I am already starting to hear from or about folks who think S.A. Kelly's "The Green Reich" (situation discussed in detail here) is actually pretty funny, and where's everyone's sense of humor?
To each his or her own, but I find myself wondering: is there anyone who can tell me how to explain to someone who is black, or LGBT, or Jewish, or Muslim, or disabled, et.al. why they should read these lines:
a young black hispanic disabled tri-sexual
and just sit back, relax, and giggle?
Or tell me why it's appropriate to include something like this in a supposedly all-inclusive writing organization's official publication?
I mean, are there SF poets who do not understand what a "skinhead" is?
I'd love to know.
ETA: Folks have been pointing out to me that a skinhead doesn't necessarily refer to a neo-Nazi. I concede this is true, though I point out in return that a) in the U.S. it's definitely the most common usage of the term, b) said "skinhead" is the authority figure in the poem's fictional scenario and c) the poem is titled "The Green Reich." So I think the usage intended is self-evident.
I suppose there's been good and witty work lampooning liberal agendas, and that it's possible to have good and witty work using those terms.
Mostly that makes me think of Phil Ochs' "Love Me, I'm a Liberal," which satirizes the people who like to claim left-wing brownie points while ducking all actual social change:
The people of old Mississippi should all hang their heads in shame
I can't understand how their minds work—what's the matter, don't they watch Les Crane?
But if you ask me to bus my children, I hope the cops take down your name
So love me, love me, love me—I'm a liberal
I suppose it can sound like a satire of liberalism itself if you're not listening closely.
I don't think I'd say that "skinhead" always refers to a Neo-Nazi type; I've also heard the word used to refer to shaven-headed multi-pierced punker types who were likely to believe in the opposite of Nazism. At least back in the 1980s; I live a more insulated life these days and don't seem to run into any.
But yeah, that's a specious argument anyway, since it seems clear that the poem is referring to the Neo-Nazi type. Speaking as someone who is Jewish and used to be friendly with Scott on AW (until he started making some extremely nasty comments about other people I like) I'm disappointed.
What I have read (and I gave up finding the rest because I was squicked so I admit my own failings) makes the skin crawl and not in a "this was so insightful it got under it and made me LOOK AT MYSELF way."
If it has shock value it is flawed; this is not a shock value that galvanizes what one thinks or rips up complacency or pushes artistic barriers (I give as an example, John Waters), this is a shock value that simply exist to say
"OOOOOH! Naughty words about liberals-and isn't any idea of multiple identities a pile of crap from those womens' studies lesbian whores who want to steal my bodily fluids to breed and ERASE MEN FROM THE EARTH LIKE THEY ARE DOING RIGHT NOW! NOW I TELL YOU!" And liberals are stealing my oxygen like the damn rain forest does.")
Ahem. I realize my own circumstances may change how I read what I have seen of this (and again, admitting I didn't read it all because I got squicked)--but this shock value doesn't illuminate anything or show something other than it seems, the writer's own prejudices.
This is sure not Brave New World's satire of sexual mores and social liberalness among the Alphas, this poem the equivalent of yelling "Lardass!" at a fat person and then saying that sie is humorless and to "take a joke!" because it is of course obviously funny.
I would not choose to publish this because of my interpretation of that particular humor-and hell, I would not read fantastic poetry to get a pile of insults that I can get every day in the real world. Inclusive does not mean you have to include people who insult the greater goal of your work. If he comes back with a better poem, I'd think differently.
Anyway, I personally do not think it is appropriate or funny and devolves into mean-spiritedness. It doesn't mean I can't laugh at myself or have no sense of humor.
(Also, there are anti-racist skinheads, but d/k how active they are in the US right now, but as I recall, there was a community in Boston back in the 90s-however, I don't think that's the kind of skinhead discussed here.)
Edited at 2011-07-03 12:05 am (UTC)
I continue to be very disturbed by this discussion, and the terms in which it is being couched. We have here several different issues, all being conflated. The only ones worthy of this intensity of discourse are whether the poem is offensive to people of certain minority groups, and whether specific individuals are being targeted.
Re the first, I see no reason why political correctness carried to extreme is not a worthy subject for satire. Nor, in regard to both, why a composite character, to whom so many inclusive and mutually exclusive traits are ascribed as to make it impossible as a representation of any actual individual, can't be used in such a poem. It is quite obvious to me that "skinhead" was meant as "neo-Nazi" and intended as humorous, coming as it did at the end of the kitchen-sink list of minority-group attributes. Those who are attempting to cherry-pick from that list to claim that they are thereby being represented are making themselves look very foolish--separated item by item, it probably includes most of SFPA. The concept being mocked in the poem is Zero Tolerance, not the judge's attributes.
The issue of whether the poem is well-written has nothing to do with the other issues. To use the poem's purported lack of quality as supporting evidence for the politics involved is unfair and unworthy, as is the portrayal of Scott Kelly as a marginal loser.
It is apparent that several commenters have entered this discussion due to previous melées involving Scott Kelly, out of personal animosity. As it happens, I originally encountered Mr. Kelly and two of his current detractors several years ago when I was lurking in the Absolute Write speculative poetry forum, and do not care for the three of them: a distaste that originated entirely from perusing their bad behavior on that forum a few years back, which manifested as ill-bred attacks on Scott Virtes and someone I know only as JBI (banned as a result of their malicious efforts), who were the only participants whose input I respected. Once these three individuals had no one else to vilify, of course, they turned on each other, which makes the present circumstances seem almost poetic justice, if you'll excuse the expression. Even given this back history and its sequelae--which I have perused--I cannot find a legitimate basis for perceiving the targeted "hate speech" others are ascribing to this poem.
