[personal profile] teaoli
Title: The Ignorance of the Privileged:
Problems With Erasing or Overlooking the Evidence of Hatred
Author: [livejournal.com profile] teaoli
Genre: Essay/Critical Analysis
Summary: I am an inveterate seeker of approval. This has undermined my ability to express a point that is important to me.
Warning: This is a critique of social inequality as it informs popular fandom depictions of Lucius Malfoy. If you wish to engage in a discussion of the subject, please remain civil.

Navigating the Darkness of the Dark Side

The idea for writing about the implications and possible repercussions of creating a sympathetic Lucius Malfoy in fanworks originated with a chat. I’ve reproduced it throughout this piece, in its original order and unedited except where indicated by the use of square brackets ([ ]).

[My Friend]: (Come to the dark side -- I have cookies!)
me: lol
I really can’t
it’s personal for me
[My Friend]: Lol!

This is an extremely difficult subject for me to address. I go into the reasons why this is so later – after I’ve presented my primary argument – but for now, you need only know that the I began gathering my thoughts and writing them down because its subject is so difficult for me to talk about.

me: but I can find fanon!Lucius amusing in humour fic
[My Friend]: That’s all I ask. ;-)
me: I won’t ever write him as “secretly good all along” or even “perfectly redeemed” because for me, that would be akin to writing a Nazi as “redeemed” or a member of the KKK as “secretly good”.
[My Friend]: I can see that.

I am an inveterate seeker of approval. It’s not a trait I admire in myself or in anyone. The flaw (for I do see it as a flaw) leaves me struggling to write without feedback, even though I often end up writing exactly the opposite of what the feedback recommends. This flaw of mine is what made me feel a need to lol before taking a deep breath and revealing something serious: “it’s personal for me”. My need for approval left My Friend – who was chatting via mobile device and therefore was behind – in a poor position, allowing her to LOL with me at what seemed like an inopportune moment. It is hard for me to speak out against perturbing issues before I become overwhelmed with negative feelings. I find it especially difficult to put forth opinions such as the one on which this essay is centred because its nature is almost guaranteed to garner disapproval alongside any approval it might earn.

As Fortune would have it, my tendency towards hand-wringing and lip-biting has led me to realise that in order to effectively address the central theme, I must explore more thoroughly than I initially intended the subjects which shape and give structure to my chief topic. During a later chat, during which My Friend and I – in the presence of other friends – discussed this essay, I learnt that many things which I had considered to be unassailable for the purpose of presenting my argument were, in fact, not considered “common knowledge” by My Friend.

I am well aware of the potential for what I am writing to cause offence; it is almost inevitable that I will because I am pointing fingers at a practice I find distasteful and, more perhaps more personally relevant to some readers, I am pointing fingers at those in whom I believe the practice originated. No one, in my experience, likes to have blame placed at her feet – especially when the blame is levelled either at having done something which she was previously unaware might be considered blame-worthy or at having done something she doesn’t believe is blame-worthy at all. In part, I hope to make clear why I find the creation of the “fanon” version of Lucius Malfoy to be something worthy of censure.


A “Racist Monster”

me: In all honesty, it disgusts me that so many of his early fans overlook the fact that he’s a racist monster because he was played by a hot actor in the movies.

Parallels have long been drawn between the events driving JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series and real-world racial and ethnic tensions and the resulting atrocities. Opposition to this view of the novels has existed for nearly as long. Only Rowling can definitively state her intentions; the rest of us are left to analysing the text in search of answers.

Rowling, to my knowledge, has not addressed this outright, but she has given us hints of a likely opinion. The comment most often cited is, unfortunately, no longer available at her web site. But it has been quoted often enough in analyses, opinion pieces, news articles, and other secondary sources for it to be readily accessible to anyone wishing to read it.

In response to a reader’s question about the term “half-blood”, Rowling responded as follows:
The expressions ‘pure-blood’, ‘half-blood’ and ‘Muggle-born’ have been coined by people to whom these distinctions matter, and express their originators’ prejudices. As far as somebody like Lucius Malfoy is concerned, for instance, a Muggle-born is as ‘bad’ as a Muggle. Therefore Harry would be considered only ‘half’ wizard, because of his mother’s grandparents.

If you think this is far-fetched, look at some of the real charts the Nazis used to show what constituted ‘Aryan’ or ‘Jewish’ blood. I saw one in the Holocaust Museum in Washington when I had already devised the ‘pure-blood’, ‘half-blood’ and ‘Muggle-born’ definitions, and was chilled to see that the Nazis used precisely the same warped logic as the Death Eaters. A single Jewish grandparent ‘polluted’ the blood, according to their propaganda.

From this answer, I concluded that Rowling at the very least recognises the parallel between the world she created and one she lives in. Although she mightn’t have intentionally written the Death Eaters – of which Lucius Malfoy is one – as analogous to those who adhered to the ideology we know as Nationalsozialismus or Nazism, she made clear that she saw the parallels when she visited the Holocaust Museum.

