So many stories popped up during the lunchtime read yesterday, that I was contemplating a different format of a Weekend Update this time, with a lot less commentary and just a bunch of links. Then I woke up this morning to a really big news story, which was related to a link that didn’t make it into this week’s Friday Five… so you’re going to get some commentary, oh some commentary!
For some context: 133 years ago, when Arthur Conan Doyle’s very first Sherlock Holmes story (A Study In Scarlet) was published, he introduced the world to both Sherlock and Dr. John Watson. Watson, we learn in the first scene, was a British Army medic serving in Afghanistan where he was wounded so severely he was mustered out and has returned to England to try to get his life back together. The British spent decades trying to tame Afghanistan during the 1800s, and never did.
It should have come as no surprise, I mean, 2350 years ago Alexander the Great was busy conquering the Persian Empire, and pursued one of his enemies into what is now Afghanistan which seemed to him an easy territory to conquer. At first. Later historians described the guerilla style insurgencies that kept coming up there to thwart Alexander’s plan as a many-headed hydra: whenever they struck one group down, two more arose to take its place. 1500 years later, Ghengis Khan’s grandson was killed in the Mongol’s failed attempt to conquer the territory. A century and a half later, the Mughal Empire technically conquered it, but never really had control, either.
There are at least a dozen more of those attempted invasions that mostly failed during the times before 1650 AD, and that is part of the issue with the territory. Because most of those failed invasions left a small population behind that would become yet another ethnic group with its own religion and culture (Most of the inhabitants of the Hazar Valley now are believed to be descended from the Mongol garrison left behind to keep a trade route open, for instance).
The British tried many times between 1845 and 1883 to turn the territory into a stable country that could be either part of the British Empire or at least an allied nation. The Russian Empire first tried to pacify part of what is now Afghanistan in 1885 and the Russians and the Brits basically treated Afghanistan as a football to score points against each other for the next 60-some years. Then starting in 1979 the Soviet Union tried again, eventually admitting defeat after ten years of costly war.
In other words, Afghanistan has been called the Graveyard of Empires for very good reasons.
On an older blog I ranted about all of these things when George W. Bush decided to invade Afghanistan in 2001. Yes, we needed to take action after the 9/11 attacks, but trying to turn Afghanistan into a stable country that would be our ally? That was (and still is) ludicrously unrealistic.
Now we have a little background to tackle today’s news:
Wonderful! Peace in Our Time (what could possibly go wrong?) So what is is in this agreement? There’s a pretty thorough break down here: What does the Taliban-US peace agreement say? – The long-awaited comprehensive peace agreement between the two sides is made of four parts.
Important points to consider:
- This agreement is between the U.S. and the Taliban (aka the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which is not recognized by the United States as a state). The current Afghan government (such as it is) was not involved in the negotiations directly.
- Today we signed a separate agreement with them committing them to enter into a ceasefire and peace talks with the Taliban “and other involved Afghan parties” beginning on March 10.
- Also on March 10, we and the Afghans will release about 5000 Taliban prisoners of war (and the Taliban and their allies will release about 1000 prisoners of war they are holding).
- Over the course of the next 125 days the U.S. will pull about 3,400 troops from Afghanistan including closing down five bases.
- Over the course of the subsequent 9 months, assuming the ceasefire holds up, and assuming that the negotiations between all the “involved Afghan parties” are fruitful, the remaining 8600 U.S. troops (and however many coalition troops remain) will leave.
- The Taliban promises to ensure that the territory of Afghanistan will never again be used by groups to threaten the U.S. or its allies, and to help make Afghanistan a country where all people are equal and free.
Sounds good, right?
Well, except, that bit about if the ceasefire holds, all the groups come to an agreement. That’s another of the tricky bits: With Taliban Talks Soon to Start, Afghan Government Splits Apart – The Taliban gloat as Afghanistan’s chief executive refuses to accept the election outcome and vows to form his own “inclusive government”. The last couple of elections in Afghanistan have not gone smoothly. According to many within the country, the election in 2014 didn’t decided who the next President of Afghanistan was, but rather U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry did. And the same people are claiming the same thing but this time it’s Trump’s appointed envoy who decided which side of the disputed race to back.
