No Offense Intended

by Rob

I’m concerned.

It seems to me that it’s getting harder and harder for us to say what’s on our minds, these days.  If we get even the slightest bit controversial, we’re told to keep quiet because someone might get upset.   If we speak in shades of blue and green rather than stark black and white, we risk being attacked by those who are colorblind.

A politician makes a nuanced and valid point and his words are distorted and he’s jumped on for going too far.  The outrage is as phony as the people who make the charge, of course, but the drums start beating anyway, and before you know it, he’s tarred and feathered by the press.

This has been going on for quite awhile now.  I see evidence of it everywhere.  People afraid to speak up about how they feel.  Holding back because they don’t want to risk offending anyone.  Or being branded a troublemaker.  Or losing their jobs.

A woman in the workplace can’t mutter a swear word for fear that some co-worker might overhear her and turn her into the boss.  And even a hint of sexual innuendo is immediate cause for firing.

A man can’t wear a certain declarative T-shirt in public because he might become a target of harassment.

It’s as if we’re all being conditioned to be afraid of our own shadows.  We’re taught to be good and polite and inoffensive, because good and polite and inoffensive people get rewards.  Like food on the table.  Cars to drive.  TVs to watch.

As authors, we debate about the language we use.  Is it too strong?  Should we tone it down?  Make our books more palatable?  We avoid any obvious political or religious statements because we’re afraid we’ll lose half our readers.  And half our income.

Recently, a bestselling author wrote a book featuring his series character and, according to the reviews on Amazon, went a little too far this time out.  The author dared to give his character a point of view — one that didn’t sit well with some of his readers — and the Amazon reviewers went nuts, telling the author to keep his politics out of his books.  How dare he ruin their favorite hero by making him utter such tripe?

But really, folks, are we that shallow?  Can we not recognize that EVERYONE has differing points of view about many different things, and simply learn to live with it without going ballistic?  Especially when it comes to fiction.

Must authors and musicians and artists strive for the lowest common denominator?  Strike the blandest note they can, in order to try to make everyone happy?

I don’t think so.  We’re all adults here.  Why on earth can’t we act like it?  Why must we allow the emotionally stunted, the colorblind and the brain dead to dictate to us what we can and can’t say?  Why must we tiptoe around them for fear that they’ll somehow steal our lives away?

To my mind, if we allow them to control us, then our lives are already gone.

In the words of Howard Beale, "I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore."

And maybe you shouldn’t either.

No offense intended, of course.

56 thoughts on “No Offense Intended

  1. Kaye Barley

    Hallelujah and Thank You, Rob!I am so beyond the crap that comes flying our way for speaking our minds I could cry.What scares me is the person who acts as though they have no point of view – no opinion – and just sits on the fence thinking they’re being a peace maker when, in fact, they’re being a very divisive force. Speaking our minds is not the same thing as “hate speech,” and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be cowed into thinking it is.LOVE the “mad as hell quote!” Wasn’t that a great scene? And timeless.as is -“He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”Martin Luther King, Jr.This is one of my soapboxes that never quite gets put away.

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  2. Wilfred Bereswill

    Bravo Rob.

    Yesterday, over at The Outfit’s Blog, one of the bloggers touched on a political issue. One of the first responses basically said “It’s so odd how the Internet has given people the false sense that they all have (and deserve) a pulpit.”

    Seems to me, that’s exactly what blogs are. A way to express our feelings and thoughts. For me, if I don’t feel fully qualified to speak on a topic (which seems like most of the time), I usually keep my mouth shut and my fingers clasped tightly together. I tend to sit back, listen and read. I learn a lot more that way than arguing a point with an internet bully.

    I’d like to add that the anonymity of the keyboard brings out the courage (or is it the cowardice) in people. I’m a believer that if you wouldn’t spout a diatribe to someone in person, perhaps you should show them the same respect from behind the computer.

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  3. Kaye Barley

    Mr. Bereswill – I agree.Just to be very clear – my mouth has gotten me in more trouble than what I’ve written. I’m one who does not, never has, and never will shy away from speaking my mind. And am certainly not one who hides behind anonymity. I sincerely hope I’ve never been considered a bully.