What happened over the course of the Harry Potter series and what happened prior to the series can in no way be compared to The Holocaust in which nearly six million Europeans of Jewish descent and an un-agreed upon number of non-Jews were murdered, or even to the 1994 Rwandan Genocide in which 800,000 Tutsis were murdered over the course of about one hundred days, it is clear that Rowling’s Death Eaters held similar views about racial purity as the Nazis and the Hutus who participated in the Rwandan atrocities.

If you accept that Rowling saw a correlation between her Death Eaters and the Nazis, then you must also accept that that the Lucius Malfoy she wrote is the equivalent of a racist and that he was likely capable of horrific actions; it is canon that he condoned – and even facilitated – the horrific actions of others. Whether or not that qualifies him as a monster is a matter of individual opinion.

It is my opinion, however, that he meets the requirements of being a “monster” simply by virtue of having acted on his racist beliefs. For the purposes of this essay, that opinion is incontrovertible. Lucius Malfoy is a racist and a monster.


Continuing a Dangerous Trope?

[me, immediately following after the last]: But on the other hand, fanon!Lucius has become so firmly entrenched in the fandom, I find it harder to condemn fans who associate more with that iteration of the character than what was showed to us in canon.
[My Friend]: Well, in a way, that’s true to life. People never suspect the ones with the looks, money, and charm
Yeah. I was late to the party for sure.
me: You’re right about it being true to life. However, that doesn’t make it acceptable to me.

I still don’’t like it, but I understand how it happened. I just refuse to be a party to perpetuation the myth.
[My Friend]: Right.
me: And I also don’t expect to change any minds.
as I said, fanon!Lucius isn’t the same person as canon!Lucius.
in my mind, at least
[My Friend]: I agree -- totally different.
me: and while I think the origins of the former are found in a sort of ignorance of the privileged, that doesn’t change the fact that he exists as an entity separate to the latter

The term “privilege” has a very specific meaning as I used it above. It was in the defining of privilege that I ran into my hurdle when discussing this essay in the second chat. As referred to here (and in that second chat), privilege refers to the accrued advantages members of a dominant group within a society with a hierarchal status structure have been granted by that society. The result is social inequality. This does not necessarily mean that legal advantages have been granted. In the second chat, My Friend equated “power” with legal rights; I contend that power is a combination of privilege and legal rights. I also believe that privilege is a more insidious component of the combination because those who have are often unaware of its existence or unaware of the consequences of its existence. This lack of awareness is what I call “the ignorance of the privileged”.

[My Friend]: Right.
me: okay
time to get off the soapbox
maybe I should write a short essay on the topic
[My Friend]: Hee! An essay would be good.
[two off-topic comments deleted]
me: I was kidding, but I might do it. I wouldn’t be as comfortable explaining to others the way I just explained to you.
the essay would put my view out there
[My Friend]: I think the topic is ripe for essay.
me: so I wouldn’t need to explain; I could just point to the essay
[My Friend]: And I’m sure lots of people agree with you.
me: possibly. but they aren’t speaking up about it much in circles where I roam

The ones I’ve read who say something similar to what I say have a generalised dislike of JKR
[My Friend]: That’s just b/c you hang with me, [Friend Two], [An Acquaintance], etc.
me: or a generalised dislike of several popular pairings

oh, but I read discussions of fic all over the interwebs
and making Lucius a good guy is a popular trope in HP fandom
[My Friend]: There are others in the exchange, for example, who don’t want lucius anywhere near their gift
me: thank goodness!

but also consider this: if LM/SS/HG weren’t already a popular thing, there wouldn’t be a need for those of us who don’t want him there to specify that we don’t want him there
[My Friend]: Well, it’s a popular trope in general -- redeeming bad boys.

me: that’s also true
and I even understand the urge
[My Friend]: (They do it on soaps all the time)
me: but most of the good!Lucius stories I’ve read don’t really consider the nature of his badness

I was about to make the soap comparison
[My Friend]: Hee!
Great minds.
me: “as badly written as a soap opera – like when Luke suddenly didn’t really rape Laura”

It is worth noting that in the section of the chat reproduced above, I chose an extreme example of the “reforming the delicious bad boy” trope. I did not do so lightly. I believe it is equally dangerous to erase or overlook the evidence of hatred in a character as it is to erase or overlook the actions of a character who has violated another character. When you add actions to hatred, as one must when considering Lucius Malfoy, the problem is compounded by the fact that there victims of his beliefs exist.


Problems With Erasing or Overlooking the Evidence of Hatred

Of course, such dismissals and hand-waves are common throughout fandom. Creators of fanworks most often write or draw, etc. to entertain themselves or others. Often, real-world implications and consequences have no place in the worlds they are sharing with other fans. Unfortunately, that does not mean that readers will not see those implications and consequences. That the creator means to enjoy a departure from Real Life does not guarantee that their audiences do not see hatred being ignored or overlooked the fanworks and then internalise that version of reality with regards to the character in question. In other words, some members of the audience will take the implicit message validating hatred as the norm.

That it takes nothing more than for a character to be portrayed by an actor a fan (or many fans) finds attractive for the character’s actions to lose importance, and that it takes nothing more than farworks creators’ lack of awareness (or willingness to ignore such awareness should they have it) to allow them to promote a harmful dismissal of problematic behaviour is at the heart of my displeasure and abhorrence of the practice of writing a sympathetic Lucius Malfoy.

