An editorial for the end of the year.
This is in part a reaction to an article by Lisabet Sarai on the Erotic Readers & Writers Association Blog (which was in turn in part a response to Remittance Girl’s post there earlier this month. Both are worth reading and thinking about, but what motivated me to write at all is the confluence of two disturbing trends. The first is more obvious – the movement toward censorship of erotica in the UK and in online stores like Amazon. There are abundant news articles from many sources regarding both, so I’m not going to provide a link list. Both situations are still evolving.
The second is the concomitant fear on the part of many writers of erotica – especially those dealing with ‘taboo’ or ‘edgier’ subjects that they are somehow on the hook for the behavior of people who read their stories. There are certainly groups of thinkers out there who would like to put the blame for actions taken by fiction readers on the writers of those fictions, but their fight is already won if the writers themselves fear even the possibility of accusation.
In essence, these writers fear that their fiction, by the fact of having been written and read, might somehow be changing reality, and making people do things that are wrong/illegal/immoral/what-have-you. They fear essentially, that they have the power of George Orr in the in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, to reshape the world by their dreams. It’s actually a bit of hubris to think one might have that power from their writing alone. It is also, perhaps the secret wish of some writers sometimes – to write so well and so powerfully that one affects the world directly from one’s pen or keyboard. But in this case the feeling one might actually have that power becomes a weapon against ones self – and can be taken advantage of by those who wish to silence and censor.
I am not Gorge Orr. Neither is anyone else. Our dreams, the fictions that we write or read, do not change the world. Actions do, and the vast majority of people have control over their actions.
Accusations abound in this world. They, among other things, the language of those who do not wish to accept responsibility for their own actions.
Here’s the clincher:
Even if a given author’s fiction writing explicitly tells people it’s OK to do some [stupid/illegal/immoral/unsavory/socially unacceptable] thing, that is still not license to do so. Fiction is not law, and it’s not permission. The accusation “but you said it was OK” could be true and the author is still not responsible for someone doing that [stupid/illegal/immoral/unsavory/socially unacceptable] thing. The fiction writer is not the reader’s parent, they’re not the law; the authority that gives permission or absolution.
Ideas are sticky, and writers can give them to readers. But a fiction writer can’t make anyone do anything. If they could, I would have written a much nicer planet into existence long ago. Actions are the responsibility of those who undertake them.
I coin the condition ‘Orr’s Syndrome’ as the belief or fear that your dreams – your fiction writing – can materially effect the world simply by the fact you wrote it. It’s false. Your writing does not change the world. People who read your writing may chose to, but that is their choice.
Writers can’t afford to fear the reaction to what they write, if they wish to write challenging things. There will always be people for whom the line between fiction/fantasy and reality is blurry or nonexistent. Some portion of that population will read murder mysteries, horror, extreme action stories, and/or erotica. Some portion of them will use those fantasies as manuals for their own action. Writers of fiction cannot be held responsible for the actions of these people.
Living in fear that somewhere, some unbalanced person will believe you’re telling them it’s ok to steal or murder or rape or injure or fuck unsafely is incompatible with being a fiction writer of those subjects.