Thursday, September 18, 2014

When We Offend

Know how sometimes I'm all wise and insightful? No? You might just be in for a treat then. Or not. At the very least, know I am NOT trying to stir up the muck (so details will be vague) but rather have watched some recent events between author friends and think underlying topics merit consideration in their own right. And then I get to give you all advice. You KNOW how I like to tell you what to do. Makes me all-powerful annallat.

The Underlying Vaguebook Story

Author posts offensive joke with racial undertones.
Fellow author calls it offensive.
Author says 'you have no sense of humor'
Author's FRIENDS go on offensive to protect Author.
Fellow Author takes it to Twitter instead.
Cat fight ensues.

This story doesn't flatter ANY of the players honestly, but it is my hope to address the components, rather than take sides. I frankly think everybody behaved badly, and while there are forms of bad behavior that I am gung-ho about, these ain't them.

What Can We Get Away With Saying and With Whom?

Writers are public figures, so while there are arguments for being ourselves, there are ALSO arguments to be a bit cautious. A LOT of this has to do with our branding, our rules for access to our profiles, and our disclaimers. I have two profiles—my personal one I am friends with some writer friends, but they are ALL people I've talked to enough that I trust them to not to take offense at me being me. Under a DIFFERENT NAME (this one) I have my AUTHOR stuff. Now author me may talk nakedness and express an opinion or two, but I am careful how much I engage—I don't pick political arguments any more than to give AN opinion, and THEN not all that often. I don't post my OWN political stuff much. This one gets MORE writing and LESS personal minutae than my personal profile, and it is also one I walk the line more carefully on for which arguments I am going to engage in. I do A LOT of ignoring on this profile. There are conversations I know PUBLIC ME should just not engage in.

Now the original author above makes no secret of herself. She is open about thinking political correctness* is overboard and people who get offended need thicker skins. She is frank and open about her views, which I often don't SHARE but I don't think people should have only friends they agree with.

That said, people who express views that might offend some, need to ALSO HEAR when they offend. A person's right to post something is PAIRED with the reader's right to RESPOND.

But HOW to Respond

As authors, is it WISE to respond publicly? I guess that depends how strongly we feel about something. Wanting our views on record and tied to us is one end, but responding ON a THREAD that is on another person's wall... How wise is this? It depends a little on that person's willingness to engage in respectful debate... on that person's FRIENDS' willingness to engage in respectful debate... I mean there are some places no amount of expression will be heard. And honestly, if you spend any time on facebook, you KNOW where those booby traps are—the places you respond and just get attacked.

So if you post and get attacked, what is the best course of action? Do you take it elsewhere?
Do you attack the author's LIVELIHOOD? (Not only don't buy her books but telling OTHERS not to?)
Where does the line go?

I happen to think engaging ONE person in a debate or several if it is fairly evenly sided is reasonable provided everyone is civil or a moderator is at least trying to enforce civility, but ONE response is probably PLENTY if what comes back is attacks or all the other views are opposing. You are not going to get anywhere and they are just going to make you mad. If I am really friends enough with a person to not want them to self-implode I'd really probably do a second response via private message telling them how it LOOKS.

I DO NOT think escalating is wise because frankly, when we sling a little mud, we lose a little ground, eh? And we look sneaksy...

And What About Those Friends?

I am OFTEN inclined to help defend a friend who is being attacked, especially if I agree with her view. But I think the friends in this case really escalated matters and are now HURTING their friend. Much of the later backlash was because THEY treated the protestor so badly. It would have died a quick death without this. These guys are honestly where I am putting the the blame for the matchstick becoming a bonfire.

I fully endorse defending our friends, but there really are some guidelines I think we need to follow. As friends defending OUR friends I would recommend: NO namecalling, stick to facts and reason and THINK of potential consequences.

How Much Do Views Matter

A follow-up conversation I saw asked how people FELT about authors with offensive views and the discussion was pretty good. The highlight is IT DEPENDS for most readers, but I can delineate it for me.

Historical Figures: Take HP Lovecraft. He has some writings that show some pretty extreme racism. Do I hold it against him?

