Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Controversy question

I read an essay I liked, clicked on the author's website link (in bio at end of essay), and came to a blog where the writer showed an obsession with debunking the "myth of global warming." I felt as I did when I learned Ezra Pound was a Mussolini fan.

Should we care? What if the author -makes- us care by linking to a website with views we don't agree with? What's the dividing line? I mean, I don't want someone to think about me, "Well, she's all for semicolons and gay marriage, so I'll never read another book by her."  Is global warming debunking okay, but we draw the line at fascism?

Or if we enjoy the essay or book, should we just be glad for that and not care about anything else?
After all, if we avoided writers with aspects we don't like, we'd have to quit reading.  But....

Anyway, what do you think? This does really reinforce my thought that we should probably not link our creative work to controversial material. But of course, what might be innocuous to us might be controversial to others... also, how bland do we want to be, just to sell books to the greatest number?  Maybe some people shouldn't read our books???
Alicia

30 comments:

Tere Kirkland said...

I can't help it, but yes, there is one author whose work I WILL NOT READ because of his vocal stance against gay marriage. Some call his sci-fi series some of the best stuff of the 20th century, but I don't want to support someone (who obviously doesn't need my money at this point in his career) who thinks marriage should be reserved for heterosexuals.

Like you said, though, maybe there are readers out there who wouldn't read my work, based on my opinion of the same issue. I guess it's a judgement call how much you should share.

T. said...

Writing is my JOB. When I worked in finance, I didn't talk to my colleagues or clients about my sexual or political preferences. Why would I do it as a writer?

Sharing beyond the expected is unprofessional; bad business practice.

Leah said...

T. wrote: Sharing beyond the expected is unprofessional; bad business practice.

That gets at Alicia's question about whether we should be as bland as possible to avoid offending anyone, in order to sell as many books as possible.

Do you simply want the largest audience possible, regardless of who's in it, or do you want an audience with whom your themes, ideas, and beliefs resonate?

What if it's not something negative (as the global warming example), but in support of something, like gay rights? What if an anti-gay reader sees your stance on gay marriage and decides not to buy your books because of that? Are you okay with that person not becoming your reader?

I personally avoid the work of authors who support what I deem to be pernicious or otherwise objectionable ideas/causes, sometimes political, sometimes personal. I know which SF author Tere refers to, and I avoid him for similar reasons. There's no shortage of great literature in the world. You won't miss much by avoiding a few particularly cretinous writers.

Joan Leacott said...

Here's a parallel example. I took a Master Portraiture class with live models for a number of years and progressed so well that I framed one of my portraits. I was so proud of myself. Until I found the model was in the sex trade. Creep me out! I took the portrait down and stuck it in closet.

Margaret K. Westfall said...

If your values and ideas are integral to your writing, there's not much point in trying to hide them. In fact, it seems dishonest to pretend to be what you are not.
If your stories are entertainment, and you do not infuse them with beliefs or controversies, then why present them in other forums?
Ultimately, you cannot predict what will offend people, and you can guarantee that anything you write will offend someone somewhere.
That said, there's no reason to make your private life public, unless you want to.
There is the age-old debate about confusing what people do with who they are. Bryon's lifestyle was grossly offensive to many, but his works much admired. Is the poetry less compelling because of his life-choices?
Readers have the same right to choose what they read as writers do to write. Best all around to be true to who you are.

Hilton said...

I will no longer read the books of two quite famous Sci-fi authors, one dead, because of their hateful attitudes about gays. The one still living is quite active in pushing his anti-gay agenda. Why should I put a single dime in their pockets?

T. said...

Leah wrote: "Do you simply want the largest audience possible, regardless of who's in it, or do you want an audience with whom your themes, ideas, and beliefs resonate?"

My themes, ideas and beliefs - to the extent that they are relevant to my fiction - are already apparent in my books. I write commercial fiction, not issue books.

Leah also wrote: "What if it's not something negative (as the global warming example), but in support of something, like gay rights?"

I'm looking at it from the other side - as an ultra-liberal, or someone with conflicting values, my lifestyle alienates the moral majority to a large extent.

What if I like rough sex with multiple partners? What if I'm a rabid animal rights advocate, but still allow myself to eat meat if I hunt/slaughter the animal myself? What if I'm in a loving, but sexless marriage with my gay best friend for practical reasons?

I just pissed off maybe a third of my readership by providing three irrelevant, but true facts about myself.

My beliefs are staunch, but not something I need to delve into when I communicate with readers.

