A Quick Thought on “Squeecore”

So. I listened to that Ritegud podcast episode about the trend of “Squeecore” lately, and…it’s a good burn, I’ll definitely give them that. If you haven’t listened to it, I would do so immediately, and then read the rest of what I have to say.

Ok, so now that you have listened to it…I mean, I agree with a lot of what they have to say. Maybe that’s being catty or harsh, but this podcast puts into words everything I found limiting about the newfound impetus to “reclaim” Cyberpunk last year. Whereas I try to emphasize actual activism while putting into account the sub/text of the media we’re inspired by, this podcast is mainly two writers snarking and venting about what they (rightfully) see as a limiting and creepy trend in modern Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF), where comfort and a sense of community around said comfort is held above content or even politics, much as it places itself in opposition to fandoms like The Sad Puppies, Comicsgate, The Fandom Menace and Gamergate. But as much as I like using, “Squeecore” to describe the Whedon-inspired, fandom-pandering, toxic positivity in modern fiction and entertainment, I have to wonder if people who rail against this have at least read some of the newer stuff like Ada Palmer’s work, or how much they actually support the indie artists in their midst making self-published transgressive art right now. Because the main argument by people using this term seems to be that modern writers are too afraid of being explicit and transgressive lest they get dogpiled on one hand, while raging against old authors and works as a substitute for activism on the other. The podcast cites the SFF community reaction to “Attack Helicopter” and authors writing feel-good rebuttals to “The Cold Equations” and Cthullu decades after the death of each of their respective authors as examples of this. 

I don’t think these criticisms are wrong, just that I think there is still plenty going on in fiction that is characteristically not this, like trans girls evading rules of crowdfunding sites to publish transformation porn or even anarchists in communes making zines. One problem I have with this argument is that as much as it rails against the mainstream, it still takes the premises of said mainstream to define what is the state of the art. This limits the scope of one’s fight of self-expression to merely dethroning the dominant rather than transforming the circumstances which form them. At most, this cathartic rage can be harnessed to push certain writers you think deserve fame up the New York Times best seller list. But isn’t there more we can demand, even as creatives? Plus, the fiction world is a lot of things, but it’s not as much of a mono-culture as movies and television have become. Just look at how superhero movies did at the box office in the last year despite Delta/Omicron versus everything else.

Not to say William Gibson or Jeff VanderMeer are personally responsible for the Housing Crash of 2008, I’m just saying that Kurt Vonnegut’s famous characterization of artistic protest during the Vietnam War probably applies here, too, even if it’s restricted to writers beefing over opinions on fanfiction and “harmful” media:

“During the Vietnam War, every respectable artist in this country was against the war. It was like a laser beam. We were all aimed in the same direction. The power of this weapon turns out to be that of a custard pie dropped from a stepladder six feet high.”

Kurt Vonnegut

As far as actually good SFF is concerned, I’m still going through the Terra Ignota series (the fourth book, Perhaps The Stars, came out last year). But I say Ada Palmer is waging a good fight on the front of actually good SFF, just in a dense and multilayered way. The first book, “Too Like the Lightning”, centers a once-wanted criminal tasked with doing gruntwork for a series of corporate monarchies when vital information is stolen, implicating him and his newfound family of specialists and outcasts. Making things more complicated is a member of said family having a mysterious power which brings inanimate objects to life, hidden in secret because said power could destabilize the hold the monarchies have on the new world. The rest I say is worth finding out on your own. Considering what happens in the first book alone, with some brutal violence and very explicit, very gay and kinky sexuality, I’m kinda surprised that Palmer herself isn’t in the center of some moralisitc tirade against “harmful” media supposedly endorsing evil through depiction of flawed, even evil characters. That was one of the main criticisms weaponized against Isabell Fall’s “Attack Helicopter” to the point where the author had to check herself into a hospital, as detailed in Emily VanDerWerff’s Vox article:

One criticism above all got to her: that Fall must be a cis man, because no woman would ever write in the way she did. And because this criticism was so often leveled by cis women, Fall felt her gender dysphoria (the gap between her gender and her gender assigned at birth) increasing. In Fall’s story, Barb and Axis destroy the lives of people they cannot even see. Now, in a bitterly ironic twist, the same was happening to her.

Emily VanDerWerff, “How Twitter can ruin a life”

Which underlines the other part of the naming of Squeecore as criticism: people who perpetuate it aren’t very well-read. If they do bother to engage with media, they do so in a limiting, moralistic way which limits one’s ability to even grasp text. People on both sides of Squeecore, fandom and creator, seem to just want their series to ascend to popularity, acclaim and fame “Harry Potter”-style. If it doesn’t, well that says a lot about the morals of the audience doesn’t it? That’s where the cynical weaponization of identity politics comes in, where a work’s representation of a marginalized community comes to matter more than the living members of that community. And it comes to recenter the idea of, “voting with your wallet” at the expense of praxis, criticism and creativity. Squeecore, as a trend described by the RiteGud podcast, seems to have this as its creed: you don’t have to fight for marginalized people or causes, your media does that for you. If your media is good, you are good. And the good includes how the media makes you feel.

As someone who gone through a number of cults in my life (and will probably go through a few more), that’s a red flag if there ever was one. In large part because of how much it sedates and instrumentalizes human passion in the face of despair and harsh circumstances. Why bother investigating trans livelihoods when you have a well-off person with a platform (usually a Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist or a trans medicalist) telling you what transness really is? Why engage with networks of mutual aid or help racial justice activists when changing your icon or consuming outwardly progressive yet formally conservative media referencing Black Lives Matter will suffice? Why probe the texts and art containing the political values you claim to have, when you can have them chewed up and regurgitated for you through an online personality with a sleek presentation? Let your parasocial “relationships” do the heavy lifting. Let your standom be your guide. After all, if an artist makes good music, that must mean they’re good. And they wouldn’t lie about having wealthy parents or their cousin’s friend’s balls…would they?

With all of that said, considering the repeal of the Paramount Consent Decree two years ago and the recently held off IATSE strike the year after, I say a bad Whedon impression is merely a part of the problem of today’s entertainment sucking, not the main one. Gentrification and class warfare will wear many faces, even a Black one. And assuming one intends to be political about it, I think its limiting to just laser onto a “cringe” writer having Faye Valentine yell, “Welcome to the ouch, motherfuckers!” in the live-action Cowboy Beebop remake. Good taste will not save us, and its ok to admit that.

“Squeecore” is still a really good term, though. Holy shit.

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