You Are Not of the Faithful


“Greetings, pilgrim,” said the voice from the darkness. “You have come to this place of your own design. You are not of the faithful, and from this place you shall not depart until you have been washed of your sins.”

Kim closed her eyes, then opened them — there was no difference. All she saw was blackness. She raised her hand and put it to her face, but never saw the hand. The fingers touched her skin, not a blindfold, and found no injuries to her eyes.

She was enveloped in absolute darkness.

“Where am I?” she said, and she put out a hand in the darkness. Her palm struck a cold, unmoving wall before her arm reached its full extension. It made a hollow, echoing sound.

“You are in the world of your own devising,” said the voice. “You came to us claiming you were open. You came to us claiming that you understood. But this was not the truth. You are not of the faithful.”

Kim’s hand traveled along the surface of the wall until it found a corner, then she turned to feel the length of the wall. She stood in the middle of the room, wherever it was, and the room was no larger than half her arm length around her. She found no gaps. If air was getting into the room, she couldn’t tell from where.

“Why are you doing this?”

“You closed yourself to us. You closed your mind before we even began. Now, we isolate you — because that is the way you wished to be treated.”

“You said you would protect me,” she said, pounding on the wall in front of her. “You said you would help me.”

“We cannot help you until you wish to be helped. We asked you to open your heart — your mind. You did not. You built this room yourself, and you designed its operation with each moment you spent among us.”

As the voice choed and faded, it was replaced by another sound. it was a silvery, watery sound like liquid flowing down metal. Kim recoiled as her feet were suddenly hit with something cold and wet. Water — or something else liquid — was flowing into the room. Within seconds, it lapped at her ankles. She opened her mouth, but all that came out was a choked cry.

“We want to help you,” the voice said. “That is what we do. We help. We scrutinize, we analyze, and we interpret, and we find what’s wrong in your life, and then we help you get past it.”

“Please,” Kim whimpered, “let me out. I swear, I’ll do whatever you want.”

“Tell us why.”

“Because if you don’t let me out, I’ll drown!”

“No, not that,” said the voice. “Why are you here?”

“Because you put me in here, you sick freaks!” the water had reached her knees now, and it was still growing deeper.

“Not this room,” said the voice. “Tell us why you are here.”

Kim could feel tears stinging her eyes. “I came here to get help,” she said. “I came here because you said you would help me.”

“This is not why.”

“It is. It’s the only reason why. Because you said you would help.”

“And yet you are here.” The voice was not angry, not indignant — it was cool and calm and collected, even as the water reached to Kim’s stomach. “You walled yourself off from us, and now you are here. If you wanted our help, then you would have accepted us with an open heart and open mind.”

“Please,” said Kim, “just let me out. Let me out. I don’t want to die.”

“Then tell us why.”

“I’ve already told you.”

“You haven’t told us yet. You haven’t even told yourself yet.”

Kim sobbed quietly. The water crept higher and higher. She raised her hand above her head to see how far she had above her. The roof of the room was only inches above her head, and the water was up to her neck.

“Tell us why,” said the voice. “Tell us why you are here, and we can get you out of there.”

“I don’t know,” Kim sobbed. “I don’t know why I’m here.”

“Tell us why.”

She sputtered and gasped.

“I don’t know,” she said again, “I don’t know. You tell me. Just tell me why I’m here. Whatever you say — that’s why I am here.”

Silence answered her, and then came a sound — the sound of water draining.

“That,” said the voice from the darkness, “is a good start.”


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The Arbitrary Whiteness of Fiction

Over at “Hey, Ash, Whatcha Playin’?” is Anthony Burch’s defense of “Arbitrary Diversity.”

I’ve had a few conversations as of late about random things — Doctor Who, Borderlands, James Bond — that have all revolved around some version of the following argument/counterargument pair:

ARGUMENT: You know, it’d be great if more mainstream media had ethnically or sexually diverse casts.

COUNTERARGUMENT: Yes, that would be great, but one must not forget that one shouldn’t just throw in minorities for for no reason. Doctor Who/Borderlands/James Bond/whatever comes off phony when they arbitrarily start throwing minorities around just to show how progressive they are. It feels condescending and arbitrary.

