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View Full Version : Is There a Name for This Kind of Stupid?



SkepticJ
2010-Oct-16, 01:37 AM
I was reading the Wikipedia page on Frank Herbert's novel Dune, and found abject dumbosity (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dune_%28novel%29#Gender_issues).

I'm not sure how far one has to shove their head up their own gastrointestinal tract to be so completely clueless, but these two scholars managed the feat.

Solfe
2010-Oct-16, 01:59 AM
It has been years since I have read Dune and I have not read all of the books in the series, but not all is well with that wiki. Baron Harkonnen is warped individual in the Dune novel.
Judging by the reference links, I suspect that the writer of that section is A) taking great liberties with interpreting the information referenced B) mixing up the time line of the characters.

It could be just me,

SkepticJ
2010-Oct-16, 02:17 AM
Yeah, he is.

The gripe seems to be that the novel should've also had a character that was homosexual, but not a freaky child-molesting pervert, that way you know that not all homosexuals are that way.

I know reading the novel made me deeply uncertain on that whole issue.

Solfe
2010-Oct-16, 04:12 AM
It seems to me his sexuality was introduced after the characters established as "crazed" or whatever you want to call his mental state in Dune. I suspect it was done to frame his particular vulnerability and betrayal in an extraordinary way. I don't think it could have worked as a credible if he wasn't a homosexual. In the movie Excalibur, Morgan Le Fey does the same thing to her half brother Aurthur, so it isn't exactly a new idea.

If the Baron was heterosexual, either the story would be impossible or more like Jerry Springer. :)

I suppose in some warped way they could move that objection to the novel where the events involving homosexuality is key, but then the argument sort of falls apart because I bet is he is less objectionable at that time.

Gillianren
2010-Oct-16, 04:38 AM
Actually, I can see the point of both of those arguments. It is assuredly true that, Bene Gesserit or no Bene Gesserit, the overt power in the Duniverse, if you will, is wielded by men. Remember that Paul married Irulan for the express purpose of becoming emperor, knowing she couldn't be empress in her own right. Leto I wanted a son to inherit Caladan. The Bene Gesserit do control things behind the scenes, but it is all for the purposes of bringing about the Kwizatz Haderach, who will be better than they. (A man of temporal power with the spiritual powers of a woman.) I haven't read all the Dune books, but power in the ones I've read is the property of men.

Note that the problem isn't that the Baron is homosexual; arguably, the Baron is just crazy, and his interest in men in general and Feyd in particular has to do with his subversion of societal norms. The problem is that the Baron (and theoretically but not actually Feyd) is the only homosexual character in the series, at least as I remember it. There's one, and he's crazy and incestuous. That's the issue. It's just one more symptom of the over-the-top Harkonnen perversions.

SkepticJ
2010-Oct-16, 05:00 AM
Actually, I can see the point of both of those arguments. It is assuredly true that, Bene Gesserit or no Bene Gesserit, the overt power in the Duniverse, if you will, is wielded by men. Remember that Paul married Irulan for the express purpose of becoming emperor, knowing she couldn't be empress in her own right. Leto I wanted a son to inherit Caladan. The Bene Gesserit do control things behind the scenes, but it is all for the purposes of bringing about the Kwizatz Haderach, who will be better than they. (A man of temporal power with the spiritual powers of a woman.) I haven't read all the Dune books, but power in the ones I've read is the property of men.

This matters why, though?

The empire in the Dune universe isn't supposed to be some ideal, liberal future civilization. It's the feudal system all over again. There's slavery, torture, brainwashed soldiers . . . and really none of this is seen as moral atrocity by the characters. It's just part of their world.

It's conceivable that a feudal system could have more equality for women. There's much more mechanization in the Dune universe, helping to free women from their historical roles of homemaker etc., but that's not the novel Herbert wanted to write.


Note that the problem isn't that the Baron is homosexual; arguably, the Baron is just crazy, and his interest in men in general and Feyd in particular has to do with his subversion of societal norms. The problem is that the Baron (and theoretically but not actually Feyd) is the only homosexual character in the series, at least as I remember it. There's one, and he's crazy and incestuous. That's the issue. It's just one more symptom of the over-the-top Harkonnen perversions.

He's also horrifically obese. Should Dune also have a horrifically obese good guy, just so we know the obese aren't always crazed, evil people?

grapes
2010-Oct-16, 05:12 AM
This matters why, though? It seems that you're saying Kathy Gower and Margery Hourihan are right, you just think that it shouldn't matter. Is that it?

SkepticJ
2010-Oct-16, 05:24 AM
Right.

They're projecting what they think a society in a fictional work, which isn't supposed to be a good society, should be like. Which is moronic.