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  4. J.D. Rhoades

    “One of the first responses basically said ‘It’s so odd how the Internet has given people the false sense that they all have (and deserve) a pulpit.”

    How DARE a citizen of the United States EXERCISE their right to free speech! In PUBLIC, no less. People DIED to protect that right of free speech so just SHUT UP, okay!??

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  5. Kaye Barley

    awwww dang.I hate when my fingers get ahead of my brain, which unfortunately happens often.I can usually shrug it off and think people will know what I mean even if I screwed it up. but this one doesn’t make a bit of sense the way it stands, so let me make my correction, then I’ll move along.I MEANT to say “Mr. Bereswill – I disagree.”But respectfully, of course.

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  6. Victor Gischler

    Rob,

    I agree with you … mostly.

    I’m pretty sure I know the author you mean, but since you didn’t name him, I won’t either. (I mean the author whose series character suddenly had a political point of view.)

    Consider:

    Bestseller X trains his readers to enjoy vanilla. Mmmmm. Rich, creamy, nobody-offended vanilla. For 3 or 4 or 5 or 6 books, the readers consistently get vanilla. Then one day they show up and get rocky road. The author suddenly decides he’s not in the vanilla business anymore. Is there anything wrong with rocky road? No. It just isn’t quite as non-offensive as vanilla. Readers get upset. Where’s my vanilla?

    I also get irked by people who are so easily offended. I also think authors should be able to change things up without the world going apeshit.

    But am I surprised? Hell no. One of the reasons I don’t write a series character is that it’s hard work (or seems so to me) to keep the standards high over the long haul. Hats off to the authors who can do it.

    So it sucks that readers can’t roll with something new, but are we really surprised when the come back to a familiar series character only to find he’s not so familiar?

    Victor Gischler

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  7. John Dishon

    Victor,

    That happens with music too. If a band stays the same people complain they’re repeating themselves, or that it’s getting stale, but if the band goes in a new direction, people complain about that.

    You can’t win. That’s why it’s good to just please yourself and not worry about it.

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  8. R.J. Mangahas

    I am all for speaking one’s mind, AS LONG AS it is in line with my own sense of morality and opinions. Seriously though, there isn’t a damn thing that anyone can say without at least one person getting offended. It’s just the way it is nowadays. Most everyone is more concerned in taking care not to offend anyone, that they compromise their own integrity, character, etc. And that is a truly sad thing.

    One good example of people flying off the handle that I remember was about John Lennon’s song IMAGINE. All sorts of people were up in arms about his lyrics suggesting no countries, nothing to kill or die for and *GASP* no religion. These are also the same people who completely missed the message of Lennon’s song. He was simply saying that those things are what causes the division among people. I mean let’s face it, we as people are always segregating each other into neat little categories: black/ white, rich/poor, Christian/Muslim, Catholic/Protestant, Literary/Genre fiction, PC/MAC (okay that ones a little silly, but you can see my point). It’s all also funny how these people who wanted the song banned conveniently missed the other part of the lyrics:

    — Imagine all the people, LIVING LIFE IN PEACE

    — I hope someday you’ll join us and THE WORLD CAN LIVE AS ONE.

    And if anyone was offended by this post, I offer no apologies for that.

    *Climbs off soapbox*

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  9. Dana King

    I thought a little controversy was supposed to be good for sales, under the premise, “all publicity is good publicity.”

    I can see where a book can suffer if the author grinds his ax too strongly. I just finished reading Upton Sinclair’s OIL. The last three hundred pages are largely taken up with the selfless workers’ struggle against the inherently evil capitalists. Frankly, I sympathize with the workers in that situation, and I agree with many of Sinclair’s points. Having them driven into my head like a nail for 300 pages got to be a bit much.

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  10. Jake Nantz

    Wow, what a great topic! Mr. Browne, I agree completely, and I see it every day as a teacher. We are routinely asked to maintain blandness in our classrooms and to quell any debate between students where someone might be offended. We can’t mention our personal politics for fear of tainting a child’s POV (I don’t mean preach, I mean mention…or else we face disciplinary action and could be fired…just for answering honestly when a student comes up after class and says, “Hey, who you gonna vote for?”). They’re even trying to push through a bill that prohibits us from displaying one party’s sticker on our car without displaying the other…y’know, so we can’t play favorites….

