There’s a lot of political talk on my friends list. Most of it is well-reasoned and thoughtful. Though, of course, there are the occasional people who make wild claims in one direction or the other. I don’t tend to talk about my politics except with close friends. Like many things in my life, I consider it a private area. Which is not to say that I don’t live the life that exemplifies my beliefs. I try to do that every day. And I vote. As often as the opportunity is presented to me. Whether it’s national or local.
I think everyone is entitled to their opinion. And I think everyone is entitled to reasonable debate of those opinions. As long as everyone respects each other’s boundaries. Which brings me to something I was reading last night: the latest edition of the RWR (Romance Writers Report, the monthly publication of the RWA, for those as don’t read it). In a stunning donation of space usually allocated for more columns and/or advertisements, there were 4 full pages devoted to Letters to the Editor. Why? Because even in a periodical devoted to writing, one of the many schisms that are apparently invading the philosophy of an entire nation, has reared its head.
A couple months back. a writer sent a rather inflammatory letter to the RWR concerning the definition of romance, which she felt should be confined to one-man, one-woman relationships. I’ve been trying to find a copy of the letter online because I don’t want to type the whole thing in (or go hunting for that issue). Suffice to say that she linked homosexuality to pedophilia, among other things. And claimed that RWA should target its core audience of “college-educated, married, middle class, monogamous and moral” people. Apparently it’s caused quite a ruckus. You can read here and here about it. The responding letters printed in this issue of the RWR are from a variety of people that includes New York Times Bestselling authors and charter members of the organization. A number of these letters cite the attempts to induce a reaction based in fear (e.g. here there be monsters) and the promotion of an us vs. them mentality.
Whatever my personal beliefs on the issue of romantic relationships might be, I’m choosing not to express them because what I think is more relevant here is that I have always thought of the written word, and particularly fiction, as a place where issues, social or otherwise, can be explored in a way that illuminates and informs. The exploration of ideas can be a method to bring meaning to the madness we call life. If we limit that investigation, on either a personal or societal level, are we then limiting ourselves? And shouldn’t writing, and indeed other forms of art, be the opposite of limitation? Think about the first book you read that changed how you thought or felt. Or about the first time you saw a painting hanging in a gallery that opened up a new possibility of beauty. Regardless of whether one’s beliefs stem from a religious text or a scientific paper, if we allow this kind of censorship, do we risk giving up those potential experiences?
Absolutely! and you know, this person doesn’t have to buy the books!
…if we allow this kind of censorship, do we risk giving up those potential experiences?
I think we do, absolutely. But an important point to make, IMO, is that even if we dislike those experiences intensely–if they make us nauseated or infuriated or filled with despair–there’s no real harm done. It’s just a book.
I’m tempted to say art is freedom, but I’d just be making an idiot of myself.
But in politics, respect, yes, tempered with passion. Or possibly passion tempered with respect.
Interesting; I was commenting on a friend’s LJ on a related-but-different matter just this morning, and the comments I made there are relevant here.
There seem to be people who think that literature’s most important role is that of social propaganda. They don’t want the behaviours that they disapprove of to even be publicly depicted. Presumably they’re hoping that by hiding the existence of such behaviours from the population, the idea of behaving that way won’t occur to anyone. It’s the same aim that state-wide propaganda has.
To me, the power of literature is that it can show me a different outlook and force me to emphathise with someone I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’m not a junkie, but a skilled writer can get me inside the head of a junkie and not only make me see what it’s like to be addicted, but make me hurt for someone I normally would only have been afraid of. This isn’t going to make me into a junkie; it’s only going to make me a bit more kind-hearted. How is that a bad thing?
To me, the point of literature is that it can expand minds. I vehemently oppose those who think it should be used to control minds.
The writer of that letter sought to exclude those who depict behaviours she doesn’t approve of from the benefits that RWA provides to writers. I can’t help but think that her motive is that she would prefer such depictions be removed from literature altogether, or failing that, to at least keep them from reaching the mainstream.
the point of literature is that it can expand minds
Very true. And, if censorship is allowed, we do loose those experiences and we loose that avenue to learn emphathy, which we are very clearly in need of some days.
Very well said ma’am. Thank you.
Alas, what bothers me about the current fervor of this type of debate, is that I learned this lesson thirty years ago, when I read Ann Rand’s Anthem, in Jr. High.
With all the great books, great thinkers, and digital access to every facet of recorded history, WHY Oh WHY is this even a question?
It seems the people who don’t want us to read, are people who don’t read.
sex, religion & politics – what else is there to write about?
Talk of censorship always leaves me amused and just a shade nervous. There’s a hint of Alice’s Red Queen with all the “off with her head” nonsense. On the other hand, get enough people thinking this way and book burnings are not far off–
The ALA (http://www.ala.org/ala/oif/bannedbooksweek/challengedbanned/challengedbanned.htm#hlmcbt) even lists books that are “challenged” (as in people don’t think other people should read this stuff). For 2005, the list included:
“It’s Perfectly Normal” for ‘homosexuality, nudity, sex education’ (ah, yes, let’s not talk about how to keep overpopulating the world)
“Forever” by Judy Blume for ‘sexual content and offensive language’ (and then there’s Deadwood on HBO)
“The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger for ‘sexual content, offensive language and being unsuited to age group’ (a forever favorite on most teenager’s have to read this because it’s banned list)
But my favorite of them is “Captain Underpants” — the whole series by Dav Pilkey for ‘anti-family content, being unsuited to age group and violence.’ Oh, yeah, that’s a book that’ll corrupt someone for sure.
