Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Labels

Yep, this is yet another example of shameless thievery from C.J. at Don't Lick the Ferrets.

NaBloeffingPoMo has turned me into someone I barely recognize. Also, I can't link her blog even though I was all smug about figuring out the link thing, because now I'm apparently having HTML problems.

She was talking about how some people hate labels, such as gay and straight. My point was that it's easy to make almost any descriptive term sound derogatory if you're ignorant and vicious enough to want to. That's not a strike against the label though, so much as against the butthead using it. Labels are useful, if not necessary, in identifying how people other people compare with you. It's fine to say we're more the same than we are different, but saying we're all exactly the same is unrealistic, unfair and ass-ish. For the whole gay/straight thing, I have this image of someone on the dance floor trying to figure out if the person they're dancing with is gay or straight, and the other person saying, "oh, I don't like labels", and the first person thinking, "Dude, I just want to know if I have a shot or not". We went to a party at a cottage with a few other couples once. There was one 'couple' there who refused to be called a 'couple', because they were "avoiding labels". I started out trying to be accommodating and open-minded about this. By the end of the week-end I was thoroughly fed up, and ready to ask "so, are you totally too embarrassed to admit that you're with him?" or "so one of you is cheating on someone else?", because Dude -- they were a  freakin' COUPLE and there was no logical reason to avoid the label other than to be difficult.

photo credit
creative commons license
Margaret Atwood wrote a book in 2004 called Oryx and Crake. She's recently followed it up with a sort-of sequel. She spits and hisses every time these are referred to as science fiction. I'm not sure why, because... well, because they're science fiction. Maybe she thinks she's too literarily sophisticated to be lumped in with science fiction writers, which would be kind of sad, since many science fiction writers are extremely sophisticated from a writing standpoint, not just from a plotting one. Maybe she's worried that her books will suffer when measured against other sci-fi books that deal with dystopian possible futures. Maybe she likes basking in the notion that she's the only 'real' writer to worry about these issues. At any rate, in my opinion, getting pissy and saying 'it's NOT science fiction' just makes her sound snotty, and silly.

One of my friends had to fight like hell to avoid one of her kids being labelled autistic when he was in grade one. I understand this, because having him labelled as the wrong thing would ensure that his actual problems weren't focused on, while problems he didn't actually have were worked on uselessly. Should your child actually be autistic, an early diagnostic 'label' is actually beneficial, because the sooner treatment starts (or waiting for treatment, unfortunately) the better.

So I get that we have to be careful with labels, and watch that they aren't misused. But getting rid of labels entirely? Try it in your canned goods cupboard, and see how well that works out for ya.

(I know, the ending is overly glib -- it's almost piano lesson time and my kids are pestering me for smoothies. Also, now I have to figure out what the hell HTML is. Sorry.)

2 comments:

Lynn said...

I loved Oryx and Crake. I agree with you, it is sci-fi. It's interesting to hear at Atwood fights that label...maybe it's because so many people dismiss sci-fi completely as a genre. You'd think her reputation would be enough to get people to read the book, though, no matter where it gets filed in the store.

Amber said...

I can't believe you're taking on Margaret Atwood. That, my friend, takes chutzpah! ;)

Seriously, though, I agree with you. Labels have upsides and downsides, and it's more a question of how they're applied and used. But that doesn't make them good or bad, so much as neutral.