Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Characterisation of Men: How to Make Your Story Popular

This topic has been on my mind for some time now. Initially, I thought it would not appeal to people, but then I do not write to agree with people. I speak of things I have seen; of things I think of; of things that would generate arguments or agreements and from which I would come out more knowledgeable than before. Whatever it is we need to talk, discuss, argue, agree, and agree to disagree.

Has anyone observed the path some authors have taken to popularise their novels? Or perhaps it emanates only from my masochist macho mind? Or perhaps I am framing the whole thing up and presuming it is pervasive: not everybody does it but most do? Whatever the case may, as in many other professions, people always discover shortcuts to stardom. After all, once the archetype is prepared and accepted one can always build on it.

Some writers, and if I can call myself one then I also stand accused, have capitalised on the fact that women form a larger percentage of the reading and/or book-buying market, at least according to VIDA, to lead them into stardom. To have their novels appeal to the larger populace, jump onto the Number One Bestseller List overnight, or cause Oprah to cry and declare their books an Oprah Book Selection and be embossed with the fastest selling name-endorsement, or have a corner representation in the New Yorker, the Guardian, these authors have resorted to stereotyping. And it is simple: make women sensible, sympathetic and emotional. The men? Make them drunkards, womanizers, adulterers, fornicators, murderers, hardened criminals moving in and out of prisons, or rapists. The more morbid the male characters the better. After this, all that are required are the settings and a plot to link these characters. 

Why am I being this cynical? I wonder when the diametrical changes that have engulfed our society would be represented or why have they been misrepresented? We still have, in books published less than five years ago and set in such time period, men depicted as if they still live in caves: men whose presence in the family demands all to be quiet; men who boom rather than speak; men who think not of their work but sex. And whenever there is a divorce and the story is authored by a woman, it would be the man's fault because he either cheated on the woman or did not understand her. The men always overshadow their women and never help them in anything they (the women) do. They are one-dimensional and think not of the children. In fact they hardly know their children's name. They practice polygamy, even when they did not force the women to join their army of wives.

To liberate their 'oppressed' women, they introduce divorce and/or death of the man. Deterioration and ruination, their ultimate weapons. Sometimes they present total haughtiness, disrespect and juvenile delinquency as physical manifestation of freedom and rebellion against these antiquated men. I once read a book where all the men were backward and conservatives and all the women were progressives and enlightened.

Is this all that men could be in novels? Or are these done because they sell the most? Haven't we had enough? Can't we create something different from these? These have become the representation, or misrepresentation, of men in novels. The lower the author can go, the stronger and more appealing the story would become. We shall continue to read more novels in this vein, until such a time when we would vote adversely with our money for the tides to change. Until then, my fellow writers the race to deprave is on.

14 comments:

  1. The world is turning upside down. we are making women look as though they are oppressed in all aspect of life. This is untrue. Women by their very nature are a symbol of influence. Women affects every decision men take. It is surprising that those frustrated women make a funng case with the backing of the media to distort facts to make men evil. i don't read anything inclined to this allegation.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I hadn't thought of this before, but you make some excellent points, and I can totally see where you are coming from. Perhaps, it is like you say, and the authors are targeting males for the entertainment of females, who are more widely read, it seems than their counterparts. I do often like to see good and noble males characters and some of my favorite books have strong and good male leads, but often the popular books tend to do away with nice guys. Very potent and interesting post here today. It gave me a lot to think about.

    ReplyDelete
  3. what is noteworthy is that women have complained of how they are represented in novels too. Abena Busia touched on the topic using Ayi Kwei Armah's novels crying that Armah doesn't give meaningful roles to women. But she could be faulted when you read The Healers or portions of Two Thousand Seasons where women were significant. Armah is better than that and of course he isn't looking for fame. No proper scholar looks for that.

