Wall-to-Wall People

IMG_3542Admit it. You tuned in to see who won a copy of Louise Hawes’s young adult novel, The Language of Stars. (The interview with Louise can be found here.) Well, I’ll get to that right after this.

The last five days have been wall-to-wall people days, starting on Wednesday with my weekly train ride into what’s known as the Loop in the city of Chicago. I left a crowded train station with thousands of people and blended into the well over half a million people headed to work or school.

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I pass by this sculpture every week. If you want more information about it, click here.

On Thursday, a friend and I headed into a crowded mall for a quick merchandise return, then into a crowded theater to watch Star Trek Beyond.

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The weekend featured activities that fit the full spectrum life, starting with a funeral in a crowded chapel one day, and a baby shower the next. (I ducked out of the baby shower, due to feeling under the weather.) In between those events were a dinner at a crowded restaurant with a family of friends and a lawn/garage party with another crowd of people. (Almost 200 people were invited.)

Getting back to Chicago, I realize the difference between what seems “crowded” in Chicago, versus “crowded” in New York City, or “crowded” in Shanghai, having been to all three places. Though I grew up in Chicago, I felt dwarfed by the sheer mass of people on the streets in New York and Shanghai.

But walking through the Loop each week, I can’t help noticing the diversity of the crowds. Now, I realize the word diversity gets some people’s hackles up for various reasons. Some see the outcry for diversity in literature or other media as an attempt to shoehorn people of various ethnicities into stories, as if staffing a meeting at the UN. Others see it as a challenge they can’t surmount, and resent being told what they “need” to add in their stories, particularly ethnic or gender perspectives they know next to nothing about or may not want to know anything about. Still others might want to add the perspectives of people different from them, but fear insulting those cultures by the use of careless, uninformed language. I understand the latter desire all too well, since I struggled with that issue in my WIP.

Walking in an area with wall-to-wall people helps me see what diversity looks like on a daily basis. It’s not tokenism, but rather, a natural occurrence. The crowd is what it is. But I live near a city that is a melting pot. I’ve walked the streets of other cities or towns with a very different ethnic profile—one that is homogeneous, rather than diverse.

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I can’t pretend I know “all about” the perspective of someone who is different from me—even if I have  a diverse group of friends. But I know my own perspective in a diverse world, and can address my observations. And I can keep asking questions to get to know people who are different from me.

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What are your thoughts about diversity in literature, the movies, or elsewhere? While you think of that, I’ll move on to the winner of The Language of Stars.

Lou.promo.1016   Language of Stars_REV 0827_email

The winner is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Lyn Miller-Lachmann!

Congrats, Lyn! And thank you to all who commented!

Star Trek Beyond poster from ign.com. South Park image from nakanoasam118.wordpress.com. Photos of the My Mini MixieQ’s figures and the Calder stabile by L. Marie.

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52 thoughts on “Wall-to-Wall People

  1. First of all, I just realized that the new Star Trek’s poster is a copy of the first Star Trek movie’s poster. That will connect to what I’m about to say about diversity in fiction. I think it’s a great idea and needs to happen, but some mediums are doing it wrong. There’s a focus on swapping pre-existing characters instead of making new ones. That’s starting to irritate me because it’s so lazy and sometimes depends on the controversy instead of the merit. People want more characters like them, which is great. Yet, they aren’t really getting anything new. How many people actually celebrate getting hand-me-downs? Another thing, I think there’s a habit in today’s media to act like nothing similar happened prior to this. For example, I keep hearing ‘we finally have a female action lead’ this year. What about Sarah Connor, Xena, Wonder Woman, Ripley, and any number of heroines that have come about? Yes, there are fewer of those than heroes, but I feel like that statement discounts those that paved the way.

    • I agree with you. Why adapt a novel, graphic novel, or whatever only to replace the characters to fit an agenda? I get the fact that The Hobbit is a beautiful story worth telling. Go ahead and tell that story without adding characters just because there aren’t enough women. Then tell a new story that actually has women in it!

      I didn’t see Ghostbusters and am not trying to rag on it. But I don’t require a remake just to shove women in it. I get the fact that roles for women are lacking in Hollywood! But there are a ton of books with female characters that could be adapted. Wonder Woman is an excellent example of an empowered female character. And you brought up several that people have loved.

      • Not to mention the addition of Legolas and an Orc villain for various reasons. I think it would have worked better as 1 or 2 movies, but feels like the studio got greedy. Long series spanning years is the new thing.

        I’m actually wondering if roles are really lacking for women in Hollywood. People keep saying that, but I wonder how true that is. Look at the most recent franchises. Hunger Games, Divergent, and Twilight are all heroines. Nearly every action movie now has a female badass and many TV series have strong female characters. So I don’t really think it’s as much of a fact as it used to be. Also, keep in mind that a show or movie needs to succeed on more than having a female protagonist. This is something that some shows and movies refuse to acknowledge. The pilot episode of ‘Supergirl’ kind of did this with enough ‘girl power’ stuff to make my wife point at her Buffy DVD’s and curse at the TV. Now that’s a show that did the female protagonist right. Tough and strong, but also feminine and human.

