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Millennials and Code-switching in “Tainted Blood” by M. L. Brennan

[Lots of spoilers. Beware.]

Although I’ve started many urban fantasy series, I eventually cooled out on the genre and stopped reading in the middle of several series.  At a friend’s suggestion, I started reading M. L. Brennan’s Generation V series last year. This week, I had some spare time to read between snow days and illness so I tore through the third book, Tainted Blood. While the series covers some of the usual urban fantasy alliances and tensions between supernatural species, it also addresses conflict that arises between different generations of a family. Furthermore, this series is fun to read because the protagonist, Fortitude Scott, is a Millennial who must code switch.

As a sociologist, I have some reluctance towards using the concept of generations. The idea of commonality between a certain category of people that have experienced certain events (e.g., WWII, 9/11, etc.) can led to stereotyping and discrimination. Additionally, as the less powerful tend to get blamed by the more powerful, we wind up in situations where the younger generation get blamed for societal ills that they did not play a part in creating. (Blaming the younger generations always reminds of this somewhat problematic song, “Kids,” from the musical Bye Bye Birdie. Why is it that every generation of people is the laziest generation of trouble makers ever?)

For full disclosure, I’m only about two or four years older than the oldest Millennials depending on whether the cutoff is set at 1980 or 1982. I typically agree more with Millennials than Gen X. Too often, Millennials have been stereotyped and blamed  for having to adjust to the world that’s changed around them. This article by a Millennial discusses some of the problems inherent in this type of analysis. For a good overview of the Millennial cohort from the White House website, I’d suggest reading this document, 15 Economic Facts about Millenials, by The Council of Economic Advisors.  According to the report, the Millennial generation is: the largest generation, the most diverse (including many immigrants), the most educated cohort, etc. (If you don’t have a much time, I recommend just reading through the table of contents for the fifteen facts.) Like it or not, the concept of generations is a part of our cultural dialogue, and I’m pleased to see a heroic Millennial character in Brennan’s series.

Most of the urban fantasy series that I have read deal with the lives of Generation X, and they often remain strangely apolitical—failing to reference current events or tensions in human society. Generation V, on the other hand, is inherently about how the massive changes in the past few decades in the human world are impacting both the human and the supernatural world. Fortitude is still (mostly) human at the start of the series, but his vampiric family controls an enormous territory in the Northeastern part of the United States and part of Canada. The Scott family rules many other types of supernatural species and has many servants. Madeline Scott, his mother, raised Fortitude differently than her other, older children, allowing him to be raised by humans. However, when he finds out the truth about his vampiric family of origin, she has his adopted family killed and forces him to live with them at their mansion. Therefore, Fortitude identifies more with humans and is an American.

In some ways, I feel that Fortitude has to code-switch, meaning he moves back and forth between at least two cultures, although he prefers human culture. (For an entertaining discussion of code-switching, this NPR piece includes code-switching videos of President Obama, as well as Beyonce.)  Madeline Scott immigrated from the “Old World,” specifically England, in 1662. Therefore, while his adoptive parents were likely Baby boomer Americans, his biological mother comes from not only a different country but a different century.  When Fortitude interacts with his siblings, they also come from different eras. These generational differences are explored in the books.

M. L. Brennan does a great job discussing the plight of the Millennial generation. Although Fortitude is college educated he is chronically underemployed, working in the food service industry, as well as a dog walker. Although he could live the lavish lifestyle of the Scotts, he avoids it when he can. Generally, Fortitude rejects the U.S. cultural value of materialism, although earlier in the book, he accepts some expensive clothes from his brother. His family has been trying to get him to update his appearance and wear expensive clothes for some time. I was surprised, and a bit dismayed, that he accepted the clothes, although I understood the motivator in the book of reaching out to his grieving brother. The major tension in this book is that Fortitude will either have to entirely accept his family’s culture, including how to feed from (and eventually murder humans) and give up what made him belong to human society in the U.S., or he’d have to die. In the end, with the support of his friend (and love interest) Suzume, he realizes he can forge his own path. He can decide what works for him from both cultures.

Later in Tainted Blood, his beloved car is destroyed—apparently, a common metaphor in more than one of the urban fantasy series that I’ve read. This forces him to decide which path to take in terms of materialism. He decides to pay for a cheap Volkswagen Scirocco that is older than he is. In an unusual move, he invites his family to come with him to purchase the new car. They show up to purchase it in his mother’s Rolls-Royce. I love the commentary that Brennan drops into her books about current and past events, as well as generational differences:

Chivalry just looked at me mournfully. “Really, Fort. A German car?” Two world wars had left my brother with strong feelings about certain European countries.

Fortitude is from younger generation that wasn’t shaped by living during World War II. In fact, this scene amused me as I had a similar conversation between myself and an older family member about World War II when I was buying my Honda Civic, a Japanese car. When Fortitude buys the car and says good-bye to his family, his mother says, “‘My littlest baby. What a strange delight you are to us.’” Fortitude delights me as a reader because I’d argue that he is a feminist, accepts many types of diversity (like having a gay roommate, who happens to be a ghoul), and believes in collaborating and mediating instead of always using dominance and violence. He differs from his elder family members in this way. If you’re looking for an entertaining read, I’d highly recommend this series. I can’t wait to see how the series continues. It feels good to look forward to an urban fantasy series again.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Fantasy, Sociology

Warsan Shire’s “Conversations About Home (at the Deportation Centre)” and Refugees

A dear friend gave me a copy of Warsan Shire’s “teaching my mother how to give birth” over the holidays, and I’ve been savoring the book, published in 2011. In fact, I just finished it tonight. Shire is a Kenyan-born Somali poet who currently resides in London. The poems and essays deal with many topics surrounding women’s lives and experiences. She has powerful things to say about refugees and immigration in Conversations About Home (at the Deportation Centre.) The first part of this amazing piece is read by Warsan Shire here. It gave me shivers.

I found the last part, not included in the recording, particularly powerful, and potentially useful in my social diversity class:

I hear them say go home. I hear them say fucking immigrants, fucking refugees. Are they really this ignorant? Do they not know that stability is like a lover with a sweet mouth upon your body one second; the next you are a tremor lying on the floor covered in rubble and old currency, waiting for its return. All I can say is, I was once like you, the apathy, the pity, the ungrateful placement and now my home is the mouth of a shark, now my home is the barrel of a gun. I’ll see you on the other side (Shire 27).

Although I teach about immigration in class, I don’t know much about refugees.  According to this piece from the Guardian, the number of people forced to flee their homes has crossed 50 million last year. This is the first time the number has crossed this threshold since World War II. While there are various reasons people are forced to abandon their homes, the solutions need to be political. The solutions also need to address women and children’s needs, as they are at a particular disadvantage as refugees.  Furthermore, human traffickers take advantage of displaced persons for their own ends, and this needs to be addressed. Once people arrive in a new country like the United States or Germany, they face many barriers, as is discussed in this article from the American Sociological Association about refugees in the city of Dayton.

Until we address topics like global inequality, war, and climate change, millions of people will continue to suffer, year after year. As Warsan Shire points out with her line “escaping the mouth of the shark,” refugees escape dire situations only to arrive in places where they don’t fit in and often aren’t welcome.  It’s our jobs both as individuals and collectively to decide how we can help the refugees in our communities. I want to investigate this organization in Raleigh to see if there are opportunities to help in my own city. 

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Filed under poetry, Sociology