And a whole lot of people are having a very hard time, based on what the Taliban did when it took over the country in 1996, believing the promised to make Afghanistan a country where all people are equal and free. Back then, they made it illegal for girls and women to go to school. If women were found outside of their homes without a male relative as their escort and without wearing a burqua, they were subject to arrest and public flogging. Young women and girls of certain ethnic groups were abducted with government approval and sold into sex slavery. Then there were the targetting massacres of regions or some ethnic groups deemed as enemies of the Islamic state…
The truth is that if we stay there, we will continue to lose troops, and people within the country will be radicalized and become prime candidates for recruitment by terrorist groups. I completely understand that. And I understand that even if everyone plays nice until we exit, bad things will probably start happening all over again.
Trump needs to be able to claim he finally ended the war. You can bet that’s going to be one of the things he loudly congratulates himself on at his next rally and will continue to do so…
But you should also remember, that last summer he was proclaiming that an agreement to withdraw all troops was just around the corner. Then a car bomb killed a bunch of people, including one American serviceman, and Trump walked away from the agreement, and conveniently stopped talking about it…
So, no, I don’t really find anything to feel hopeful about in this mess at all.
Because I participate in the Hugo Award nomination and voting process, I frequently find myself at this time of year scouring review sites and such looking for things that were published in the last year that I might want to read. Now, I look at review sites and follow-up on book recommendations year-round, but usually when I sit down to nominate and start going back through the things I’ve read recently, it turns out that a large portion of those books and shorter stories were published more than a year ago, and therefore aren’t eligible—hence the need to find and read more things that are eligible to see if any of them wow me enough to nominate.
During this process I occasionally come across recommendations of things that I decide I definitely will not read. Sometimes my reason for not reading it is because the review tells me that the story deals with things I don’t want to read about.
Now, when I have admitted this before, there have been people who chime in to say that it is wrong of me to condemn a story without reading it; why don’t I give it a try, just in case I like it any way? I have two responses to that. The first is, me declining to read a story is absolutely not the same thing as condemning it. Secondly, I don’t owe anyone or anything my attention. How I spend my life (energy, time, money) is my business.
My friends will tell you that when I really like a book or a show or an author, I will enthuse about them rather a lot. I’ll urge them to check it out. If they’re someone I see frequently, I may repeat the recommendation many times. I’m doing this because I really like that thing, I genuinely think that they will too, and it’s fun to share an enthusiasm with friends. Sometimes, I don’t recall that they have already told me that they aren’t interested, or that they checked it out and didn’t like it, or whatever. So I’m not meaning to be annoying. But I know it can come across that way.
I know it, because I’ve had those “Why not give it a try?” conversations mentioned above, and find myself explaining exactly why I’m not interested in a particular subject matter or whatever.
Then, sometimes my reason for not reading it is because the author of the story is someone I find problematic. For instance, back when I was in my early 20s, a series of sci fi books came out that several of my friends were reading and really enjoyed. And the world the books occurred in seemed to be right up my alley. So I read the first book and liked most of it. There were a couple of points where rape—one instance psychic, another physical—figured in the plot in a way that felt unnecessary to me, but other parts of the story were great. But as I read through the subsequent books, physical rape, psychic rape, maiming, and a disturbing number of murders while in the middle of the sex act became more and more prominent.
I decided I didn’t need to read any more in the series. Even though there were a lot more books, and people were gushing about how great they were for years after. And when the author started another series in a related genre, and it became a bestseller, people were again enthusing about it. It had been long enough that I didn’t connect the author’s name with my previous experience until I read some reviews. The guy’s plot, according to all the reviewers, still wallows in rape, grotesque murder, and similar stuff. And I just don’t need to read yet another tale like that.
There are thousands of books that don’t leave me feeling dirty and blood-soaked nor do they cause nightmares. I’ll read those. It’s perfectly fine if other people want to read the blood-soaked rapey books. Me not reading that sort of thing is not the same thing as saying it shouldn’t be published, nor that it shouldn’t have been written. Many years ago, after a series of unpleasant experiences of by verbally harassed by bigots who (correctly) guessed that I was gay, I wound up writing a story in which a gay character was cornered and gay bashed… and rescued. With the bashers dying in the process. It was not great literature. The plot was barely there. Some people read it and enjoyed it. Other people read it and didn’t enjoy it. Some people, I’m quite sure, declined to read it when they saw the content warnings.
And all of those responses are valid.
You don’t owe other people an explanation for why you don’t want to read (or watch or listen to) a particular thing.
