Guardian Encourages Racism

Dear me, surely this is the sort of thing we expect from the Daily Malice? But no, it is the Guardian Book Blog. They have a post up encouraging commenters to vent about how much they hate hobbits and elves.

Of course the headline might be the work of an over-enthusiastic sub-editor. Andrew Brown, the author of the piece, appears more interested in encouraging people to dump on the literary skills of Professor Tolkien.

Still, interesting that they didn’t mention dwarves, eh? And goodness only knows what it is the comments. I’m not going to look. There are way too many of them already.

Of course this also shows how easy it is to generate a successful blog post simply by asking readers to vent about something or someone that has been hugely successful.

13 thoughts on “Guardian Encourages Racism

  1. Except that no one seems to be accepting his invitation. All the comments I’ve read so far are explaining in very moderat tones why they like it.

  2. I know Brown slightly through the blog world — he comments occasionally on Making Light, and a heartfelt post by him about the slow death of a friend’s wife was the occasion on which John M. Ford wrote his amazing “Entropy Sonnet.” He’s actually a very good writer.

    It doesn’t surprise me that he’s not a Tolkien fan, but it does surprise me a little bit that he doesn’t grasp that, in blogs, posts that amount only to “don’t you just hate X” are an invitation to commenters to go septic.

  3. Patrick:

    My assumption was that he was only too well aware of the effect of such a post. Commercial web sites – particularly newspapers – seem to me to value quantity of comments over quality of comments. Quantity, after all, translates into viewing figures that they can show to potential advertisers.

    On the other hand, as Farah and a few people on Facebook have noted, the comments have been remarkably un-septic, given the level of incitement.

  4. Excuse me? I don’t get the connection to “hating hobbits and elves” to a headline which says, “Guardian Encourages Racism.”

    Unless it’s racist to hate on hobbits and elves?

  5. Elves and Hobbits are races*, aren’t they?


    *I suppose that more technically, they’re species, although it’s been established that elves and humans are interfertile, so the barrier is fuzzy.

  6. “Unless it’s racist to hate on hobbits and elves?”

    What else would it be? There are no actual human races, but Tolkien uses the word “races” to describe various manners of beings countless times.

    If you hate one or more of those races, how can you not be practicing racism?

    1. “If you hate one or more of those races, how can you not be practicing racism?”

      So… you’re saying those people who claim child pornography laws should be extended to comics, paintings and fiction are actually right?

      1. At least part of the argument with regard to child pornography is that no actual child was harmed in the making of a drawing. Consumers of pornography are punished, not so much for their desires, but because their desires cause others to be degraded to entertain them.

        Obviously our anonymous friend is trying to make a similar argument – that one cannot be a racist if the “race” one hates does not exist and cannot be persecuted. But here we are talking, not about acts, but about attitudes. The idea that one should be prejudiced against hobbits or elves simply because they are hobbits or elves seems to be to be very much the same as being prejudiced against someone for having dark skin, or red hair, or having a different culture.

        1. I don’t think people would be prejudiced against elves, for example, simply because they are elves, but how they are portraid in the book. So, I see the “hatred” (although ‘annoyance’ might be a better word in my opinion) directed more towards the writer, a bit like saying “I hate how black people are presented in book X”, for example. Of course there are no actual elves or hobbits beyond the books, but I don’t think that makes the “racism” more real, on the contrary in fact.

          If I “hate” elves because I don’t like it when an author introduces an overly simplistic, two-dimensional storytelling device that fails to add to the tale but instead detracts from the journey the main characters are taking by distracting it with unneeded mythological aspects, does that make me a racist?

          About your explanation of the difference between racism and the pornography example: if people shouldn’t be punished for their desires as long as they don’t harm any actual people, is that so different from punishing them for their attitudes only when they are directed towards real people who can suffer from them? Do you think attitudes are so much more universal that if you have them at all, you automatically have them towards people as well?

          (By the way, what do you mean by “anonymous”? My name is right there over the comment — is there some glitch and it isn’t shown to everyone?)

          1. Everything you say about the use of elves and hobbits in literature is very reasonable. However, the Guardian headline did not make any such qualifications. It simply said “Hate elves and hobbits here”. Nor was there anything in the article to qualify this.

            The anonymous person I was referring to is the person who started all this and signed himself “anthropologist”, presumably in an effort to cover up for his sense of humor failure.

            Now, the interesting bit. You are right that simply having thoughts is not illegal, and hopefully never will be. However, there are qualitative differences. A person who harbors sexual desires for children clearly needs help, but is unlikely to fall foul of the law unless he acts on those desires by molesting a child, encouraging others to do so, or encouraging the production of pornography with children in it. If he simply keep his desires to himself he isn’t actually harming anyone, and may be quite generous to children he meets, if he has any contact with them at all.

            Racism and other phobias tend to be a different matter. Someone who hates others because of their appearance, religion, sexual preference or identity, etc. is again not doing anything illegal, but will probably act on that prejudice on a regular basis, and may even participate in political organizations that promote such prejudice. The opportunities to practice racism on a day-to-day basis in ways that are probably not illegal, but definitely harm others, are vast. Therefore anything that gives the idea that it is OK to hate people because if their race is potentially harmful.

            So yes, being a pedophile and being a racist are both bad things. But being a pedophile is not something that people of that type tend to talk about in public on a day-to-day basis and get away with it. Racism is still very common, and mostly goes unchallenged, even when it is technically illegal. Therefore people challenge the thought, and the expression of that thought, as well as actual law breaking.

          2. (I wonder where this reply will go — there’s no “reply” link in Chery’s latest comment this is in reply to.)

            Thanks for clarification! I still disagree with Gary Farber’s statement that all hatred of hobbits and elves must be due to racism, but of course that doesn’t mean someone’s hatred for them couldn’t be for racist reasons.

            I don’t doubt that your explanation for racism being more easily acted out is true, and warrants being very careful about it. I didn’t read the original headline as racist (because I saw the other possible motivations for it I’ve mentioned) and still am not sure there is even an unconcious racist motivation behind it, but my reading was probably more charitable than yours due to the fact that I don’t have to face these issues daily and therefore don’t automatically think about them. But after reading your explanation, the headline was at least thoughtless and it would have been wiser to use a different one.

          3. The nested comment system has limits. As you can see, the column is getting very narrow. I am currently limiting nesting to 5 levels. This is the first time we have hit that.

  7. This is one reason why it’s really really irritating to read (for some of us, at least, or maybe it’s just me, in which case carry on).

    We’re now down to two or three words per line, but we have the corresponding advantage of…?

    It’s a solution in search of a problem, I suggest.

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