig-out in the flight to the surface over her violent and libidinous nature (still small potatoes compared to killing-raping-machine Vic's career), we are told that she "whines" and "pouts" and drives Vic crazy with her selfishness in wanting him to leave behind the incapacitated Blood (to whom she has no tie of friendship or obligation in the first place, any more than he ever liked her for coming between him and Vic) and save themselves from pursuit on both sides. She doesn't dither, she doesn't agonize, she doesn't offer to help try to carry Blood as the dog nobly protests that they must leave him, - she notably doesn't offer to sacrifice herself in recompense for having lured Vic to the city and thus dooming Blood - she just "whines" and "pouts" and urges Our Hero to abandon his oldest friend--

Thus, we have that classic trope of horror movies, the Unworthy Victim who whether male or female by virtue of being stupid, mean, fat, or ugly, deserves to have a comically-gruesome fate befall them so that the Heroes may survive. Quilla is given no nobility, no rationality, no nothing to make her anything but the whiny, nagging, burdensome (if sexy - but that sexiness itself is an offense against male autonomy) shrew of every stereotype of macho fiction since before Ayesha came between old Holly and young Leo--

At the end, we are back where we started, the natural order of things restored: the male protagonists are together again, the fallen woman who has come between them destroyed, punished and consumed for her hubris, and they can return to their goalless picaresque journeying across the wild west to no meaningful end without any growth or change or learning, other than that Women Weaken Legs and domesticity ain't all it's cracked up to be. The guy has less of an interior life and regard for women than Odysseus bouncing from broad to broad as he island-hops his way home - or even than James Bond. Their existence, too - though this is never noted by the story - is as sterile as that of the city-dwellers, since eventually they will leave their bones in some ruin or bit of trackless prairie and without issue or friend to remember them, be as if they never were.

With Harlan Ellison’s friendly, yet curmudgeonly introduction, we are thrust immediately into the gritty, rawness he helped bring to science fiction. Such stories as the harrowing, lurid, complex title story, the gleefully offensive misogyny and sociopathy of “A Boy and His Dog”, the pop-cultural, pejorative ranting of “Laugh Track”, and the sophomoric sexual preoccupation of “The Very Last Day of a Good Woman” clearly delineate the dark, adult-oriented themes he introduced, as well as his predilection for unlikable anti-heroes who often leave us feeling a bit less comfortable about ourselves. And on such material, his distinctive narrative style shines. He curses with conviction, and his voice handles guilt, revenge, and damnation with seeming familiarity."
SFF Audio Review

Introduced? Helped bring? Well, yeah, if ripping off 1955's short story "A Canticle for Liebowitz" and Mickey Spillane and all the lurid "gritty" tough-guy/gang war fiction of the 30s, 40s, and 50s with its sultry Jane Russell look-alikes being flogged or shot or tied up and menaced by swarthy thugs or sprawled dead across the cover of countless pulp paperbacks was "innovative" in 1969.

Oh, wait, maybe it's the radical new idea that in a desolated post-war chaos, strong males will prey on other human beings, with women getting the worst of it -- oh wait, that wasn't exactly original or fresh in 1969, either. (Nor in '52, nor in 1952 B.C.E. either.)

Maybe it's the frontier cannibalism that's daring and fresh? I mean, it's not like every kid in the USA for the past hundred-fifty-odd years hadn't grown up hearing jokes in grade school about the Donner Party...

I think that a lot more of Ellison's psyche is revealed in this story than he perhaps ever realized. --Yes, I think that Vic is a Gary-Stu, that HE really does think that women are meat, and are responsible for male lust after them us - damn, I still can't help self-Othering myself! - (eg the recent story about him harassing one fan's teenage daughter at a con for being "immodestly" dressed wearing a bathing suit and towel en route to and from the hotel pool) and that he thinks that for women to actively crave sex and/or adventure is unnatural (Heinlein actually is far advanced of him, and even Asimov was better than this regardless of his RL sexism) and repulsive to all right-thinking males just like in the "Brenda" anecdote, and doesn't really believe in society or civilization or community even among men, just a predatory sort of "friendship" in which codependency and resentment is the glue which binds two noble males together against all others, and where really it's all about the Lonely Hero rejecting all social ties to be defiantly (and incoherently) contra mundum. (Did I mention he's been divorced four times and married five?) Oh yeah, Vic's supposed to be a barbarian & the victim of his post-apocalyptic upbringing (who gave him birth? who raised him past the age of ten, so that he could survive on his own) and thus we are supposed to be able to Other him enough that his misdeeds don't cause a problem. But he's indistinguishable from your standard macho violent action hero, and his sentiments regarding women are insescapably reflected in Ellison's extra-textual statements - and actions.