Finally - I don't read much sci-fi, but I can picture no scenario where gay marriage would be a relevant author blog topic, unless it's a theme in one of his/her books. All writers are (should be) readers, too - and I don't want my favorite writers to be politicians. They're writers. They should write good books and shut up.

Ali Rassi said...

I don't know if there's some overall answer, but I wonder if a quick expedient is just not to link to the political/controversial stuff from your author page. I mean, I wouldn't have associated his views with his writing if he hadn't linked them.

I think maybe that's the way I'll go. I just won't make a big point of "if you like my books, you'll LOVE my views on the environment! Or even if you don't, now that I've sucked you in with my books, I'm going to inflict these views on you!"

If there's no link, then I can truly say, "My rants against Newt Gingrich have nothing to do with my books!" (I haven't actually ranted against poor Newtie, but if I did, I'd do it by satirizing him as a character in a book. :)

I find that on most of the big questions, I punt. "Surely there's a middle ground here between integrity in your life and your work..."
Alicia

Stevie Carroll said...

Interesting topic. I don't discuss my (party) politics specifically in public, although they're fairly easy to work out for UK readers at least since I mentioned going away to a national political event, and then posted photos of the city where it was held when I came back.

Then again my stories deal with topics related to the subgroups within the party where I'm most active (LGBT+, disability, science and scientists) so I don't have a problem mentioning my politics to individual readers and writers on an individual basis (eg 'did you hear our debate on...?' after the conference had been televised).

I suppose it depends whether you believe that the political is personal or not.

Ali Rassi said...

Part of me thinks that one of the duties of an artist of any kind is to mine our inner convictions in service to the art form. But you're talking about something different -- about a guy who does not use politics in his work, but mentions it as part of his public social interactions. I think this might be different. He's not writing plays or making sculptures that relate to the political topic. He's just shooting his mouth off.

And that's the problem, I think. He's leveraging his position to rant about an unpopular (some would say deluded) political agenda, and it's got nothing to do with his work, really. Celebrity can draw attention to a cause, and that can be a good or bad thing. I just think that if it's unrelated to the work we do, we ought to pick those causes carefully.

Theresa

Nobilis Reed said...

Are you an author to make money?

REALLY?

Or are you doing it to touch peoples' hearts and minds?

Ali Rassi said...

@Nobilis, Why does it have to be either/or? I think it can be both.

Theresa

Lisa Hughey said...

If an author has a stance on a political or moral issue that i don't care for & they are RABID about it then I won't buy their work. Mostly because once I know about it, I find it hard to separate the work from their attitude.

And yes, why do making money and writing for emotional value have to be mutually exclusive??

Julie Harrington said...

As my mother always tells me: never discuss religion or politics with friends as they will then be EX-friends. I think anything that stirs strong emotion in people is best avoided by anyone who relies on the public/consumers to sustain their business.

I have several people -- authors, actors, etc., -- whose writing, movies, whatever, I won't watch or support because of their actions and views on several different topics. Everyone has a right to their opinions, but you always have to know it could cost you readers/customers.

I have an author whose politics I ignored until they started using their reader-base social networking platforms as stages for their politics (which ran very opposite mine and which turned VERY offensive and inappropriate). I finally disconnected from them and, I admit, went right to my bookshelf and threw all their books in the trash. That was years ago and I have yet to purchase a book by them again. Plus I told all my reading about it and they, too, have since stopped reading them.

I have a relative who loved a sci-fi author and bought all of their books until they hit one that seemed to condone pedophilia and the idea that sex with children was ok. After that, the relative never read him again and all their books went bye-bye from their shelf as well.

There are actors who have garnered that kind of reaction from people. Jane Fonda springs to mind after the Vietnam war. That still makes headlines today whenever she pops up at book signing, on TV, or in a new movie. There are several actors whose movies I love and who I won't go see after they stepped into a controversial issue a year or so ago. It offended me beyond belief and touched on an issue I grew up hearing about from my mom. Not only will I not go see their movies (which is a shame because they're often huge blockbusters), I got rid of the movies I owned on DVD that had them in there.

Fair? Not fair? I don't know. But it's the reality of the emotion they CHOOSE to force me to feel one way or the other when they open their mouths about these topics. Heck, even I'm surprised sometimes by how I react, but when something goes against my grain that hard? I just can't put money toward it because then it feels like I'm condoning their behavior or supporting that opinion.

