"I talk about the gods, I am an atheist. But I am an artist too, and therefore a liar. Distrust everything I say. I am telling the truth."

--Ursula K. Leguin

November 2009

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Id-candy safety

Notice: This is a repost of an entry; the first was cruelly devoured in a crossposting glitch and all the lovely comments with it. If anyone wants to comment again or more I will be perfectly pleased to carry on the conversations.

So, here’s the thing. I’m all in favor of having books that are id-candy, brain-fluff, that demand nothing from your intellect and instead go straight on to punch your emoporn joybuttons.

This is, after all, why I own three quarters of everything Mercedes Lackey has ever published.

But, first off, id-candy is a different thing from good writing. The joybuttons don’t care about bad grammar or triteness or slop, they just resonate to the character shapes that hit one’s kinks. Kinks are often trite and cliche, when you think about it. Id-candy is enjoyable exactly because it doesn’t make your brain engage, it doesn’t deal in subtleties, it doesn’t make you do any work. To get enjoyment out of genuinely artful prose, you generally have to think, to ponder even, to put in some work.

Saying that you enjoy your id-candy immensely and saying that your id-candy is great writing are very different statements. Among other things, the first is true and the second generally isn’t. (Unless you’re using a completely Utilitarian definition of “good”, and when people try to compare Rowling and Tolkien it is unfortunately clear that they are not employing such a definition at all.)

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the hell out of trite, cliched slop, of course.

Let us consider Misty, for example. She’s the Queen of Exposition, has a tendency to extremely moralistic and preachy narrative, and drives home her morals with a ten pound sledge. She is guilty of the most egregious cultural flattening and caricaturization and the only thing that comforts me even minutely is that she does it to everyone, whitebread, ‘noble savage’ and orientalist alike. (I maintain that Ancient Egypt should take out a restraining order on the woman.) Her characters are flat, their angst is repetitive, and half the time the stories read like SCA handbooks instead of novels.

Nevertheless–three quarters, right there on my shelf, and I reread handfuls of them at fairly regular intervals. This is because they are excellent brain-fluff emoporn.

Also because they are not toxic. Her moralism can get wearing awfully fast, but at least they are morals I can agree with. Mostly.

That’s the second thing. You have to be careful of the id-candy that uses a moral framework that’s harmful to you.

The Twilight books are a prime example of this. The writing is no worse than most id-candy, but the value system those books are hung on is poison. It’s misogynist, racist, deterministic, conflates obsession and stalking with love, and runs the mobius strip of nihilism and femininity myths at full speed with special emphasis on death by/for childbirth. (I would not want to be this woman’s therapist, not without hazard pay). This id-candy has a razor blade in it.

Some people probably bemoan the loss of innocent fun now that we chop up Halloween candy before eating it to make sure there aren’t any evil surprises in it. I expect some people feel the same about their id-candy. But, you know, I’d much rather take the time to chop and evaluate than swallow a needle.

Comments

Apr. 25th, 2009 06:27 pm (UTC)

By jyuukoi of IJ

(comment recreated by permission)

My id-candy is Amanda Quick.. we own all of her books.

I agree with you about Twilight. Though I do get a special sort of warmth when I see Alice and Jasper icons roamng around. (because I liked that pair) I certainly wouldn't be taking sex/romantic advice from Twilight.
Apr. 25th, 2009 06:28 pm (UTC)

actually by me

*grins* Good to have a comfort-food shelf.

From what I saw before I ran screaming, Alice seemed like one of the few really fun characters.
Apr. 25th, 2009 06:29 pm (UTC)

By jyuukoi on IJ

Yes, Alice was very fun, she is probably one of the few reasons why I did not stop reading when I did. As it is now I know all of the books and their contents, have made faux gagging noises at the stupidity of the two 'protagonists'. (I say that in parenthesis because you know protagonists are the ones you are technically supposed to 'root' for.

I also love Emmett, the bear like vampire. He was also fun. Only times I remember smiling in that book.

She's not a -bad- writer. She's not a good one either. It's how she molds characters that are REALLY FUCKING ANNOYING. There were a few characters that worked. Now honestly when you don't know how to use words, you can always go and get a damn thesarus. Characters takes time and practice.
Apr. 25th, 2009 06:31 pm (UTC)

By annwyd from LJ

(comment re-created by permission)

This post got me thinking about what my id-candy is. Next thing I know, I'm making plans to play Marco from Animorphs at an RP.