The director of the film, which made Quilla an active villainess, scheming and powerful among the city-dwellers, and treacherous to her own allies in classic stereotyped "wicked woman" fashion, proves that he is a Privilegeboy and doesn't Get It:

Jones says he was a bit puzzled by feminist critics who took the film to task for being misogynist. "I don't endorse what's happening in the story," he says. "But that's the way the story is. It's an ugly world we were depicting." And Jones has specific media memories of Montreal, where he visited for the release of a new cut of the cult oddity in '82. He recalls one woman TV talk-show host who berated him for an entire half-hour interview for what she saw as a lurid and filthy movie.

"After the show ended and the cameras were off, I thanked her. She couldn't have helped us sell the film better! Because she'd said how dirty the film was, people couldn't wait to see it in Montreal - we did very well there."

A truly disturbing and subversive story might have involved Vic going below and changing the cityfolk, convincing them that they need to go up above and re-establish humanity among the surface-dwelling Morlocks above, as he is changed himself by learning to love peace and prosperity and education and art - but nevertheless cannot accept the stultification and inward-turning of the underground dwellers, and even as his inner noble spirit is awakened, the good parts of his old sauvage lifestyle are not rejected but transmitted to the ossified citizens as he convinces them to give up the way of life that is sterile and killing them and take the risk of reclaiming their place in the sun, and leading an exodus with Quilla at his side--

Ellison's imagination is not as good as another Hugo winning author's, though. [Yes, I did of course swipe that plotline from Tuor, with an optimistic twist. You could take it in any number of complex ironic directions, along the lines of Stanley Weinbaum.]

--Now, like I said, lots of guys, including the author, don't think this story is at all misogynistic. (The more honest admit it as a "guilty pleasure.") In fact, many of them (and at least one woman) think that the only reason you could object to it is a) you are humorless, b) you are a radical feminist (of course B entails A!) And that all the claimed-sexist elements are necessitated by the setting and plot. Which is, as I have said, bunk: as, among many others, the harrowing Shardik displays amply. But this blindness itself is telling, in the same way that the blindness of Abercrombie & Fitch towards their own institutionalized racism, or that of Bill Bennett or Pat Buchanan or any number of bigots who insist that their intentions are perfectly virtuous and that it's just the fault of the offended for being "too sensitive", -- not that there's anything intrinsically offensive in their sins of omission and commission.

Newsflash: if you're a member of the dominant group, you don't get to say that members of a historically-oppressed group have an obligation to ignore all the historical baggage and current power-disparities surrounding your actions, any more than you have the right to determine what is or is not Othering to a member of that group. And if you're too stupid to figure out a) that it's Othering and insulting let alone b) why it's Othering and insulting, guess what, this is NOT something you should be bragging about. It doesn't get you off the hook. "I didn't know! I didn't mean any harm by it!" Well, did you mean any good? by it? That you are too thick-witted to comprehend is your fault, not ours. So you just have a black lawn jockey outside your house because you thought it was "cute" and "traditional"--? You want to praise "gleefully misogynist" author and excuse his serial sexism because he's "daring" and "different"--? Go boil your head, Privilegeboy. No, I won't cut you any slack.

And likewise any enabling She-Kapos like Kinfae here. You're part of the problem, obstructing the solution. (And no, I'm not buying any more Brust books, not even secondhand. There are plenty of other good authors out there who haven't taken the side of Power and Privilege and the Status Quo when the crunch comes; I'll save my pennies up for Fortress of Ice in November.)

Finally, according to various sources, HE claimed that he planned to write a sequel to the story that would have featured a woman-warrior as the main character. We already know - hell, we saw it play out in real-time - that Ellison will say absolutely anything to get off the hook at a given moment, that he's a classic narcississt who can occasionally fake empathy but hardly even tries and pretends that he's being bold and daring when he's just being rude and selfish, and that this is his shtik and why his fans (in my immediate experience, all people who can't stand to be insulted themselves btw) love this the way Howard Stern fans love him. If he was really planning on writing this, I want to see the outline. I want to see the character sketches and the plot sketches and all the random detailed stuff that I can pull up from my files or slam down in twenty minutes to prove that I've been thinking about a story idea and not just tossing a golden apple pulled out to deflect pursuit.