Past years on the ALA’s list include “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain. Which leaves me wondering if someone sees homoerotic overtones to Huck?
I hold it to be the duty of an artist to stir the pot. So, for me, I’ll opt for fiction that pushes a few boundaries and a few comfort levels. That’s what I’ll support by buying it. And I’m just please as could be that publishers love to make money–they’ll sell anything that sells!
Re: sex, religion & politics – what else is there to write about?
It’s not homoeroticism in Huck Finn that leads people to want to censor it, it’sracism. Specifically the use of the “n” word.
the politics of moral sex
Howdy, ma’am. I’ve lurked for a bit and finally this one hit a button. I’d read about this elsewhere but this is the best summary I’ve seen of it.
Two years back I set up a forum to discuss writing, but not enough writers showed up so I added a section for politics. Then the place took off and I’ve been a political junkie ever since. It’s crept into aspects of my writing for sure.
Despite the pretty high IQ of the forums, it still seems a handful of debates swirl in an endless, caustic whirlpool that can drown new ideas. Of these discussion topics, whom god and Sean Hannity say can get funky to some old Prince albums is probably the most irksome for me.
The topic of sex and sin does tend to bring out a unattractive kind of passion, in terms of today’s political impact on everything from beer ads to books. For my own two bits, it seems like the people defining what sex should be haven’t had nearly enough of it.
:: Shameless Self Promotion Mode ON::
RWA has what? 9000 members? I’m not one of them any longer.
A Writer’s Weekend is now a membership organization. We have 863 people on our mailing list and it’s only $20 bucks to join. We don’t care what you (as in the universal ‘you’) think, we just want to put on good writing conferences. You can even disagree with us, even on a personal level and we support your right to do so.
Maybe I’m new to all of this, but I wasn’t aware that RWA was the type of organization that pressed other people’s beliefs on writers. Maybe I don’t understand the situation, but everyone has a right to believe or not believe in what they want to. I don’t see how RWA was conflicting with that.
But, like I said, I am new to all of this so maybe I missed something major.
Last year, under a different President, RWA did seem to be heading in a–shall we say–more exclusionary direction, one under which views like Ms. Butler’s had a larger voice than was reflected by the beliefs of the general RWA membership. There was discussion of “defining” romance in this manner, and of “graphical standards”–i.e., let’s keep those exposed dirtypillows off our romance covers.
However, that President is no longer president, and the new President has made it clear she does not share the same agenda. The Butler letter was printed, yes, IMO because if they didn’t print it they would have been open to cries of censorship. Ms. Butler, who has apparently written at least one “inspirational” romance (presumably about college-educated women)–which the Smart Bitches found was selling like swimsuits in Alaska–wanted to have her rude, busybodyesque little say, and she got it. But that doesn’t mean the RWA leadership or general membership agrees with her. (Although I don’t know what the new letters say, since I still don’t have my RWR.)
Hope that helps!
RWA itself has not yet created a policy, to my knowledge. But there are a few issues that some members keep bringing up and it creates huge controversy. Instead of making a policy of inclusion, the organization has continued to allow divisiveness to arise among the members by publishing letters to the editor and articles which will fuel the controversy, or at least that’s my take on it. I’m not attacking RWA, just pointing out the positive side of taking a neutral stance on hot issues – it could lead to inclusiveness, rather than argument.
censoring a writer is like telling a singer they cant sing what they want or a painter they cant paint what they want. I feel completely weirded out by the fact that all I want to do is write a story that will make people think, maybe help them escape, and let them view the world from a different set of eyes.
If censorship takes a hold of writers, I won’t be able to do that in any way. books will become the same story, the same plot, the same situations and character traits in every single one. Boring!!! I shudder to think what it would be like, not being able to read what I wanted to read or write what I felt I needed to write.
I can only hope we stay lucky with our rights and never give in to censorship.
I hate to sound flippant, but this seems to me like the Romance version of the neverending battles over genre definitions you find in the SF/F community. “That’s not Science Fiction, it’s Fantasy! Is so! Is not!” I’ll be down at the Blackthorn having a pint. Let me know when this is over.
It is not right to force one’s religious agenda on anyone. What a weak god it is who cannot speak for himself or enforce his standards without human help.
If I don’t like the topic of a book, I don’t buy it. If I find a subject morally repugnant, I don’t use it as a plot devise. But I don’t feel compelled to enforce my standards on others.
It’s a sorry, pitiful faith that resorts to war, or merely a war of words, to promulgate itself. Christians and other believers aren’t here to change the world by shouting or force of arms. We’re here to do right. Doing right does not include assuming another’s responsibilities. Doing that is idolatry of the worst sort. It is self-worship.
Hi, December! I should scoot on over to your blog. I haven’t been there in a while.
Thanks for a thoughtful and timely post. When my current protag lost her husband to another man….I hesitated. Not because I thought I shouldn’t write about a bisexual marriage, but for fear that I’d pushed the edges of genre a bit too far.