Tuesday, May 9th, 2017 08:05 am
It is in the interests of the creator to play down the full variation of human psysiology/psychology/culture etc. That way they can make their "alien" species "consistently different" to humans without having to make them genuinely different, and thus unrelatable and hard to write.

Inspired by a comment I just got on a Dragon Age fic I wrote about the experiences of a human with dwarfism in a world with fantasy "dwarves". I was thinking about why I haven't seen anyone else take on this pretty obvious plot, and realised it's because doing so is an uncomfortable reminder that (a) This is a real group of people we're exotifying into another species here (b) For the most part, fantasy dwarves (as well as halflings) are indistinguishable from especially short humans. Point this out, and they stop being cool and exotic.

And of course, as has often been discussed, this tendency has the implication that any experience too far outside the human "norm" is alien and weird. Where this "norm" is usually "WASPy American", as well as straight, cis, able bodied, etc. "Let me tell you of this human food called hamburgers" etc.
Tuesday, May 9th, 2017 04:34 am (UTC)
I was surprised and pleased by Star Trek from TNG on tending to cast Klingons in particular as a wide variety of human races, and following on with other aliens. But it's unfortunately rare. Zoe Saldana as Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy is another example - there's no reason why she would have to be played by a white woman or have white features in the comics, but that's the way she's drawn, even post-movie, even in movie tie-in promotions.
Tuesday, May 9th, 2017 02:07 pm (UTC)
? Like Teyla and Teal'c and other major character aliens in the various Stargate series? Different variations onaliens get different dark skin tones, and overtones of "noble savage" tropes?
Wednesday, May 10th, 2017 07:19 am (UTC)
I kinda sorta have to argue this sub-point.

Teyla is human. Definitely human. She's not from Earth, but she's human, and Halling, who is kind of her first minister/leads her people when she's busy, is pasty white but in many ways more alien than Teyla. Teyla integrates quite well pretty much immediately with the people from Earth. She joins Sheppard's team, and it's heavily implied that at a point where Weir, Sheppard, and McKay are all away from Atlantis for some weeks, Teyla is left in command of the city.

Halling doesn't integrate well at all. He's too alien.

Teal'c is less human, but afaik Jaffa are genetically engineered metahumans, basically. (I know SG1 canon much less well.)

Several Earth-human recurring characters on Atlantis (like Ford and Bates) are POC.

I also object to the "noble savage" idea. Even the Athosians, who do not possess advanced technology (but adapt to it very easily), are shown to have at least some tech ("My people mastered fire long ago"), and assorted other different local groups in Pegasus have varying levels of technology.

Ronon, the other Pegasus-native regular, is also nothing like any noble savage trope. While Sateda had fallen to the Wraith, it was clearly an advanced urban society. On introduction it's clear that Ronon was military, and the ruins of Sateda show skyscrapers. It's there right from the start.

There are also interesting episodes where, here and there, they show that, forged as they are by the anvil of wildly different history, the peoples of Pegasus aren't so much noble or, for that matter, ignoble; that there are non-obvious places where they're slightly different, where the moral structures and values that generally speaking Earth people take for granted are not quite the same in Pegasus.
Edited (grammar and word choice) 2017-05-10 07:21 am (UTC)
Thursday, May 11th, 2017 12:48 pm (UTC)
Thank you for all this! I'm guessing that what I've seen of the shows (which isn't a lot) hasn't been particularly representative, and/or I'm getting the wrong kind of impression from aspects of the fanfic.

(also - very tired; failing to engage properly with the ideas, as I was when I wrote the first comment/query. Am vague and thingy. Will attempt to remember to come back and be more lucid/coherent at another time).
Thursday, May 11th, 2017 01:23 pm (UTC)
Oh, some of the fanfic is so awful about this. Particularly characters like Ronon.

Like, at the point where we meet Ronon, he's been on the run for seven years being hunted by the Wraith, and he's still a rather young man. So he isn't quite as... socially adjusted as, say, Teyla.

Nonetheless, right from the start it's established that he's military. He held the rank of Specialist. He's twitchy and hypervigilant but remarkably sane. The view we see of his homeworld is skyscrapers - a very definitely urban society.

He's not a savage, even if he can, occasionally, be savage.

He's also not particularly noble. He's trustworthy and decent, loyal to people who've earned it, but just a few episodes after his arrival, the B plot of an entire episode revolves around him pretty much straight-up murdering a man. Teyla understands his motivations, but warns him not to tell the Earth people, because they won't.

It's a pretty solid effort at writing in the notion that the people of Pegasus are different, that they have mores shaped by a history entirely unlike ours. What amounts to an execution without any kind of legal process is a thing they can consider reasonable.

Meanwhile, in the immediate aftermath of when Teyla arrived, we see her negotiating an extremely difficult path: for assorted reasons some of the Earth people are growing suspicious of her people, the Athosians.

Teyla finds herself somewhat isolated, because while Weir and Bates are being suspicious of her, her own people, her friend Halling at their head, are having meetings without her and making plans without her because they think she's clearly too friendly with the Earth people.

Teyla thinks that the Atlantis expedition, with its gene-carriers capable of using Ancient tech and the scientific advancements of a people who didn't get culled to oblivion for developing a society that progressed noticeably past the invention of agriculture, represent the best chance against the Wraith that the galaxy has ever had.

So she stands with the people who are treating her like shit against her friends, and when the suspicions are resolved and Weir acknowledges the unfairness of the position she's been in?

Teyla forgives her, tells her that she can understand, because, as she is also a leader of her people, she might have done the same thing. Teyla is "noble", but she's noble like a queen, and she doesn't compromise herself along the way. She maintained her dignity, endured some emotional difficulty, and at the end of that, she reminded Weir that they were, fundamentally, equals.

Teyla demands respect. Gracefully and graciously, but she will be respected. It's not even "or else" - she does not allow the possibility of any other option.

I just... they're both, to me, really good characters, and I find it offensively reductionist when people treat them like Yet Another Noble Savage Archetypes.

My recollection is helped by the fact that Jen and I are currently watching through SGA again with a friend who hasn't seen it before.
Wednesday, May 10th, 2017 07:34 am (UTC)
One of the books my father most avidly encouraged me to read when I was younger was The Mote in God's Eye, because it's one of the few works of sf in which an alien species is constructed that seems genuinely alien.

(The book has flaws, obviously. There's a glaring one quite early, and another book has some commentary by Niven that I found quite curious; there's a scene they rewrote, and reorganised a bunch of underlying scene factors to do so, to include a specific line because Pournelle wanted it and Niven thought it was an amazingly good line; to me, that line had stood out, tremendously and noticably, when I read the book, because the line was so terrible. Take from that what you will.)

Fantasy dwarves/halflings = just short humans is super-annoying to me. I mean, it doesn't even do justice to the archetypes they're broadly stealing from Lord of the Rings. Hobbits and dwarves in Middle Earth are alien. They operate on slightly different functional assumptions from humans, whether humans in Middle Earth or humans of 1940ish England.