Sunday, January 3, 2010

Jumping Right In

The Detective Chen Series by Liz Williams?

Are there two editions? One British the other American?

If so, has the American version removed Chinese names for people, institutions, instruments and tools thus leaving a book full of Chinese Dressing and little else?

In Snake Agent? Are the human components signing up to earn money for university fees or bridal dowries?

Does Zhu have a Katana or more properly a Jian?

Are there mentions of Kale, Swat Teams & Other Americanisms?

Is there an American version that turns the writing to seeming steaming piles of cultural appropriation and less palatable, perhaps less good writing?

Is this a case of an entire series getting the Sorcerer's Stone treatment? Y'know, Harry Potter, where people who knew what the hell a Philospher's Stone was (like me) ended up thinking a Sorcerer's Stone was some made up contraption out of Rowling's imagination and who ended up going 'WTF' upon realizing that Philospher's Stone would have made the things make sense much MUCH earlier?

Has anyone else had this experience of American versions of books, dumbing down and lowering the reading level and perhaps even the writing level?

Which books? Which authors? How often?

Someone told me New Year's Day that Britsh YA is sold as adult fiction when it crosses the pond - that that is the state of American Literary Analysis; it points down and keeps plunging.

The statement was a huge shock.


Right now as I ponder how necessary acquiescence to American Publishing demands might be resulting in sub-par product and possibly wronged/wrongly perceived authors (eta: never published authors?) - I'm no longer in shock. I'm just pissed off and disgusted.

Is the Dumbing Of America along with a Big Ego and Demand For Cultural Dominance preventing me from being able to have THE CONVERSATION(s) I WANT TO HAVE? Is it stifling things at the seeming SOURCE?

Because I admit, this is not a perspective I previously explored.

[Comments On]


  1. If so then this is appalling. Particularly if, as is implied by the Sorceror's Stone example, a spurious reason like 'audience understanding' is being cited to justify what is nothing less than cultural erasure.

    On the surface it might only seem that readers, particularly young ones, are having their intellctual curiosity underestimated (bad enough), but when the specifics being altered are cultural, I have to ask whether the publishers believe that their readership is alienated by that which (assuming a white, European-descended readership, as the publishers would be doing) is 'different', and act on that basis, wanting the exoticism of a foreign location but not the depth and richness of the entire culture and background that goes with that. We see so much of that kind of exoticising and prejudice in other areas of culture that it would not surprise me in this context.

    Someone told me New Year's Day that Britsh YA is sold as adult fiction when it crosses the pond - that that is the state of American Literary Analysis; it points down and keeps plunging.

    Is there that big a difference between YA's literary quality in the US and UK? I have to admit I haven't read a lot of recently-published American YA; the only thing that springs to mind is Maggie Stiefvater's "Shiver", and that was sold as an adult book in some countries, so doesn't seem to fit into a trend of dumbed-down US-originating YA. Or are you comparing not US and UK YA, but US adult writing and UK teen writing?

  2. *Blink*

    You mean it's not just ME? Cause I used to buy way more books than I could afford, and now I'm all... bleh. This would explain SO MUCH!

  3. I assume it's at least contributing to that prevention. It becomes impossible to do pretty much anything productive here, what with the culturally-bred distrust of academia in general.

    I assume this is one reason the US is kind of waning in the whole Leader of the Free World thing.

  4. Hi, Willow. Long time no speak. I'm here to applaud your post, because it's the perfect blend of insight, analysis, cogently written packets of information, and scathing bon mots.

    What boggles me - and I sat here open mouthed mid-piece - is that even though I've never read the Detective Chen novels, I'd wager that the U.S. has a HUGE Chinese and Chinese-descended population when compared to Britain. Particularly in our large cities - take San Francisco. The average San Franciscan, par example, reading about a Chinese character wielding a katana rather than jian is going to provoke mighty headdesking (unless there's a compelling REASON for a Chinese character to wield a katana, like she/he/hir is weapons agnostic or was trained in the Japanese traditions of weaponry or they just use whatever's handy at the time, like Frank Castle. I call that last Utilitarian Positivist Ass-Kicking.)

    There's not shortage of people in the States who would get all the cultural idioms and references in these books without having them changed or dumbed down. So many Chinese traditions are common knowledge in certain parts of the country amongst non-Chinese people (not to mention the Chinese people that happen to LIVE HERE) that it's a little ridiculous to pretend that we won't get it.

    Wow. Great post, Willow. And I won't be reading any American edition of these books because they'll make me spork out my eyes with the judicious application of lye to a katana and then stabbity stab STAB. I don't know if the British editions are any good - have you read them?

  5. Your post has been linked for inclusion in a Linkspam post.

  6. Angeline: In comparison of UK YA and US Adult Writing. As for the rest, I've read and read last year that Consumerism likes simplicity and that the more it is promoted the whole world is like the US, but with local quirks vs a different culture and way of thinking and interacting - the easier and cheaper it is to target potential consumers making it seem as if they're being appealed to as individuals instead of broad demographics.

    When I start thinking about the government as being bought (interest groups, lobbyists etc) it's very easy to think that the US has stopped being innovative and dynamic and a leader and is simply attempting omnipresence and imperial domination as to why it should be considered first above and beyond all other nations and governments.

    I think I need to remember to read Jennifer Government this year and see if it matches up in my head with 'The House of Pepsi-Mcdonald-Fox Corp in contest with The House Of CocaCola-TimeWarnerAOL etc...'