He is the father of modern horror and MY OWN opinion is he is a product of the xenophobic experience of living in New England at the time he did. I don't think he probably KNEW many people of other races, and so was likely parroting bigotry he'd heard. Not admirable, but also not unusual at the time. My own grandfather could sound like a real ass talking about Native Americans because of some family experiences and stories. Keep in mind his SON-IN-LAW was part Native, so he actually knew better, but never assimilated the information. It is not reasonable to expect dead people to become enlightened. In fact I think what we should REALLY DO is admire all the more the small number of folks like Mark Twain who seemed to be enlightened in spite of their times.

Big Name Contemporaries: Orson Scott Card, Mel Gibson. Nope Nope and Nope.

I get that they ALSO are products of their upbringing, but they live in a time where they are exposed to a lot greater variety of people and information. I frankly think being a full-on bigot isn't okay and I can't condone it. And these people are NOT going to be harmed by my saying so. They are millionaires. I am NOT messing with their ability to pay the electricity bill. I read some Card before I knew his views and honestly his books express a different thing, so if you wanted to say... check something out from the library, I won't condemn you, but I'd really rather nobody ever contributed to his income again. He will survive.

Small Authors: I gotta say, my reading list is just TOO DEEP to support people with my hard earned dollars who act offensively—ANY of the players above if it gets out of control like this did. But I would NEVER take the specific campaign public. I would never publicly call them out and I REALLY REALLY would not tell OTHERS to not buy their stuff. We are talking about livelihood. Early career writers just should have more solidarity than this. And there is also the chance of it backfiring.

The Power of "Mea Culpa"

I think the BIGGEST thing I can say here is SOMETIMES we are offensive without meaning to me. I know I have been—I've not thought something through and I've hurt people or made them mad. If someone TELLS YOU you have posted something offensive, THINK ABOUT IT. Sometimes they are being silly. Sometimes they are being STUPID. But if you offended one, chances are, you offended MORE, so just SAYING, 'Geez, I had no idea someone would take it that way. Sorry.' is SO MUCH more likely to disarm the thing than arguing that 'you're an idiot because you got offended'. Notice my statement doesn't even SAY 'I was wrong' it just says 'I didn't mean to offend'. Unless of course offending is part of your brand. Then, by all means, blow yourself up.

* The Tart view on political correctness is this: We live in a world with a variety of sorts of people and we need to be respectful of all sorts. I also believe that only people OF those various groups can say what is offensive or not to them, but it is our job as fellow world citizens to know enough NOT to offend where possible, so once we have LEARNED, we should not use those offensive terms. Not KNOWING is one thing, refusing to LEARN is quite another (also known as willful ignorance). And these two things look very different in the aftermath. To ME the saying 'political correctness has gone too far' is like saying 'treating people with decency has gone too far' and I will call shenanigans.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Well said, Hart!
It's a fine line. We don't want to offend, but then again, political correctness is so overboard now, it's frightening. (And I don't mean about the name calling and things of that nature.)
Can't blame the dead guys at all.
Like you, I often won't state my opinion or take a stand. Too risky. Even just stating what I believe in is risky. We just have to be aware.
And Mel Gibson is the poster child for why we shouldn't blog drunk...

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I have unfriended two people on FB for severe racial remarks. There's no excuse for hate. With that said I'm with Alex on politically correct going overboard.

I usually keep my opinions to myself unless I think someone is being bullied. Then watch out baby.

Luanne G. Smith said...

Sometimes the internet is a freaking mine-field of explosive personalities. But I agree there's a lot we can do to either disarm or disconnect before things get too ugly. Mutual respect seems a good place to start, though I realize it's not always defined the same way by everybody.

And, yes, I'll protest with my dollars if I think someone is out of line or offensive with their public opinions.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

What a great post, Hart.


Kathy M.

Ted Cross said...

Political correctness may have started with good intentions, but it has since become an excuse to go after anything and everything and essentially say encourage lying about many things. I try to avoid friending anyone who is ultra-PC nowadays. I may agree with a reasonable level of their views, but I won't stand for extremism.

Andrew Leon said...

This is a topic I've thought a lot about, especially in how it relates to negative book reviews, but I don't have a good answer.
The truth is, some times (a lot of times) this kind of thing can -help- sales. Does that make it okay? Probably not. Not if you're actually out to hurt someone and tear them down.

I do have an author friend who I have joked with about having a mock war with. We haven't convinced ourselves, yet, though.

Mel Chesley said...