[Is there a single Ellison story where women aren't vampiric, parasitic, slutty, loathesome-for-being-lust-inspiring, shallow, obnoxious - or absent? How you are not portrayed is after all as important as how you are shown, although absence is not as damaging as a negative, depending on how it is done, and it is quite possible to do both at once, too -- where even the "good" women are not sexist stereotypes, and in which the supposed disapproval of rape/violence against women is not savored and relished with the sort of prurience that undercuts the proclaimed moral of the story? From "Daniel White for the Greater Good" (which also contains offensively-patronizing racism on multiple levels - so much for his boasting of Civil Rights street cred) to "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes" to his helping spread and seal the false myth of the Kitty Genovese murder in "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs", or looking down this review of ones I haven't read - I'm not seeing any so far.]

Talk is cheap.

--But I tell you one thing and this is the truth - I am done with worrying about hurting the feelings of men who Other me as a woman and expect, nay demand me to stand by and smile, or the women who enable them so as to bask in the approval of the powerful. You Have Been Warned.

Other commentary on the story and film:

"a stunningly good story"</sub> if a controversial one

IMDb entry for the 1975 movie, with viewer comments

Wikipedia entry for the movie with links to others.

Gushing review of the movie: "The film's dark, edgy satire is refreshingly dry, the product of innovative science fiction thinker Harlan Ellison--who wrote the story on which it's based--and L.Q. Jones's screenplay and direction. The film is enchantingly devoid of both sentimentality and didacticism, a pleasant surprise in any work of SF featuring a ravaged future."

Another gushing review of story and movie by a Privilegeboy avatar who only sees and objects to the most explicit manifestations misogyny - "Also, this is one of the few things I’ve read where background information helps: knowing that Ellison wrote it out of love for his dog makes Vic and Blood’s relationship all the more moving, and gives the ending a layered wallop that it might not normally have."

A self-othered woman ingratiates herself with the guys by defending the story.

Only prudes could have a problem with the "Brenda" and "Tinkerbelle" anecdotes

• On a related note, the groupthink at Asimov's message board valiantly shutting down discussion of the Worldcon Insult.

Tags: , , , , ,

25 comments or Leave a comment
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 11th, 2006 02:07 am (UTC) (Link)
Based on your synopsis of "A Boy and His Dog", I'd say Harly blew it royally. Misogynyy and world-buidling problems aside, he also missed a chance to contemplate a moral dilemma that would likely come up in a real survival situation: Who Do You Help?

Vic is traveling with two people, Blood and Quilla. Vic has known Blood for years and trusts him implicitly. Blood, alas, is incapacitated, possibly even dying, due to starvation.

Quilla is healthy, able-bodied, and has already proven herself to be resourceful, clever, and a capable fighter. Vic has known her for only a few days and doesn't know how far he can trust her.

Vic finds himself in a situation in which he can save only one of them. Does he save the incapacitated guy he trusts or the able-bodied girl he barely knows? Blood is doomed if Quilla lives. Even if Vic were to sacrifice himself to feed Blood, there is no guarantee that Quilla would honor his last reqest and share his body with Blood. Why should she share food with somebody she doesn't know? In a survival situation, one's loyalties will lie with one's family first, then close friends, and finally everybody else.

This approach could have made for an interesting story, especially if Harly had treated the characters fairly, and not made Quilla a psycho bitch. Unfortunately, Harly seems to have decided that he wanted to be shocking rather than truly clever.

bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: September 11th, 2006 12:42 pm (UTC) (Link)

Compare/Contrast to "Day of the Triffids" (1951)

Or, hell, any of a jillion action/suspense stories written thru the 1970s, with various "lifeboat" scenarios - I vaguely remember one old short story about a mountain-climbing expedition where none of the guys like each other and they're all competing to be the first to summit and there's a who-to-save dillemma that was much more powerful and moving - not to mention all the "loss of absolutely everything" angst that should have been over it, & which a skilled author could have transmitted even if the pov chara is a Dull Thud (as opposed to the guy in Triffids) - it's like Ellison doesn't even notice the real glories of human civilization, like they don't register on him at all, but like one of the "beasts that perish" his worldview is limited to spite, sex, money, sex, more vengeance, wandering through oblivious to everything but the merest material present - totally solipsistic on a level that even the most narcissistic Decadent Poet of the 1890s doesn't approach. I'm going to have to look at some of his other stories to see if there's *anything* that isn't shallow, trite, and "shocking" b/c I'm so far not seeing anything that would warrant his rep. I mean, it's like a cut-rate SFnal Norman Mailer being elevated as radical and innovative and daring and great, altho' I may be being unfair to Mailer.
mediumdave From: mediumdave Date: September 13th, 2006 06:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Harlan's overrated

