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Tuesday
Jan032012

The Help... in Mississippi or in Pakistan

I finally read (and watched) The Help a few days ago, and I liked it.  Sue me. Because, apparently, the movie and book are, according to some, racist and condescending in its portrayal of African American women of the 1950s.

Our own sensibilities regarding discrimination are certainly highly informed by, if not limited to, our own experience. I may perceive something as Islamophobic whereas you might feel I'm grabbing at straws.  To deny that our identities do not play a crucial factor in that disagreement feels naive to me.

I am not an African American, I did not live through Jim Crow or the "civil rights era," so I'm not comfortable dismissing the opinions of those who find fault with this book's treatment of those subjects. Except. I do have a very unexpected and highly personal experience with one important facet that's portrayed in this book.

I spent most of my summers in Pakistan when I was growing up.  I have memories of family, laughter, lush gardens, and great food. I also have very distinct memories of the help.

From cooking food to the basics of rearing children, young women and sometimes young boys participate in the management of Pakistani homes to the extent that daily life for the families who inhabit those homes would be near impossible without these individuals.  By my last count, my paternal home in Pakistan had about twelve "domestics" working in it.  These people clean the house, cook the food, buy the groceries, do the laundry, and tend the gardens. As much as my own family, these people are an intrinsic part of what I associate with Pakistan.

There is a scene in The Help where Minnie, a woman incidentally deemed a neo-Mammy character, is reminding her daughter that as a domestic in a white household that she should quickly establish a cupboard with her own plate, cup and silverware.  As I watched that scene in the movie, a long forgotten memory that took place in a humid Pakistani kitchen nearly sixteen years ago rushed to the forefront of my mind.

It was a hot summer day, and I was thirsty. One of my favorite things about drinking water in the subcontinent is that when folks want to be real casual, they use cups made of polished steel.  There's something about grabbing that shiny cup and filling it with cold water that acts as a sensory appetizer to the refreshment that will soon be eradicating the dry, dusty feeling that only a Lahori summer seems to be able to infuse into your bones.

I grabbed a steel glass on top of the fridge, poured out cool water from the fridge into the glass and relished the coolness on my fingertips as I slowly drew the steel to my mouth. And then I heard my aunt scream like someone had pulled out a gun, "Noooo!! Not that one!!"

My older cousin was also in the kitchen and immediately solved the problem.  She grabbed the glass from my hand.  "That's Tahira's glass....  don't use that one."

"No, I'm fine. I like drinking out of steel." I thought they were trying to tell me it was gauche to drink from a steel cup or something. I think I assumed they thought I was American and somehow I should drink out of glass instead.

My cousin took the steel cup from my hand and replaced it with a glass of water.  Then without the slightest hint of subtlety, I looked directly at Tahira, a girl three maybe four years younger than me, and mumbled, "Oh, unless, I'm sorry, do you mind, Tahira... I didn't mean..."

I thought maybe she was one of those people that are particular about who drinks out of their special glass or something. Yes, people like that exist.  I happen to be married to one. Tahira just smiled sheepishly at me and looked away.

My cousin who is an extremely intelligent and astute young woman approached me later to discuss the incident. "See, Faiqa," she looked into my eyes earnestly , "I know it's different in America, but you don't know about these people that work in our homes.  They have different personal habits than us, it's better that they use their own glasses and such."

I wasn't sure how to respond, but I will tell you this: I was not angered by this when it was explained to me.  Maybe it was because I was only 19.  Maybe it was because the young woman who was explaining it to me was a person I loved and a person who I have seen engage in some of the kindest acts that I have ever seen human beings perform. Maybe because the way it was explained to me was with such a sense of certainty.

I watched that "neo-Mammy" remind her daughter about having her own glass and plate and I began to remember more things.

I remember one of the girls being sent home because her clothes looked like they hadn't been washed properly, and I distinctly remember the look in her eye right before she walked out.  I remember the woman who gave her baby up to American missionaries so that he would have a chance to become educated. I remember being told to lock my things away when a servant who had worked in a home for over twelve years cleaned my room.

I remember not feeling right about these things.

And, yes, I remember these people having their own bathrooms in homes wealthy enough to accommodate that.

Up until that scene, I basked in the righteous indignation that many of us whose parents were not born here feel when we watch these movies about racism and injustice.  As if this is something that is exclusive to the history of the new land that we inhabit and that our pasts are somehow unsullied by the extreme unpleasantness of it all.

