Certain things fly under my radar. Take the brouhaha that erupted around a Home Box Office (HBO) series called Girls a few days ago. Apparently, some critics objected to the cast of characters not including enough/any women of colour.
Girls is a sitcom about four women who are friends. The critics took it to task for lack of "diversity," as if TV sitcoms were exercises in proportional representation. Inane as this may be, it's a natural consequence of identity politics, whose flaws include adding an extra layer of confusion to the aesthetic sensibilities of critics, as if the poor sods weren't confused enough already.
My friend, the novelist Guy Kay, who told me about Girls, has his own story about the effects of identity politics on literary criticism, especially when mixed with a tinge of Marxist nostalgia. A reviewer in a big-city daily liked Kay's new book, but explained how it would have been even better if the hero had interacted, in addition to the classy characters in the story, with a peasant woman.
Here's the rub: Kay's historical novel has an upper-class hero. For him to have "interacted" with a peasant woman at the time of the story would have been more than unrealistic; it would have been incongruous. Far from gaining anything from such a bizarre plot device, it would have turned Kay's book into nonsense. It would have satisfied, though, a requirement of identity politics that works of art or entertainment should reflect a cross-section of society for validation.
Needless to say, such rules exist neither in life nor in literature. They aren't aesthetic rules, but administrative caveats for clerks and commissars. However, the fact that they aren't aesthetic rules doesn't mean they can't have ruinous effects on the perceptions of an entire age.
For one thing, such "rules" can suggest that it's somehow illegitimate to tell a story in an ethnically or socially homogeneous setting, which is how most stories occur in real life. In other words, it's wrong to show life as it is.
Even worse, it tells readers and viewers that nobody's story has any relevance to them but their own, and that no story can be their own unless the protagonist(s) is/are of their own gender, race, religion, etc. Which is positively chilling. It means we live a world in which a young man experiencing the theatre for the first time can no longer identify with Joan of Arc in G. B. Shaw's classic or with the Maid of Orleans in Friedrich Schiller's.
One of the worst things about identity politics is that they encourage individuals to define themselves by their least important attributes (sex, race) rather than their most important ones (intellect, character). Identity politics expect people to choose role models who are of the same sexual or ethnic or socio-economic background, rather than the same interest, moral outlook, or intelligence.
What nonsense. As a 12year-old, I picked powerful Porthos as my role model from Alexander Dumas' novel The Three Musketeers. I cared little if he was far removed from me in ethnicity or socio-economic status, to say nothing of period, class, and lifestyle. I chose the portly musketeer as my role model, as no doubt thousands of other 12-year-olds did, because of his courage and loyalty. What I admired was his unthinking readiness to draw his sword for his comrades. His ethnicity mattered as little to me as his blood type would have, had the eminent story teller provided it.
Of course, blood type wouldn't have been available to Porthos (or to Dumas, for that matter); but historical incongruity wouldn't bother a critic of Guy Kay's novel. I wonder, what kind of review would such a critic write about The Three Musketeers? Even he wouldn't think it wrong that none is a woman of colour -- although he may say it would have been a better book if one of the three musketeers had been female.
Possibly, Kay's critic would feel obliged to mention in a review about Dumas that he should have made one of the musketeers gay. I think that Dumas would have a comeback, though, because I always suspected that one musketeer was. Can you guess? It wasn't Porthos, of course, and it wasn't Athos -- but what about Aramis? Just think about it. Why, it may put the entire story in a different light.
I'm not making this up, at least not entirely. A film director friend always wanted to do the three gay musketeers as a movie. I came up with the idea for him, suggesting that for best effect all other characters in the story should be aware of the musketeers' sexual orientation, except their pal from the sticks of Gascony, D'Artagnan. He shouldn't find out until the end that, in fact, the entire Musketeer corps is gay and that's why they didn't let him join.
My friend said great, then tried, but could never get financing for his flick. This was in the early days of identity politics. I wonder if it's too late today?