I have been thinking about reputation, both in real life and in fiction. I’ve always thought I’ve gone through life angry and defiant about reputation, my basic approach was “If you don’t like me, then the hell with you,” except when I look back, it wasn’t anything of the kind. I worked really hard to build a reputation as a good teacher and then as a smart, original writer. I didn’t care about the superficial stuff, people telling me I was no lady (really? when did you notice?) or sneering at what I wore (except for the shoes, I had a shoe thing), or laughing because I wrote romance (most popular genre in publishing, laugh all you want, Monkey People), but I cared a lot about my professional reputation as a teacher and a writer. I think that’s where Nita’s coming from, too. She can handle being Odd Dodd; she can’t handle being thought of as a crazy, lousy cop.
Of course, the reason I’m thinking about this now is American politics.
We have a Supreme Court nominee who has just been accused of an attempted rape when he was in high school. Setting aside the details and the validity of the accusation, I looked at that and thought, “This cannot go on,” the constant, varied, and unsavory revelations connected to the current administration, the graft and the lying and #MeToo accusations, so that even if people can dismiss each one that comes along as a political ploy, the repeated violations of public trust have so colored the White House and Congress that at some point, that whole structure has to collapse.
Or maybe not. At what point does reputation matter so much that it destroys an entity (person, place, thing, administration, whatever)? There used to be laws against disparaging a woman’s virtue, making it a misdemeanor to slander any woman older than 12 by uttering “any false or defamatory words or language which shall injure or impair the reputation of any such female for virtue or chastity or which shall expose her to hatred, contempt or ridicule” (NYT), the idea being that woman’s virtue was her most valuable commodity. I think that’s a key component of the reputation: how much is this aspect worth to you, and how much assault can that aspect take before your entire rep is worthless? It is irrefutable that I’m a lousy gardener, but it’s also irrefutable that gardening has nothing to do with the way I make my living, so people stopping by to jeer at my weeds are not a threat to my livelihood. If the idea that I’m a lousy writer becomes widespread, though, I’m in deep trouble: there goes my reputation, my good word of mouth, and my career.
The only way to survive an attack on reputation is
Which brings me back to American politics and Nita’s reputation. This administration has been so slimed by events–cabinet graft, unfit nominees, sexual assault and harassment complaints, botched responses to disasters, illegal separation of children from their parents, secret meetings with foreign governments, and general cruelty, bigotry, and ineptitude–that they are in desperate need of sunshine. That’s why I’m finding the supreme court nomination process especially fascinating right now. The choice is coming down to sunlight or darkness: delay the confirmation and let the accuser testify in the light or rush the confirmation through and hold the vote in the dark.
The problem with the light, of course, is that you can see everything if you’re willing to look.
The “willing to look” is Nita’s problem. The sunshine path is to hold an island meeting and say, “Look, a big chunk of our population is demonic and somebody is killing them. We need to band together to stop the murders and while we’re at it, stop demonizing demons because they’re our neighbors.” Her problem is that people will not want to look, will prefer to think she’s crazy, even
The reason that’s important for this story, I think, is that it makes it personal. Nita’s not just fighting for Good, she’s fighting for her own reputation. It’s easy to say “A good person would sacrifice her reputation to do the right thing,” but if that sacrifice means she’ll no longer have the power to do the right thing, then shouldn’t she be taking the long view that she can do more good if she consolidates and protects her power?
Of course, I also think people are eventually rewarded for doing the right thing. I’m a big believer in karma. And sunlight.