*click* Looks like you've pegged the thing that (IMO) keeps Ellison from being a truly great (or even very good) fiction writer; he goes for the shock value instead of the truth every time, and after awhile that shtick gets old. Hell, it was old by the 1980's. By contrast, I usually like his nonfiction, because even when he's full of shit he expresses it entertainingly.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 29th, 2006 08:08 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Harlan's overrated

The only thing I've ever read by Ellison was Repent Harlequin! - Cried the TickTockMan and I really liked it; reading all these synopses of his other work makes me think he probably imagines himself a Harlequin.

However, no matter cool the Harlequin may seem in high school (especially compared to Moby Dick), he doesn't really accomplish much - and at least the Harlequin, unlike Ellison, was at least trying to fight against something Important.

mediumdave From: mediumdave Date: September 30th, 2006 09:36 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Harlan's overrated

I decided to dig out my copy of The Essential Ellison and read "Repent Harlequin!" Not a bad story, even if the excessively clever language seems annoying. I did notice that the Harlequin's girlfriend "Pretty Alice" turns him in; the women ruining things for the heroic rebels is a trope common to that era, I think. Hmm, the story was written the year I was born.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 16th, 2006 11:21 am (UTC) (Link)

Nice work!

I really enjoyed all three of these pieces, speaking as a Recovering Ellison Reader. If you want to see what happened when some of the issues you deal with were raised on Ellison's own site in threads devoted to discussing his stories and essays, check the following:


Cheers, Jon
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: September 16th, 2006 12:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yeah, It's good to be king...

and have fawning sycophants, aka "feedback loop" or "self-reinforcing behavior" or even "circle jerk" to use the vulgar tongue. "Harlan Ellison is entitled to do whatever he wants because he is such a Great Writer" doesn't *sound* very American to me, more 17th-c France and Divine Right of Kings. But hey, at least we know where the diehard mentality of the 35% who still think Saddam TOTALLY had WMDs and 24 is a documentary come from!
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 17th, 2006 07:32 am (UTC) (Link)
I am who you called the "self-othered" woman "ingratiating herself with the guys."

I wrote that piece over 12 years ago based on MY experiences, MY reading and MY ideas at the time. "Self othered"? Please. I was stating an opinion of my own. It may have been a naive opinion but it certainly wasn't meant "to ingratiate" myself with anybody, male or female.

I don't like other women attributing unsupportable motive to me any more than I like men to do it.

L. Robinson-Keegan

bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: September 17th, 2006 11:30 am (UTC) (Link)

You don't even understand

what Othered, let alone "self-Othered," or "colonized mind" means, obviously.

So, why *were* you so anxious to assure the world that you weren't a prudish feminist who was offended by being objectified, huh?

Do you *ever* examine your own assumptions and motivations at all?

Do you never do things without examining them because you know if you do, you won't like what's under that rock?

Do you never wonder why it came more instinctively to you to align with males, than with females?

Ursula LeGuin did, and it made her a much stronger and more honest writer. So did Joanna Russ.

And as a former Theocon, raised to insist that feminism was irrelevant and unnecessary and women should just be pretty princesses and domestic goddesses and then men would treat us with respect, I know *all* about self-othering, denial of true motivation *even to one's self* and insisting that taking the male viewpoint as normative is perfectly right and proper.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 17th, 2006 04:05 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: You don't even understand

I *do* understand what "othered" means and what "self-othered" means. And I *have* considered my own motives in life and elsewhere. Your assumption about my knowledge (or ignorance) and motives reveals your pomposity.

That you would take an amateur article about one book (and nowhere in that essay did I defend or even discuss "A Boy and His Dog". The only story I talked about was "Jeffty is Five") and begin calling me essentially a self-hating woman is ridiculous. In fact, it denigrates my ideas just as much as men do to women as a matter of course. It's no better coming from a woman.

I do not "instinctively align myself with males." What bullshit feminist theory. I think for myself, and while you (obviously) don't like my thoughts, they do not make me anti-woman.