I'm perfectly happy to see discussions of any poem's craft and aesthetic merits take place. I participate in more than one live, face-to-face crit group, as well as several via e-mail, with folks who do not pull their punches. However, to use one's opinion of a poem's literary value or the status of its author to enhance a political argument is a cheap, ad hominem attack.
I do not always like the poems in Star*Line, and often disagree with Marge Simon's choices. The same thing is also true for Mythic Delirium, for Dreams and Nightmares, and for pretty much every poetry journal, SF or not that I've ever seen. Undoubtedly those of you who have read the poems in mobiusmagazine.com feel the same way about my selections. Individual tastes vary, and it would take a lot more than a few bad poems to keep me from reading any given journal. It will be a sad day if Star*Line is ever edited by a committee whose primary objective is to ensure their idea of political rectitude.
It also grieves me that anyone would leave SFPA over disagreements about editorial choices. One of the reasons that Marge Simon is editor of Star*Line is that she is competent and reliable in performing her editorial duties, and has always made an effort to include a wide range of genre and writing styles. You don't like her choices? Step up to the plate. SFPA has just installed new officers: the president appoints the Star*Line editor. I'd love to see how fast some of these commenters would find themselves in the line of fire, were they to become editor--and how well they would handle the other aspects of the position. If there is anything inherently embarrassing about being an SFPA member, it's the recurrence of these inflated, internecine, internal tempests. Even so, I'm not quitting.
I think it's easy for someone who isn't a member of the list to find it funny without thinking deeper about what the poem is doing and saying, and that's a completely separate issue from whether or not political correctness is worth of satire (of course it is!) Now as for saying that someone who finds this poem offensive looks "really foolish" — maybe to you, and your argument itself might well look really foolish seen from the other side.
And the poem's quality is an absolutely worthy platform of discussion. Were this poem brilliant comedy its offensive aspects might well have more merit. And if everyone agrees it's mediocre, why does it belong in SFPA's flagship publication?
Edited at 2011-07-03 02:13 pm (UTC)
I wanted to wait until I got to read this poem in its entirety before wading into this discussion. My issue of Star*Line arrived yesterday and I read the poem last night. I don't have a lot of time before work, so I will try to sum up my reaction as briefly as possible.
1. I'm not a fan of being a slave to political correctness at all times and in all matters. Sometimes a joke is just a joke. However, I am even less of a fan of slams and attacks on people based on race, gender or sexual orientation, or because you've had disagreements with them in the past.
This poem is not a joke, not funny in any context, and certainly not satire.
2. For satire to work in any form, the words have to be sharp as a scalpel and the wit razor sharp. That isn't the case here. I can see ham-fisted references to SFPA discussions in this poem, on many subjects, some of which I was a part of.
I don't think I'm reading too much into this either. The history is there, as is the experience of dealing with members of the organization. As Mike stated earlier, people who have been slurred, slammed or maligned by others don't ever forget.
3. Having been involved in two major SFPA projects, a poetry contest and editing the Rhysling anthology, I can state from personal experience that women members, officers, and volunteers are seen by a large portion of the male membership as someone to be bullied and cowed and attacked if she dares to disagree on any subject.
The more fragile her health, or high her stress levels, or any perceived weakness on her part or perceived outsider status, the more of a target a woman becomes. Not being as vulnerable as some thought I was, I have told certain members of SFPA to go fuck themselves and then banned them from my email. They weren't pleased, but I really didn't care.
The public attacks, of which this poem is certainly a part, are NOTHING compared to what goes on in private. And while you may not think so, patterns mean something. This is a pattern that is engrained in the culture of SFPA.
4. Finally, if it walks like a duck, acts like a duck, sheds feathers all over the internet, and endlessly quacks like a duck, one might want to consider that it is indeed a freaking DUCK.
The concept being mocked in the poem is Zero Tolerance, not the judge's attributes.
To me, the poem's message is clearly the cliche that "minorities = PC Nazis." You may find this reading foolish, but with all due respect, your assertion that you know better than the people included in the poem's "laundry list" as to whether they should feel slurred is not just false, it's presumptuous.
As to the poem's lack of literary merit (about which pretty much everyone seems to agree), there is plenty of literature I admire that I disagree with politically. (Ezra Pound springs to mind.) At least if this poem had some merit, there would be some rationale for why it found a home in Star*Line.
I'm troubled by some readers' attitude that the quoted composite is so improbable as to be ridiculous and therefore funny. I suppose those readers haven't had to think much about what it's like to live on the interstices, to be told repeatedly that one doesn't exist, because "there's no such thing!"
To set up the discussion parameters, I am a friend of both Rose and Jeannie, I've read (and really like) their poetry and have contributed two essays and a poem to Rose's venue, Stone Telling. I also know that both are highly learned, politically liberal, intellectually rigorous and very aware of context and nuances.
I have now read Scott Kelly's Green Reich, and must say that I cannot fathom how it cleared the slush pile. Satire, whether polished steel or rusty iron, still needs to be sharp, not this soupy-cement mix of mouldy clichés. Less important, but still relevant, the jibes in the poem are clearly calibrated to hit individuals -- which makes it rather different from Animal Farm.
Orthodoxies are suffocating, especially in small groups of intense people and purposes. Yet surely publication of bad poetry that is controversial for secondary reasons is not the method of choice for a venue to thrive or maintain its reputation.