I don't necessarily agree with this statement all the time:

Id-candy is enjoyable exactly because it doesn’t make your brain engage, it doesn’t deal in subtleties, it doesn’t make you do any work. To get enjoyment out of genuinely artful prose, you generally have to think, to ponder even, to put in some work.

There's stuff I get id-candy enjoyment from that I also love dissecting for symbolism and meaning and all that. It's possible to punch emoporn buttons over the course of a Genuine Work Of Creative Art. It's just not as common.

Mostly, though, I just want to applaud this analogy:

Some people probably bemoan the loss of innocent fun now that we chop up Halloween candy before eating it to make sure there aren’t any evil surprises in it. I expect some people feel the same about their id-candy. But, you know, I’d much rather take the time to chop and evaluate than swallow a needle.

Nice. I should keep it around for the next time someone complains that I care too much about the politics of my latest series.
Apr. 25th, 2009 06:59 pm (UTC)

actually by me

(very approximate re-creation)

I definitely agree that well-written works can also hit one's buttons. By and large, though, those seem to be the exceptions rather than the rule.

*wry* I notice that the people who protest paying attention to the politics always seem to be the ones who agree with them. Maybe it's not the series' politics but their own they don't want challenged.
Apr. 25th, 2009 06:33 pm (UTC)

By bridgetmkennitt on IJ

(comment re-created by permission)

Interesting post. I'm going to have to chew on this for a bit, but I do agree with most of what you wrote.
Apr. 25th, 2009 06:54 pm (UTC)

actually by me

(approximate recreation)

Always glad if I can provide something chewy to think on.
Apr. 25th, 2009 06:35 pm (UTC)
Recommenting for the historical record, la!

Beautifully articulated, though I maintain Tolkien's a bad example to hold up in this kind of debate, since his status as any kind of good writer continues to be hotly debated. Technical competence is no less a component of "good" writing than compulsive readability, but nor is it any greater a component. I say this as an editor who has regularly rejected pieces that were proficiently written on a technical level, but which did not strike me as likely to engage the reader.

One reason I think this discussion crops up again and again is because you get a lot of people privileging technical competence, and a lot of other people privileging the Id factor, and thus they're not even speaking the same language when they use the term "good." This is unsurprising, since the term carries an inherent weight of subjectivity, and I'm not sure how useful it is to attempt to remove that weight. I think it's better to push for everyone to openly acknowledge it, and to articulate what measurement they're using.
Apr. 25th, 2009 06:53 pm (UTC)
Re-replying likewise!

*nods* Very much that.

Tolkien certainly had his technical failings. *chuckles* I bring him and Rowling up particularly because I've so often seen Rowling's worldbuilding compared to his, and that... just... no. I'm sorry, but no. Tolkien was a superlative worldbuilder and Rowling is just plain not.

Which, of course, emphasizes the need to be particular when defining "good" so it can be properly disputed and solid examples brought in.
Apr. 26th, 2009 07:00 pm (UTC)
I bring him and Rowling up particularly because I've so often seen Rowling's worldbuilding compared to his

They're both good at synthesizing pre-existing tropes and mythologies into their own creation, but I agree Rowling's isn't quite as consistent. I mean, they both fall apart under too much scrutiny, but Rowling's explicitly posits the conceit that it exists alongside ours, and thus it should be subject to the same rules as ours except in those instances where it is specifically stated to contradict ours. This is basic suspension of disbelief. Tolkien's creation was never meant to be so...mimetic, is probably the right way to put it. Tolkien can get away with the rather simplistic formula of big-g Good and big-e Evil because he was attempting to create an actual mythology, archetypes rather than individuals (which is not to say that critics of this approach are wrong to critique his assumptions about what constitutes Good and Evil). Rowling's comments on her work indicate that she meant to write individuals and a working secret magical society, hiding at the edges of ours. Therefore, when she falls into the big-g Good and big-e Evil formulation, she's failing her own stated intentions.