I read a message in those works which I am certain most creators did not intend:

Your feelings and those of other people who, like you, have a lesser place in society than I have don’t matter; my pleasure is more important than acknowledging that I am giving endorsing one of society’s uglier truths by not condemning it. I can afford to not to learn about things which distress you and which you can’t avoid.

And, by extension, I see another message:

You and those people who, like you, have a lesser place in society than I have don’t matter; I am more important than you. I am better than you, and I can afford to ignore that which oppresses you because that sort of oppression is not a part of my life and/or worldview.


Writing Redemption

Of course, not every fan who creates a sympathetic Lucius is ignorant of the implications or consciously dismissing those that they do recognise. Some people genuinely believe in the power of redemption. This belief is not without merit or precident.

In Rwanda, there are “Reconciliation Villages” where Tutsi survivors of the 1994 genocide live side-by-side with Hutus perpetrators of the crimes which occurred during that time. One story I have frequently seen on television (this is a video link)* and read online tells the tale of childhood acquaintances who live in such a village:

Fredrick Kazigwemo is responsible, either directly or indirectly, for the deaths of many members of his neighbour’s family. She has forgiven him, she said, but not without effort and prayer. She attributes the power to forgive Kazigwemo to God, saying that she could not have managed on her own.

Kazigwemo said he asked God forgiveness for his past actions (which he blames on government brainwashing). But he did not expect forgiveness from people, he said.

Redemption is possible. Forgiveness can happen even in the aftermath of the most horrific crimes against humanity. But redeeming a character in a manner that is considerate and compassionate – in a way that does not dismiss the consequences of the actions of real-word people who held analogous, thereby showing an ignorance or a lack of empathy for people who were the victims or would-be victims of dangerous beliefs – is something most Lucius Malfoy aficionados who have produced fanworks presenting him as a sympathetic character have not made the effort to accomplish.

My Friend and several of my friends and acquaintances tend to fall into two main categories for writing their sympathetic Lucius Malfoy characterisations. There is sometimes some overlap between the paths chosen by members of either group, but along broad lines, the stories which have been written by Lucius fans whom I know and like have fallen into one of two broad categories:

The first group make a distinction between fanon!Lucius and canon!Lucius (as I and My Friend did during that first chat session) when writing. They know that they are deviating from canon as they write the character, and so they write with the idea that since they are quite obviously not attempting to write Rowling’s Lucius Malfoy, there really isn’t a great need to show his redemption – that is, if they bother to write him as redeemed at all. A problem with those stories which acknowledge his past, but brush it aside as being his past but not his present and therefore not worthy of further discussion is that they fail to take into account the need for such concepts to be read within a very narrow context. As was demonstrated during the second chat session I had with a larger group, concepts and the contexts in which they are created are not universal. My problem with stories that depict Malfoy as unredeemed, but sympathetic anyway should be self-evident: I find nothing of the “delicious bad boy” in a character who is a racist, even if he is no longer a member of a group bent on the genocide or subjugation of those he considers inferior.

The second group make attempts to show his growth. Unfortunately, these attempts, in my opinion, most often fall short in showing how deeply wrong his original beliefs – and the actions those beliefs prompted – were. While they acknowledge that he has done wrong in the past, they do not often depict the nature of his past crimes as horrific as I believe them to be. They have rarely taken into consideration that his actions could have long-term effects on his victims, or that surviving victims are still living in a society that largely allowed them to be victimised.

One of my German teachers best described what I am trying to say:

“We don’t like talking about it or even thinking about it, really,” she told our class. “No one wants to accept that our people were once responsible with something so bad. But we can’t ignore what happened or make light of it because you can start to forget.”

She was reprimanding one of my classmates for having jokingly called another classmate a Nazi. (The context of the teasing was that both classmates were German-American, but the latter was first generation American.) I didn’t write down everything she said that day, only what I’ve quoted above (and I apologise to her if I’ve misquoted her from my decades-old notes), but I vaguely remember that the expression on her face and the tone of her voice had far more on an impact on me than her actual words. After all, the words are just another way of saying, “Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” It took a very specific context to apply a more meaningful concept to her words: Don’t forget we have hated, so that we remember not to hate again.


Searching For Empathy

In the United States, if a group consisting of members of many races has a discussion about race, it is likely that someone among the group will experience negative emotions some point. This is likelihood will be increased if one or more members of the group is not a racial minority. One might feel attacked and get defensive in response. Another might feel embarrassed. Or angered. Or hurt. Some might be disgusted, or frightened. Or bored. Some might express these emotions openly, or others might keep them to themselves. Accusations might fly back and forth, or several people in the group might quietly seethe. All of these things might be going on during the same discussion.

Of course it’s also possible that everyone might be interested in learning about the experiences and opinions of others or in sharing their own experiences and opinions. That’s the best-case scenario, but unfortunately not as likely as to occur. And yet that is exactly what I am hoping for here.

I am a Black woman who was born and raised in the United States. I state this not because it is the sum total of who I am – and not even because it is the core of the argument I presented; I share this part of who I am because I feel it would be disingenuous to call a character a “racist monster” as I did above without acknowledging that I belong to a race that has historically been on the receiving end of intense racial hatred in the place where I have spent the greater part of my life. But while I believe those parts of my whole self have both had a strong influence on how I view the topic at hand, they have not been my only influences.