But as a writer, I have a firm line about what I will and will not discuss on a platform to readers. Readers come to be entertained. They come to learn about your books. They don't come to be lectured, "taught," preached to, etc. So unless my particular arena for writing IS that issue? I don't feel I have the right to say anything about it, nor do I feel the audience is appropriate.

I guess my rule of thumb is: When in doubt... Don't.

J.

Ali Rassi said...

Just out of curiosity, do you find it difficult to maintain friendships with people who have strongly different political views? I can think of several friends whose politics I abhor, but I like them personally so much that I tend to overlook it. But I'm not sure I could do that with a stranger -- I don't have the same connection to a stranger as to a friend. Does that factor in here? If your fans tend to have that kind of attachment or regard for your, do you think they might overlook these disagreements? Or is it that they're only attached to the work, not to its author?

Hmm.
Theresa

Tara Lynx said...

There are authors whose books I'll only buy used because I don't want them to get any of my money--namely those who I know support causes I don't want any of my money to go to, even indirectly.

Adrian said...

You don't have to put yourself at one end of the spectrum or the other. There are lots of positions in between.

How controversial is the idea? How important is it to you? How important is it to your books?

Would you be satisfied writing under a pen name to prevent your controversial views from limiting your potential market?

Do you want money from people who disagree with you so vehemently that they would boycott your writing?

Would you rather have as wide an audience as possible or would you be happy with a niche filled with rabid fans who agree with your controversial idea? A small group of fans could be more lucrative than a large but unengaged audience. Consider all the extreme political pundits with large but limited fan bases.

It's not an either/or decision.

Adrian said...

Boycotts are hard. Just because someone disagrees with you doesn't mean they definitely won't continue to read.

I vowed not to buy Sony products when they got off scott free for the rootkit debacle. Turns out I've actually seen a lot of Sony movies since then, and I'm a big fan of Jeopardy (a Sony show).

I swore off Amazon when they bought a company that had sold one of my private email addresses to spammers (amoung other privacy violations). I renewed my resolve when Amazon repossessed Kindle books in 2009. But guess what? My wife does most of the shopping, and she has no problem with Amazon.

In general, I don't buy products that use or provide DRM. That's pretty frickin' hard to do nowadays. I compromised and bought a Nook, but I only purchase ebooks that are DRM-free.

I'm terribly concerned about how digital media is eroding the doctrine of first sale, but I don't see how to vote against that with my dollars.

I would have already left Facebook if it wasn't such a great way to let a lot of people know when I have a book out.

I've closed accounts at a bank for horrible customer service, walked across the street to deposit the funds in a new bank, and then had the evil bank buy my new bank. (Actually happened three times.)

In general, boycotts are hard. But I'll grant that they're not impossible. I do avoid certain chain restaurants and retailers for the political causes they support, and I have managed to avoid the unnamed sci-fi author. But, then again, I didn't really care for his books before I learned of his views.

Julie Harrington said...

Just out of curiosity, do you find it difficult to maintain friendships with people who have strongly different political views? I can think of several friends whose politics I abhor, but I like them personally so much that I tend to overlook it. But I'm not sure I could do that with a stranger -- I don't have the same connection to a stranger as to a friend. Does that factor in here? ~ Theresa

I think it's "easier" when we don't have a personal connection with someone -- friendship, family, etc., -- but I've had personal relationship affected by this topic as well. They're extreme cases to be sure. Not so much in politics (I just steer clear of the topic because we always end up arguing) but in social issues, racism, etc., where the stances are just so morally opposite my own I feel I can't keep my mouth shut about it. It *has* affected the relationships, but I'd rather that than sit in silence and act like it's okay with me.

J.

H. Renee said...

I agree with Tere Kirkland at the top of the responses. There are multiple authors I wilL NOT read, at all, for any reason, because I find their views in my face and offensive.

I don't discourage other people from reading them, and I don't harass them. I just boycott them in the only way I can and refuse to give them my money.

Miss Sharp said...

Why does it have to be either/or? I think it can be both.

You only think it can be both IF you happen to hold the same personal belief.

Let's face it, ladies. We wouldn't even be discussing this if the essay writer had linked to something defending global warming.

In fact, this whole thread reinforces your willingness to make it known (while questioning the wisdom of making it known) that your political tendencies are liberal (surprise!) and that you have a really, really, REALLY hard time accepting people with conservative views. You absolutely struggle with it. That's the WHOLE POINT of this thread.

Free speech welcome, as long as it agrees with you? How "tolerant."

Ali Rassi said...

