Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I suppose it's good that they were honest about it

I found this link on BoingBoing this morning. It's a scan of a rejection letter sent to a young woman by the Disney animation department in the 30s. Here's a big scan. The gist is that Disney didn't hire girls for any creative work, but young ladies were welcome to apply for tracing and paint-by-numbers-type work (in fact, Disney seems to have maintained a strict segregation back then: boys drew and girls traced and painted--no mixing).

I send out a lot of rejection letters, and though I've never rejected any author's work for reasons that, decades later, will probably be illegal, I'm also very rarely is direct about exactly why I'm saying no. (Nor is my stationary so colorful.)

Aside from how amusing and sad this is, it's interesting read it against the backdrop of the present-day Laura Albert/JT Leroy brouhaha, which is dissected here, among other places (includes comments from one-time Flux commenter Larry Doyle, who makes interesting points about what exactly Hollywood buys when it options a book. Hint: it's not buying just the text). Here, the basics are that the production company wanted its advance back from the author because it turned out that JT Leroy was nothing but an elaborately maintained persona of Laura Albert--and Ms. Albert's backstory was vastly less exciting than Mr./Ms. Leroy's. The production company believed people would be less interested in a movie based on a work of fiction when they found out that the author's bio was itself a work of fiction.

What to take away from all this? Well, we obviously have a long history of preconceived expectations about who can do what kind of creative work, and purveyors of that work (present company included) are not at all above playing these expectations to their advantages. Conversely, we purveyors are likely to face--or perhaps to imagine that we face--resistance or at least reduced sales expectations when there is dissonance between author and work (e.g.: male authors writing female protagonists).

I'm not inclined to conclude that any of this reflects well on any of us.

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