So, while my race and where I live have undoubtedly had an effect on my opinions, they are not the my only influences. (It is also important to note that I don't speak other women who share my race and country. There are women of colour among my friends and acquaintances who are Lucius fans.)

Equally important to the way in which I form opinions if the fact that I was raised by men and women who expected me to examine my beliefs and to form logical arguments to express them. In my experience, it has been difficult to remain logical while speaking about racial hatred, but I have attempted to do so here.

For my friends and acquaintances, my dislike of the character and my disappointment and disgust over the way so many fans write him is a serious matter, yet not one that is serious enough to exempt me from being teased about it. That no one in either group of my Lucius-loving friends does have recognised the depths of my aversion to the character is in no small part my fault:

Because I am an inveterate seeker of approval, in the very recent past I have laughed with them rather than express how painful I find their inability to understand – and by laughing, I have unintentionally supported the idea that my feelings (about this topic) don’t matter much.
Because I haven’t been willing to endure the stress of participating in a discussion that would inevitably touch on race, I have stopped short of providing context I presented in this essay.
Because I have convinced myself that I can ignore implicit messages and focus on writing, I supported friends’ efforts to share better stories – even when those stories have centred on a characterisation of Lucius Malfoy that I consider dangerous and harmful.

I have been my own greatest obstacle to finding the empathy I sought. I hope that this essay goes far enough to change that, and that I will never be invited to “come to the dark side” again.

*For those who do not wish to or who cannot view the video link, here is a link to an imperfect transcript of the video: http://edition.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/1204/06/cnr.04.html. The section on the Rwandan Reconciliation Village begins about one third of the way down the page.

I must thank My Friend and my friends for supporting my decision to write this essay despite the fact that it could be read as a condemnation of a practice they enjoy.

I'm giving an extra helping of gratitude to [livejournal.com profile] karelia for not only beta-reading this for me, but also for reminding me of the power of redemption. We might not agree on where forgiveness should begin, but without her intervention, I would have forgotten a very important lesson about these two concepts. (I'll leave it to readers to come to there own conclusions about the nature of that lesson.) Hugs, karelia. I am so grateful to know you.

Date: 2012-08-27 06:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] linlawless.livejournal.com
This is as thought provoking and eye opening as I could have imagined it to be. Kudos, Tea, for taking such a clear, well-thought-out, and well-written stance on such an important -- and touchy -- issue.

Lots of squishes, glomps, and major admiration coming your way from my little corner of the universe.

Now I'm off to ponder some more...

Date: 2012-08-27 10:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com
Thanks, lin. And thank you for your encouragement throughout the process of writing it. Helping people consider another view is all that I can reasonably expect to accomplish, so I'm happy to know that I gave you food for thought.
Edited Date: 2012-08-27 10:34 pm (UTC)

Date: 2012-08-27 06:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] karelia.livejournal.com
I'm very proud to call you my friend. It takes a lot of courage to not only share thoughts that aren't in agreement with many but to put them out for the whole world to see. And the writing clearly shows that you've given this a lot of thoughts. Well done! <3

Date: 2012-08-27 10:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com
Thanks so much, k. I was truly ready to give this up, but you and lin and everyone else really gave me the confidence to stick with it. And your insightful words on working towards redemption reminded me that it is possible to forgive.

Date: 2012-08-28 01:09 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] meladara.livejournal.com
Well said Tea! :) The amount of thought and effort that you put into the essay is very clear.

As someone isn't a huge fan of Lucius (but one who has read her fair share of LM fics without questioning them) I realised that I have been consistently squicked by other Death Eater fics (the 3 Lestranges especially) but not Lucius. I had to ask myself why this is? Have I been willing to accept read fics of redemption of Lucius soley based on the sex appeal of the reformed bad guy without considering the nature of the character himself? Yikes... He certainly does nothing in canon to redeem himself.

Definitely food for thought. Well done. It takes true bravery to question what is popular, especially so when those questions and comments are being put to your friends. Thank you for making me think! That is what true friends are for! ;)

Date: 2012-08-28 01:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com
Thank you, Mel. As I told lin, all I can reasonably expect is that I've given someone something to think about which they mightn't have considered before. So, thanks for considering. ~squishes~

He really doesn't doing anything to redeem himself in canon, but I'd be very interested in seeing that happen in fanfic. I'm very interested in reading [livejournal.com profile] karelia's final product just for that reason.

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Date: 2012-08-28 02:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] drinkingcocoa.livejournal.com
Here via Karelia. Thank you for this. I can't enjoy fanon Lucius fics for the same reasons.

Date: 2012-08-28 10:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com
Thank you for commenting, drinkingcocoa. My problem isn't so much that I can't enjoy him, but that I can't enjoy him enough to forget that he's supposed to be Lucius Malfoy and so I can't forget all the attendant problems I see in calling a likable character by that name.