In my family's defense, they are not the exception -- they are most definitely the rule in this part of the world.  As a matter of fact, servants in our home are treated so well, that some of them have been with the family for decades, and, again, I would not presume to postulate on the emotions between African American maids in the 50s and the women they served.  However, I do remember that when I got married, Tahira, the little girl who stood in that kitchen years ago hugged me the day I got married and asked me to please not forget to come back to Pakistan.

Maybe the book "The Help" is racist and condescending.  I have no idea.  All I know is that as I read that book, I walked away from it understanding that discrimination does not only victimize the people who are on its receiving end.

There is a price that your soul pays, I think, for believing that because someone is poor, black, whatever that somehow they are unclean, untrustworthy or unable to take care of themselves. There is something very sad about observing people who have read many books, have been afforded so many opportunities and possess such goodness in their hearts as they lie to themselves about the fact that things are the way they are because this is the way they have always been.

Books and movies are valuable for many reasons, and while I appreciate the criticisms of this book as valid identity based positions, I am grateful for what the book taught me about my own.

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Reader Comments (42)

I live in Southern Missouri, and I remember thinking last year how 'southern' it truly is.

When the movie came out some of the older secretaries talked about 'those black folks always think they know what's right.' and 'they forgot how much we did for them.'

The black ladies in my office said things like 'you know that little white girl didn't help them' and 'they always act like we got some disease.'

I realized quickly how divided my little town still is, although I shouldn't be surprised. My inmates in my prison call older black female nurses 'auntie' or 'grandma', but they call my Mama (who is an older white lady) bitch and other more horrible names. I wish it wasn't this way, but I fear this part of the south may never change.

I am lucky that I had other, less narrow minded, friends I could talk to and watch the movie with. I am blessed that my daughters wanted to see the movie, and wanted to ask questions.

We say all the time that if we 'educate' children when they're young, they'll outgrow the stereotypical south. I don't know, sometimes I feel like this is their blood heritage, and it cannot be changed.

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBecca

I still haven't seen or read "The Help", but I definitely loved this post and your views as usual, Faiqa.

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commentersybillaw

Loved this post even though i loathed the book

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterEsther

I am sitting here trying to arrange my thoughts because there are too many colliding in my head right now. And I so want you to understand.

I first read "The Help" about a year ago. I have not seen the movie. But after I read the book, I told my mother about the upcoming movie which she promptly saw with one of her sorority sisters and they loved it.

My maternal grandfather died when my mother was 14. My grandmother, then in her mid-30s or so, was left with five children ages 2 through 16. She had finished high school and had dreamed of becoming a nurse. But it was 1950s Virginia and she was a colored woman. So she cleaned houses.

There were many things in the story that rang true for me. The way the maids spoke about their various households and all. I chuckled while reading because there were so many lines that sounded like things I had heard from grandmother over the years about her experiences as day help. (My grandmother eventually was allowed to enter a program that allowed her to become a nurse's aide. She was too old to become a nurse.) I grew up trying to reconcile this strong opinioned woman who kept her mouth shut because she wanted to provide for her children and was too proud to take any government aid other than Social Security with the woman whom I remember completed the Sunday crossword puzzle in ink.

In my family the book and movie have opened up so many more conversations. My mother takes offense when her friend who saw the movie with her refers to grown women as "girls." I have also had conversations with relatives about color. Because let's face it. Color in the past has tied into what kind of employment and other opportunities one can have. In our world we have always realized that there are levels of "blackness" -- in appearance, speech, thoughts -- that are acceptable to those from without our world.

But back to "The Help." What pissed me off about the book was the widespread popularity of it. For me it was the feeling of, "What? The experiences of my family are only valid if they are told by a white woman?" The more and more I thought about it, it just all felt like more of the Great White Savior being played out. It's why movies like "The Freedom Writers" and "Dangerous Minds" really irk me. They send out a message that my people cannot help themselves without the intervention of a white person. And hey, isn't this how they justified slavery? Kind of related in some way to that video you posted yesterday. "Hey I can't possibly be racist because see how I help these poor unfortunate people." Last district I worked for allowed us to call it like it is. And so I told a coworker, "When you say this stuff, you are saying they are less without your help. And to me that's bull."

