The “Authenticity” Dodge

I met Arthur Chu this summer at a workshop on the problem of misogyny on the internet and we’ve been corresponding via email and social media a lot since then. Our writing interests overlap when it comes to representation issues in media and games. He interviewed me on the problem of claiming “authenticity” as a way to avoid diversity.

Here’s an excerpt:

DP: When you start to create fantasy races and then you make the argument “Oh no people of color, we have to be realistic,” you’ve revealed your cards. You’ve shown that you just don’t want to have a diverse world, that you want to promote this myth of homogeneity, that you want to use historical reality to justify making a choice that makes other people upset.

AC: That’s interesting, because it seems we’re in an upsurge of interest in sword-and-sorcery fantasy–

DP: We sure are, it’s great!

AC: And it seems recently we have this appetite for “old-fashioned” narratives that center the West and reduce the rest of the world to antagonists or scary foreigners, even if it’s in a winking, ironic way. You’ve got the Lord of the Rings films that started the revival of high fantasy in film hewing close to Tolkien’s depictions of the Southrons and the Easterlings as sort of flat enemy races, and then you’ve got Game of Thrones using the Dothraki to bring back the trope of the barbaric Mongols. What do you think is driving this trend of the past ten years or so?

DP: Oh, to me it’s a much longer trend than that. Orientalism is built into 800 years of Western narrative production about the East. That the East is simultaneously more advanced and more decadent and more barbaric and more civilized all at the same time. And I think that the Orientalism of Game of Thrones is the perfect embodiment.

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