Date: 2012-08-28 02:35 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kittylefish.livejournal.com
i'm here by way of karelia's rec, also. thank you so much for such a well thought out and organized essay on the subject. i get very emotional and then i have trouble putting stuff out there clearly. i completely agree with everything you have said here. i am not a fan of lucius at all, and i prefer not to read fics with him, although i have made exceptions for certain people whose writing i love. it galls me that the story i've written that has the most favorites is an ss/hg/lm threesome that i only wrote because karelia requested it as a birthday present back when she was my beta.

anyhow. know that you are not the only one who looks at all the lucius love in fandom and is squicked by it. i am right there with you.
Edited Date: 2012-08-28 02:36 am (UTC)

Date: 2012-08-28 10:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com
Thank you, kittylefish.

I have also made exceptions for people I love. And I have enjoyed their characterisations. But I have never not wished they had named their characters something different to "Lucius Malfoy". Because my suspension of disbelief has never been strong enough – no matter how good the writing – to accept the person they wrote as Lucius.

Then, even though I've told myself that "canon!Lucius and fanon!Lucius are two different people", I haven't been able to let go the idea that even though this is the case, the very fact that fanon!Lucius exists is a symptom of a diseased society where a handsome face is given more importance than horrific beliefs and/or acts.

When I view those stories – and even my own limited pleasure in them – through that lens, I feel sick: with the stories and with myself.

The thing is, I've never managed to read a good!Lucius story without very quickly having that lens hone my vision. And I don't ever want to. Because I don't ever want to lose sight of the fact that excusing the Devil because he comes in a pretty package is something I should never accept as a given.

Date: 2012-08-28 03:27 am (UTC)
kerravonsen: The words of Martin Niemoller, about Nazi Germany. (civil-liberties)
From: [personal profile] kerravonsen

I can see that this is close to your heart and was difficult to write; and that it might not have been so difficult to write had it not been so close to your heart.

I do think there is some leeway in the portrayal of Lucius, even within canon: at the one end, he's a racist monster, possibly even psychotic; at the other end, he's an amoral opportunist who is only interested in power and the good of the Malfoys, someone who considered Voldemort to be a means to an end. Lucius, in some ways, is a mirror to Snape: that he is charming and handsome and has friends and loves his wife... and is evil; while Snape is horrible, ugly, nasty, bitter, spiteful, unloved... and good. And part of the power of JKR's writing is that it confronts the tendency for readers and writers to equate niceness with goodness, and nastiness with evil.(*)

I admit I do enjoy fanon!Lucius to a degree; the suave and sneaky bastard who is nonetheless good to his friends and loves his family.

What I cannot stand, however, is when Lucius is whitewashed; that is, portrayed as having been good all along, being a victim of others, of circumstance, who really wanted to be good and was forced to be bad.(**) I HATE that. I hate it for several reasons. It's lazy writing and poor characterisation. It cheapens redemption, because it isn't redemption at all, and yet the author appears to think that retroactively making things not have happened is "redemption". It dismisses the suffering Lucius caused, because "it wasn't his fault". As if it doesn't matter at all.

Contrast a "whitewashed" Lucius with another fan favourite: Angel, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. One could argue that all the things that Angel did when he was Angelus "weren't his fault". And yet Angel still feels responsible, still feels guilt and remorse for those things. A whitewashed Lucius feels neither guilt nor remorse. This is unacceptable.

You're right in there being few if any portrayals of Lucius being redeemed. It is something I would love to see done well, because I love redemption: real redemption, not whitewashing. Real redemption involves turning away from the evils of the past, feeling sorry about them, rejecting them, and turning towards the long hard path of remaking oneself into the kind of person who would not do those things. Not an easy thing to write, which is why, I expect, it hasn't been written.

(*) IMHO it weakens Lucius' characterisation when he's portrayed as a wife-beater etc. - as if the author can't stand the idea that evil people might actually have some small virtues; that they have to be 100% EVIL in every way. That's as shallow in its own way as the opposite problem of demanding that one's heroes be 100% good with no flaws.

(**) Oddly enough, I've seen this portrayal more often in pre-Hogwarts AUs where Snape befriends/adopts Harry, rather than in SS/HG/LM stories.

Date: 2012-08-28 10:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com
Thanks for commenting. You brought up two very good points I wish I'd thought to address in the essay:

at the other end, he's an amoral opportunist who is only interested in power and the good of the Malfoys, someone who considered Voldemort to be a means to an end.

This is very possibly his true nature, and if it is, that would make him – in my eyes – even more of a monster than the racist version. Because to have done the things he did and to have facilitated the things his fellows did only for the sake of gain, rather than because he truly believed in a sick ideology, would mean that he did those things knowing that they were wrong but not caring that they were wrong.

I don't mean to say that I give the racist any more understanding than I would give the opportunist, but I while I believe (thanks to [livejournal.com profile] karelia and Frederick Kazigwemo)) that the racist might have a chance at true redemption, it far harder for me to imagine the opportunist being similarly redeemable.

I admit I do enjoy fanon!Lucius to a degree; the suave and sneaky bastard who is nonetheless good to his friends and loves his family.

I touched on this, but only in the chat I included in the essay.