Please note once again: in the article you linked (did you have permission from the 'zine?) I NEVER MENTIONED "A BOY AND HIS DOG". I simply noted, based on the ideas gathered from such rock-solid sources as dust-jacket covers and hearsay, that I didn't think Ellison to be intrinsically anti-woman.

I guess it's okay for some women to be anti- other women, though.

bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: September 17th, 2006 04:18 pm (UTC) (Link)

Where do you think that people need permission to LINK:?

What a privileged, entitled little nitwit you are, and without much of a clue how the internet works, either. I'm anti-you, all right. You're a ninny and a brat. If you think that makes me anti-woman, then you're even dumber than you've demonstrated so far.

Some closed-minded, politically- correct, liberal, free-speech, peace and flower pseudo-scholars shun Ellison's writing as misogynist, violent, hopeless-just plain not-nice. But Ellison's writing is designed to "assault" the reader with truth that is stranger in fiction. If the reader is made uncomfortable by Ellison's writing, it may be the reader has seen a bit more of her/himself and the rest of Homo sapiens than s/he would like. This is exactly what Ellison wishes to do -take your face from your ho-hum little existence and grind it into the terrifying realm of what humans have historically shown themselves to be entirely capable.

Allow me to specifically address women who may be frightened or outraged by Ellison's daring to write about us as sexual, victimized, possibly violent,unstable, or evil people: Aren't we sometimes? Some of Ellison's women are cheap and stupid; some are calculating. Some are noble women in the wrong space or time. But his male characters fare no better. Ellison's stories are an equal-opportunity madhouse. If it will soothe your feminist conscience, consider this: Harlan Ellison's character women are just ideas and ink.

Your own words. All very male-identified, condescending and dismissive of feminism.

And you expect a reader of your review to *know* that you didn't actually read all the stories in the book before reviewing it, that you were just going off blurbs, and we're supposed to respect you even more for *that*? His words are *not* an equal opportunity madhouse; if you'd read them before defending the anthology and the author, you'd have REALIZED that, so you're guilty of bad scholarship as well as sexism and faux-contrarianism.

Yeah, sure, some people do grow up and mature in their viewpoints over 12 years. Obviously, you're not one of them.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 17th, 2006 04:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Where do you think that people need permission to LINK:?

I disagree strongly with you, but you aren't open to argument and I don't have time.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 19th, 2006 05:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
How can you stop without tackling "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream", a.k.a. "The 'All Women Love Giant Ape Cock' Story"???
ide_cyan From: ide_cyan Date: September 19th, 2006 05:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
I linked to your entries on whileaway.
kinfae From: kinfae Date: September 28th, 2006 11:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Out of curiousity, what is a she-Kapo? (was googling self, found this, curious)
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: September 29th, 2006 12:10 am (UTC) (Link)

the She-Kapo is the avatar, the personification as it were

of the impulse in all women - yes, all of us, particularly the "radfem" women of dread renown, who *know* best what they have rebelled against - to submit to men, to justify our own submission, and to enforce that submission (and thus continue to avoid having to confront said submission) upon other women who begin to chafe at the traces of the patriarchy.

Although best exemplified in the USA - to the point of caricature - in people like Phyllis Schlafly, the late Helen Andeline, the Rules Girls, Mrs. Professor Instapundit and the Concerned Women of America members, the She-Kapo embodies wherever a woman says "but I'm not a feminist!" or "I'm not one of those RADICAL feminists!" or "I don't think he MEANT anything hurtful by it" or "you can't blame him for it, he's A Guy™/an Italian/Polish/Irish/German/Whatever Guy/of that Generation!" (or anything in the "Guys won't like you if you act too smart" to a daughter, and all the threats of reputed dykery for failing to conform even in effort and showing willing to the current local norms of "beauty") and in fandom is most often seen in the form of Special!Girl, the Spunky One who's a tomboy (but also Pretty) and beloved of all the boys, the Girl Mascot who never hesitates to let the world know that she despises all those Other Women for their shallowness and lack of the masculine [sic] virtues of honesty and courage which she (being Special!, partakes of), and how the Guys all let her know that she's Not Like Other Women, and for that reason she doesn't believe in sexism because She's Never Experienced It Herself, and after all everyone KNOWS that women really ARE nasty, deceitful, cowardly, trivial creatures (except of course for her, being Exceptional and really Almost As Good As A Boy™ inside) so anything that LOOKS like sexism really is just justified... Nothing on this earth offends the She-Kapo so much as a man being mistreated, no matter how many shattered female bodies lying beaten around him she has to trample to rush to his defense.