But I love the controversy of "The Help." I love whatever will make us talk about those difficult subjects in an honest manner.

OK. Stepping off the soapbox. For now.

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKailyn

I liked the movie and don't understand the criticism at all. I must have missed a synapse here and there somewhere along the way. What part was condescending? I'm sorry. I just don't get the call down. I thought iut was great. Sounds like some folks have over-thought it.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRW

I didn't (and still don't) understand the furor over "The Help". It seems to have become fashionable to over-analyze periods in history and then complain bitterly about them. I've been "the help". I've lived in separate quarters, ate off separate plates, and sat outside gatherings waiting to be summoned. And you know what?? It was awesome. I had access to people and experiences that most folks wish for. I met fascinating people, within the "family" and the "underground". (The "underground" was what we called the network of "help") If anything, the book and the movie showed the world that many of the so-called "help" were so much more than just employees, they were integral parts of families, even if the families didn't realize it at the time.
As for who told the story and who helped who? To me it never mattered. Not only was having a white woman tell the story true to that period of history, it certainly wouldn't behoove anyone, then or now, to dish dirt on their employer. And helping? My employers could open many more doors than I ever could, no matter how hard I might try. I'll gladly take the hand that's offered me and hope that I can do the same for someone else in the future.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNyt

my aunt and uncle got yelled at when they went to india for a few weeks and then gave tips (around $50 each) to the servants of their friend's house. seems it insulted the host (something about him being able to afford the salaries). my uncle also made the kitchen help uncomfortable by getting his own glass of water (something about them not being needed).
ANYhow, i have no problem when people are being paid to do a job. if i could afford it, i would absolutely have someone help me clean if they wanted the work. so long as we could both agree to the pay and have mutual respect for each other, i'd be all over that one.
but i didn't see the movie. and i can't afford help. so i guess i should stop commenting now!

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhello haha narf

And this is precisely why there will continue be be problems with race. When you tell someone, "You're making too big a deal out of this," what you are really saying is, "Your opinions and feelings do not matter." Unfortunately this seems to be a standard response when someone feels pushed out of their comfort zone.

The idea of African Americans actually having a semblance of a voice in this country is relatively new. The root of the controversy is just this. Why can't the story be told by an African American? Oh yeah. It has. Numerous times. Maybe the real problem is with the publishing industry.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKailyn

I haven't seen the movie nor have I read the book, and I'm still undecided whether I'm going to. I do love reading your take on it, however.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

The experiences of my family are only valid if they are told by a white woman?” The more and more I thought about it, it just all felt like more of the Great White Savior being played out.

Interesting what perspective can do to your perception. I never thought of Skeeter as a Great White Savior. To me, she was rather flawed. Weak, even. She didn't have the balls to call her friends on their horrid behavior. For me, she was just the shoe in the door for Minnie and Abilieen. But I am a white woman born on Long Island, not a woman of color, so my life experience is very different.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

I really loved both the book and the movie, but I've been very conflicted when I heard all the controversy surrounding it. But it's a good thing, really, because it brings all these issues to light and helps us all understand that nothing is strictly one way or the other - life, relationships and everything is quite complex not matter how hard we try to make it be otherwise.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMegan

I have not read the book nor seen the movie, but I was born in the south and have spent most of my life here. People, for the most part, do not change. We adapt, which is something totally different. We also do not see how we pass down many things, besides genes, to the next generations. What was helplessness to our grandparents became engergy and activism to our parents, but the helplessness was still there, in the background, and mixed with what our parents gave to us, turned to anger for many of our generation. I see how things are passed down in my own family. My mother worked two and a half jobs and went to college full time, because my grandfather would not fill out financial aid papers for her. "We do not need any handouts" was his answer. He is a veteran of the Korean war. He has never used any of his veteran's benefits. There are so many stories, things I was protected against as a child...my uncle's friends from work coming over to help pour the foundation on his house, refusing to come into the house when my grandmother called that lunch was ready, because she was white, another family member who had a cross burned in their yard, because someone thought that they were too "close" to a "colored" person, someone else having to drive over the hedge surrounding their office's parking lot, because men in trucks with guns had blocked the exits, because he had turned the second waiting room into extra exam rooms...it goes on and on, but that's part of being white...being able to be protected from these types of things. Part of racisim was that ethnic people were stripped of their voices. Perhaps it isn't condescending that a white person had to "help" the people of this story tell their story. Maybe what we should take from this story is that there were people willing to work together for the same goal, despite their differences. Maybe what should be important isn't who told the story, but that it was told. Anyway, I'll shut up now. I've just remembered that this is Faiqa's blog, not mine!