    Hell, last I checked this was still America, the melting pot. When you melt all of these different cultures and viewpoints together, you will get vastly disparate opinions on some real hot-button issues. Thing is, people are entitled to have them. That doesn’t mean there’s any cause to be rude or intentionally insensitive, but last I checked, you have the right to be a jackass too…just be prepared to be called out on it. Because in this country, if you are NEVER offended by all of the many things flying around that are completely contrary to one another, well you probably just aren’t paying attention.

    I’ll give this example: I know from his other blog that Mr. Rhoades and I have different political views, but I agree wholeheartedly with his above comment. The best way I’ve heard it said was by a very close friend of mine who recently came back from Iraq. He/we got into a debate with someone who hurled insulting remarks at him very similar to what my father had to endure when coming home from Vietnam. My friend smiled politely and said, “Sir, I may not agree with a single word you’ve said, but whenver I’m called to do so I will fight to the death to defend your right to say it.”

    Hard to argue with that. Here in America we have the right to express ourselves through free speech. Those who disagree have the right to do so freely as well, or to simply walk away and ignore us. To deny anything close to that, regardless who is doing so, would be to push us dangerously close to Vonnegut’s Handicapper General, or Orwell’s Oceania. Neither is a good thing, despite some apparent opinions these days to the contrary.

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  11. caite

    Yes, you are free to say or write or express in whatever form you choose anything you like. And yes, no doubt, it will offend someone. You are free to offend.

    But…if you are selling a product, be it a book or a blog or a CD, don’t be surprised that some of those whom you offended will not want to continue to ‘buy’ your product.

    And that is their right too.

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  12. spyscribbler

    Amen to that! It’s not easy, though. It’s really not.

    I was definitely “brought” up in a world where artists (meant generally, including musicians, writers, etc.) were supposed to reflect the society they live in, to comment on it. To use their art to make statements.

    We are a part of history. We’re an important part. Two hundred years from now, people will look to art to understand the emotions and culture of our day, what we thought and felt about today’s “history.”

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  13. Wilfred Bereswill

    Kaye, for the record, I was, in no way referring to your comment as I wrote mine. Amd certainly not referring to you as a bully. Sorry if I wasn’t clear.

    I tend to be non-confrontational. It’s just my nature. But I do admire respect. Something that America seems to be losing. I don’t begrudge anybody that can discuss differences in a respectful way. II’m not sure why certain people can’t just “agree to disagree.”

    It goes along with America losing the ability to take responsibility for their own well-being and actions. I’ll never forget the McDonalds hot coffee BS.

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  14. spyscribbler

    PS: I wanted to add that authors will make a difference. Someone like, um, say someone who might have possibly deleted a post recently 😉 may invoke a backlash by putting her political views out there, but there’s also a segment of the population who WILL be influenced by that.

    There is a segment of the population who will listen when someone they respect speaks up. It’s why actors and actresses get political: they do influence and they do make a difference. Artists and authors, too.

    Problem is, the people they influence don’t speak up. They’re not the type. Only the people who disagree speak up.

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  15. Steve Allan

    “That’s why it’s good to just please yourself and not worry about it.”

    I totally agree, but I’m starting to go blind and grow hair on my palms. Wait, what was the topic again?

    In the free market of ideas one is going to encounter opposing views. One may be offended by another’s remarks, but what I find more offensive is that one would choose to suppress such remarks rather than discuss whatever topics have been exposed. I feel some type of Sarah Palin undercurrent here, but that has been discussed elsewhere.

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  16. Louise Ure

    Rob, you’ve written the post that was in my heart all this week. Thank you.

    For a while there, I had grown timid about expressing my views, whether on a blog post or in my writing.

    I’m ashamed to say that I even told a young gay friend not to put a gay pride bumper sticker on his new car, just so that he wouldn’t unintentionally attract some ne-er-do-well’s attention. (Yes, even here in San Francisco.)