Wow. That either/or comment of mine was about the money/touching hearts comment, not about the substance of Alicia's post. These are two different concepts being discussed simultaneously. I don't know why you would attack my "tolerance" over something like that, but whatever.

No. You know what? Not whatever. This isn't a discussion of global warming and it never was. It was a discussion about whether it is dangerous for an author of commercial fiction to take stands on political issues. And you have just demonstrated -- thank you for this -- the nature of this danger. You support the concept in the example, and now you are attacking me for my comment -- not only attacking me, but attributing to me certain political views based on someone else's post, AND ascribing a bad motivation to me in the process.

THIS is why it's dangerous practice to discuss politics in public. Because of THIS exact reaction.

Theresa

Julie Harrington said...

And another interesting point that should be touched on is just because a writer or author puts a certain tone/vibe/viewpoint or stance in a story for a *character* doesn't mean the author himself/herself feels that way or believes those things. I see a lot of that confusion online and in the media. It's fiction for a reason. :)

JT

Miss Sharp said...

And that's the problem, I think. He's leveraging his position to rant about an unpopular (some would say deluded) political agenda, and it's got nothing to do with his work, really. Celebrity can draw attention to a cause, and that can be a good or bad thing. I just think that if it's unrelated to the work we do, we ought to pick those causes carefully.

Theresa


Well, Theresa, from this post of yours I would certainly have reason to infer that you find an argument against global warming to be both "unpopular" and "deluded" and to further infer that in your opinion writers had better choose "popular" and "not deluded" topics when they voice their opinions.

It's also not too difficult to infer that all of the 'I WILL NOT READ WORKS BY A WRITER IF I DISCOVER I DISAGREE WITH HIM OR HER
POLITICALLY' thinking expressed in these comments comes from intolerant minds.

And that should be the problem but instead we see people espousing a gag order on writers.

Chilling.

Ali Rassi said...

That's a slanted reading of my comments. I also said it's the duty of a writer to mine our inner convictions in service to our art. The relative popularity of the position is not a matter of my opinion, but of fact which can be measured empirically. I also said "we ought to pick those causes carefully." How you get from that to a gag order is beyond me, but whatever. And this time I mean it -- whatever. I'm through arguing with you. Others are free to read the comment thread and form their own judgments.

Theresa

Ali Rassi said...

>Free speech welcome, as long as it agrees with you? How "tolerant."

Oh, come on, Miss Sharp. Obviously you do not read this blog, or you'd know that we encourage open debate on controversial subjects like semicolon usage in fiction, after which global warming is hardly controversial.

As for "liberal," who do you think has blogs about language? Liberals. Liberals tend to be the teachers and editors who work for low wages. If you're looking for a conservative, I'm sure there's some investment banker blog waiting for you. :)

Now maybe instead of trying to make this about your own politics, maybe you might want to address the actual subject of the post, which is whether proclaiming our politics or our lifestyles might bias some readers against buying our books, and whether, moreover, we should worry about that or moderate our personal expression because of that. I think readers have every right to refuse to buy or read a book, for any reason. Tolerant enough for you?

But this is a far more subtle question than the tired "liberals vs. conservative" debate, I know.

A

Julie Harrington said...

It's also not too difficult to infer that all of the 'I WILL NOT READ WORKS BY A WRITER IF I DISCOVER I DISAGREE WITH HIM OR HER POLITICALLY' thinking expressed in these comments comes from intolerant minds.

And that should be the problem but instead we see people espousing a gag order on writers.

Chilling.
~ Miss Sharp


I see. So if someone is, let's say, repeatedly, offensively, blatantly racist in their social media comments, I'm supposed to just keep running out and buying their books and be okay with it because then I'll be "tolerant?"
Yeah, I don't think so. I don't owe it to that author (or insert your public personality of choice here) to remain loyal to that.

What a person does in public has ramifications, intentional or otherwise. I think the main point, which people seem either be missing or ignoring, is not per say the validity of the political/social/whatever stance but, as social figures, how aware authors are about the ramifications of what they do/say/the stance they take CAN have on readers and where the lines in the sand blur.

It has nothing to do with Freedom of Speech and everything to do with viewing, IMO, yourself and your writing as a product and a brand, and just like any company, you have to be aware that what you do, what you say, what you choose to get involved in has ramifications when it comes to your customers.

JT

Ali Rassi said...

JT, you and I might be thinking about the same author. I stopped buying her books after she sprayed her email contacts and social media outlets with some truly shocking racist propoganda.