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWindyfairy

Your stories sound similar to many of the stories I have heard from my family. They taught me that there are good and bad people in the world -- and race has nothing to do with it.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKailyn

This was a well-written and nicely thought out post that gave a fascinating perspective on a great issue related to a book and movie that I have absolutely zero interest in consuming. I'm still glad I read this post, though.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAvitable

To complicate things further, my take (on the movie, I didn't read the book) was that while Skeeter wrote the book in the movie, the story told as the movie was Aibileen's book. The fact that the real-life book was (ostensibly) fiction and written by a White woman was what I thought caused most of the controversy, though I honestly did not follow enough of the controversy to know if that was at all accurate.

The complaint, as I understood it, was that there are plenty of accounts of the same subject matter that were written by African American women, so why should this book get all of the attention? The trite answer would attribute this to quality, but I find it easily possible that the race of the author plays a part. This makes the complaints not just valid, but supremely understandable, at least to me.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRen

That's precisely it.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKailyn

I don’t know, sometimes I feel like this is their blood heritage, and it cannot be changed.

Wow. That was deep. I agree... but I think it's in everyone's blood to exclude and discriminate. I believe that we will have to fight that tendency from now until the end of time. And I think we will. We'll lose sometimes, but that will make our wins so much better. Courage, my friend.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Thanks - It's a good (and quick) read, for what it's worth. I finished it in two days.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Heh, thanks, I'm glad you liked the post.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

"There is something very sad about observing people who have read many books, have been afforded so many opportunities and possess such goodness in their hearts as they lie to themselves about the fact that things are the way they are because this is the way they have always been."

I haven't seen or read The Help but this observation you've laid out here is a powerful one.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

As always, your perspective is very meaningful. Like Megan, I actually saw Skeeter as less of a person who was saving and more of a person who was being saved. I feel like the women who were cleaning the house gave her a the courage to find her own voice and in return she gave them a voice. I very much understand this idea of not wanting to be saved by a "Great White Hope," but do you think that we (humankind) can get there (tolerance, acceptance) there without accepting help from people? The issue of popularity... well, sister, I hear you on that. It's why nobody in this country has seen the movie "Mother India" that won an Oscar in 1957 and came from Bollywood, but everyone knows the effing lyrics to "Jai Ho."
There's no accounting for... discernment.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

The criticisms emanate from the idea that (1) Skeeter is a great white goddess who saves the despairing mammies from oppression (2) there are no black males present in the story aside from the one who beats his wife (3) why is this so popular when others like it that have been written by actual black people are not.
My thoughts:
1 - do not agree with this point
2 - is a good point.
3 - seriously? It's like they just landed here from Mars or something.

All in all, though, I'm not going to diminish anyone's right to be offended. But. You go right ahead if you feel like it. Heh.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

I definitely think they helped each other, but as I said, everyone views identity and experience differently and my general approach to such matters is to simply sit back and observe the bitterness in the hopes of finding out where it emanates from. That's further predicated on a belief that people don't just complain because they feel like it, but because there is some overall issue that needs to be resolved.

I am wondering, though - and you can e-mail me privately with an answer if you wish - were you "the help" because you had to be or did you have a choice? I don't think the women in this novel or that lived at the time had any other choice. This idea that "it was awesome" reminds me of when I argue with certain members of my family about how ridiculous it is that women can't drive in Saudi Arabia and they respond with, "Who WANTS to drive? We have it GOOD because we don't have to drive!" I usually respond with "no, it's not that you 'don't have to'... it's that you CAN'T" Point being, it's easy to make the best of something when you have viable options and alternatives to the situation at hand.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Whenever we go to Pakistan, India or Saudi, we have always given the servants extra money. They absolutely deserve it, and none of my hosts have ever complained. HOWEVER, all of my hosts were members of my family, so maybe it's a little different? And, it's funny about the kitchen, I had a whole paragraph about that in the original draft of this post. I actually had a servant scold me once for washing some plates.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

I totally agree. I'm getting very upset of late with statements to the effect of "you're making a huge deal out of this when it's not really that big of a thing." I want to say, "You don't agree that it's a thing? That's fine. But don't minimize MY reaction to the situation until you've lived in MY skin for 35 years." One guy's no big deal is another gal's civil rights movement. How do people not see that? Sigh.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

I think it's a good read... very simply written and short. And thanks.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

See. This is so MUCH better of a response than OHMYGAWD what is the big DEAL?! Plus...It's how I feel about the subject as well.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

This was terrific. All of it. And, hey, why don't you have a blog?!