    Furikku: You phrased it as a 'culturally-bred distrust of acadamia', but what's coming across to me is not singularly antithesis of the ivy covered halls or the ivory tower but of intellectualism at all; any mode of thinking deeper or thinking more.

    Kdorian: There have been too many reasons I've been eyeing books with a highly scrutinizing eye. But it is something for me to sit down and ponder about; that there may also be cultural shift and lowered/shallower world perceptions.

    Kali921: Considering how often non-whites in the US are treated as perpetual foreigners I'm less inclined to think there was ANY thought about Chinese Hyphenated readers.

    Also I don't accurately know that there is a duality and a heaping measure of WTF between the American and British versions of William's books; which is why I'm asking the blogsphere at large. The very possibility of it, however, enrages me; since removal of vocabulary that is not American is cultural erasure whether it's Britishims or Chinese terms or Nairobi or Russian markers.

    The whole world is NOT America only with lime/cherry/vodka/hibiscus flowers in the coke.

  7. "Someone told me New Year's Day that Britsh YA is sold as adult fiction when it crosses the pond - that that is the state of American Literary Analysis; it points down and keeps plunging."

    Not necessarily to dispute the validity of your points, which I do believe have merit, but by the same token, a great deal of manga and anime from Japan, as a whole, still tends to get lumped into the "children/young adults" categories when it's sold here in America, in spite of many of those works being absolutely inappropriate for anyone other than adults.

    You're looking at it from the standpoint of cultural appropriation and America dumbing down, and I'd agree that both of those phenomena have an impact, but there's also the fact that regional media distributors reflexively assume that their homegrown audiences "won't get" foreign-made media, and they assume it to a degree that's frequently disproven by reality.

    Yes, your examples make me grit my teeth with frustration, but America is hardly alone in the QUICK WE NEED TO FILTER THESE STORIES SO THAT OUR AUDIENCES WILL UNDERSTAND THEM practice. A far more trivial and amusing example actually occurred to me this weekend, as I considered how British media has portrayed America over time.

    British actress Nicole Bryant played American character Peri Brown on Doctor Who during the '80s, and aside from her accent being laughably bad, the writers deliberately wrote her saying Britishisms like "lift" instead of "elevator," because they were sure that nobody would understand her otherwise. Of course, if you really think your audience is that fucking stupid in the first place, then what the fuck are you doing introducing such a character at all? Then again, how can the audience fail to understand such minor details on a show that revolves around the complexities of a man rewriting the laws of physics every week?

    I can't comment on whether the cultural insensitivity and uniquely American ignorance that you're speculating about is taking place here, but I suspect it probably is. At the same time, I'd also note that purveyors of media tend to spoon-feed their audiences regardless of country. It's the reason why Dark City was given an opening narration that spoiled the whole film, and why Blade Runner's original theatrical release had Harrison Ford' expository voiceovers. It's also why American characters on the BBC always wore cowboy hats and boots in the '70s, and why they always wear letterman jackets and have Coke bottles in hand today.

  8. Uh, yeah, you don't want to be mixing up Chinese and Japanese like that. They're seperate cultures with some similarities, but you don't ever think they're interchangeable like that. It's downright insulting.

    I think I heard something about what you say with regards to the HP books being dumbed down for American audiences. I live up in Canada, so my nieces copy of the first book was HP and the Philosopher's Stone, which I just checked on

    I also recall in one of your other rants about how in Reading Rainbow, before it was cancelled, that they were purposely trying to dumb down the show due to 'advice' from the Bush Administration, I think.

    It is really sad, because it's mixing stuff up that should not be mixed up. It's a lack of respect for other cultures and ideas that one just can't interchange.

    I'll drop by the book store today, look up what you talked about about the Detective Chen series, and just see if they're doing the same thing up here in Canada. It's be damned dissapointing if they did.

  9. what's coming across to me is not singularly antithesis of the ivy covered halls or the ivory tower but of intellectualism at all; any mode of thinking deeper or thinking more.

    That's sort of what I was trying to get at, only I guess being within the culture, I've gotten intellectualism and academia conflated, like we do. :/

    Pretty much right now it seems like we're told, "If it makes you uncomfortable, it's BAD." "You" being the majority, obviously. If it takes a lot of work, and there's still no food pellet at the end, why bother? There's not really a cultural framework for a lot of Uncomfortable But Important work, even to just the point of "Dammit, get it right!" It's Other People's Problems.


  10. I've been mulling this one over for a while, and it occurs to me that another example of this I've seen is the tendency for US remakes of foreign movies to be set in the US no matter where the original was. I'm not entirely sure right now whether this happens with movies set outside other white Western countries (there's a white Western world=same as the US!!!/other places=totally foreign and ~exotic~ split that happens so it wouldn't surprise me if it didn't), but time and time again I've been annoyed by films from various European countries getting transplanted and sometimes suffering rather horrible contortions along the way. The most recent one I've heard of is a German film starring radical left-wing activists - given that the US's history with respect to these things is massively different from Germany's I have /no idea/ how they mean to get the plot to work in the US.

    It honestly frightens me that the film industry seems to think the American public can't handle a film set in e.g. Berlin and/or one with non-American protagonists.

  11. To answer the original question, just in case it wasn't rhetorical: no, the Detective Chen books have not been published in the UK.