I’d like to make an argument to the counterargument:

So what?

The New Adventures of TintinIt’s actually a great argument. What is wrong with injecting a little diversity into a cast of characters, even (or especially) if you aren’t doing it to say anything about the diversity of your cast? Why not inject a little bit of diversity, just for diversity’s sake?

Which is why I’d like to take a moment to take his argument further.

Why have the people who argue against ethnically-, culturally-, sexually-, or gender-diverse casts made the arbitrary decision to keep everything around them white, male, and straight?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, guys, but the world is a pretty diverse place. People pop up around you all the time who are something different from you without having any specific, plot-driven reason for being so. They are who they are because of a combination of genetic and social factors that often spring from some pretty freaking arbitrary moments of divergence and/or convergence. They are not there to teach you a moral, nor is their not-like-you-ness intentionally put on to help you grow as a human being.

If you are the main character of your own personal narrative (which is the way the vast majority of us perceive our world), then the people who surround you will be diverse — unless you have made the arbitrary decision to actively avoid everybody who is not like you. Casting directors who handle background roles know this. If you look through the casting brief for almost any show, you’ll find that the casting directors have a breakdown of which races and genders they need to cast (sexuality and religion less so, considering they’re often less visually apparent and an extra’s role is solely visual). These breakdowns are not arbitrary numbers — they are numbers that have been carefully calculated based on the census information for the area in which the show or movie is set. In other words, they are making their casting decision based on a quantitative measure of the real world.

If an area is predominantly African American, then casting directors will make an effort to cast more extras of African descent than those of western European descent. If an area of the country has a higher Asian population, then the casting director will contact and ultimately hire more Asian extras.

Gender Switched AvengersIn this situation, the strange decision is to have all of the main characters in the scene cast with white males. Which, of course, is the decision that is made by producers time and time again. 

So I ask the question: Why must television shows, video games, movies, novels, and more media offer disproportionately white, straight, male, vaguely-if-not-explicitly Christian characters to the exclusion of much more realistic diversity? What is your intended purpose for casting a solid white cast and asking the audience to pretend that people of other religions and sexualities don’t exist? What does this character’s straight white Protestant maleness contribute to the plot or theme?

If you can’t answer that, then I don’t see any reason why the character has to be a straight, white male.

Carnival of [REDACTED]

All right, who was it?

'Fess up.

Who’s the guy that actually granted somebody a trademark on the title Carnival of Souls?

Because the guy who owns that trademark is now using it to try to erase a novel of the same title from existence. It’s not enough for him to try to stop the novel — Oh, no. He also wants to force people to remove their reviews of the book from their websites, claiming that the reviews are further violations of his trademark.

Of course, as the multiple outlets that are paying attention to this story point out, BookFinder can find you tons of books that use this title — including a novel from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series.

But, honestly.

Carnival of Souls is one of the biggest cult classic films of all time. I have a shocking number of copies of this movie in my film collection because it winds up in almost every single multi-movie DVD set released. Not to mention my cherished RiffTrax edition. But not the Wes Craven Presents remake — renting that one once was enough.

Of course, my intellectual property regulation hobby (Yes, I know it’s weird) is pretty specialized around copyright. Trademark law makes copyright law look downright common sense by comparison.

For all I know, Jazan Wild may actually have grounds for a suit against HarperCollins — as ridiculous as that might seem when I can’t even count the number of media items in my apartment that use the same title. I can think that Wild’s claim to own the phrase “carnival of souls” is laughable in a world where it’s the title of an album from KISS, but my opinion (sadly) cannot predict the loops and whorls of trademark law.

But going after reviewers? That’s plain ridiculous.

The more I thought about writing stories with ‘borrowed’ titles, the more interesting it all got. Every time I thought about a famous title – one I hated, one I loved, one I had mixed feelings about – I found my subconscious simmering and then bubbling over with ideas. Stories – more so than novels – are often the product of odd subconscious associations. I’ll see something, I’ll see something else, the two will rub together, and wham, there’s a story idea crystallizing in my mind, and off I go to find a keyboard.
Cory Doctorow, Locus Online Perspectives
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