I've also enjoyed that Lucius – to a degree. But who he really is (according to JKR's portrayal) and what I see as the potential baggage that comes with not addressing that characterisation has never been far enough at the back of my mind for me to fully enjoy the fanon character. I am always pulled out by a sick feeling in my tummy that I am endorsing a – to use your term – "whitewashed" version of a character I hate. Really, really hate.

Because I can't lose myself totally in the stories featuring that Lucius, no matter how good the writing, I have been left feeling guilty and angry at myself for even trying to forget the canon character.
Edited Date: 2012-08-28 10:18 am (UTC)

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Date: 2012-08-28 07:10 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tonksinger.livejournal.com
Here via Kittylefish, and very glad I came. This is a wonderfully reasoned and written essay, and I thank you for having the courage to see it through and post it. Posting strong opinions in fandom can be hard; I'm glad to see a positive response as well.

Date: 2012-08-28 10:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com
Thank you!

Date: 2012-08-28 11:27 am (UTC)
kerravonsen: Kerr Avon, frowning: Character is PLOT (character-is-plot)
From: [personal profile] kerravonsen
I am now wondering if I should rip up my half-done Draco-time-travel AU because I haven't made Draco racist enough, and because I was intending on there being a sympathetic Lucius by the end of the story (which might have been the first part of an epic series, if I could ever manage to write it). I mean, if I have gotten the characterisation of the Malfoys wrong, then the whole premise of the story falls in a heap, and there's no point in continuing (points to icon).

It occurs to me... that it may be impossible for me to write a Malfoy point-of-view that is racist enough, because I simply can't get into that mindset, I can't comprehend it, I can't fathom it.

Date: 2012-08-28 11:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com
Don't write to accommodate my feelings or those of anyone who happens to share my point-of-view. Write to fit your own mores. Write what you feel is acceptable to put into the world.

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From: [personal profile] kerravonsen - Date: 2012-08-28 11:41 am (UTC) - Expand

Date: 2012-08-28 02:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lyre-flowers.livejournal.com
Thank you for having the courage to write this! It is insightful, inspired, and though it might be stepping on some people's toes, definitely true.

I am German, and I know exactly what your teacher meant that day. Every time I see the term nazi being used lightly (i.e. "grammar nazi" in online forums et al.), it makes me want to throw up. And usually people don't even seem to understand why I am upset.

Again, thank you! Definitely food for thought.

Date: 2012-08-28 03:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, lyre_flowers. I really appreciate knowing that this piece gave you something to think about.

It took me a really long time to even begin to see why my teacher was so affected that day. I can't describe her expression or the hurt in her voice, but it was powerful to see and hear. I recall that I thought, What M just said to H was pretty insulting, but why is this woman in pain over it? I'd expected anger, but her pain was beyond my understanding at the time.

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Date: 2012-08-28 03:03 pm (UTC)
dreamflower: gandalf at bag end (Default)
From: [personal profile] dreamflower
Here via [livejournal.com profile] kerravonsen.

This is a wonderful and thoughtful essay. I too, despise Lucius Malfoy as a racist monster. I've not read much "sympathetic" Lucius fic, because I only dabble at the edges of the HP fandom. But to me Lucius Malfoy is one of the worst villains of the HP universe, not least because of his arrogant assumptions about those he sees as "lesser" yet he manages to operate openly in the wizarding world in spite of suspicions about him because of his wealth and lineage.

But in my own main fandom, I know a writer who is working on redeeming the ultimate bad guy in LotR-- Sauron, and she is doing it right. First of all, she makes him realistic without being sympathetic. The truth is, there are serial killers who love their mothers, mass murderers who are kind to animals, and genocidal tyrants who adore their grandchildren in real life. This does not make them sympathetic, it just makes them human-- they are still monsters, but human monsters.

So she may begin a story in which we see one of these traits-- a love of beauty, for example. But it always ends in his making the wrong choice-- deliberately making a wrong choice that has horrible consequences for others in pursuit of his own power; thus a reader who may have been teetering on the brink of sympathy for him suddenly shudders in revulsion.

And now, in her AU version in which he survives his destruction, he is imprisoned and facing his past. He has to face his wrong choices, remember them, realize how he deliberately chose to be cruel rather than kind at every turn--he's got to experience the pain of regret before he can even begin to find any sort of redemption.

The problem of Lucius' racism is that he must be forced to face it and know that it's wrong and that he chose to believe in it even though he had to know it was wrong; truthfully, it would take a very skillful writer to make me believe that Lucius could be redeemed, because I think he believed his racism was right-- but if they did not make him go through the pain of self-examination and of questioning his choices, they would not be able to succeed with me. (I'm generally a book person by nature, so the "hotness" of an actor or not is beside the point.)

In other words, I find it easier to believe in a "redeemed" Sauron than I do a "redeemed" Lucius Malfoy!

Date: 2012-08-28 03:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com
Thank you for sharing, dreamflower. I think what the LotR writer is doing makes for a stark contrast with what I often see done with Lucius. I'd like to see something similar happen in HP.

There's one place were my conclusions really differ with yours, however. I'm not sure that Lucius knew he was wrong. As I told [livejournal.com profile] kerravonsen, a Lucius who knew his chosen ideology was wrong but did terrible things to advance it anyway is more terrible to me than a true believer.