A few non-spoilery observations (and let me nerd out about David Bowie for a bit): The name of the planet where most of the action happens this time is called Freecloud, and that made me think of an old David Bowie tune, “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud,” which was the B-side of the original single release of Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” “Space Oddity,” in case you don’t recall, is the song with the lyrics, “Ground control to Major Tom,” and is a song that is much beloved by real world astronauts. Alas, “Space Oddity” was not a track on Bowie’s album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, however, since the title of this episode is “Stardust City Rag” I can’t help but hope that the name of both the planet and the city are hat-tips to Bowie.
There are two homages to the character of Quark from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. One happens in dialogue, and another is in the background of another scene. There are probably many other Easter eggs I missed, but if you’re setting an Star Trek episode on a lawless planet that seems to be one giant casino, how can you not make some mention of Quark?
Final non-spoilery thing: this isn’t related to tonight’s episode, but have I mentioned that the orchestral soundtrack of the series is available to purchase? I bought it from the iTunes store more than a week ago and have probably listened to it far more than I should. The theme song of the series is just so, so good!
I can’t think of anything more I can say without spoilers, therefore…
Past this point there be plot spoilers. So if you don’t want to be spoiled, don’t read on.
It’s time for another post about news which either didn’t make it into this week’s Friday Five, or is an update to a story included in a previous Friday Five or Weekend Update, or is otherwise related to some stories I’ve commented upon previously.
You may have heard that the Boy Scouts have filed for bankruptcy. Depending on where you heard it, you might believe that this is related to plummeting membership since the organization changed its code so that kids won’t be kicked out just for admitting they are gay (in a half measure policy the automatically kicks them out as soon as they turn 18, and makes it very easy to get them excluded for quite flimsy reasons). Because the rightwing anti-gay organizations are all screaming that that is what happened.
That is absolutely not what’s going on.
Scouting membership has not dropped since the rule went into effect in 2014. Both the national organization and local chapters are doing well financially.
The problem is that more than 2700 former scouts have come forward about being sexually abused by scoutmasters for many decades—long, long before anyone was contemplating letting openly gay kids into the organization. Sexual abuse lawsuits against other large organizations who failed to protect kids from sexual predators (such as USA Gymnastics) have resulted in large settlements. The national scouts claim they are filing for bankruptcy in order to set up a victim’s compensation fund and protect the assets of local chapters.
There are a few problems with that: For sexual assault victims and local councils, Boy Scouts’ bankrunptcy poses tough questions – On Wednesday, rival lawyers for Boy Scouts of America and 2,700 alleged victims met in federal court in Delaware. One being that when these kinds of cases get settled in bankruptcy court, victims wind up getting far less money, and the organization can continue to function as before. Whereas the goal of the original lawsuits are to get money to help cover the therapy and related costs the victims have already paid, but also to force the organization to learn from its mistakes.
On the other hand, the news of the bankruptcy bid has prompted more victims to come forward: Boy Scouts bankruptcy bid prompts other sex abuse victims to step forward – One Louisiana man, who kept his abuse ordeal secret for 60 years, reached out to a lawyer Tuesday to tell his story.
As a former scout myself I have a some sympathy for letting the local chapters continue to function. There are a lot of kids in these troops who have a lot to gain from its continued existence. But, as a former scout, I also remember that the Scout Law includes the lines: “Try to help others be happy” and “Do what you think is right despite what others might be doing or saying.”
They now know that thousands of people that were in their care are miserable and traumatized by things that happened to them within their organization. Their lawyers are saying to take this legal tactic that limits the consequences they will face for misdeeds. Other organizations have used the bankruptcy courts in the same way. How can someone who has taken the Scout Oath and studied the Scout Law possibly believe that dodging some of the cost this way is the right thing to do? Is a way to help others be happy?
And I’m hardly the only person asking this question: Did the Boy Scouts violate their own honor code by filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy?
The problem is bigger than the Boy Scouts of America. Large institutions, particularly hierarchical organizations tied to the notion of patriarchy, enable abuse. Other parts of the Scout Law urge scouts to obey the rules of their troop, to respect and obey leaders, and to put the needs of others ahead of their own. Those principles can easily be used by manipulative abusers to convince victims that it would be wrong to come forward. If you’re not the victim, your instinct it to protect the organization when you hear any rumors or allegations. If you know and respect the person accused, you’re much more likely to disbelieve the accuser.
And so on.