The She-Kapo starts to manifest as soon as a woman starts to apologize for being "too angry" - no, sooner, whenever we preen inside at being "favored" for Not Being Like Other Girls...but no matter how sparkly and stsho-like she seems, she's more our Inner Kif than anything else. It really comes down to herd status among us female untermenschen, and currying favor with the hakkikt, who are necessarily male in the end. And thus the sister-bashers instinctively align with Power, which is something all us primates naturally do, altho' we can rebel against it if we choose, and perceive power as, properly, masculine - and thus ensure that it remains so. Thus her symbolic form bears a truncheon which is marked "Status Quo."
lavendertook From: lavendertook Date: October 11th, 2006 08:22 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: the She-Kapo is the avatar, the personification as it were

I *love* your description here. I feel I'm always bringing this one up, but that very much embodies Adrienne Rich's "token women" concept, excepting that your description goes further into the anti-feminist impulse--it's very good.

But where did you get the term "She-Kapo"? I'm clueless on the reference. What's a "Kapo"--is it the name of a character or historic personage?
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: October 11th, 2006 09:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: the She-Kapo is the avatar, the personification as it were

It originally comes from prison camp guards who were chosen from among the inmates to keep their fellow prisoners down and snitch on them. Possibly a little unfair, given that people in concentration camps had less choice than your stereotypical bourgeois Sparkle!Girl going "I'm not a feminist, I LIKE boys!" but then again it *is* a survival strategy, going along with the patriarchy, and part of the whole system involves pretending that there isn't real violence at the not so far back to keep us in line just as much in the days of the "scold's bridle", so not entirely unfair to RL kapos, just observing patterns of cooperation-with-the-masters.

(embarrassed to say that I don't think I've read any Adrienne Rich, although I'm familiar with the Token Woman/Minority dynamic, at least as practiced in the industry boardrooms/conservative punditry/Capitol building today.)
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 7th, 2006 12:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

The Thing That Wouldn't Die

So, in the course of banning several long-time members of his bulletin board last week, Harlan returned yet again to Connie Willis, among other things:

"No one babbling about the Great Boorish Mammary Mangling of the Hugo ceremony bothered to mention that a) I was gulled into going to the LACon in the first place, after advising them I didn't want to attend -- and Susan was used as the dupe to suck me in -- but I did it to accomodate them; b) that I was requested by Silverberg to come far earlier in the day than I'd planned (so that I had to get up at 5 am to make the drive to Anaheim) so I could sit on the 1950s SF panel with him; c) that I did a 2-hour "presentation" that was, with the exceptions of the masquerade and the Hugo ceremony, the single BEST ATTENDED, STANDING ROOM ONLY, JAMMED TRIPLE-SPACE-BALLROOM item on the entire convention menu; d) that I then sat for FOUR FUCKING HOURS without even a potty-break, to sign every last magazine, pamphlet, programme book, poster and SFBC edition put in front of me (and, yes, we made money selling our books -- y'wanna defenestrate me for THAT greedy excess, too?). No one cares to mention that. Not on the web, not in blogs, not via any of the onlookers who couldn't wait a foaming, frothing moment to have a go at me yet one more time, demonstrating a degree of arrogance and petty self-importance with their I'M AFFRONTED opinions ... from the back-fence yenta snitch Patrick Nielsen Hayden, who couldn't wait to rush to his laptop to "break the story" to every johnny-come-lately who knew nothing of my credentials -- not the least of which includes the discovering and encouraging of Octavia Estelle Butler, for which miracle I ought to be permitted to fondle and squeeze human and alien tit till the return of the fucking Ice Age, or at least till my "friend" Connie Willis opens her mouth and ends this miserable lynching. None of the above mattered. And anyone who pointed out this was all tabloid bullshit, was attacked as rabidly as was I ... up to and including Neil Gaiman, who wasn't there, knew nothing about it, and was assailed for being complicit in my perfidious behavior because he hadn't pilloried me!"

A bit further on, Ellison notes "I was given a special plaque for FIFTY GODDAM YEARS of taking this crap, and was given a kiss by no less than Connie Willis, who I'm roundly accused of having traumatized! Nobody suggests that Connie invaded MY MOTHERFUCKIN' SPACE by kissing me!"

