Friday, August 11, 2017

Readers, Sensitivity, and Mob Mentality - How Much is Too Much?

Happy Friday, good people of the blogosphere! Today, I'm on yet another discussion. There are several things that have popped up over the last few weeks about right and wrong things to put in a book. Get your coffee or tea in hand, your typing fingers ready to respond, and let's get going!

We all have opinions, right? I plan to open discussion on both sides of the board with this post, and I won't be standing on either side of the fence. You all know me too well if you've been around here a while. I like to hear what you think, I'm going to try my best not to influence you with my own words, and I enjoy the verbal exchange of ideas and viewpoints.

*****That being said, please be nice when you comment. This is my blog, and I won't tolerate hatred, calling-out, or vitriol here. Got it? Okay. Let's move on.

There are a number of books that have been released lately that have spurred some pretty serious reader blowback. To be 100% transparent, I haven't read any of them. My work has revolved around writing my own book, and it's been emotional enough.

But I've seen posts and discussions on Facebook, and I know the titles of the books under fire. No, I'm not going to share those, either. If you want to know, you'll have to do your own research. This post isn't about that.

For centuries, books have been the catalyst to change in many countries. If you don't know the history, do a quick search. There isn't enough space here to discuss them all, and you should be informed. But what I'm seeing now deals directly with what the authors write.

Incest, racism, hate.

Those are the topics under fire.

From my reading experience, either an author is trying to change your way of thinking, trying to bring to light something that's horrible that needs to have light shed on it, or they're trying to tell a story that has nothing to do with their own thoughts or beliefs (a true escape).

It's difficult to tell the difference sometimes, but that doesn't stop me from reading books I don't know what's inside of. This thing where authors have to disclaim horrifying details of their books in the blurb is unsettling.

Why?

Because the things that bother one person, won't bother another. We see this with all the reviews from all the books everywhere. Some people loved the Harry Potter series, and some folks wanted to burn all the books for promoting witchcraft.

See what I'm saying?

I can see labeling it 18 and up, but I'm talking about all the other things. It's worrisome that someone might just grab a book and "read" it only so they can trash it in the review later on and have that little verified purchase ribbon to back their words. But I'm backsliding.

Anyway, the problem here isn't just that labels are being applied, because I know at least one of the novels under fire was labeled, but that it's expected in the first place.

Who are we to know what someone else is going to feel when they read our books? How are we the authorities on how something we've written will be comprehended by the reader? 

Authors may be the worst people to add warnings to their books, but then, so might readers. What some find intense, others will merely scoff at.

Let's discuss by the three topics above then.

Incest.
This isn't a new trope used in books. It goes way, wayyyyy back to novels published in the 70s even. Before you go bananas, let me say, I can see both sides of the issue here. 1) It's something that happens in real life, ergo, it can be applied to a book for real-world additions. 2) It's disturbing to read about, and the fear is there that it'll incite someone to do something they hadn't considered before. It's a touchy subject, to be sure. If an author writes about it, does that mean they're encouraging it, bringing light to an ugly, or merely writing a story?

Racism.
This also isn't a new topic. I could list several books that were racist in nature, but they've become literary classics all the same. I can, again, see both sides of the issue. Do you want to see through a racist's eyes? Get their viewpoint on things? How their brains work? Maybe. Maybe not. 1) Racism is something that's real. It's a serious problem, but it can be used as a mechanism to show what might be in a racist's mind, giving others a unique insight. 2) It's bothersome to read, and it may fuel the already present racist heart of another, making them think of doing something they'd only considered before reading it. Again, what was the point of the author writing it?

Hate.
This applies to genders, races, siblings, government, etc... An older than time topic. Dystopian worlds were borne from hate of a ruling class or laws. You could also say hate applies to books with rape in them. Both sides have weight. 1) Hate is a true problem in our society, and shining a spotlight on it can be used as an effective fuel for the proverbial fire in a novel plotline. 2) Reading about a character hating on people from any walk of life is hard, and it may, again, reinforce that the reader's mindset is the correct one. Do we care about the point if the book makes us uncomfortable?

Historically, we're strongly influenced by books (again with the search recommended above), but does that mean if we read about it, we're going to act on it?

Has the fine line between reality and fiction blurred, or are we just more attuned to the crossovers now? Do the disclaimers even matter at that point?

What bothers me most about all of this is the mob mentality that's taken hold of the world. When someone writes something that's not considered PC, they're attacked by backers of the antis. While I believe in having an opinion and stating it, isn't that what reviews are for? Why do we feel the need to attack the person (in public, no less) behind the words without understanding (or caring) what it was they were trying to say? Is that really the case, or is something else going on here?

Is this censorship?

I'd love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the matter. Remember to be nice and don't name authors or books directly. This isn't a bash-fest.