    But your point is still outstanding, with the current market created for anyone wishing to lay the slightest support to feminists no matter the motivation, men would be drunks, murderers, unfatherly, and wife-beaters.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I always say I enjoy your thoughts on these essays you put forward. You have a substantial point here and I can even name so many books that tend to favour women, if I may say so. The impending issue, I think, is that writers all over the world keep complaining that the career does not pay, they complain that books do not sell, they complain that publishers accept particular style of writings. And so the only way out, for them to make a living out of the many years of tying their buttocks to the desk to write is to write stuffs that favour women. Nana, so the issue is to gain economic freedom and that make writers to find shortcuts to get to the best selling list, or to make Oprah cry...hahaa!(I like that part of the article).

    ReplyDelete
  5. @NAO, I agree that somehow, an industry has been created out of this.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thanks Zibilee. I have thought of this for a long while and it bothers me. I don't necessarily like the 'all-fit-together' kind of ending but to build one's story on such a template without any strong basis is too demeaning.

    ReplyDelete
  7. @NYS, anyone who uses Ayi Kwei Armah's novels to support such an argument is perhaps been deceitful. I may not have read ALL his novels but at least in the four that I have read none of them had women been misrepresented. In Two Thousand Seasons the women were deemed to have fought and killed the invaders. They were those who took up arms and fought the Arabians. In Healers women were amongst the noble profession of Healers. In Fragments, there was no father figure in Baako's home; in the Beautyful Ones are not Yet Born all were spread equally. Besides, AKA is not a fame-seeking author. Many have not even heard his name though he's penned some famous novels.

    And like I said, an industry has been created out of this. Hope it does not last.

    ReplyDelete
  8. @Geosi, Convention and conformity are the cornerstone of decadence - Amu Djoleto (author of The Strange Man)

    ReplyDelete
  9. Interesting thoughts, I would have liked you to name a few of such books so I could see if I recognise your points. Being a feminist (though I see no point in having men always bad in MY books), what i observe in most books is women being overtly demeaned, or given very weak, dependent roles.

    ReplyDelete
  10. @MW, as NYS said, Abena Busia made similar arguments in favour of women. Perhaps it is our response to that or in our bid to give women more 'independent' roles that has led to the vilification of men. However, I don't think that it's all good when we become the devil we are fiercely hating. I didn't name any book for obvious reasons. My vision here is promoting African Literature and it would be unfair if I use the same medium to castigate books. I love books.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Maybe men have played themselves into these 'dishonourable' roles, no? Women have suffered the brunt of the weakness role-playing for many years. I think it's probably protestant that authors are beginning to see the other side of the coin. Men can be as weak as women have been portrayed to be, if even in relation to different things. And there are some superwomen too:)

    ReplyDelete
  12. @Delalorm, I get sad when the discussion on the equality of males and females is reduced to physical strength. To be honest if it comes to that I would be a sexist. However, to blanket the whole argument and say women have suffered over the years is misleading. Let's each look into our families and see if EVERY woman in our families have suffered at the hands of a man and if NO man has also suffered at the hands of a woman. It is misleading and because we portray one side the other side is never told. Also because men find it self-deprecating to talk about their own sufferings at the hands of women. I had a lecturer way back at my undergrad days who was mentally unstable because he spent all his money on a woman, took her abroad and the woman eloped with another man. Things like these are there too but they are never talked about.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I've not noticed any such pattern in my reading, but then, I don't read many current best-sellers. But I agree with your bigger point--that any book trading in such stereotypes does a disservice to the reading public Such a lack of nuance makes for a poor, shallow read.
    I also want to add that I think the term feminists is often misinterpreted as men-hating women. A few feminists believe men are the enemy; many don't. The distortion of feminism (by both men and women) shouldn't blind us to what it stands for: equality!

    ReplyDelete
  14. @Niranjana... Yes, equality is the key. That's all we want and I don't think that it can only be attained when the other is suppressed. I agree that some feminist are 'men-hating' as to they being on the lower scale, I hardly can tell. However, I have realised recently that almost every problem a woman faces is caused by men. This is something I hardly can believe. But I can only keep quiet.

    Yes, we need no stereotypes... and like I said I might be one of the culprits...lol

    ReplyDelete

Help Improve the Blog with a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Featured post

Njoroge, Kihika, & Kamiti: Epochs of African Literature, A Reader's Perspective

Source Though Achebe's Things Fall Apart   (1958) is often cited and used as the beginning of the modern African novel written in E...