Religious institutions also attract certain types of people that become abusers. Let’s not forget that the Boy Scouts are a religious organization, the Scout Oath begins, “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law…” One of the reasons that there are so many closeted gay priests and pastors in the most anti-gay churches is that when those priests and pastors were young men struggling with their sexual orientation, they saw doing god’s work as a way to make a bargain: I’ll become a priest, lord, so you can take these feelings away. Similarly, if someone is sexually obsessed with children. Same bargain: I’ll dedicate my life to god, surely he will make these feelings go away?
There is a lot of tragedy in every corner of these messed up situations. But I think it’s most important to focus on the children and young people who were victims of the abusers. The assets of the organization, and the future financial well-being of the organization, should not take a priority.
And to those wingnuts who are trying to make this bankruptcy story somehow the fault of people advocating for the rights of gay kids, how about an organization that is still just as anti-gay as the wingnuts? Harrisburg (PA) Catholic Diocese Declares Bankruptcy After Sex Abuse Lawsuits – In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury released a report detailing the abuses that took place in six of the state’s eight dioceses. They published 884 pages of damning information that implicated hundreds of priests.
This divide, or course, exists on a spectrum. The beliefs of most people within the community fall somewhere between the extremes, but, enough are on one side or other of the middle that arguments happen. For instance, I’ve been accused of being an assimilationist because Michael and I got legally married once we were able to do so, and I watch football. I’ve also been called out in the other direction because I wear earrings, the color purple, rainbows, and call myself ‘queer.’
The tension between these two ideas plays out in many (and sometimes weird) ways—and not just within the community. There are still plenty of people (straight and not), who insist that LGBT+ rights advocates should be civil, and politely make their case about why we deserve equality. They wrongly insist that the radical approach never works. They completely ignore the actual history of the movements: decades of work by so-called homophile organizations in the U.S. and Europe politely advocating for decriminalization—always careful for the men to dress in suits and ties, and the women to were skirts and blouses—and never making any progress. It was the riots by drag queens, transgender people of color, and the like that finally made any change happen at all.
Yes, the other approach works well for raising money and countering backlash to each step forward. So both approaches have their place in the long running battle for equality.
Which isn’t to say that only the non-conforming people matter, or that there is some sort of meaning to the question of whether one person is gayer than another (despite some people trying to drag that distinction into some political races this year), it’s mostly a recognition of the old proverb that the “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Both kinds of LGBT/queer person are valid and just as “gay” as the other.
In the last few years as a small number of mostly-gender-conforming male professional athletes have decided to come out of the closet, you see various media people calling them trailblazers whose bravery will somehow make it easier for non-heterosexual kids to be themselves. Ignoring that fact that the actual trailblazers were blazing those trails for many years. It’s not the macho professional male athlete coming out in the twenty-teens who is leading the way, they are trailing far, far in the dust behind the femmy boys and glittery street queens and butch dykes and trans people of all types who led the way at Stonewall and in the years immediately following. And as has been demonstrated many times, no matter how unthreatening, conventional, and mainstream non-heterosexual people are, as soon as they dare to come out of the closet someone is ready with the slurs and attacks.
The two philosophies I mentioned at the beginning (Assimilationist/Radical) roughly map to two distinctive kinds of experiences many queer people lived through growing up:
- Some of us never fit in. We were bullied by classmates (as well as adults) for the way we talked, or the way we walked, or the things we expressed interest in.
- Others blended in so well that when they eventually did come out, people who knew them when they were younger express genuine and emphatic shock.
Make no mistake: neither kind of kid had it easy. The ones who did blend in realized, at some point, that they were different, and they lived in just as much fear as those of us who couldn’t figure out why we were constantly being called all those homophobic slurs. Both kinds internalized homophobia leading to feelings of self-loathing.
Those of us who couldn’t blend in are somewhat more likely to focus on trying to make society more accepting of all differences, while those who did blend in seem to be more likely to think our goal should be to convince straight people that we are no different from them.
But it isn’t an exact correlation.
I’m saying all of this for context. Now, let’s move on to my point: any time in the last few months that I have criticized the policies and statements of presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg I get accused of saying he isn’t gay enough. As if that phrase even means anything. That’s not what’s happening. My beef with Buttigieg is very few of his statements about policies would sound amiss coming out of the mouth of 2016 Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush. Most wouldn’t sound amiss coming out of the mouth of 2012 Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.