It makes about as much sense as if I complained that the intelligent, erudite, scientists and scholars are kept boxed up in monasteries in the world of Anathem. That's not an ideal situation. It's not supposed to be.

AndreasJ
2010-Oct-16, 05:51 AM
I haven't read all the Dune books, but power in the ones I've read is the property of men.
We do get to see matriarchy in the later books.

grapes
2010-Oct-16, 05:59 AM
Right.

They're projecting what they think a society in a fictional work, which isn't supposed to be a good society, should be like. Which is moronic.
The passage about Hourihan is:

Margery Hourihan even calls the main character's mother, Jessica, "by far the most interesting character in the novel"[20] and pointing out that while her son approaches a power which makes him almost alien to the reader, she remains human. Throughout the novel, she struggles to maintain power in a male-dominated society, and manages to help her son at key moments in his realization of power.What's wrong with that?

SkepticJ
2010-Oct-16, 06:50 AM
Nothing at all.

I was just talking about the views of the first two mouthbreathers in the link.

I, too, found Jessica to be the most interesting character, and morally the best, too. Once Paul gets his messiah complex, he's not really that nice of a guy anymore.

grapes
2010-Oct-16, 06:56 AM
It seems that you're saying Kathy Gower and Margery Hourihan are right, you just think that it shouldn't matter. Is that it?If not Hourihan, who else? "Other gender critics"?

Jens
2010-Oct-16, 07:26 AM
They're projecting what they think a society in a fictional work, which isn't supposed to be a good society, should be like. Which is moronic.


Over-sensitive? Perhaps. But moronic? I don't really see it. Their criticisms don't seem baseless. The issue is, should one criticize a work of fiction? It's sort of the same issue of whether one should criticize Huckleberry Finn for the portrayal of Jim (though actually it's a criticism of racism itself). I'm generally on the side of those who say we shouldn't criticize them, but there is a point, that children are influenced by those stereotypes and it leads to their continuation. So I really wouldn't call it moronic or stuposity.

Solfe
2010-Oct-16, 04:26 PM
Their criticisms don't seem baseless. The issue is, should one criticize a work of fiction?

We should criticize, but for the issue with the Baron it is baseless in this form. It's attached to a story where his homosexuality is not established. The other issue is the supporting citation link says nothing to this issue. For this article the argument is contrived at best, the author of the section selected the novel that was the most well known to create buzz.

The citation link should be removed, the issue should raised in the correct novel article and correctly sourced.

As far as I am concerned, the case made for poor treatment of women does have merit so long as the preceding stuff is moved or removed.

Personally I have a completely different take on the women in the Dune series. It seems to me that men are merely pawns in a greater game exclusively play by powerful women and this game is in all cases fatal to the men who attempt to participate. Granted the average woman is generally up a creek when dealing with men in this series...

I freely acknowledge that my opinion is so poorly worked out that I should not edit this page.

Gillianren
2010-Oct-16, 06:16 PM
The average woman in the Dune universe probably has no power at all. The ones we see are all extraordinary, as are the men. We see essentially no average people, because that's not what the story is about. However, even the women we see are in some way subjugated to men--even in the Fremen society, Paul acquires a wife because she "belonged" to the man he killed.

It is improbable that the only homosexual--and his sexuality is pretty clearly established in the original book--is also the most depraved man in the known universe. Especially over the sweep of time the novels cover. Frankly, it's kind of improbable that there are no lesbian relationships even referred to in an all-female organization, and add in the fact that there's one whole planet of women. I'm certainly not claiming that all Bene Gesserit should be lesbians, but there should be some lesbian Bene Gesserit. Not all of them are sent out to be breeders.

Do I still read the books? Of course. Or I will, anyway; right now, I don't know where my copies are. I even enjoy them. I own the David Lynch version, and I watched the SciFi one in its original airing. In a social setting, yet. However, calling someone a "mouthbreather" for pointing out what even you agree are legitimate points about the book is extraordinarily rude. It is also failing to note the existence of the entire field of literary criticism. Believe me, I've heard stupider arguments--Jim from Huckleberry Finn, as mentioned. However, these are legitimate criticisms of the work so far as I'm concerned.

Noclevername
2010-Oct-16, 06:59 PM
Frankly, it's kind of improbable that there are no lesbian relationships even referred to in an all-female organization, and add in the fact that there's one whole planet of women. I'm certainly not claiming that all Bene Gesserit should be lesbians, but there should be some lesbian Bene Gesserit.