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

The complaints are definitely valid and understandable and merit discussion. It's just that... this happens all the time. Right? Which books get promoted and made into movies is not only a function of quality, but also zeitgest, culture, etc. Not that this makes it okay.

I guess, and I'm just thinking on screen here, I feel like diminishing Stockett's work because of an inherent flaw in the system doesn't seem fair.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

Thank you. Also, catching up on your blog. It's really lovely and I'm very much enjoying it.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

I will have to look for that movie. I have seen "Lagaan" a few times.

When I first read the book, I felt that Skeeter was just as trapped as Minnie and all the other women she interviewed. I came to the savior feeling after discussing the book/movie with a cousin. She is in her 60s and grew up in Jim Crow Alabama. She talked about the Civil Rights Movement. How it had been going on for some time in Montgomery but that the country didn't really seem to care until white college students from the North started dying. This is a piece of the anger.

I am fortunate. On my father's side of my family, I am a part of the third generation of college graduates. Sometimes I find this astonishing but I appreciate it for what it is. This is thanks to Booker T. Washington. A helping hand? Yes, but preferably from within our own community. Partially because if we didn't do this, then most others outside would not. And along the way my family got to know other people like Morris Dees.

The truth is that when I go to visit my family in the South, with the exception of shopping I rarely interact with anyone who is not African American. I have had family members express wonder that I, that woman from California who sometimes speaks funny, have friends who are not African American. Prepared me for when I taught in east Oakland.

Saw a lot of folks straight out of college go into teaching with hopes of helping the less fortunate. And forgiving student loans. Last district for which I worked I ended up in a conversation with the other teacher for my grade and one of our coaches. We were discussing some of our ideas for the first week of school. The other teacher loved one of my ideas and the coach asked me to tell her why she couldn't do it. After a pause, I said,"You're white and I'm black. There is a level of trust that I get automatically." Like when I talked to parents about what their children needed. If it were not for my race, they may have seen my actions as being condescending.

January 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKailyn

Well...
1.It's completely within the realm of realism to have a white writer be the conduit for getting this information into book form. Not having her in the story and having some black person do it would seem to be manufacturing something just to "not have" the white aid. The catalyst remained the maids, and they were the ones putting their butts on the lines.

2. There was a very articulate black preacher in the movie. Wasn't he a man? How come there weren't any sympathetic white men in this? Sometimes I think people who need to have all these symbols in place should just write their own damn story and stop whining. This was the story that was written. Instead of people forcing it to fit into some kind of redeeming metaphor why not just let it be the story it was? And... what...? Are the critics using this line saying black women couldn't do this without men? Do you see how ridiculous this challenge is?

3. Maybe this one was done better. Who the hell knows?

I wasn't offended by the movie at all. I was rooting for the maids. And I was happy to see the white bigots get what's coming to them. I also feel the scene with the little white girl at the end having more of a relationship with her black nanny than her own natural mother quite important to the whole. I guess people missed that - like the smart, young, male black preacher in the story.

Trying to get this kind of quota connection for symbolic purposes is not story creation, it's politics. I prefer my messages delivered by email... to twist a phrase.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRW

When I say I don't get why people are making a big deal about this I mean I don't understand why people are making a big deal about this. On the flip side though, I'm kind of getting upset with people who put words in my mouth, for example, and claim to know what's going on in my head and then diminish my legitimate question by making it seem I'm just being mean or something. The fact remains that I still don't understand why people are getting so upset with this movie and, having had the problems explained to me, I still feel it's a mountain out of a molehill, especially when one considers that the problem of chronic racism isn't going to be solved by a movie. So shoot me.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRW

Faiqa this is an excellent and thought-provoking piece. You have a rich talent for making an entry into things like this.