    Enough. If all we do is to dampen discussion and encourage the bland unthinking safe ground, we’ve all lost.

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  17. Kaye Barley

    Louise, please don’t beat yourself up over this. You obviously care about your friend and wanted, if you could, to protect him from the meanies. Its a natural reaction and not to be ashamed of.

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  18. Fiona

    THANK YOU. One thing I enjoy in a book, or other art, is seeing something that is very different from my own, safe world. Something that causes me to THINK, and possibly question my on ideas.

    I don’t need everyone and their brother telling me what to think of to change my mind, but I do like to be provoked and not become complacent.

    My Dh has a bumper sticker that says “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism” and I believe it.

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  19. Rob Gregory Browne

    Victor, I haven’t read the book in question yet, so I have no idea how far the author actually goes with the character, but to my mind he’s been headed in that direction for a long time, so it shouldn’t really be a surprise to his readers.

    There have been a number of times I’ve seen characters in fiction express a point of view I disagree with. Do I throw the book down? Refuse to read the next one? Post a scathing review on Amazon? No — as long as the book is entertaining DESPITE the politics, I ignore those politics and keep going.

    I certainly don’t agree that serial killing is a good thing, but I’ll enjoy Dexter as he struggles with his illness.

    I don’t think cops like Dirty Harry should exist, but that doesn’t keep me from rooting for him when he’s hunting down a bad guy.

    I certainly see your point about messing with readers’ expectations, but I can’t be sure that this is really the case until I read the book in question.

    I suspect, however, that this may be a case of the readers simply being oversensitive about the subject.

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  20. Rob Gregory Browne

    Louise, I’m the guy with the T-shirt that wasn’t politically popular for a long period of time, so I practiced self-censorship — and self-preservation — by not wearing it for a couple of years.

    Now, oddly enough, when I do wear it, people nod in agreement and make favorable comments about it.

    So I can understand you wanting to protect your friend. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.

    I’m just sorry I wasn’t brave enough to wear that T-shirt from the beginning. Maybe I’m the one who should be ashamed.

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  21. pari

    Rob,I’m very glad you wrote this post.

    We decided early on to avoid politics here at Murderati because that’s not where we wanted to go with this blog.

    That said, I struggle with this issue in my writing AND daily life. How much do I speak out? Do I worry about losing readers because of my views? How much can I have my characters say?

    It’s difficult to gauge. I’ve gotten burned with my latest book by the group I thought would embrace it most. Many Jewish readers don’t want to believe that there could be conflict within that culture — OR they don’t want other people to see it . . .

    With as volatile as this year’s election is, I have a difficult time adhering to my own rules here at Murderati — but, believe me, I express them many other places.

    However, I just started a tiny blog at my own website and I’m wondering how “far” to go there.

    I just don’t know.

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  22. Victor Gischler

    Rob wrote: “I suspect, however, that this may be a case of the readers simply being oversensitive about the subject.”

    If it’s five readers, you’re most likely correct. If it’s five hundred …

    For the record, I’ve not read any of the author’s books, so what the hell do I know? Ha.

    Victor Gischler

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  23. JT Ellison

    I am so glad we DON’T do politics here at Murderati. You see, I was in politics for a very long time. Worked on campaigns, worked in administrations, polling, etc. And no matter what, there are two self evident truths when it comes to political discourse: You can’t change anyone’s opinion, and people can’t play nice.

    I love that we all have different opinions. I’d love to be able to have a real debate without the discussion descending into vitriol. I wish we had a media that didn’t spend all their time telling us what to think, and I wish people hadn’t become so lazy that they allow the media to think for them. I wish politics today meant actual discussion about issues instead of lobbing insults at one another.

    Yes, I’m cynical. Because I’ve been there, done that, gotten the tshirt and bear the scars of my beliefs differing from my cohort. Not here, of course. Here at Murderati people respect one another and the guidelines of the blog.

    But that’s not how the real world works.

    Thanks for this post today, Rob.

