I do believe books can inspire violence. A badly written book will make me want to kick walls and pull my hair out, especially if people keep talking about it.
Yesterday, in Flood’s post Offense and Sensibility, she said, I started thinking about work that offended me. My friend reminded me that I felt a story I read recently was completely irresponsible in it’s message. Two children, one very young and one much older, were exploring each other through a sexual game. At the end of this short, it was implied that the youngest enjoyed the ‘abuse’. Great, thought I. Just what NAMBLA needs to further their agenda.
Flood had received an email from someone who was offended by a story Flood had written, which prompted her post. After reading her thoughts I couldn’t let the issue go. Do I have a line? Is what I think is acceptable as a reader different than the line I have for me as a writer?
If I write out a particularly specific, grisly murder and someone later kills someone in just the same way, am I responsible?
This had been on my mind, even before I read Flood’s post, because of
an article referencing police outrage at a street-racing movie they believe will inspire incidents, with youth “trying to emulate their heroes”.
Their fears aren’t completely unfounded. Even a film fan in New Dehli was injured trying to imitate an action hero from a movie.
This debate isn’t new. With increased awareness of bullying, teen murderers and school killing sprees, some people are looking for things to blame. When I interviewed Trench on my blog last month, it sparked a discussion amongst commenters about the media’s responsibility for violence in society. Disturbingly, Trench has received death threats because of the blog, yet The Trenchcoat Chronicles is about debunking myths around violence in entertainment and also giving updates on criminal prosecutions in cases related to school shootings, etc. Trench doesn’t promote violence. Trench promotes awareness and discussion of the issues.
When it comes to violence in art and violence in society, it’s no different than the “chicken or the egg” debate. I write crime because it helps me process some of my issues with the things that happen in our society. It’s my way of making statements, sometimes obvious, strong commentary, other times subtle questions lingering beneath the surface that I hope will bubble up in the reader’s mind after they’ve put the book down.
My intention isn’t to inspire violence. And I’d like to point out that television wasn’t responsible for burning witches at the stake or the invention of medieval torture devices like the rack. (And the intestinal crank referenced on the same page? I broke out in a cold sweat just reading about it.)
As a reader, violence only bothers me if I have the sense that the writer has been explicitly graphic in order to one-up another book by making this one more shocking.
Essentially, I believe individuals are responsible for their own behaviour, but we live in an era where more and more, the blame is being shifted to other things. A former Canadian soldier who served in Bosnia, who did not contest charges that he sexually assaulted a thirteen-year-old girl at knife-point, has been found not guilty, due to post traumatic stress from his SIX MONTH tour of duty, which occurred ten years ago.
Undoubtedly, if our rape victim kills a man, or maybe cuts off someone’s penis or herself sexually assaults someone, she won’t be responsible either. And so begins a cycle of violence that nobody has to answer for.
Is it any wonder with our tendency to blame video games, to blame movies, to blame our upbringing – to blame anyone but ourselves – that authors may come under increased attack for violence in books? I mean, look at the people who would ban Harry Potter for promoting sorcery.
One of the things I’ve been really impressed by, within the Killer Year group, is the level of social consciousness and concern. We’ve even already had a discussion about supporting a charity.
Still, I’m certain there will be those who accuse some of us of glorifying violence for entertainment. I had a rejection letter myself, stating they stopped reading Echoes and Dust when the man murdered the girl because they didn’t want to publish “that kind” of book.
Which, of course, had me flippantly wondering why reference to the preceding rape didn’t bother the reader. In truth, the scene is short, it certainly doesn’t depict everything that happens and leaves more to the reader’s imagination than anything, but the very nature of addressing the violence head-on drew criticism.
Suspicious Circumstances isn’t graphic, so I have some time to revisit the other book and think about lines and consequences before it’s published. My intent was to demonstrate the serious nature of the crimes being committed, and to invest the reader in seeing the guilty brought to justice. The balance of the crimes in the book happen off-camera.
No matter what my intent was, obviously one person didn’t like it. And I don’t think you can write in the crime genre today and not ask yourself these questions.
Which brings me to a wishy-washy conclusion. As a reader, I’m very forgiving, and have rarely had a problem with what I’ve read. Only once have I given up on a book I felt was glorifying violence out of dozens upon dozens of books read.
Although I believe that violence in books is a reflection of society and not the catalyst for crime, as a writer I hold myself to a higher standard than I impose on others.
Yet I’ve certainly never blamed a sitcom for making people laugh in the streets. So why blame movies and books for other behaviour?
Am I a hypocrite? Am I wrong to even consider this in my writing? How about you? Have you ever felt compelled to stop reading a book, watching a movie, or to change a scene you wrote because you felt it was gratuitous and irresponsible?
And it’s Wednesday, which means it’s Cornelia’s day on Naked Authors and it’s also Dar Wednesday at Rants, Raves and Random Thoughts, when writer James Goodman posts a Darwin Award story. If this post has been too heavy for you, a healthy dose of human stupidity should lighten things up!
THIS JUST IN! Killer Year co-founder JASON PINTER has been interviewed by author JB Thompson. Drop by and read the interview for an introduction to his Henry Parker series, and to get the inside scoop on his philosophy of marketing and more.
Quote: *Dick Cavet
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