Mayor Pete is not a progressive politician. He doesn’t advocate positions that I believe will move us forward. At best, his detailed policies look to undo most of the harm Trump has done, and otherwise only promise to not to let things get much worse.
We can do better than that.
Now, I have some theories about why he doesn’t see how harmful late stage capitalism is to most working class and middle class people of every gender, orientation, and race. And I have some theories on why many of his responses as mayor to issues related to marginalized communities were tone deaf or outright dismissive. The quickest summation is: he is unaware of how the privileges he has had (being a man in our society, being white, having university-educated parents, being from a family well-to-do enough to send him to private school, and then to Harvard, and yes, being the kind of gay who can pass for straight when he wants) has protected him from the problems those less fortunate have had to deal with.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t think he’s gay enough. That does means I don’t think he is either self-aware enough nor empathetic enough to be a good president.
And that 2012 date was for the state of Washington. For the majority of the U.S. marriage was still not available to same sex couples until the Supreme Court ruling in 2015.
I told you that story so I can tell you this one:
A couple of weeks ago I was busy at work updating documents. I had to type the day’s date several times, and one of those times it struck me, “Oh! Wow! Today’s the anniversary of our first date.” It was, specifically, the 22nd anniversary of our first date. As it happened, we already had plans to meet a bunch of friends a couple of days later, at which event I was already planning to hand out some Christmas presents that had not be collected at the party, and a birthday present, and other things, so during my lunch break that day, I ran out to a store and also purchased an anniversary card to give to Michael, along with a silly present to give him with the card (I also ordered a couple the more substantial gifts online).
As it happened, that same day, while typing the date into a database at his workplace, Michael also remembered that it was the anniversary of our first date. He went online later and ordered an anniversary present for me. And, yes, we do that kind of weird parallel thinking a lot, and every time it happens, I remember all the times that close friends said (that year that we finally got to marry for real) that it was a little strange to think of us as newlyweds, because we had seemed to be an old married couple for so very long before hand.
I understand that not many people who have been in long-term relationships remember the exact date of their first date, nor the date of when they first met, et cetera. One reason that we do is because for most of history, queer relationships have been excluded from the societally-approved institutions related to anniversaries. So, for a few years, we celebrated the anniversary of our first date as our anniversary as a couple.
Then, the company I was working for decided to allow same sex partner benefits but only if you registered with some sort of government agency, and it so happened that the City of Seattle was offering such a registry (though it conveyed no legal benefits), so we filed the appropriate paperwork so I could get Michael on my medical and dental… and then a few years after that the State of Washington offered a similar registry, though initially with virtually no legal rights, but we signed up for it anyway, and so on…
So, technically we have a bunch of anniversaries… but which one to celebrate? And that question isn’t trivial. Go back to the story I started with. Without really thinking about it, a person who had just met me had asked how long I’d been married. That is an extremely common question for people who are just getting to know each other to ask once they find out you are in a relationship. And humans are social animals, and social customs often have a much stronger impact on one’s success, health, and similar things than mere laws.
I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been together for 22 years—if for no other reason than that I know what a complete jerk I can be sometimes (I really don’t know why he puts up with me sometimes!). I’m also extremely happy that we were able to get legally married at last, and getting to spend that day with so many friends that we love was just incredible.
There are still people who think that long-term queer relationships don’t exist, or are so rare that they don’t matter. The fact that the people most likely to publicly declare that are pundits and politicians who have divorced and re-married many times (and often have been proven to have engaged in a lot of affairs along the way) for some reason almost never gets reported. Let alone the sociological and psychological damage we’re all operating under because of decades of bullying, discrimination, hatred, and simple erasure.
That graph I include above is informative, but also a bit misleading. That last bit of the graph shouldn’t be green, IMHO, because it is still legal in at least 28 states to fire someone (or refuse to rent a home to them, et cetera) just because they are gay. And don’t get me started on all the state and local officials in various places that are trying to undo the marriage ruling, or at least ignore it.
And for some perspective, just 35 years ago 60 percent of Americans thought it should be a crime for gay and lesbian people to date, and as of last year that number is still 23%! That’s just dating, not marriage!
Some people, like the co-worker in my opening anecdote, simply aren’t aware of how recent any legal or societal acceptance has been (and are also frequently clueless about how much still exists). In some cases, that lack of awareness are exacerbated by the histrionics that some bigots have gone into every single time we made any progress at all. It’s easy to think that because the bigots were screaming about us destroying marriage for two decades before we actually started getting that right to marry, that we’ve had the right longer. And a lot of people still don’t realize that in 28 states it is completely legal for an employer to fire someone simply because they suspect they might be gay.