      • I think the issue is the lack of roles for women over 30. Because you’re right. There are quite a few roles for younger women. But the same women keep getting the roles (i.e., Jennifer Lawrence, Shailene Woodley, and Chloë Grace Moretz). But TV has a ton of shows with great roles. I guess that’s why there is talk of bringing back Gilmore Girls. I know people have complained about superhero fatigue. But the comic books are loaded with great female heroes.

        Yes, The Hobbit needed only one film, since it is just a tiny book. Even two was stretching it.

      • There is a very small pool of women in movies. I think they need to ignore star power and nurture some fresh faces of all ages. The over 30 is a tough one too, especially if we’re still talking action movies. A male action star can play up the ‘over the hill’ fighter, but that doesn’t seem to play out for women. Last one I can think of, which didn’t play this up, was Helen Mirren in the ‘Red’ movies.

        Speaking of remakes: Lethal Weapon the Fox TV series? And I thought the Rush Hour thing was a bad idea.

      • I had Helen Mirren in mind for one of my characters. 🙂 She’s great no matter what role she plays, as is Meryl Streep (though I haven’t loved every movie Meryl has been in). So are Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. But they all have such a commanding presence. You can’t ignore them or Viola Davis. They’ll keep getting roles, because they’re so good.

        I also like Scarlett Johansson, though she’s considerably younger than all of those women. She’ll keep getting roles.

      • They’re also from the same generation of actresses. It feels like the more recent groups of both genders don’t have the same amount of staying power. You get gems that snatch up most of the roles, but it seems so easy to get replaced as the new ‘it’ girl. Trying to remember the big actresses of the 80’s that are still around. Can’t think of many that are still highly active. Sigourney Weaver and Julia Roberts come to mind though.

      • They’re playing moms now. Molly Ringwald was somebody’s mom on something I saw. I never see Demi Moore on anything. Actresses from the 70s are playing grandmas! I saw the actress who played Marcia Brady on a Hallmark movie as someone’s grandma!

      • Yeah. Comedians can hang around a lot longer, especially if they’re on TV. Speaking of TV, I thought I heard that Robert Downey Jr. will be on an HBO show. Did you hear anything about that?

      • Didn’t hear that. I heard about Jon Stewart doing something with HBO, but not Downey. Says that it’s by the ‘True Crime’ people and some type of Perry Mason series.

      • I’ll bet you’re right. This is what I get for listening to rumors. I watched an interview with someone who mentioned Robert Downey Jr. was attached to the Perry Mason show. And I thought, “Perry Mason???”

      • Ha ha! I’m picturing a revival of Matlock! That would be hilarious! And then teens will ask, “Who is Matlock?” I can’t wait to have answer that question.

      • If they even bother to ask. Many don’t even consider that something is from the past. I still remember people getting confused about the original songs that Glee did versions of. So many people thought Glee was the original that it was rather sad.

  2. Having grown up in the suburbs of Washington, DC, at a young age I was exposed to an array of cultures. I enjoyed learning from them and realizing we’re really more a like than the media portrays.

  3. Congratulations to Lynn!
    I embrace diversity, in any form. I love the Loop and the many neighborhoods of Chicago, as well as the ‘burbs, which also have their own cultures, even the most homogenous ones.
    I’ve been listening to a Bill Bryson audio, “The Thunderbolt Kid”, and just finished a chapter about comic books in the ’50s that is both fascinating and very funny. Charles’ comment made me think of it.

  4. “It’s not tokenism, but rather, a natural occurrence. The crowd is what it is.” ~> loved this line.

    I enjoy reading books and movies that share different perspectives via a diverse cast of believable characters. But tokenism can be glaringly obvious and feel forced, getting in the way of the story’s flow.

    Congrats to Lynn!

  5. I felt for you as I read about your week of many crowds in all your activities! That can be overwhelming – glad you opted out of one! 😍. My little New England town is wildly diverse and I love it. With 5 colleges/universities in the area, we see people from around the world. More than 25 languages are spoken in our elementary schools! My daughter left Villanova because it wasn’t diverse enough. Needless to say, we’ve come to expect it in our daily lives, literature and films. 😍

  6. I won! I won! Thank you, Linda! I didn’t grow up among much diversity, and being different myself (later diagnosed on the autism spectrum) I didn’t like the narrow-mindedness and lack of acceptance around me. So I got out as soon as I could. But it was a difficult adjustment for me and took a lot of listening and learning. Being on the autism spectrum, I feel that every culture is a foreign culture, and writing honestly and deeply about what I observe is always a challenge.

    • Congrats, Lyn. I’m glad you have accepted the challenge of writing your experiences. 🙂 You also champion diversity on your blog.
      Could you email your address and phone number to confirm?

