January 22nd, 2007

wayfaring wordhack

What's your take? Writers as Responsible Invidivuals?

I've been facing a moral dilemma of sorts on an off and on again basis since I started writing. On one hand, I feel obliged by my own set of ethics to write about things that I hold to be important and that are "right" according to my own moral code. OTOH, I sometimes want to write something because the idea or character situation appeals to me, though the actions in the story are not nice and the "message" might be taken along the lines of "If it feels good, do it"--something I am very against in the normal course of things. I'm not speaking of writing about a disturbed individual, exploring the gutters of the mind without fear of censorship or finger pointing, and so on. I'm talking about making bad behavior come across as good and acceptable and thereby, perhaps, influencing someone toward an unhealthy or irresponsible action.

I think that writers should realize their works have an enormous potential to influence. But a part of me also thinks that they should be able to explore things and not necessarily be held accountable for what they present. Even typing each of those sentences gave me a squirmy "Yes, but" moment. A dilemma, as I said.

What about you? Do you believe what the basketballer Charles Barkley said, years ago, "I'm not a role model"? Or do you think it is an author's job to write stories that encourage what is accepted to be "proper" behavior? I'm not necessarily speaking of Books With a Message; no lessons or morals or propaganda. And, I use "responsible individual" in the sense of someone who, through their fiction, promotes good values.

Good values, now there's a bottomless pit of debate. Who decides what is "good," what is "right"?

Nonetheless, I don't want to get into the importance, or lack thereof, that diverse societies put on certain mores and how core values can differ across cultures. I believe that most cultures hold murder, lying, and theft in contempt, but most also allow a certain understanding for reprehensible conduct under extreme circumstances. Then there is the whole gamut of white-to-black shades in which people paint instances of in/fidelity to a sexual partner, dis/loyalty to friends and family, not to mention the oft unnamed "qualities" that are byproducts of our cultures such as Individualism or Community. I want to know what you do with the mores *you* have.

Assuming that you are part of culture which believes in honesty, fidelity, loyalty, sense of community, do you think it is acceptable to glorify actions that counter these values? To make characters cool who break the rules because it feels good and serves their purposes as a free individual? Think "heroin chic" fad and all the people who thought (and still think) it was cool and sexy to look used-up and strung-out because of a bunch of fashion ads.

To take it from another angle, what if your personal views will taint you as an intolerant bigot or a wimp or (insert proper insult here) and you know this? Will you still write what you believe, or will you bow to pressure to include characters and ideals that you personally do not hold because you think your story will sell better?

To date, I don't think I've ever written something that went against my moral grain or something whose heart spoke against my values. But I often think about what I'm truly saying. And if I don't like it, I try to find a way to bend it to something I do believe. I take the time to question myself on the first unacceptable idea and why it occurred to me in such a way in the first place.

I guess I am my first censor. Are you?