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

10 comments:

  1. I'm aware of a couple of the books in the firing line this week and for the one involving the first topic, i've stayed well clear. I don't like the subject matter regardless of the twist and I wont be reading, however I wouldn't make a big deal of the fact that I wont be reading it because I know a lot of people have read it and loved it. The author has been a bit of a victim of circumstance however, had the book not been "banned by amazon" i think it would have gently simmered under the radar as most books with touchy topics do. I’m going to play a little devils advocate and say that I think that the outpouring of praise for it was the issue that brought the unwanted attention in the end. People tracking it down like contraband and proclaiming “so wrong yet so good” brought it to the forefront. From this I saw that mob mentality can work both ways. In relation to the second topic I am only aware of this issue from the very outside (if it’s the book i’m thinking of) That was genuinely frightening how one person could influence a whole community in that way all because of interpretation. No-one wants to be branded a racist and the mentality shifts to “if i read this will I be a racist” all the while forgetting that throughout history minority groups have had a crappy time which has been written about in some terrifying forms in traditional works but no-one bats an eye.

    I feel i haven’t articulated myself particularly well as i’m mindful of what already been going on this week, but if you’re going to court controversy in your writing (which is perfectly acceptable) you are going to have deal with the fall out. Sadly social media gives us an instant connection to people and their lives that we wouldn’t normally have which is why it becomes to easy to launch an attack in a very public way. Again something to be mindful of. It’s not right to ever publicly attack anyone personally because you don’t like something they have done, creativity is always subjective.

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    1. I feel like you've done an excellent job with your words here. So, would you say it's censorship, and would you say it's easier to push an author into submission (redacting the title in question or something similar) with a crowd because of social media?

      I know, I push. LOL!

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    2. I respect of the first example I dont think it is censorship in the broader sense. Yes, the book was banned from Amazon but it was kept by other outlets and I’m aware that the author is now selling direct from their website. Their sales have no doubt skyrocketed and the readership has probably reached numbers that the author wouldnt have thought imaginable, it’s whether they have the strength of personality to deal with the backlash for the short term that it’s likely to last for. In the narrower sense yes it is, amazon has arbitrarily decided to single this authors work out and ban it because of the subject matter, which could have only been reported because the blurb is vague as hell. So i think the pushing into submission isnt really an issue with this example as the author has moved around it and even though they have likely shed some tears over some spiteful words her work has reached an audience of unimaginable proportions. In respect of the second example I think that this is censorship of the most despicable proportions. I read the story of that book with such a heavy heart. I think when there is nothing positive coming from the comments then it is of course easy to push an author into submission. The first book had the benefit of social media backing whereas the second example barely stood a chance as it had been branded before it had even been properly released (if we’re talking the same book) The Goodreads 1* brigade is a force to be reckoned with.

      So yes social media is a powerful tool, it’s clear it can make or break in many circumstances, get on its good side and you’re laughing, get on it’s bad side and you’re crying. It can’t be escaped though as social media marketing is the way to go. (i’m even less articulate now lol - im 3 glasses of wine in)

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  2. I'm not sure how to express myself well on this topic. The first topic is something I'm not comfortable reading but I wouldn't blast anyone else for reading it. I generally read to escape, so I don't like my subject matter to be dark or disturbing. Again, not bashing anyone. I'd like to say that everyone should be able to read what they like, but as a writer, I can see where mob mentality can come into play. I scrapped a historical novel for fear that I would get backlash for writing an NPC character and showcasing some of the hardships they would have had in that time period. I certainly censored myself, but ultimately was too afraid to finish it. Social media is powerful when people want it to be. It's never okay to attack someone personally. If you don't like the art, state clearly WHY (if you feel compelled to do so in the first place), and move on. Don't harass the artist. At one time, Jane Austen was considered a trashy romance novelist and Oscar Wilde was taboo because of his personal life. If we bully artists into submission, we would possibly be missing out on something great and magical.

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    1. Stating preferences isn't bashing in any sense of the word. I don't read certain things, but that's my preference. I tried, and found I didn't like it, so I stopped. Everyone should be able to read what they like. Otherwise, we end up being force-fed propaganda.

      Oh man. I'd like to see/read that novel! I'm a sucker for historical fiction (especially ones with large controversy in them). I hope you didn't delete it! Publish under a quiet pen name ;)

      I agree 100%. It's one thing to state something in a review, it's another entirely to blast an artist in public for something they did in a way that makes them hide/retreat.

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  3. I think that controversy spurs discussion. I think that censorship spurs curiosity. I think that one can never control how others interpret our works, unless we are loudly and clearly beating them over the head with "this is the message, THIS IS THE MESSAGE!" (and I really hate those kinds of books.)

    I think that as authors we are putting ourselves out there, and if we choose to address controversial matters in our writing, then we (hopefully) have a thick enough skin to handle the controversy we are stirring up.