Also, I honestly do not get attempts to compare two things that are trying to do two separate things. While there are similarities of plotline and characterization between Rowling's work and Tolkien's, they don't seem to have been aiming for the same goals at all. Which ties back into what you say here:

Which, of course, emphasizes the need to be particular when defining "good" so it can be properly disputed and solid examples brought in.

One thing that's come up in fannish discussions of concrit is authorial intent. Sometimes an author didn't intend a work to be anything other than id-candy, and I do believe that should be taken into account when discussing the work. However, I don't believe that excuses the work from discussions about whether or not it will work for a certain audience, or whether or not it has flaws. It's just that it's useful to recognize the context of the flaws; a particular piece of fiction may not challenge the reader to think about a particular topic, but it's possible it wasn't intended to do so, and the discussion of whether or not a piece should be intended to do a particular thing is not the same one as whether or not it does.
Apr. 26th, 2009 07:11 pm (UTC)
(which is not to say that critics of this approach are wrong to critique his assumptions about what constitutes Good and Evil)

Yes. Product of his time and all, but this, yes.

*wry* I suppose he succeeded pretty well in creating a mythology, at that, given the way that more organically arrived-at mythologies tend to highlight the underbelly of their culture's assumptions.

It's just that it's useful to recognize the context of the flaws

I think this is really the only way I'm willing to consider authorial intent: as context, realizing that authors can be highly unreliable narrators at times.
Apr. 25th, 2009 07:19 pm (UTC)

By 7veilsphaedra from LJ

(comment re-created by permission)

Meyers seems to have been entirely unconscious of the horrible sea monsters hidden in her astral soup.

I think there are "deaf sailors" out there, to coin a phrase out of the Odyssey, where Ulysses has his sailors stuff their ears with wax in order not to hear the sirens. They can read the story and not be affected negatively. The sensitive reader has to be "tied up to the mast" in order to read any sort of astral fishing expedition and not be affected--the whole exercise of consciousness thing.

Yet I'm okay with Meyer's having written her story that way. I don't want another writer's subconscious creative process to be hogtied by my personal conventions and morality any more than I want mine to be limited by someone else, so it would be hypocritical of me to not extend that freedom to other writers, even if their writing sucks. That story sure came out the way "it" wanted to be told, whereas the author's main job seemed to be to getting out of its way. There's a lot of masochism and servility and snuff floating around in Meyer's blind spots, and now it's out in the open where everyone can see it. Every sensitive adult. So, yay for that. I am just very, very thankful for adult sensibilities and a moral center based on internal, not external authority.
Apr. 25th, 2009 07:20 pm (UTC)

actually by me

Yeah, that. Wherefore I do not say of any writing "it shouldn't exist" (one of my long-standing disagreements with Sue-hunters and the like), but rather "we, the readers, should be careful not to swallow the poison".
Apr. 25th, 2009 07:20 pm (UTC)

By 7veilsphaedra from LJ

(comment re-created by permission)

I got that your thoughts weren't a call for censorship right away.

I find the phrase "swallowing the poison" problematic (not the least because it's been co-opted by a political movement which, to my view, epitomizes it.) I've found, very generally, very "personally experientially", that people who exercise their super-egos and are aware of the influence of the id--aware of the tug and pull of the subconscious, aware of how to shield themselves to some measure against its negative effects (when they recognize them)--tend to deconstruct their reading materials, photography and films auto-reflexively. Whereas those who don't, usually don't even know what-the-h you're talking about and have to go through the process of getting their butts kicked by karma/consequences in order to learn, or are possession of personalities which are too fragmented--too blown apart--or psychopathically/sociopathically detached by said traumas to figure out what to do about their rampaging ids in any case (thinking of the character of 'Janine' in Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale.)
Apr. 25th, 2009 07:20 pm (UTC)

actually by me

...I am instantly thankful I do not actually know which political movement in particular you mean, though I'm pretty sure I know the general category.

I do think we're on pretty much the same page, except that I also think pointing out the toxicity of these things is worthwhile, even if it is unlikely to have much impact on the currently-oblivious.
Apr. 25th, 2009 07:21 pm (UTC)

By 7veilsphaedra from LJ

(comment re-created by permission)

I don't know if you are able to access the discussion about Verb Noire's upcoming Take Back the Sci-Fi panel at the Nakamanga comm, but the issue of censorship with regards to id-candy and adults keeps finding a way to fly up my adult nose.
Apr. 25th, 2009 08:55 pm (UTC)

By scarlet-pencil from LJ

(comment re-created by permission)

The joybuttons don’t care about bad grammar or triteness or slop, they just resonate to the character shapes that hit one’s kinks.