We’ve come a long way, but there’s a long way to go. Fortunately, several of us have demonstrated that we’re in it for the long haul.
But how will the reader know that they are really evil? Or, maybe shortcuts have no place in your writing
I had no trouble believing this anecdote, because I have gotten into more than one argument over the years with people (almost always cisheterosexual men) insisting that just because a character in a particular movie or television series or book raped someone, it doesn’t mean that he’s bad.
What’s most appalling about the anecdote is that a really large number of men think that kicking a puppy is ten-thousand times more evil than sexually assaulting a woman.
But on a less intense level, it’s also pathetic that a number of movies and stories without any rape at all have chosen to show the villain kicking or shooting or otherwise attacking a dog/puppy just to drive home the point that this character is really, really evil. It isn’t just dogs. In the original Terminator, for example, one of the ways the director hammers home that the titular character is a heartless killer is to show a close up of the robot callously stepping on a child’s toy, destroying it.
Puppies and toys aren’t the only kind of shorthand which lazy writers have used to indicator a character is not just a bad person, but despicably, unredeemably bad. One of the other ways that has been used a lot is queer-coding of villains. Queer-coding is where certain behaviors, mannerisms, or means of talking that hint that the character isn’t heterosexual (or possibly not cisgender). It frequently has been used with villains. People often point to villainous characters in Disney films (Jafar, Ursula, Scar) but it’s been around longer than that. Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, Rope is a frequently cited example.
And some works don’t even bother with coding. For instance, Frank Herbert’s novel, Dune, (and the sequels) explicitly depicts the most depraved and evil characters as gay. There is one character who slowly develops bisexual curiosity as she is corrupted, and then goes full queer as her moral corruption reaches its pinnacle.
Full disclosure: I didn’t even notice the correlation between queerness and evil in the Dune books (which I have loved since my early teens), until someone pointed out to me in my mid-to-late-twenties that I, a queer writer, was doing the same thing in stories I was writing at the time. It’s a pervasive culture notion, coming out of the homophobic belief that simply being non-heterosexual is a deep moral failing.
Queer-coding and overt queer-villaining still happen, but more people (and not just queer people) in the audience are willing to speak up and object when it happens. But the sort of writers/directors/et al who feel they need to hammer the depravity of their characters home seem to have switched to a new shorthand: incest.
In my review of a recent episode of Star Trek: Picard I blamed Game of Thrones for this problem. I stand by my explicit statement (as well as the implicit one) that the series (television and books) commits a huge number of literary and ethical sins, but I do have to admit that the encroachment of the incest meme as shorthand for very evil goes back further than that. In Cora Buhlert’s review of the same episode of Picard she points out the incest=villain trope goes back at least to 1974’s movie, Chinatown.
And obviously incest has been mentioned in fiction and folklore for a long time, including the Greek story of Oedipus, Arthurian legend (Mordred sometimes being depicted as the product of an incestuous tryst between Arthur and his sister or half—sister), and more than a few times in the Old Testatment. Though it is worth mentioning that one of the times it happens in the Old Testament the narrative is less than condemning of it.
But in most of those tales the incest plays out as a tragedy. Real life incest is also almost always tragic (since most often it is part of an abusive relationship). So, I’m not saying that incest should be off-limits in narrative fiction, because real human failings are fair game for your fictional works. I’m just annoyed that it seems recently that it’s being thrown in as a lazy way to show that a character is particularly twistedly evil. And it’s not necessary.
You can show the character doing evil things. Physically choking her subordinate tells me plenty about the character of the evil sister of the Hot Romulan, for instance. Sending death squads after people shows us that the character is evil. The narrative didn’t have to make them siblings for any part of the story to work. There are millions of ways you can have your villain behaving cruelly or coldly or viciously to demonstrate that they are a despicable, vile, dastardly, abominable, loathsome person.
Don’t use shorthand to indicate a character is evil. Write the story in such a way to show us the character is evil. But keep it in character, make sure that everything you show the reader also moves the plot along, and so forth. And if a reader is the sort of person who doesn’t recognize that coldly ordering someone’s death (or whatever things that happen in your story that are in character for your villain) is a bad person, maybe your story isn’t for them.