    Do I think labels are necessary? No, and in some genres they have gotten kind of ridiculous. (Did you know in Romance, you are apparently supposed to label your content Happily ever after/ HEA or Not HEA, and if you don't, then you might get a bad review? I didn't know, I don't consider myself a romance writer, but a reviewer got VERY upset that in my psychic detective thriller, the romance ended badly in the first book, and they posted a review on EVERY SINGLE SITE they could find. I was kind of flattered, and REALLY wished they'd had a better following so that there could be more outrage.)

    However, as a mom who is *kinda conservative, I find it very frustrating to try to keep up with everything my kids are reading so I can talk about those issues as they come up and help shape their opinions of what they're reading (I'm the parent, it's my job). I thought once that it would be great if we could come up with a rating system similar to the MPAA or the ESRB, but then authors would have to pay a fee and headache, headache. I realized quickly that reviewers will let people know about content and people can make up their mind from there.

    I do think that to a certain extent, we as authors have to decide how responsible we want to be should someone go out and re-enact our books, and we need to decide if we can live with that morally. Because legally it has already been proven across all creative media that we are not responsible. That being said, just because I am not legally responsible, doesn't mean that I wouldn't feel a great deal of guilt if I glorified a school shooter and then a kid took my book and used it to commit the crime. I couldn't write a book celebrating suicide in a climate where it's on the rise. But that's me. And I do not judge authors who do, any more than I judge authors who write erotica or BDSM. Not my cuppa, but it's their's so more power to them.

    I'm not sure about the incest book or the hate book you're referring to, so I can't really comment.

    As to the book that has been hot in the presses this week due to "promoting racism", I think that author and her team are staying quiet because it isn't hurting sales AT ALL, and at the end of the day controversy can really boost your sales. Ask Dan Brown! Also, from several of the other reviews I read, it seems that she has taken a very Twain approach in that the point of the story is everything is racist but treated as normal, and then the MC goes into the real world and challenges what she's been taught all her life. I think as more people read it and get that same message, it will be reflected in the reviews.

    But maybe not. I mean, I thought Hunger Games was a great social commentary, kind of a modernization of The Lottery, a warning of the world we are headed toward. My kid came away with "Those styles are awesome, and I want to win The Hunger Games!" He wasn't the only kid I know who got THAT message. Do I blame the author? No, I blame myself. How did I raise such an ignorant child! (I jest, really, I blame the hormones. That excuse is what will let him live to see 18. Lol)

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    1. I did know this:
      Did you know in Romance, you are apparently supposed to label your content Happily ever after/ HEA or Not HEA, and if you don't, then you might get a bad review?
      And I find it utterly ridiculous. It's like, let me state everything that's good or bad about the book before you read it so I don't upset your delicate emotions. WHAT? UGH.

      I feel you on the parenting thing. I discuss books in-depth with my daughter so she understands reality vs fiction. Kids are impressionable, and it's our job to be sure they come away with the right one. :)

      As far as controversy, there are two sides to that coin. It seems, today, retailers are quick to pull a book that has heavy social outrage without even looking into the matter. Now THAT, I'm not okay with. JK's books were burned, on TV, and sales went through the roof (you probably know my take on this). This person's books were called out, and they were yanked off sale (retailers would be making a KILLING had they left it up). I went to find it and read more about it, I admit. I was curious as hell. Probably would've bought and read it, too (or tried to read it). LOL!

      YES! I agree about Hunger Games being a newer version of The Lottery. Brilliant. It's exactly that kind of "message" I was referring to. We older folks got it, but the kiddos liked the dystopian elements, and focused on that, rather than the commentary on social upheaval and an overbearing dictatorship that uses their subjects as pawns in a "game" that displayed power and their level of control.

      Love this comment. So many facets.

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  4. The novel is biding its time on my USB drive waiting for me to polish it one day.

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  5. Censorship used literally refers to government controls on what people say or write. This is readers and the market hashing it out...unpleasantly. No one is prohibiting authors legally from writing these things, but the public can be more unforgiving! Critics have always reviewed books, but the internet gives everyone a platform. (Which is good. Down with gatekeepers!) Absolutely people are behaving badly but by no means should we call it censorship, unless we'd also call it censorship to try to curb what book and cultural critics have to say. I'm not super up to date on these things but have followed a couple, and I agree with your point that it's not the open and free critique of books that's a problem, so much as the bullying (and sometimes dishonest) behavior it seems to inspire. At least in the cases I've read about, the initial reaction wasn't about being PC but analysis of how an author handled sensitive issues. I just see that as literary/cultural criticism. The howling mob is another story. :/

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    1. I feel like it's micro-censorship, being carried out on a distributor level. Yes, censorship issues are handled by the government, and maybe that's where these cases need to be taken, but B&N controls the right to accept or reject what's published on their platform just like other book retailers. To put it frankly, they're being biased. :) LOL! I went on a rant about it today. It's completely out of control where Indies are concerned.

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