Uh... I read almost entirely id-candy. Although I can read literary stuff and enjoy it (I just started reading The Silmarillion by Tolkien, and before that I read Atlus Shrugged) I like to read id-candy because it's relaxing/leisure time/what floats my boat.

But that doesn't mean that I like bad writing. Id-candy can be just as valid as high prose. Of course, there are piles upon piles of badly written id-candy and piles of readers who want to read that. But that doesn't mean all id-candy is baby slop. Just because a story has certain charcater types or a certain plot doesn't automatically classify it as somehow being inferior to literary fic.

Id-candy is enjoyable exactly because it doesn’t make your brain engage, it doesn’t deal in subtleties, it doesn’t make you do any work.

Not necessarily, though. Even simple, well used plots can be done thousands of different ways.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying the hell out of trite, cliched slop, of course.

But id-candy doesn't have to be cliched slop. It can be just as well thought out as any other genre. Of course lots of people write crap, but that doesn't mean that there isn't well thought out id-candy out there.
Apr. 25th, 2009 08:56 pm (UTC)

actually by me

*agreeable* All right. I've never encountered anything that wallowed in the emoporn and was also what I'd call well written. Can you point to a few examples?
Apr. 25th, 2009 08:56 pm (UTC)

By elspethdixon from LJ

(comment re-created by permission)

Dorothy Dunnet's Lymond series. Pure, grade A emo-porn of the finest kind, with a hero who's always suffering angstily and being Terribly Misjudged, but also very well-researched, detail historical fiction that's very well written.

Victorian novels tend to wallow in emo-porn as well (at least, the fun ones do), but the ones that did so, while often considered classics now, were frequently thought of as trashy then (ex: Wurthering Heights).

--elspethdixon on lj (openID is not my friend)
Apr. 25th, 2009 09:00 pm (UTC)

actually by me

(approximate recreation)

I'll have to look into her, then; well-written emoporn is a thing to be treasured.

*laughing* Yeah, I thought, after, that I should mention something in this post about "well-written by modern standards". Modern readers tend to think that most of my beloved 18th and 19th C novels are formal and high-flown, because they're so verbose by current standards. But by contemporary standards they were sensational fluff. *sighs* Ah, Louisa May. You were more fun when you were being trashy.
Apr. 26th, 2009 12:51 pm (UTC)

By readerofasaph on IJ

(comment re-created by permission)

See, I'm not certain that books-that-happen-to-hit-kinks ought to be classified as emoporn, if only because stuff like Tolkien and Dunnett, which is actually quite mentally demanding, would end up in that category. Dunnett in fact taxes my brain, although I never was quite enthralled by the characterisation.

I'm also willing to bet that a good proportion of the teenage girls who adore Pride and Prejudice, say, read it for emoporn reasons. It's a story that delights on the surface read, and it takes a closer look to feel all of its bite. Incidentally one of the reasons I've always loved Ellen Kushner is that when I first read Swordspoint at fourteen, it might as well have been emoporn for all I could read into it; but it's held up to every subsequent reread.

So maybe it's more interesting to think about levels at which a story is working; some stories function as emoporn and as nothing ese. (Some books fail even as emoporn; we do not mention Ayn Rand.) I don't think Dunnett's characterisation is top-notch, but on other levels, her books are wondrously comple.
Apr. 26th, 2009 12:52 pm (UTC)

By readerofasaph on IJ

(comment re-created by permission)

Firstly: try to avoid reading Ayn Rand again if you can help it, as the only thing worse than her politics is her fiction. (And it was a tough choice deciding where to place the words 'politics' and 'fiction' in that sentence.}

Branch is not talking about genres of fiction here, or about commercial and literary varieties of fiction. Nor is she talking about fiction that is well-written and entertains. Id-candy is a sort of fiction that satisfies particular instinctive emotional urges. The fact that it does satisfy those emotional urges is why 'piles upon piles of badly written id candy' are out there. One of the things I've been learning in the last few years is figuring out whether a story is satisfying me on more than an id-candy level. For a long time I couldn't stand stuff that didn't emotionally gratify me, but couldn't stand the badly written stuff either, so my favourite novelists all became people like Diana Wynne Jones - writers who were vastly entertaining but also incredibly god writers. (I'm not sure whether Jones counts as emoporn exactly, but she had talking dragons and parallel universes, which hit all my kinks, so there.)