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  24. Lee Child

    I may or may not be the writer Rob is referencing – but if I’m not, then I had a very similar experience this year. And because this is a readers’ and writers’ forum – not political – I want to contribute my perspective, because I feel the problem has been literary at its core, not political. Rob reports the Amazon view that I “gave” my series character a point of view, and Victor gives his vanilla/rocky road analogy. But my series character has always had the same point of view – he’s always been rocky road. Readers applauded that attitude through eleven books, but some had problems with its effect in the twelfth. I can’t believe they didn’t notice the point of view earlier – instead, I think they were happy when they agreed with its necessary consequence, and then unhappy when its impartial application clashed with their own emotional investment. For instance, a couple of books ago the story went like this: A woman flees what she sees as an abusive relationship, her husband wants to hunt her down and kill her, my main character after due reflection sides with the woman. No reader objected. (Maybe some abusive husbands were unhappy, but they didn’t post on Amazon.) The current book goes like this: A soldier flees what he sees as abusive manipulation, his government wants to hunt him down and arrest him, my main character after due reflection sides with the soldier. Same point of view, same attitude, same ethics, same little-guy sympathies, all entirely consistent through the whole series, but some readers couldn’t get past their own – not my own – mental constructs. They feel I betrayed them – I say no, you betrayed me, because you can’t “buy” a character’s tendencies only when they suit you. It’s all or nothing, baby.

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  25. Rob Gregory Browne

    Exactly, Lee. And since you bring it up, yes, it was your book I was talking about. I find it pretty incredible that these offended readers felt somehow duped by something that has been evident about Reacher in every book of the series I’ve read.

    And now, of course, I can’t wait to read the new one…

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  26. Rob Gregory Browne

    I didn’t say it was Lee’s book out of respect for Lee himself. I feel no need to drag him into the discussion if he doesn’t choose to be there.

    And I still managed to say what I feel without doing so. I don’t consider that a bad thing.

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  27. Wilfred Bereswill

    Thanks for the visit Lee. I’m rapidly playing catch-up with your series. And look forward to the latest. I rarely read Amazon reviews anyway. Being an Engineer, I tend to throw out the highs and lows and go with the middle.

    I read too much for my day job to put too much thinking into what I read for enjoyment. When I pick up a novel, I just want to be entertained. Taken out of my daily routine and immersed in an enjoyable diversion. Maybe I’m simple-minded, maybe that’s blasphemous for a writer to say. If I don’t like what I’m reading at any given point, I just close the cover and put it on the shelf.

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  28. Stacey Cochran

    This post really gets to me… not so much because of the topic of including political content in novels, but more because of the point you make about voicing a different opinion from normal expectations.

    I often feel my voice is disregarded because I haven’t come to publishing in the so-called “traditional” way.

    I’m not given a spot on panels at conferences. No online writer’s groups have adopted me as “one of the tribe.” I feel alienated.

    How much of this is my own fault for being vocal? How much of this is simply in my head?

    I don’t know.

    But there’s a very real sense that if you speak up and what you say doesn’t flow with the expectations (and values) of readers, you will be shunted and alienated.

    Or criticized.

    I guess my question is: When does “having a different opinion from the the norm” become “being an asshole”?

    Great post, btw, Rob.

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  29. J.D. Rhoades

    “There have been a number of times I’ve seen characters in fiction express a point of view I disagree with. Do I throw the book down? Refuse to read the next one? Post a scathing review on Amazon? No — as long as the book is entertaining DESPITE the politics, I ignore those politics and keep going.”

    Two words: Robert Heinlein.

    The man managed to infuriate me numerous times, and once or twice I DID throw one of his books across the room. But he always made me think about WHY I disagreed, and I always went across the room, picked the book up and started reading again.

    I threw some of his later works across the room for another reason, sad to say, and never did pick those back up.

    And as for Lee’s book…I said this on your forum, Lee, and I’ll say it again: what Reacher did was totally consistent with his character. If Reacher in his military days had thought an order was not only stupid, but dangerous to one of his people, he’d have disobeyed it in a hot second. That’s not politics. That’s Jack Reacher.