True believers are more frightening to me for the reasons you listed: before they can begin to change, they must accept that their beliefs are flawed. And that's not an easy thing for a person to accept.

But opportunistic evil-doers disgust me more because that shows a blatant disregard for right unless it benefits self.

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Date: 2012-08-28 10:08 pm (UTC)
kerravonsen: Yin-Yang symbol, black and rainbow-sparkles (yin-yang)
From: [personal profile] kerravonsen
The truth is, there are serial killers who love their mothers, mass murderers who are kind to animals, and genocidal tyrants who adore their grandchildren in real life. This does not make them sympathetic, it just makes them human-- they are still monsters, but human monsters.

Yes, this.
I am rather baffled by portrayals of Lucius that take away his humanity - make him a wife-beater and child-abuser as well as a racist. Why do they write him that way? I don't understand it.

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Date: 2012-08-28 03:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pennfana.livejournal.com
A wonderful and thought-provoking essay. Well done, Tea. You put your finger right on some of the issues that bother me with Fanon!Lucius (and Death Eater fanfic in general, even as someone who's guilty of having written a bit of it over the years), and I'll definitely be coming back to it in the future.

Date: 2012-08-28 03:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com
Thanks, Penn. Your understanding means a great deal to me.

Date: 2012-08-28 05:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] nagandsev.livejournal.com
Just wanted to thank you and send you my admiration for your courage and sharing this with everyone.

Some things are, right now, too much of an open wound (rather re-opened) for me to respond to at this moment in my floundering fanfic life...

As a multi-ethnic person, it took years... years and a lot of *nudging* from friends to help me to 'step back and lighten up about fanon LM, due to his innate racist, sadistic, vile, opportunistic nature, etc., as a writer I should be 'open' to the word of fantasy literature, 'it's not to be taken as Real Life history/fact', 'you'll develop as a writer if you relax a bit, have some fun, be creative''let loose', etc.

And this is by friends who are people of every colour/race, religion and background: in fact, it was my very first fic submitted at one archive where one admin, who happened to be a person of colour and urged me to not 'write an evil Lucius, she was soooo tired of him being portrayed that way-- and when I started writing him as dubious but not sadistic/clearly supremacist, she was happy. From my newbie pov, I thought, 'Oh, to have my writing 'accepted/approved', I need to ONLY write him a certain way...

And now, especially now when I, also an inveterate seeker of approval here in the world of HP fandom, have discovered a need to play in the HP fandom, am exhausted by trying to meet some deadlines along with keeping on top of other fandom-participating-venues, am left feeling very... *can't find the words right now*

Your essay lends itself to not only forcing all to face up again, if they have been in denial beforehand, to the fact that JFK's Canon Lucius Malfoy is an uber-supremicist Death Eater but also to Severus Snape, as well, of whom our entire fandom is more or less centred/based on.

The dilemma is, who am I to deny others of their freedom of expression/speech in fanfiction?

Also, if hate material is being written and spread--I want to know about it-- I want the individual or group to be 'outed' by their own blatant points of view-

I question the whole existence and nature of fanfiction; definitely, my participation in it. I'll leave it at that, for now.

Just, for what it's worth, I am so sorry for your pain and that you've ever, ever felt and feel from others the pain and hurt that you do--by what is/was considered to be a 'fun and a tension free zone' for some.

Date: 2012-08-28 05:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com
Oh, nag. I'm sorry that this essay has re-opened wounds that hadn't yet fully closed for you. I won't touch on that except to say that just the sort of nudging you mention is what prompted me to write this essay. I hoped that writing and sharing this would stop the nudges before any more came my way.

You are right about the need for all of as a fandom community to examine all of our protrayals.

Perhaps this was all the more obvious to me because I entered HP fandom already a sceptic. Because I couldn't believe in Snape as a romantic lead when a friend asked me to beta her fic, I needed to work out for myself how to make a reasonable tale of him growing and changing and healing enough to take on such a role.

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Date: 2012-08-29 12:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jaxomsride.livejournal.com
Lucius is not a monster, he is as human as Harry, Dumbledore and Umbridge.

I'm not a Lucius fan, for the record.

I am not comfortable with labels. Apply them and it opens the door to prejudice and hatred.

Calling him a monster removes any human qualities he has.

I was bullied at school and those who were doing the bullying were not just a small core, but the rest of the class as well. The majority weren't doing it out of the hatred and ignorance of the small core of bullies, but out of fear that to not do so would turn the ire of the bullies on to them.

It doesn't take evil for people to do bad things. It takes an unwillingness to stand out, to turn around and question the actions of others.

I am not trying to excuse Malfoy, just not everything is about hate.

Date: 2012-08-29 01:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com
Thanks for sharing. I am sorry that you had such a terrible experience at school. I'm sure that that colours your view of the world just as my own experiences have coloured mine.

Different people take different lessons away from painful parts of their lives. You and I are clearly very different to each other.

Calling him a monster removes any human qualities he has.

I disagree vehemently with this statement. I believe all of the world's true monsters have been human beings.

I think it's important to keep in mind that Lucius was not one of your schoolmates; he was a wealthy and powerful adult who preyed on those weaker and less influential than him. Even children weren't safe from his malice. Remember Tom Riddle's diary?