Huzzah. The whole Ellisonian message, which also includes Ellison telling the one female banned from the board that "Paula, I want to come and horsewhip you. Ah, but no, a man isn't allowed to demonstrate his misogyny by wantging [sic] to kick the crap out of a squamous little bitch like you, just to prove he loves his wife."

All the fun can be viewed at http://harlanellison.com/heboard/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1690&start=60&sid=9c1c091cb02c34528ad198e55acb168e

uterinelining From: uterinelining Date: October 10th, 2006 12:47 am (UTC) (Link)

Hi! I found you through Ginmar's journal.

Why do you consider Shardik to be a feminist sf novel? I've only read a couple pages of it so far, and it is lovely!
bellatrys From: bellatrys Date: October 10th, 2006 01:54 am (UTC) (Link)

well, ultimately it's because of the ending

which puts the seal on everything that was intimated before. But I don't know how much you want in the way of spoilers...?

But without spoilers, watch the characters of the priestesses - they're all different, they talk about things other than men, they have goals and ideals and character flaws and problems, and it's not all about them being sexually available for guys *or* just Not Sexually Available as vestals with mystical powers, and the sexual tension of *that*, either, like in a 50s movie about nuns - and it all ties into this whole redemptive arc of two characters, interlocked, and it being about changing the world for the better, staring with us, not "FREEDOMMM!" but a man's world where who holds the sword changes but women remain prisoners of the distaff or the temple...

It's so dense and so *awful* in places as well as so *beautiful* that it's overwhelming, and it's hard to talk about it easily, but when you finish I would be happy to get into more specifics, altho' we will have to spoiler space them!
From: belledame222 Date: October 16th, 2006 07:52 am (UTC) (Link)
Brilliant post, thanks.

I know the story well. never did see the movie. i remember Joanna Russ ripping the movie apart for its misogyny but allowing as how the story was less so; I assume that really this was mostly a nod at her RL friendship with Ellison. it is, indeed, a piece of shite.

and that first movie review/interview is priceless: the dog played by the same one that was on Brady Bunch! that's oddly perfect, somehow
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 23rd, 2008 03:18 am (UTC) (Link)

Very Very Good Analysis

I am so glad that someone had finally did an intelligent review of that piece of garbage "A Boy and his Dog". I remember when I first saw the film, reading the reviews about it's comedic value and the shocking ending. (Let me say this, I saw nothing comedic about the opening scene, that trys to downplay a rape and murder, nor did I find one thing amusing at all about the end scene). I am a war veteran of Vietnam, and I can say with assurance that men are not the animals that Ellison seems to think that we are, nor do all men feel about women in the same light.Alot of soldiers, like myself, in a war torn country, were trying to do our best to HELP people, in every way that we could. I personally have never been a fan of Ellison.But, I have read alot of his work and get so tired of people trying to explain away some of his filth as great writing. Thanks for the courage to expose the truth about the nature of some of that work. If I have to read one more review of "A boy and his Dog" that talks about what a brilliant story it is, or how clever the ending is, I think I am seriously going to have to puke.
From: (Anonymous) Date: July 27th, 2008 03:09 am (UTC) (Link)

Boy and His Dog

Here is an important question to everyone that defends the film. Could you make love to a girl, then turn around and shoot her, feed her to a friend and then say "It ain't my fault she fell in love with me". If you can honestly answer that you could shoot, cook and feed someone you had just made love to, and not feel guilty about it. Then you need some professional help, I would suggest Dr. Hannibal Lecter, maybe when you ended up being killed and cooked, you could appreciate it better.
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 25th, 2010 11:26 am (UTC) (Link)

Vigorous writing is concise

You are very talented, but I'd recommend more disciplined, shorter sentences. A reader shouldn't have to edit and rewrite in his mind in order to understand a passage.

I read a story in a murder mystery collection once about a detective hired to find out why a man had committed suicide. He learned that the man, as a college student, had as a practical joke trapped a another man in his car. The suicide had forgotten all about this prank for years until he heard a story about the discovery of a mysterious decades-old corpse inside of a long-abandoned car... The prankster had simply assumed that his victim had found a way to escape, and then forgotten about the whole thing for decades.

Point being, if Ellison's story is not a concoction, what happened to the woman after he left here bound up in her home? We don't know, and neither does Ellison, if his hurried departure really was the end of his history with the woman.
25 comments or Leave a comment