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  30. Allison Brennan

    I believe it was Voltaire who said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

    I second what JT said. I was involved in politics and the Legislature for 13 years and I don’t share my political views in a public forum. First, I tend to be a bit eclectic in some of my opinions and you’re not going to fit me into a perfect party-line mold. Second, people are going to disagree with me. Some will do it respectfully and we can have an intelligent, adult debate. Some will do it cruelly and take my words out of context and attempt to damage my career. Considering I’m the major bread-winner in the family and have five kids to feed, clothe, shelter and put through college, I take my career very seriously.

    If I were writing non-fiction or even fiction that had a definite political bent, I would be consciously attempting to make a moral or bigger world-view point and therefore be willing to talk about it on a blog. If I were writing historical fiction, I’d love to have a blog talking about that time-period and the politics, religion, and events that impacted the lives of the people then. But the truth is, people don’t read my books for political commentary, and I guarantee I would piss off half the population no matter what I said.

    I’ve also found that most people will debate respectfully on most things, but we all have hot-button issues–that one thing that eats at us and we can’t just have a civil discussion with someone who disagrees. I know exactly what my hot-button issues are. And because everyone’s hot-button issue is different, it’s best to just avoid bringing politics and religion into the mix.

    However, I do think that characters should have a strong moral code and not break it. That’s what makes great stories. It’s like freedom of speech. There’s some “speech” I abhor, people I think should just shut up or grow up, but I would never attempt to censor them. If I were a fictional character, what would be one of my greatest conflicts? Say I was a lawyer–maybe defending the right to “speech” that inflamed my personal sensibilities. THAT makes great conflict and great stories.

    That said, I have incorporated many of my personal views into my stories. I recently re-read the story for the Killer Year anthology because I’m using my protagonist in another book and I couldn’t remember some of the backstory. I realized how cynical I am about politics and government. Then I got the page proofs for another short story where I used the capitol as the setting. Again, I certainly made my personal viewpoints about honor and trust known. I just hope I did it in an entertaining way 🙂

    Great post Rob.

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  31. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Glad to know what book we’re talking about, now, so I can vote with my credit card.

    Just like I did for Obama/Biden when Sarah Who? got the nomination.

    Talk is great, I love it. But don’t forget to send money, too. It’s the whole world at stake.

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  32. Derek Nikitas

    I try not to forget that when I sit down to read or write fiction, it’s fiction. The world depicted does not actually exist. It reflects our world, and we bring our moral compasses to the reading, but in the end fiction is an escape, a play zone away from the realities of our nonfiction world.

    Another way of saying this is: readers come to fiction to be manipulated. That is, to have our emotional and intellectual faculties artificially stimulated. That is, to be entertained. A good writer will relentlessly manipulate moral (and by extention, political) values in the reader, and it’s all in good fun, because it’s artificial.

    It happens all the time. We readers love it. As Rob pointed out, Dexter makes us root for a serial killer. The Godfather makes us root for a family of reprehensible killers (they DO have a moral code we can get behind, after all). The film version of Starship Troopers manipulates the viewer into sympathizing with Nazi principals and practices. It’s a little game of Gotcha.

    There is a disturbing, yet great French film called That Obscure Object of Desire which will convince most viewer that in a single isolated instance, given precise circumstances and the play of fiction, the rape of a particular fictional woman by her fictional husband would be justifiable.

    Caveats: really great fiction is rarely didactic. It’s the stories that pull our moral valus in competing directions that are the most evocative and memorable. We like the Corleone family, but we don’t want to see Michael become the Godfather.

    Some people are so uptight that they won’t allow themselves to be manipulated by fiction. These are not the people fiction was invented for.

    Once the fictional experience is over, we are welcomed to go back to our normal way of thinking, and none of us have to feel guilty that we were manipulated. That point should’ve probably gone without saying.

    Sometimes the writer is just having fun messing with us. There need not be any lasting real world repercussions. It’s just ficiton; it’s just play.

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  33. pari

    J.D.,Great example in Heinlein. Absolutely apt — perhaps for different reasons 😉

    As to character consistency, especially when it comes to personal code, Lee is right. It IS all or nothing.

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  34. Philip Hawley, Jr.