Malfoy's actions – especially those from early in the series – cannot be explained away solely by fear. I also ask you to remember that Lucius joined the Death Eaters before Voldemort gave his followers reason to fear him.

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Date: 2012-08-29 09:44 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] noxiaa.livejournal.com
This was originally posted somewhere I thought was private, but [livejournal.com profile] teaoli invited me to repost it for discussion. Fire away while I curl up in a ball.

Any anger I felt was mitigated by your section on redemption, but by that time I was already, let's just say, quite upset at the notion that anybody, anywhere who does anything racist whether such is intended or not is evil/a monster and irredeemable. Because that includes those who are ignorant of something being racist. Ignorance is not an excuse, I recognize that, but claiming that someone who corrects their behavior/language after being told what they are saying/doing is racist is as bad as someone who condemned millions of people to death. That hit me as absurd.

Because there is a very broad range of what "condoned" can entail. I condoned my grandmother's usage of a colloquial yet highly offensive term for brazilnuts until the day she died.. because I didn't know any better. I had no idea they were called brazilnuts. I only knew the other term until I went off to college and was swiftly corrected. I honestly am disturbed at being considered a racist and thusly a monster because of that. Yes, my usage of the word was racist. I know that now, and haven't used it since. So condemning me for something that happened twenty years ago, and done out of ignorance, really seems to me to be taking it too far.

In other words, I took a portion of the essay far too personally, and I recognize that, but I had no idea how to explain such without looking like an even more disgusting person in your eyes.

Then I saw your section on redemption, and the anger subsided to a grumble, and kerravonsen said the vast majority of the way I think.

I am NOT saying Lucius Malfoy falls under the umbrella of ignorance. He is a joyful and completely unrepentant racist. On that we completely agree. However, I do believe he can mask those beliefs in front of the gullible in order to always be "on the winning side", as it were. As for making sense of him persuing a Muggle, there is a long-standing record of one person who believes themself higher than another "slumming it", as it were. Hideous term, though that is, but I can't think of a better one at the moment.

I can enjoy fanon!Lucius precisely because I know what an awful person he is in canon, but I put fanon!Lucius into the category of the traditional rake in stereotypical Regency romances. He's horrible, terrible, but there's something perversely thrilling reading him in the romantic role. Like eating a deep fried Twinkie. So awful for you, but oh so guilty-pleasure-delicious. I like him devious. I like him horrible. I like him as a sly horndog (no that's not a typo). I didn't like him at all, and didn't see why others did, until I started reading the SS/HG Exchange and saw how it was handled. Now I've made my peace.

I suppose my question is: how do writers let readers know that they are perfectly aware that what they are writing is problematic, but that it is NOT out of disrespect for anybody, it is simply the way the story is being told?

Date: 2012-08-29 10:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com
It's going to take me some time to put into a coherent comment everything I want to say in response to this, so for now, I will only address your final question.

I don't know.

My initial thought was to say, Tell readers exactly what you have told me, but having thought about it, I realised I was addressing the literal question rather that the substance behind it. And the truth is, I don't know how to handle something like this because it is beyond my experience.

You see, I can't imagine wanting to go ahead with a project I knew might be hurtful to others. It's not an option for me to say, "I'm writing this, I know it's insensitive, but I need to go with my Muse, so... don't like; don't read."

Because, in essence, that's what I'd be saying.

But let me phrase your question in another way – one that might be more palatable to all readers:

how do writers let readers know that they are perfectly aware that the original version of the character they are writing has problematic traits, but that it is NOT what they are writing, and they choose to write the character this way not out of disrespect for anybody, it is simply the way the story is being told?

That is something I can endorse without thinking I'd be setting that writer up for a load of censure and flames, whilst the other is something I would expect to earn criticism and anger.

The problem with the original version is that, as worded, it's clearly written from the position of a person who can more easily dismiss problematic situations than someone who has endured similarly problematic situations can do. It's not coming from a position of malice, but is still coming from a position of ignorance. Because even if that writer knows that what they are writing is problematic and my even know why what they are writing is problematic, it would seem to me that that writer had not yet grasped how one personal choice can bleed into and strengthen the larger, societal norms which make life difficult for a person who does not enjoy the same privileges as the writer does.

I will address "privilege" in later comment, but I think I should say here and now that it's not something you can hand back, and it's also not something that's always easily recognisable to those who have it. Let's face it, if something has always seemed a certain way to you, how are you supposed to know it's not that way for everyone else unless you've observed it not being that way for everyone else.

Finally, a note on brazil nuts: Although I identify as a Black woman, I come from a mixed-race family. An elderly relative of mine used what I suspect is the same term as your grandmother to refer to brazil nuts. I also didn't know what to call them, but by he time I was three, I was already feeling a horrible pain in my chest and tummy every time he used the term. So, my siblings and I started referring to them as "the nuts that look like dark brown rocks" and my grandmother (I think) explained to him why he shouldn't use the term. It didn't stop him for more than a few weeks.

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From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-10-17 04:55 pm (UTC) - Expand

Response, Part II

From: [identity profile] teaoli.livejournal.com - Date: 2012-10-17 05:24 pm (UTC) - Expand



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