There's a difference between tolerance and concession. With the racist author, for example, I was aware of her political leanings long before she sent around the racist material. That crossed a line for me, so much so that it would have felt like a moral concession to buy another one of her books after that.

And I guess this is the real question behind every one of our posts on similar topics. (As I recall, I blogged about this at the time, and that was a hot topic, too.) Where is the dividing line between "I disagree, but that's okay," and "I disagree, and this is so offensive that I can no longer participate in whatever you're doing."

Theresa

Julie Harrington said...

Theresa, we're totally talking about the same author. I still remember how upset I was when it all happened. I'd been ignoring it for a long time and then they just took it one step too far for me. I still get upset when I think about it.

I respect everyone's rights to hold whatever personal stances on religion, politics, science, ice cream flavor, cat vs. dog ownership, whatever. But I agree, the question is: Where IS that line? Where does the line separate opinion from offensive? How aware of that should authors be when dealing with social media? Do they understand that, if they choose to cross that line, it could have significant, negative, impact on their career and brand?

I'd like to think people can have rational, spirited debate on important topics, but you know what? Your readers shouldn't have to. Readers don't go to author websites for in-depth debate on controversial issues. They're not signing up for your Twitter or Facebook page to argue about or feel as if they have to justify their stance on social/moral issues. All they want to do is read about your newest book, drool over the book trailer, get your book backlist, and have some fun.

I consider it my job as a writer to entertain people. My website is a tool toward that end. It is not the right place to expose them to personal views/beliefs just because I write a book. They're not coming to me for that. Readership is an established trust on several levels, and I think using my social media for purposed other than my brand and product would be betraying that readership.

If it's one thing I've learned by being online, it's that somebody is going to be offended by something (ack! you put beans in your chili?! That's not REAL chili! LOL!). A public figure (actor, author, etc) *has* to be aware and sensitive to that when they're interacting with their fans. They have to use common sense when selecting what to discuss and not to discuss. Staying clear of hot button issues like religion, politics, social issues, etc., to me is a great place to start because emotions DO run so hot on all sides. Why would you want to put your readers in that incredibly awkward position?

We are all passionate about our beliefs and we should be. But I think the point in all this discussion is to remember to use caution and common sense and THINK before we post about such issues because dragging personal views into your professional personae and arena can have an unforeseen impact on your career and brand.

And to go to the flip side and put myself in the reader's shoes for a moment, PLEASE don't make me feel forced into having to choose between my deeply held beliefs and values and your books. This is how that author made me feel and I was left with one conclusion -- A person can only turn a cheek for so long before silence begins to feel like consent. So I felt forced by the author to stop buying their books in order to do right by my conscience and my beliefs. I should never have been placed in that position.

I mean, if we were talking about an author who had a website full of article and video links about to-the-death-kitten-vs-kitten-razor blade-cage fighting, and videos of people torturing fuzzy kitties, and who was saying, "Wow, I'm so glad this is a sport in XYZ country! It's awesome! I'm going to set one of these up in my garage!" (okay, that's a horribly outrageous and outlandish example, but that's the point), would you expect readers to just shrug it off and say, "Eh, she has a right to her opinion. oooh, look! She has a new book out! I gotta buy that!" or would you expect a social backlash?

I'd expect the backlash. This is why, again, my rule of thumb is: When in doubt, don't post it.

JT
~ horribly long winded in every way ~

Ali Rassi said...

Julie, yes-- part of "freedom of speech" has to do with the choice to participate. Author Z has every right to utilize her freedom of speech to proclaim her political views, and I have just as much freedom to disagree. (Yes, freedom of speech means we have the right to argue with other people's freedom of speech utterances.)

But what's really important is... the reader has every right not to buy a book. Every right. That's freedom too. And there's no need at all to ever justify that choice, and that's what we're dealing with here. And if I support her freedom not to buy a book because she doesn't like the cover (which I do), certainly I support her right not to buy a book because the author has certain views (liberal OR conservative). We can't be "tolerant" by forcing people to buy books.

So that leaves the author with a dilemma. I suspect an easy way to deal with this is to de-couple our author-work (books, website, social media, etc) from our political and social work. That's all. I still read Ezra Pound's poems, but I doubt I would if I clicked on a link in his author bio and got sent to a Mussolini-forever page.

Maybe that's the coward's way out, I don't know. But I agree-- the reader just wants to enjoy the book. This isn't an opportunity to promote my blog primarily concerned with some controversial issue.
Alicia