Pure id-candy isn't difficult to spot, as it rarely is as wonderful on the reread, and it never is at all good on a careful, slow, line-by-line read. (I think Ender's Game, which is a book you may like - I loved it as a teenager has some serious emoporn aspects to it, but it has complexities that stand up pretty well to a closer look.)
Apr. 26th, 2009 12:50 pm (UTC)

By readerofasaph on IJ

(comment re-created by permission)

This. Yes.

(BEDTIME BUT I WILL BE BACK SERIOUSLY.)
Apr. 26th, 2009 06:18 pm (UTC)
This is, after all, why I own three quarters of everything Mercedes Lackey has ever published.

Hahahaha, you beat me to exactly what I was going to confess! (Though really it's more like "one-third of everything" at this point; I pruned them something fierce last time I moved.)

This id-candy has a razor blade in it.

Yeah. This is what I seriously don't "get" about Twilight fans; it makes me uneasy around them because, if they're not seeing/feeling that razor blade... it means their insides are made of the same stuff. And the idea that I know/meet that many people with seriously skewed values is... disturbing.
Apr. 26th, 2009 06:44 pm (UTC)
*grins* They're such great fluff; perfect for when I need some.

*nodnod* I understand that it's possible to set aside some degree of nastiness in order to have something you otherwise enjoy, I do that with plenty of manga. But not to even realize it's there is... disturbing, yes.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 26th, 2009 10:39 pm (UTC)
Hope you don't mind my jumping in here!

if they're not seeing/feeling that razor blade... it means their insides are made of the same stuff.

I would say here - not necessarily. They could just be genuinely oblivious and naive. I know that the first time I read McCaffrey's Dragonrider series I thought they were wonderful - the next time I read them, some twenty years later, I was horrified by the crappy pseudo-feminism and outrageous classism (among other problems) and couldn't believe I had ever loved them so much. I wouldn't say I shared her views the first time around - I was just blinded by Teh Pretteh Dragonz and their exciting adventures.

--amedia (amedia.livejournal.com)
(Anonymous)
Apr. 26th, 2009 10:43 pm (UTC)
Here via [info]verilyverity (verilyverity, in case the coding doesn't work)'s LJ. I really like the idea you've shared and especially the extension of the metaphor (the razor in the candy).

--amedia (amedia@livejournal.com)
Apr. 27th, 2009 08:58 am (UTC)
*grins* Glad that worked out. That's really what this feels like to me. A bag full of wonderful stuff (that we probably shouldn't glut on all at once but will anyway), except there's this hovering awareness that some of it might have something lacerating inside.
May. 3rd, 2009 02:18 pm (UTC)
Once again I read something you've written and find myself nodding in agreement. :) This was really interesting to think about. I subscribed to your journal on DW, since I'll probably spend more time there than here on IJ from now on. I don't want to miss the next thought-provoking thing you write. :)

One thought I had when reading this was "Ah, that sort of explains why a 'silly' fic one writes without much thinking can get much more praise/comments than something one has really put a lot of thought and effort into. The latter isn't Id-candy, most likely and so people have to think more..."
May. 3rd, 2009 02:43 pm (UTC)
Coolness! If you want to read anything filtered, be sure you go fill in the filter-subscription post (linked on my DW profile).

*nods* I think a lot of people come to fanfic especially for their id-candy needs. So anything that hits a particular button there is going to get way more praise than something more demanding. *laughs* Well, just look how popular the kink-comms and memes are.
May. 3rd, 2009 02:52 pm (UTC)
Thanks, I shall! :)

Haha! Yes. Kinks and porn memes, anon or not, always very popular. So, now I don't have to wonder anymore why something I slave over gets one or two comments, and something in need of a beta-reader in the same community gets 20. *g* What you said about standards of good, probably comes in here too. And now I sit wondering just what my id-candy is. LOL