In the eleventh part of Men at Arms, Cuddy and Detritus make a discovery while the rest of the Night Watch tries to save Vimes. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of alcoholism, racism.
Okay, there are two major plots unfolding here, so let me split them up to address them.
AHHHHH WHY DON’T I KNOW WHAT IT IS THAT THEY FOUND? I know that this is a huge focus of my emotional energy in the video because why would you do this to me. But I did want to comment on how seamlessly Cuddy and Detritus work together now. It’s such an incredible bit of character growth, and it’s written in a way that’s fairly subtle. They’re not arguing at all anymore. Granted, they’ve discovered something so confounding and nerve-wracking that they don’t really have the time to be picking a fight with one another. But that’s not the sole reason that they’re getting along. They’ve spent so much time together on this case that they’ve come to know one another, which allowed their prejudices to erode. Why? Because they found out that they mostly aren’t true. And even if there is some truth to a stereotype, there’s a cultural context for it that they weren’t aware of before.
I also wanted to talk about this tunnel BECAUSE IT’S SO COOL. I have no idea if Pratchett based this on Edinburgh, but I’m gonna talk about it because I KNOW EXACTLY ONE THING HERE. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to go to Edinburgh twice, and it’s honestly one of my favorite cities in the world. The first time I went there – in 2014 – I took two separate tours down into the space underneath Edinburgh. As far as I understood the history (and it’s quite poor, I admit), overpopulation led to the construction of the bridges to Old Town, and the vaults were used for storage and less-than-legal ventures for many years. (Apparently, there are now a couple of performance venues down there!)
So it was easy for me to imagine Cuddy and Detritus in a creepy tunnel below a major city because I KNOW EXACTLY WHAT THAT IS LIKE. Despite that I’m not really a believer in ghosts or supernatural shit (I AM SCULLY FOREVER), I was still terribly creeped out in those vaults. It didn’t help that during one tour, the guide decided I was the “toughest” guy there (HAHAHAHAHAHAH OH, YOU) and made me the person who stayed behind to ensure that everyone left safely. Nope. Nope. Anyway, I really dug all of this. Obviously, this passage was used by Edward, but what for? To get across the city as inconspicuously as possible, sure, but… WHAT IS THAT THING???
He looked back to the pathetic discovery.
“There’s going to be a lot of trouble about this,” he said.
WHAT??? WHAT IS IT?????
Vimes and Quirke
Well, now it’s clear that Lord Vetinari pushed Vimes too far. At times, this was a bit difficult to read, but only because I once was an alcoholic. I know what it feels like when sobriety returns and apathy comes with it. Truthfully, we’ve never seen Vimes this bad, and it’s disturbing. He took the Patrician’s words to heart, and he oscillates between an intense desire to remain on the Watch (hence the badge clutched in his hand) and a relentless apathy about his role in Ankh-Morpork:
“It wouldn’t make any difference. It’s all rotten anyway.”
“What is, captain?” said Colon.
“All of it. You might try and empty a well with a sieve. Let the Assassins try to sort it out. Or the thieves. he can try the rats next. Why not? We’re not the people for this. We ought to have just stayed with ringing our bells and shouting ‘All’s well!'”
“But all isn’t well, captain,” said Carrot.
“So what? When has that ever mattered?”
What’s Vimes supposed to feel here? He’s been removed from a case that stinks of conspiracy, and his entire squad has been removed from duty. He’s got less than twenty-four hours left as a member of the Watch himself. And the city keeps churning and moving without all of them. It’s not exactly the kind of situation that inspires someone, you know? To make matters worse, the man who is replacing Vimes is… well, he’s a piece of work.
Quirke wasn’t actually a bad man. He didn’t have the imagination. He dealt more in that sort of generalized low-grade unpleasantness which slightly tarnishes the soul of all who come into contact with it… Quirke handled them with the maxim: it doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong, so long as you’re definite. There was, on the whole, no real racial prejudice in Ankh-Morpork; when you’ve got dwarfs and trolls, the mere color of other humans is not a major item. But Quirke was the kind of man to whom it comes naturally to pronounce the word negro with two gs.
I hope you all heard me roll my eyes from thousands of miles away while reading this. I don’t even know where to start. Scratch that – I do. I would offer up the idea that this absolutely makes Quirke a bad man. Anyone who willing eschews this kind of virulent bigotry is a bad person, point blank. If this is the way you see the world? If this is how you treat others? You’re a bad person.
But you know, my issue here is much greater than a singular character. Pratchett is often sadly oblivious when it comes to race, and this is a brutal demonstration of that. We’re meant to dislike Quirke from the get-go, and without this passage, it’s still remarkably easy to do so. Quirke doesn’t question anything, and he revels in his position at the top of the social ladder. He openly uses slurs, and he doesn’t care. If Pratchett’s statement is correct – that there’s little to no human racism within Ankh-Morpork or the Discworld – then why invoke the n-word? How would the word “negro” ever be a part of Quirke’s vocabulary? (Note: don’t call anyone that either.)
And if this is yet another case of Pratchett anachronistically referencing our own world, then it doesn’t work. It doesn’t work because you can’t have it both ways. You can’t claim there is no racism in this fictional world by invoking real-world racism in the process. If there’s no racism in the Discworld, then where are all the non-white characters who are protagonists? Who aren’t stereotypes or merely exist as clever riffs on stereotypes? Why are the vast majority of named, speaking characters all white? As far as I know, Ankh-Morpork is supposed to be akin to a major metropolitan city, but it never quite feels that way because it’s so homogenous.
Look, I can tell that Pratchett meant well by this, but meaning well doesn’t actually create accurate metaphors. I find it incredibly callous that someone will invoke an anti-black slur just to make a point or a joke about the silliness of racism, but doesn’t actually include hardly any black characters in his canon. Who do we have so far? Mrs. Pleasant, right? Do we know if Mrs. Gogol was actually black? So, two characters out of fifteen books, full of nearly a thousand named characters. I don’t think that earns someone the chance to use a line like that.
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