I think you are wise in this instance. :)
I agree that it sounds like all parties involved handled this badly. I try to steer clear of something that will offend people on my blog or other social media. I don't want to start a flame war. But sometimes I will post something on Facebook, mainly a rant about something I feel strongly about. But I don't ever fight back if someone has an opinion. I let them state it and leave it, even if I don't agree with it. I don't offend easily, but if I did, I would send a private message and hope the other person would do the same rather than take it to the internet streets. No good can come of that. But with all that being said, it is still a good idea to sort of mind what you post. Don't be a jerk about it and if someone gets offended, just apologize. State that offense was not your intent and let it go.

Chrys Fey said...

Great post, Hart! Very well said. For me, I am always careful with what I share or post. On my blog and FB author page, I keep it strictly related to my books and writing because I don't want to make anyone uncomfortable or push any buttons by posting something about my political or religious beliefs. I don't even do it on my personal page though because I no longer like getting into debates with people, especially when both sides think they are right.

Arlee Bird said...

I'm still stuck on "annallat".

You make good points here. A lot of times things just go right over my head--at least that's the perspective some people have thought about me. Actually I try to be respectful of all peoples and all opinions. The sad thing is that often we can be castigated for having an unpopular opinion even if it is essentially correct (at least as we see it). A lot of folks don't want to hear it if they don't agree with what is being said and they let loose with the accusations such as racism, intolerance, or whatever.

I'll listen and as long as there seems to be no cruel intentions that offend me, I'll engage politely or just let something go. I want people to respect my opinions and I don't want their beliefs shoved don't my throat with negative accusations against me if I don't agree.

I have a reasonable sense of humor and if humor is what is being attempted I'll take it as such and not make a big deal of it. You'll especially not find me engaging in an ongoing disagreement on social media. I have other--hopefully better--things to do.

Tossing It Out

CA Heaven said...

Authors shouldn't be too afraid of offending someone. It should be the role of authors (and other artists) to be provocative and politically incorrect.

Some interesting examples:

French author Michel Houellebecq who offended all of France, and moved to Ireland to get away from the mess.

Austrian author Thomas Bernhard who always offended the Vienna-elite. No Austrian publisher dared to publish his last book. He had to go to Germany to find a publisher who dared.

John Lennon who stated that "Beatles is greater than Jesus"

However, it has been a good tradition that authors (and artists) criticize and offend the powerful (the government, the army, the church), and defend the underdogs >:)

Cold As Heaven

Helena said...

Since I'm the kind of person who can put her foot in her mouth with great regularity and feel terrible about it afterwards, I tend to cut a person some slack on an offensive remark if there's a chance that he/she was trying to be ironic or histrionic or was just being dumb-ass drunk. Besides, oftentimes an ironic or facetious tone is not well conveyed in the written word. But if the writer is instead revealing him/herself to be a bona fide racist or jerk, then I would distance myself and maybe tell that person (once is enough, not over and over) why I'm doing so.

Like you say, Hart, attacking again and again and creating a noisy backlash enlightens no one. And doing it all publicly? Tacky. But personally, I'm a little tired of the extreme pc language used in some corners. It's one thing to practice being tolerant, another thing to make our everyday language bland and non-offensive to the point of absurdity.

G. B. Miller said...

I work for the guv'ment (state) and p.c. is part and parcel of where I work.

I often have to tread a very fine line in what I say and who I say it to. If I'm talking to my immediate co-workers, who are roughly in same general neighborhood of age (30-50) and temperament (both sides of the political spectrum yet very much the realist), what I say to them is radically different than what I say to others outside of my department.

I have been attacked online, both outside of work and inside of work, and while it's easy to respond to attacks within the workplace, it's the polar opposite outside of work.

A lot of supposedly "open minded" people that I've come across in my online wanderings really aren't, especially when it comes to anything related to gay rights (of any kind). I've been called numerous semi-unprintable names just because I had the audacity to offer up a different opinion than the prevailing lynch mob sentiment.

Ultimately, life is too short to deal with stupid, so I don't.

Father Nature's Corner

Patricia Stoltey said...

This is an excellent post and more writers on social media should read it.

My own philosophy has been to avoid those controversial topics like politics as though they had poisonous thorns, and in a way they do. I like my writer and blogger friends whether they agree with my politics, religion, and life philosophy or not, so why would I would to hurt their feelings or make them angry?