There no doubt are. But since the focus of the stories was on the breeding program, the breeders were the characters who got the spotlight. It's about conservation of detail-- there's not enough room even in a Dune novel to describe the habits of an entire Galactic Empire full of people. If the lack bothers anyone, just imagine that any character you like whose sexuality is not specifically mentioned is bi- or homosexual. Except the hermaphroditic Face Dancers, who take whatever gender they're assigned to.

HenrikOlsen
2010-Oct-16, 07:48 PM
<snip>Frankly, it's kind of improbable that there are no lesbian relationships even referred to in an all-female organization, and add in the fact that there's one whole planet of women.<snip>
There is a lesbian act described (off-stage) in God Emperor of Dune, where it's considered by most to be a natural thing (with a subtext that strongly suggest that the similar relationship between men is the same) and Duncan's reaction to it is considered irritatingly prudish, especially as he's one of an endless line of Duncans who all react in that way.

Paul Beardsley
2010-Oct-16, 08:02 PM
I tend to agree with Noclevername. I also recall a character in Asimov's Foundation series - Hober Mallow, I think - being criticised for not mentioning a certain piece of information. He countered that he had also neglected to mention the name of his current mistress. It wasn't relevant to the kind of story Asimov was telling.

The book was written in the early sixties, when sex either didn't "happen" in SF, or else it was specifically about sex and gender issues. Should Frank Herbert be castigated for not being Ursula LeGuin?

Right from the first chapter of Dune, we're informed - often in startling and clever ways - that the world we are in is very different to the real world. In Dune, a woman is in trouble because she gave birth to a boy when she was ordered to have a girl. Meanwhile, in 1965, reliable contraception in the form of the pill was new and controversial, and male homosexuality was illegal in many countries including the UK.

I'm not even that much of a fan of Dune, but I am still awed by the sense of depth in its handling of future history. I really don't think it would be improved if it included a passage like this:


Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam allowed herself a brief smile as she remembered her daliance with Novice Felicity in the meadow behind the Chapter House. But the memory was all too fleeting; she had a Gom Jabbar test to carry out.

In fact it makes me think of Russell T. Davies' Doctor Who stories set five billion years in the future - yet the people of this incredibly far future still listen to all our pop music, sing our hymns, read Agatha Christie, and make coy remarks about people who might be gay.

*Not really!

Solfe
2010-Oct-16, 08:46 PM
If it amuses anyone, I cannot find my copy of Dune becuase I need to reread it, but what I can find is a children's story book. I recall my parent's bought it for me after I left the theatre during the movie. It does not mention the Baron much at all.

No wonder I am so messed up. :)

SkepticJ
2010-Oct-16, 10:43 PM
The average woman in the Dune universe probably has no power at all. The ones we see are all extraordinary, as are the men. We see essentially no average people, because that's not what the story is about. However, even the women we see are in some way subjugated to men--even in the Fremen society, Paul acquires a wife because she "belonged" to the man he killed.

Again, it's not supposed to be a good society. It's simply a facet of their world. Makes for an interesting story.

If someone wrote a novel where South Africa is still under an apartheid in 2010, should criticism be leveled at the novel for this? So long as the novel isn't preaching that this is a good thing, the novel being racist propaganda, why would you criticize it?

Or someone who complains that the world of 1984 is a horribly dehumanizing dystopia?

Or that in the Odyssey, Penelope doesn't kick her rude suitors out of her house herself?

You'd say these people are completely missing the point, have their heads up their _____, wouldn't you?


However, calling someone a "mouthbreather" for pointing out what even you agree are legitimate points about the book is extraordinarily rude. It is also failing to note the existence of the entire field of literary criticism. Believe me, I've heard stupider arguments--Jim from Huckleberry Finn, as mentioned. However, these are legitimate criticisms of the work so far as I'm concerned.

I'm not calling you a mouthbreather.

Oh, literary criticism. I don't even want to get started on that "discipline".

Gillianren
2010-Oct-17, 01:12 AM
To repeat. I am not saying these are bad things. I am saying they are (with the exception of one event mentioned offstage once, it seems) true things. I don't get what's wrong with pointing them out. I don't even see what's wrong with saying, "I'm not interested in reading these books because they contain these things." Heck, there are a whole list of reasons not to read Dune, and again, I like the books well enough, though of course some better than others. But you know, Frank Herbert felt the need to tell us a lot of irrelevant details. Mentioning a character's sexuality in passing would not be outside the realm of probability, given his style. Having a character other than the Evil Baron who has a significant other of the same sex wouldn't be a big deal. Should he have done it? His book, his choice. Pointing out that this is true is not, to me, a big deal or a sign of stupidity or anything else. It is an observation about the work.