    • You won! You won! I’m thrilled a fellow author will be reading a copy of my book…and maybe building a lego display inspired by it . (HINT! HINT!) Seriously, enjoy the Language of Stars and thanks for entering the drawing 🙂

  7. I grew up in a city that was incredibly un-diverse – we’re still pretty homogenous in comparison to really major cities, though we do have a lot more immigrant cultures mixing in now. But when I went to live in London I found myself living in an area that was also incredibly un-diverse – in fact, about 80% Asian. I loved it – total immersion in a different culture, different food, different customs, different languages. But I’ve still never really lived in the melting-pot type of culture – London is, of course, but it tends to be like a huge collection of separate small towns all crammed together, each with its own identity, rather than one big hotch-potch. Or it was when I lived there, though that’s nearly twenty years ago now.

    • I’ve never been to London, though I’d love to visit!

      My family lived near the Chinatown area in Chicago for a time, then moved. Now I live in a suburb that was homogeneous for a while. 🙂 So I can understand the challenge of making a story diverse if an author isn’t used to a diverse environment. But that’s where imagination and research are helpful. 🙂

  8. No real comment except to say- I always relate to your posts…and you articulate thoughts I am only able to ‘think’. Much of our early childhood background seems to be quite similar! (Aunts-in-the-kitchen & diversity-as-a-natural-occurance)
    peace

  9. I didn’t realize you grew up in Chicago. I may have to pester you at some point since one of my characters grew up there, too, and I did not. 😉

    I grew up in a SUPER diverse area. My first school was mostly Hispanic, my second school had more white kids than any other single group, but the minorities had a reasonable presence given the demographic the school catered to, my high school was mostly Asian, my church was mostly Hispanic and led by an Asian pastor. Most of my childhood friends were other races than mine. My husband is mixed, and thus are my children. In high school, differing sexual orientations might get someone negative attention from some people, but not all, and by college, no one blinked an eye (that I noticed).

    Hence, I have no issues whatsoever with writing diverse characters. 🙂

    • Oh. I should add religious diversity. One funny example:

      My high school biology teacher had our class do an evolution vs. creationism debate. I was for creationism and sort of spear-heading our team (which was a good third of the class). Someone on the other side said something about how I explained something or other in the Bible. I turned and pointed at my teammates and pointed out not only Christians believe in creationism, to the applause of my team. In fact, I was the ONLY Christian on it. 😛 Everyone else was Hindu or Muslim. (We may even have had a Pagan on the team.)

    • I kind of figured you didn’t, judging by the stories you’ve presented on your blog. 🙂
      Sure, pester away. I grew up in Chicago. A lot has changed over the years, particularly the public transportation system, which has colors now.

  10. The crowd erases individual differences. In the crowd we realize that we are only a speck of dust; This is a humbling lesson.. but this speck of dust thinks and names the crowd and by this way gives to it existence .
    In friendship
    Michel

  11. First, congratulations to Lyn! Now, about the subject of diversity: I agree with you and Charles that the media (for example, Hollywood) too often tries to inject new life into old stories/movies by administering a diversity quota. That might sound harsh, but stereotypes don’t bring us any closer to understanding ourselves and others. In a weird sort of way, I think we create diversity regardless of our environment. I’m probably stretching it here. I grew up in a rural, working class community where there were only three black students in my high school, and they were related. However, back in those days (40-50 years old), we did have a sizeable Hispanic population, mostly Puerto Rican and Costa Rican. So we had some ethnic diversity that I’m aware of, but they went to a Catholic high school so we didn’t cross paths much. What I’m taking so long to get to is the diversity I remember growing up was the diversity of nationalities: the Poles, the Italians, the Germans, who lived in my community. Although everyone was “white,” people were distinguished by where they or their parents came from, by whether they still had an accent, by whether they still engaged in customs of their country of origin. I guess my point is, even when a community is predominantly white, people will find a way to make distinctions, in effect, to discriminate between themselves and others. Because my hometown is rural, it doesn’t bother me much that it still lacks diversity: it’s one of those towns that people tend to move away from, not move to. I went from that to the San Francisco Bay Area — talk about culture shock. Interestingly, that area is (was) SO diverse that I could just melt into it (side note: San Francisco in particular is not as diverse as it used to be which is very sad). For an introvert, it was a wonderful sense of freedom to be lost in a crowd of people. If I had wanted to, I could have made up stories about myself and no one would known any better. Now, 26 years later, I live in the South, in an area that is diverse but also segregated. The segregation is a holdover no doubt from the days of slavery and Jim Crow, but much of the social segregation I think is by choice. And it feels weird. At my workplace, I work (and enjoy working with) African Americans, Hispanics, East Indians, Asians, but if it weren’t for my workplace, I would be out of touch with that level of diversity. So … getting back to your original question, I appreciate diversity in literature and some media because that is my portal to understanding people. For me, one of the best TV shows was a great portal for me was Treme. Not only did it have great music, but the stories revealed both how different a culture Louisiana has from my boring beginnings, but also how much I could share with the dreams and disappointments of the characters.

    • You brought up a very good point, Marie: “I guess my point is, even when a community is predominantly white, people will find a way to make distinctions.” That’s the same, no matter what your community. We always have to build fences, don’t we? Thanks for your thoughts! I agree that making an ethnic or all-one-gender version of something many times inspires eye rolling and complaints if not done well.

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