    I haven’t read Lee’s latest book, so I have no opinion about the views expressed by Reacher in that book. However, having read several of Lee’s books and spoken with him about his writing, it’s exceedingly difficult to imagine him doing anything other than simply telling Reacher’s story, without subtext.

    BUT…in general I think it’s not entirely fair to simply blame readers when they reject a book because of opinions expressed by the characters. All of us have read books in which the protagonist offers a political view on the far right or far left. I find it easy to enjoy these books even when I disagree with the character’s political point of view, and I suspect most of us are similar in being able to enjoy books across the political spectrum.

    What I don’t enjoy are books in which the author preaches at me through his/her characters–generally the protagonist. I dislike this whether or not I agree with the viewpoint being expressed. Admittedly, it’s sometimes a fine line that divides character-driven opinion and preaching, but I think that line does exist even though many writers argue otherwise. It’s especially apparent when the counterpoint or “other point of view” is argued feebly by some contemptible or weak-minded character.

    And what’s troubling is, this style of writing seems to be on the rise. Perhaps I’m alone in this perception, or perhaps my experience is skewed, but it suggests to me that the cultural divide in this country has widened into a chasm–with each side shouting at the other, to little effect.

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  35. Lee Child

    Phil, I hear ya. I’m not saying readers have got to like my book or they’re stupid. I’m saying they’re kind of stupid if they like the first 11 but not the 12th, when nothing at all has changed. And the 12th book is no more preachy than the first 11 – Reacher expresses mild disapproval, that’s all, just like he did earlier for homicidal counterfeiters, rogue FBI agents, murderous gun runners, etc.

    It’s like you cheer Dirty Harry on – until he arrests your mom. Then, instead of yelling at your mom for breaking the law, you yell at Harry for being a creep. While never claiming to be a “serious” writer, I still like the way we’re sometimes forced to think and evaluate by certain stories.

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  36. Jake Nantz

    Mr. Gischler wrote: “If it’s five readers, you’re most likely correct. If it’s five hundred …”

    I have to say, I vehemently disagree with this point. The popularity of an opinion should never determine if it is RIGHT or not. If that were the case, this country would be in chaos as people’s definition of right and wrong fluctuated daily based on a few swing votes, and they’d be as guilty as they are accusing Reacher (and by extension Mr. Child) of being.

    Five wrong idiots or five hundred wrong idiots, the only difference is the number of idiots.

    Reply
  37. Zoë Sharp

    Great discussion, you’ve sparked here, Rob.

    For what my opinion’s worth:

    I found Lee’s latest entirely consistent with the ethics Reacher’s shown through the rest of the series, but maybe I’m approaching it from a Brit perspective, which has a different slant on current conflicts.

    And I have no time for ‘keyboard heroes’, who dash off knee-jerk views on the internet, which they wouldn’t dare say to your face.

    Reply
  38. Allison Brennan

    ROFLOL, JT. I was thinking after I hit SEND that I was basically rehashing what you said in far too many words.

    Hi Phil! Always good to see you in cyberspace, since you wrote one of my all-time favorite books. 🙂 Very well said, and I completely agree with you. I can put up with almost any political viewpoint in fiction as long as it’s not rammed down my throat and the writer doesn’t resort to blatant stereotypes.

    This isn’t a political example, but it illustrates the point: THE DARK KNIGHT. Great movie on so many levels, but I swear, they had to beat the viewer over the head with the moral lesson about Harvey Dent turning evil. With Gordon and Batman pontificating for an hour (it seemed) at the end of the movie as Dent lay there dead, I wanted to scream, “I got it already! Shut up! Do you think I’m stupid?” Some things are better shown.

    Reply
  39. Catherine

    I’ve enjoyed waking to yet another lively discussion on Murderati today. A couple of points that struck me reading the comments is how emotive the reaction of some readers can be when their world view is challenged, and a possible consequence I can see in adhering to trying to live an offence free life.

    There is some perverse backhanded compliment buried somewhere when a reader is so invested in a character that they react strongly at the character’s fictional actions. That said, I’ve always thought that the character, Jack Reacher not only had a strong moral code, but it was peculiarly his own. That choice to me (in Nothing to Lose) seemed entirely consistent with the character in every other book I’ve read in the series. I think if the choice had been made to turn in that soldier, especially within the framework of every other action in the book; it would have lessened the story and perhaps even the series immeasurably.

