Blueprint of a Meltdown

“Emancipation Proclamation, bitch. @rebeljeffersond”

I sometimes wonder what the olden days would’ve looked like if everyone had social media. Can you imagine Lincoln tweeting the Emancipation Proclamation at Jefferson Davis? Or imagine the amazing tweets and Facebook posts we would’ve gotten from Oscar Wilde? Social media is such a part of our culture now I often wonder what history would’ve looked like if we had a fuller narrative.

But I also think that living in a time without social media probably saved a lot of people a lot of heartache. The kind of heartache that’s caused by shoving your head so far up your ass you turn inside out. The kind of heartache that exists because yet another author decided to complain publicly about a negative review.

In the early days of Twitter an author showing their ass was a nigh on weekly occurrence. Bad review on Goodreads? Mean old book blogger trashing your book? To Twitter and Facebook, to defend the honor of your written words!

And then we got smarter, and realized that this was no different than any other critique. And we realized that a book has to stand on its own, that the written words were the author’s part of the conversation, the review the reader’s part. Barthes discusses this in his essay “Death of the Author”, in which he says that the author must die a metaphorical death at the end of the writing of his book in order to give the reader space to interact with the work. And it’s true! Have you ever tried to read with someone sitting over your shoulder explaining everything? It’s annoying as fuck.

And for a time, most authors understood that venting about bad reviews happened in private places in the company of other authors. There is nothing to defend once the book has been put out into the world, and for the most part there isn’t much that can be done to change the story. As an author, you just have to live with it.

And that brings me to now, when the author meltdown has once again become the norm as white people realize they cannot write about marginalized peoples carte blanche.

Here we are, embarking on a new era where books are now analyzed in light of their merits with regards to the depiction of marginalized voices and marginalized experiences. Social media has given the historically oppressed an unprecedented control over their narrative, and the ability to engage thoughtfully and vocally in the reader’s part of the conversation, a part of the conversation that has long been dominated by the majority. I daresay that if the Help were to come out now instead of 2009 the response would have been very different.

These meltdowns take on a very similar pattern. First, there is the negative review that gets people talking about the book. Then, there is usually some established organization (that exists to reinforce the status quo) that praises the book involved, causing marginalized voices to reiterate the negative reviews and go a step further to clarify how the book functions in the larger context of societal oppression.

This should be the end of the discussion, readers going back and forth, arguing the merits and shortcoming of a work. But without fail, especially when the author is white, here comes the author inserting themselves into the conversation, usually with a rallying cry to friends and family and casual acquaintances. The author has been wronged! Can’t you see how they were trying to help the poor marginalized voices! The book is being maligned by those who haven’t read it (never mind the fact that Advanced Reader’s Copies are a thing and most books are read well in advance of publication by those who review them).

The irony is that in speaking the author further solidifies the idea that they care not for the marginalized voices they exploited to add spice to their bland narrative. They are for themselves. Otherwise, why speak over the readers of your book while they are the midst of the conversation? Why speak over and on top of these poor, unfortunate souls you were only trying to lift up with your sainted words? No author ever inserts themselves into the conversation to say “No, please, please stop praising my work!”

The reality is that every author push back on a review, regardless of the reasons for the negative review, are about the same thing: the author trying to control both sides of the conversation, attempting to talk over readers and silence critics.

Honestly, it just isn’t a good look.