In the twenty-second part of Mastiff, I continue to not be able to understand how this book is real. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Mastiff.
Trigger Warning: For child abuse, and for extended talk of oppression along the lines of race, sexuality, and class.
It got worse. IT GOT SO MUCH WORSE. I’m upset, I’m frustrated, and I’m filled with the kind of rage that only comes from dealing with people who have power and shameless exploit the fact that they do. The people in this section behave fully knowing that they’re going to get away with what they’re doing, full stop. To me, that’s what is so endlessly terrifying about this. They have the geographical advantage, yes; they have an advantage in number, too; but the most chilling part is that they have an entrenched societal advantage. They’ve got money, they’ve got power (both literal and metaphorical), and they’ve got the kind of cultural support that those opposing them simply do not have. Purely from a class standpoint, it’s not at all hard to see oppression dynamics at work here, but I don’t think that’s the only lens with which we can view this conflict. LET’S TALK ABOUT SOME THINGS.
Niceness as a weapon
I have a particular beef to pick with the idea of civility and respectability politics, and it’s something I have little time for in my life these days. Now, these issues are inter-related in a lot of ways, they manifest differently for different groups, and that does complicate how we talk about them. But I’ve had to deal with both of this concepts to varying degrees my entire life because I’m a queer person of color. (One of my favorite pieces about respectability politics speaks specifically to the experience of blackness and black women within a white supremacist world, so know that going into that piece. I don’t want to divorce that of the context it was written in. It does provide an excellent framework of understanding what respectability politics are, but I don’t claim that that’s how shit worked for me since my experience as a queer latino manifests differently in the United States. Read the links; that post is an incredible resource.) How do I earn the respect that the ruling class gets by default? For me, it was “acting” straight. It was selling out my fellow people of color. It was subscribing to notions of anti-blackness. These are the things that were ingrained in me as a kid, complicated further because I was a transracial adoptee whose own mother insisted I align myself with ideas of whiteness. (Gods, y’all have no idea how confusing it was to be an obviously brown kid with jet black hair and be told you were white by your mother, and then go to school and no one believes you.)
For me, I was taught either implicitly or explicitly that there were certain ways I could be respect or thought of as classy, and those things varied from how I dressed, how I spoke, how I reacted to pretty much anything, and who I was friends with. One of the most pervasive aspects of this that still applies to my life today was the notion of niceness. Now, I’ve generally considered myself a nice person, and I know a lot of that is based on the fact that people were routinely not nice to me growing up. I did not want to perpetuate that same behavior towards others. That didn’t mean I always was able to or even knew that I wasn’t being a good person, but it’s part of the framework of who I am. That’s not what I mean by this, though. Being a good person and being nice aren’t exactly the same thing. I was taught that you should always respond to others with kindness. I was taught that being emotional or “overreacting” was not becoming of me. I was taught that the only way to gain respect in this world (especially a professional one) was to be nice. Talk with a certain cadence. Keep my voice at a certain level. Don’t swear. Respect your elders. Don’t argue. Don’t disagree.
You get the idea. I even bought into the notion that anger and rage and sadness had no place in social justice work beyond an immediate reaction. If you’ve been around here for awhile and been reading the comments, you’ll know how much I’ve grown tired of that line of thinking, and it’s related to what we see from Dolsa in this section. Niceness does not mean that someone is a nice person. Couching your language in civility does not mean you are being civil. And it doesn’t matter how noble you sound or how classy you come off if the things you’re doing are still hurting people.
I’ve been running online communities for well over a decade now. From band forums to private companies to massive, multi-million-member sites (whew alliteration!), I’ve interacted with millions of people throughout all of this. And I can absolutely report back with clarity and certainty one thing about the experience:
Niceness does not work in combatting oppression.
I have heard it since I was a teenager. If you were nicer about these things, people would be more inclined to listen to you. If you didn’t insult people, if you just treated other people nicely, if you simply acted civil, you’d change minds. The problem with social justice is that people are too mean.
Anyone who tells you that is lying, and probably has no interesting in making this world a better place. I can certainly attest that this doesn’t work for my own community. My moderators and I have nicely asked people not to be oppressive shitfucks more times than we can count, and, more times than we can count, we have been met with slurs, anger, rage, and some shit I’m not even going to describe because LET’S NOT GET INTO THAT. I have nicely tried to explain why some behavior is not acceptable here, and I’ve been stalked because of it.
Here’s the problem with this logic: civility only works if both parties are interested in it. I have had some incredible difficult conversations with friends and strangers about uncomfortable shit, and our voices never got above a normal talking level. That’s because everyone cared about the people present and wanted to work towards a similar goal. And the reason I’m bringing this whole thing up is because so much of what these noble assholes are spouting falls in line with this kind of thinking. What’s valuable? What’s worthy? Who is disposable and who is not? Why is Dolsa so interested in Beka liking her? Why does Dolsa try to act kindly to Beka when she has no interest in Beka surviving this ordeal?
Dolsa and all of the other nobles are specifically coded in this section to seem classy and fancy, and y’all, Pierce does this intentionally. This is not an accident at all. The class markers seen here, the use of pomp of circumstance, the way these people expect that Beka and her friends will understand their plight… all of these things are related. It is literally unfathomable to them that they don’t want to join them.
But I’ll get to that in a second. Dolsa, the mage whose name we never knew before now, is horrifying specifically because so many of the things we would traditionally associate with niceness and silliness are made out to be markers of her sadistic nature. Look at the way she casually assaults the other guards, or how willing she is to gossip about Farmer’s true ability, or how her own giggling is like… IT’S SO FUCKING SCARY, Y’ALL. She casts a spell on Beka TO MAKE BEKA WANT TO PLEASE HER. No, nope, NOOOOOOOO.