Yeah, the first book was written in an era where homosexuality was generally a sign of depravity, but let's consider two things. Number one, he did kind of keep writing books after that point. Number two, how many homosexual characters are there in the expanded universe who aren't the Evil Baron or depraved in some other way? That eliminates the idea that it's his era. Besides which I happen to know a few things about the place the man used to live in. One of his closest friends taught at my alma mater. Frank Herbert was not exactly sheltered from the gay rights movement. Either he deliberately chose not to have homosexual characters who weren't corrupt or it didn't occur to him not to. Either way, I can see being kind of annoyed on the subject.

I am also not saying that every story should be about an ideal society. I'm not particularly fond of any story set in an ideal society. They're boring. I do think it's perfectly reasonable to point out the particular places where one is not, especially if it's something important to you. Calling anyone, me or otherwise, a "mouthbreather" for doing that is even more insensitive than using the term at all.

HenrikOlsen
2010-Oct-17, 07:18 AM
Having a character other than the Evil Baron who has a significant other of the same sex wouldn't be a big deal.
Except that he would then have been talking about a difference society. Which is a big deal.

To me that critique is like berating someone writing a story happening in contemporary US for not mentioning a Governor and his husband or a Senator and her wife.

The offstage case I mentioned happened in a very different social stratum and was discussed as completely normal by someone who grew up in a different society.

BTW to get back to the OP, the technical term for the kind of stupid that criticizes an author based on the actions of his characters, and by extension criticizing him based on the society he describes, is idiot. At least according to Niven.

Gillianren
2010-Oct-17, 06:40 PM
Sigh.

Look, I'm not saying he should have done it. I'm saying he didn't, someone pointed it out, and they mentioned it. And honestly, I don't think he chose not to mention other gay people. I don't think he made a conscious decision at all. However, comparing it to a portrayal of any contemporary society is a flawed analogy, because Frank Herbert made it up. Now, you'd currently have to refer to a US governor and her husband, but obviously not his. That's how US society actually currently is. But the society Frank Herbert is writing about isn't ours, or any other real-world example we might choose to bring up. He's writing about a different time by tens of thousands of years, worlds undiscovered, and various other things which means that saying it's the same as any changes to society on Earth in the twentieth or twenty-first century is wrong.

And I do happen to think that lit crit can, at least occasionally, be a valid field. I think a lot of it is garbage, but I think that's true of a lot of more respected disciplines. I think analyzing an author's work and how it fits in to their time and place can give you a greater perspective on both. I think it's often possible to tell things about a person by the characters they write. I think assuming they're the same is the height of folly, but considering if they are or not can be an interesting point. I also think criticizing the society he describes is valid, and I don't necessarily think the Wikipedia article goes any farther than that. Was Frank Herbert a bad person for his portrayal of women and homosexuals? No! I'd have to ask Bill for stories before I'd start thinking about Frank Herbert much beyond the books at all, and I don't even really know Bill all that well. But the fact is, women in his stories are, in general, physically subjugated to men. There are, in general, no homosexuals but the depraved and evil Baron. These things are true. These things are valid complaints. Are they valid stylistic choices on the part of Frank Herbert? Inasmuch as I think they were choices on his part at all, sure.

Paul Beardsley
2010-Oct-17, 07:49 PM
There are, in general, no homosexuals but the depraved and evil Baron. These things are true. These things are valid complaints.

I think that's the crux of the disagreements. Valid observations, yes. Valid complaints? I don't really think so.

When one has a valid complaint, one can generally say what they want instead - if your restaurant food is undercooked, for instance, or your hotel bed is too hard. So what do the critics want? A rewrite of the novel in which the victims of the Baron's depravity are female? Some token good gays?

I think the complaint would have been valid if there had been an obvious link between sexuality and badness in general. There might not have been any good (explicitly identified) gays until God Emperor, but there were plenty bad straights. It should also be noted that the Baron was one who found his pleasures in diverse places (including the woman he got pregnant with Jessica) rather than specifically gay.

Gillianren
2010-Oct-17, 09:41 PM
Except where he explicitly says he only did that to try heterosexual sex. He isn't interested in sex with women. He says so himself. Yes, in the expanded universe books, he rapes a woman, but of course rape isn't about sex. It's about power, and quite explicitly so in that scene. She thinks she can control him, so he rapes her to show her who's in power. After that, girls return to having cooties.

Paul Beardsley
2010-Oct-17, 10:08 PM
I didn't think his homosexual couplings were exactly caring-sharing relationships between equals either.

And to be honest I think the issue is too trivial to be interesting. I'd rather discuss the parallels between Dune plotlines and real history (e.g. the Borgias) and myth (e.g. Tiresias).

Gillianren
2010-Oct-17, 10:37 PM
Oh, he's not a nice guy, and it's always rape of one sort or another. But it is, with a single exception, homosexual rape.