I would like to say, however, in response to some of the critics of this movie - apparently therefore even to some of your readers and commentators - that each person who reads or views or experiences a work created by an artist or writer has every right to their own reaction to it. It is a legitimate critique to say a goal wasn't accomplished by the artist, or that something attempted didn't quite come off, or the language was faulty or any number of things. But I would ask people to consider that when the criticism turns to things like "there needs to be this kind of character here," or "that kind of situation shouldn't be included," or even "we need to have six chorus girls come in through the window at just this point... the critic is out of line.

As a writer I wouldn't accept anyone telling me I had to make sure I conform to any kind of political reference point. The demands on the story belong to the writer. The audience may respond as it sees fit. But when it seeks to reconstruct the tale to any political sensibility - no matter its origins - we enter into the world of censorship even with the best intentions.

If people want a story to show this kind of metaphor or that kind of symbol, or to have a certain type of construct that lends itself to a certain kind of worldview held by the reader; then that reader really needs to write their story and get on with it.

There is a choice we are nearing here. Should writers have a checklist of things they have to include, diminish, enhance, demonstrate or explain in order to fit a required sensibility? Or should they follow the lead of their creation as they see it in their mind, and tell us their story even if it lets the conclusions be drawn by whatever wits the audience possesses, or doesn't?

As an editor the responsibility for the story belongs to the author. I would never require anyone to write their stories to fit my worldview, or how I think things ought to be, or points I'd like to make to the general public. I'd want the writer to tell me her story. Because a story is a story. It has the elements that the author allowed it to have. If it doesn't have the elements you, as a reader, favor then probably it's simply not your kind of story. But to demand the story make some kind of grand political statement and also demand lesson-giving metaphors be bent to your will is going over the line. No artist or writer I know worth their salt would allow that kind of intrusion and - again I say it - censorship.

We need to be careful what we may be leaning toward having artists do with their work.

In this light I find the whole upset about this movie not only unintelligible but also dated and worn. And I get to say that. It's an opinion.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRW

i think i love rw

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterhello haha narf

Your point is not only well understood, but well received. Meaning, I agree. I could not have(and did not) articulate it any better.What are your thoughts, however, on the criticisms aimed at the dissemination of the book? Meaning that there is existing literature that covers this topic presumably of the same literary quality that did not receive the same level of attention from publishers and marketers? I very much would like to know what you think.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

He's pretty amazing, isn't he?

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaiqa

I'm not sure, really. I know in the world of our little lit mag Dave and I have virtually no operating budget and make nothing from it. When someone buys a hard copy the money all goes to the online company that reproduces it and we sit there and go "wow, somebody actually bought one of these!" Because of that we can sift through stuff and just publish what we like. This upcoming issue in March (cough coughcough) is going to be based on "what am I looking at that I just can't wait for my friends to read?" That's that world.

In the big big world of publishing no one - read: no one - is interested in what they want to show their friends. They want to know it will make the publisher money and if there is anything about reputation involved it doesn't going any farther than "will this embarrass me?" A cultural icon like Catch-22 was passed on by 21 publishers (yes that's why the number 22 is used) before it was taken on. Dune was rejected 23 times. <i?Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was rejected - wait for it - 121 times before finally landing a publisher.

Follow the money, is all I can think of. The Help, or anything else coming out of the major players money mills, wasn't published and produced for altruistic reasons. The writer and artists involved may have felt that way, but the producers who stand to lose or gain the most were looking at the bottom line. And some of the actors in the flick probably said to themselves "I got a gig!!"

And then when some of the intellectual moonbeams say "it should have had this or should have meant that" all of the reality behind it is forgotten, as if we live in a world where everything is good or bad and has definite borders and nothing ever blurs.

Maybe that's cynical, but my novel has been turned down seven times so far and it's a damn masterpiece. :-)

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRW

Thank you! That's one of the best things I've heard all day.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea

[...] The Help..in Mississippi or Pakistan [...]

January 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFriday Links

I haven't (and realistically, won't) read the book, but whenever I hear a knee jerk reaction to a piece set in a different time period that it's "racist" or some such, I don't give it a lot of credence. See, e.g., Huck Finn censorship.

I like how you personally related to the story here, though!

January 6, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterthe muskrat

[...] this is a quote about the movie “The Help”, from a post by the wonderful, intelligent Faiqa Khan, who is not a douchebag and who is celebrating a birthday [...]

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