    As to trying to live an offence free life and depression…a current theory on depression is that as we’ve evolved, the circumstances of when we could use either fight or flight instincts have lessened, and as we bounce between either not so socially sanctioned option, we end up freezing…playing dead, so no one attacks us and we can be ‘safe’ and by default, depressed.

    I’m not proposing a respect free or politeness free life, but I don’t see how in a world where we have so many cultures where unwritten rules exist offence can be obliterated, or that a bland world is better.I’d much rather live my life feeling strongly and able to express my views then live in a state of ennui and apathy.

    Thanks for raising this topic Rob.

    Viva la difference.

    Reply
  40. Fran

    I have to admit that when I heard about the backlash in “Nothing To Lose”, my initial reaction was, “Huh? It’s just Reacher.”

    Some people simply want to be offended.

    When I read Douglas Preston’s “Blasphemy” and more recently Larry Beinhart’s “Salvation Boulevard”, I knew that they knew they were going to offend people, but I think what they had to say was important. And they said it, regardless of backlash, and I say good for them! I absolutely agree, if you start redacting all the potentially offensive stuff from books, you end up with a Dick-and-Jane story. Yawn. I like authors who make me think, even if I disagree. But I certainly don’t like the lecture embedded in the story. If you’ve done your work properly, I’ll get the message. I don’t need to be thwapped about the head.

    That’s why I was so proud of your latest novel, Pari. The topics were delicate and (you’ll pardon the pun) explosive, but you handled them deftly and compassionately, I thought.

    We all have our platforms from which we speak our truths, or our take on the truth. That’s certainly one thing the blogosphere has given us. But blogs and suchlike are separate from novels, and as long as the integrity of the novel is upheld in the writing, there shouldn’t be offense taken.

    Certainly there’s enough to be offended at out there without picking inane fights!

    Great topic, Rob!

    Reply
  41. Victor Gischler

    Jake Nantz,

    You’re welcome to disagree. Hey, isn’t that part of the freedom we’re sticking up for here? But be clear about what you think you’re disagreeing with.

    But I’m not talking about the popularity of an opinion. I’m talking about reader expectations. If I wrote a series character and one or two readers got bent out of shape, then I’d shrug it off. If readers got bent out of shape by the hundreds, then I hope any author would take at least a moment to stop and relfect why that happened. If the author made a change in the character and is willing to ruffle some feathers, then good. I say the author should stick to his/her guns.

    Mr. Child (and others here) say that Jack Reacher did not change but that a whole lot of readers got it wrong. I’m more than happy to take everyone’s word for it since I haven’t read the books.

    BUT AT NO TIME DID I SUGGEST AUTHORS SHOULD CAVE IN TO UNHAPPY READERS. I merely suggested we shouldn’t be surprised when readers react poorly to a change ( or what they think is a change ) to a well-established character.

    Victor Gischler

    Reply
  42. Jake Nantz

    Mr. Gischler,Fair point. I apologize if I misunderstood the intent of your post.

    Didn’t mean to offend…*snicker*

    (okay, bad joke, but I just had to throw that in. I get what you’re saying and the difference in how I took it. Thanks for clarifying)-JN

    Reply
  43. Debi Watson

    We’ve gone overboard in trying to offend no one. Isn’t one of the points of writing good fiction to elicit a reaction from the reader? There is a easy solution when reading fiction, you if don’t like the reaction you’re experiencing close the book, pop out the cd from the player. If we want to be tolerant let’s try be tolerant of everyone’s right to POV.

    Reply
  44. Patti Abbott

    Even though I am not a author whose sales will be affected by what I say on my blog, I am hesitant to post again on my political opinions. Twice now political posts have drawn the sort of comments that I regard as harmful and hurtful. I eventually took those posts down. The last one didn’t quite get to that plateau so I left it up.I don’t want to make people angry or upset but I do want to use my own blog to say what means most to me right now. I feel like a Christian who needs to give testimony. It’s a real dilemma.

    Reply

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