Episode 30 – The Good Friends interview Malcolm Craig

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Jackson Elias

This latest episode is the audio portion of last week’s interview with Malcolm Craig of Contested Ground Studios. The only differences are the addition of our theme music, some slight fiddling with sound balance, a few edits and the fact that you can’t see any of us. This latter point may be the most appealing, but can also be achieved by shutting your eyes while watching the video.

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Artist’s impression of the view from behind closed eyes.

Malcolm talks about his influences as a game designer, how being a professional historian influences his gaming, Lovecraft’s views on race and why Call of Cthulhu fails as an RPG. Some of his opinions may prove more controversial than others.

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“What do you mean that post-modernist analyses of history are pseudo-intellectual wank?”

We’ve since had a chat with Malcolm about the possibility of having him back on the podcast to elaborate on some of his opinions about Call of Cthulhu in more of a round table discussion. If this sounds like the kind of thing that would interest you, please let us know! We do check the comments here, but we also have a community for just such things over at Google+.

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4 Responses to Episode 30 – The Good Friends interview Malcolm Craig

  1. etopp62p says:

    I didn’t understand what Malcolm Craig was trying to say about Lovecraft’s “racism” – was he implying that Lovecraft’s views on race were exceptional or common among educated (white) men in the US during the early 20th century?

  2. malcolmcraig says:

    My point was, as far as I recall, that using the “he was a man of his time” argument to somehow absolve Lovecraft of blame/responsibility is false.* Yes, Lovecraft’s views were echoed by many others in the United States and beyond, but this does not diminish the fact that a) his views were often repellent, and b) there were significant strands of anti-racist thought prevalent in society and culture at the time. Were anti-racists also not “men of their time”?

    The views espoused by Lovecraft were indeed common. Witness the solidity of the Jim Crow South, the deployment of racist imagery, terminology, and thought in debates over the American role in the world (e.g.: the imperialism debates of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries), and so on and so forth. On the flipside the early twentieth century sees the emergence of hugely influential anti-racist organisations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). So, the era in which Lovecraft was writing is nuanced in terms of thinking on race.

    My general point is that racism permeated much of Lovecraft’s work and to ignore or diminish it is disingenuous at best and becoming complicit in racist thought at worst. Hope this answers your question.

    Cheers,
    Malcolm

    *I use the term as given by those who argue that Lovecraft’s racism should either be ignored or somehow seen as a lesser component of his writing. It is not my intention to impose a gendered argument here.

    • etopp62p says:

      “Significant strands of anti-racist thought”? Where are the books in HPL’s library? Where are the columnists in HPL’s newspapers? Where are the movies in HPL’s cinemas?

      You say the NAACP was “hugely influential” but I doubt this had any real impact on the views of white Americans, at least while Lovecraft was alive. White supporters of NAACP tended to be Marxists and Jews – groups that HPL and his “respectable” New England family and neighbours would not associate with. Racism tied into imperialism (I strongly recommend reading “The Imperial Cruise” by James Bradley) and Republican voters like HPL’s aunts and maternal grandfathers would have, at best, a paternal attitude to “White Civilization” helping “Coloreds”.

      I have a strong aversion to “playing the blame game” with HPL. To say that he should have been anti-racist because we are doesn’t provide any real insight into his character. We can only judge him by his statements and if these were never challenged (as I contend) then they can and should be excused as being the ignorant and reprehensible views of the overwhelming majority of his peers.

      • malcolmcraig says:

        The NAACP was simply there as an exemplar of one of many organisations that campaigned on various platforms throughout the era (and beyond). On one point you make, stating that NAACP supporters tended to be “Marxists and Jews” is a gross oversimplification (although, without question, the Jewish community took a significant part in the activities of the NAACP).

        I think, however, that you misunderstand the broad contours of my argument. I’m not saying that Lovecraft should have, or could have, changed his views. However, I would argue that to characterise him as “a man of his time” and thus set aside the racist aspects of his writing is troublesome. ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’, for example, is all about the author’s fear of race mixing. His description of the African American boxer in ‘Herbert West: Reanimator’ is as repellant a stereotypical depiction of an African American male as their is to be found in popular literature. And let’s not even get into this poem: http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/On_the_Creation_of_Niggers

        I for one do not think we should “excuse” Lovecraft’s racism, but rather see it as an intrinsic and formative part of his worldview. That is not to deny, as I have commented before, his significance in the landscape of fantastic literature and his lasting influence on same. However, it is disingenuous to suggest that such views should be subsumed by the fact that racist thought was popular and widespread during his time.

        As a final, and fairly inconsequential, point, Bradley’s book is – to put it generously – tosh. Badly researched, anachronistic, untenable tosh. Far better recent works that actually focus on the subjects of race and imperialism (not that Bradley has anything of real substance or significance at all to say about these subjects) are the likes of Fabian Hilfrich ‘Debating American Exceptionalism: Empire and Democracy in the Wake of the Spanish-American War’ (Palgrave MacMillan, 2012) and Eric T Love, ‘Race Over Empire: Racism and US Imperialism, 1865-1900’ (University of North Carolina Press, 2004). The imperialism debate is indeed a fascinating subject area and something that I very much enjoy discussing with students.

        Cheers,
        Malcolm

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