Let’s talk about class, though, because the next part is… GOOD GOD.
Class and Nobility
I’ll start with this:
All those dead. Linnet on the garbage barrel, the bandits, the poor mumpers forced to travel with the Viper, the sleepers at the inn. “Is it worth it, what you’ve done?” I asked her. “Do you know how many you’ve killed just to ‘drop’ us four?”
(For what it’s worth, I love that Beka has never forgotten about all the lives expended by these monsters.)
“Is it worth it?” She acted as if she hadn’t heard the second question. “You silly thing, don’t you know? Your precious king has put taxes on mage work. He’s taxing items we need badly if we’re to create anything of real meaning. Now he’s demanding that we be licensed – licensed! – and in exchange for this precious license, we have to guarantee so many days a year in work for the Crown.” There was a blush of rage on her cheeks. “We are mages, not piddling jewelers or sellers of greens! We won’t submit! We must be free to work as we please!”
Do not mistake what is happening here. These are people who have unchecked power, who exploit others to keep that power, and refuse to admit that. Mages in Tortall believe that no one helps them, but is that really the case? Is it true that they are so powerful and worthy that their work is done independent of everyone and everything around them? Because I might be willing to accept that there’s a point here if mages never interacted with anyone, never took anything from the kingdom or used roads or the palaces or cities or any services the Crown provided, and never used a single citizen of Tortall for anything ever. Oh, does that suddenly include no one at all?
Look, I live in a country where people somehow believe that our government should provide seamless support and resources for them without any taxes at all. Or there are people who believe that the might and will of the free market will provide for everyone because rich people make the world go around! I understand the frustration that comes with taxes because I know have little choice where my money goes, and I know my money supports some hellish shit in my government. I also know that as someone who’s been poor most of my life and who is now a small business owner, I am more proportionally responsible for this country’s tax burden than people who have more money and wealth (WEALTH IS NOT HOW MUCH MONEY YOU HAVE IN THE BANK, SHUT UP) than I do. Taxes suck. But publicly subsidized projects are necessary, and I know that because I needed them. When people of a society believe that they should be exempt from contributing towards those less privileged than them, they do shit like the nobles here. They exploit them further and further. They demonstrate how willing they are to dispose of them, to throw them under the bus, they denigrate and degrade the absolutely necessary aspects that they contribute to society as a whole. Dolsa is quick to say that she and the other mages are not jewelers or sellers of greens, but does Dolsa not use jewels? Does she not eat greens? How does she get the supplies she needs to do her work? What does she sleep on to recharge her each day? How does she get from one place to another?
Here’s the uncomfortable reality that none of these fuckfaces ever want to acknowledge: at every moment during their worthless, privileged lives, they are stepping on top of other people who have made their existence, their wellbeing, and their “greatness” possible.
I’m curious, then, to see if Pierce explores Nomalla’s decision to align with her own family, regardless of the fact that she’s clearly treasonous. Nomalla is the only person here who doesn’t fit into this framework. Well, I should say that everything I’ve said is just one method to analyze the text, obviously! It helps me understand it better, but that doesn’t mean that every pieces fits within it. And Nomalla is a great example of that. She is only somewhat confident in her decision, and she often appears embarrassed or ashamed to be opposing Sabine. Even Farmer remarks as much, stating that this all seems out or the realm of her usual behavior.
Plus, there’s more here than a framework of classism, too. I skipped over the entire part where Beka calms down by thinking of all the reasons Farmer is unlike any man she’s ever met, and it’s SUCH AN IMPORTANT PART OF THIS BOOK.
He liked me to help him when he did things. He explained what I didn’t know, warned me when to stand aside, never told me to get out of his way because he could do it faster, and thanked me for helping. There were moments when he needed me to rescue him, and he never blamed me for it, or got angry about it.
He took nothing seriously, not even – particularly – himself. He was kind to animals. He kept his temper, for the most part. So do I, for the most part. He is not afraid to admit what he cannot do. He is not afraid to admit when he is weak, even though he hates it.
Hey, I love lists. Thank you, Beka, for a LIST OF WHY MASTER FARMER IS THE BEST.
I also appreciate that each character finds their own way to sass their captors at great risk to their own health. Well, let’s be honest: Beka is the boldest of the group, since she gets Elyot bucked off his own horse, humiliating him in the process. BUT WHAT ABOUT SABINE SLAPPING NOMALLA. WHAT ABOUT THAT.
It’s in this section that we find out who was a part of the conspiracy to oust the king, even if some of these people weren’t initially part of it. That’s yet another aspect of this that’s so intimidating: practically everyone we’ve met since the start of this book is in on this plan. Prince Baird. Count Dewin. Master Ironwood and Mistress Orielle, goddamn it!!! And after finding out that the Frasrlund Dogs were murdered, I had to wonder if there were any allies left to help these people.
But truthfully, nothing upset me more than the sight of poor Prince Gareth, spilling wine because HE IS A FOUR-YEAR-OLD CHILD. And Lord Thanen smacks him because APPARENTLY A FOUR-YEAR-OLD IS EXPECTED TO POUR WINE. I refuse to believe he didn’t know who that child was. He did that knowing it would hurt his parents. He did it knowing that it was humiliating.
I hate these people so much, y’all.
So my hope is the same as Beka’s. I think that Sabine has a plan brewing here, but I also can’t guess what it is. At the very least, she’ll be able to delay and stall them from killing anyone, but then… what the hell can they do? How do they get past all these guards and the conspirators and out of the castle and past the lake and get home and I AM OVERWHELMED. I’m so overwhelmed by this goddamn book, and I love it so very much, y’all.
The videos contain use of the words “mad” and “stupid.”
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