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.
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.
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.
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.