Tag Archives: censorship

The Censorship of Sensitivity

After a summer spent working on a new book on plotting, I am ready to begin a fiction project. I have been weighing the merits of writing a western versus a science fiction story. Not so much one instead of the other, but more of which one to begin first.

The western idea presently is developed more than the SF, largely because I plotted it at the beginning of my summer break, and it’s more ready to go. However, I set it aside in May to do the nonfiction manuscript. Now, especially in light of recent controversies and riots, I find myself pausing. Is my proposed manuscript insensitive to anyone? Is my story premise going to offend anyone? I don’t want to denigrate a person, a gender, or an ethnicity. I want people to enjoy my stories, not be hurt by them.

So I’ve begun to second-guess my idea. And now I’m second-guessing my second-guessing. My artistic temperament has flared up. I feel constricted and rebellious. Instead of concentrating on my characters and story events, here I am wondering if I’m going to hurt some random reader’s feelings by something a character does or says.

After all, a western has a historical setting. Behavior toward minorities was anything but sensitive in the 1870s.  Consequently, now there yawns before me the chasm of indecision. Do I stick with historical accuracy? Or do I sanitize history lest the wrath of someone come down on my head?

In a day and age so crazy-sensitive that some people think it’s wrong for a Caucasian to cook a burrito, here I am, in effect, censoring myself. I can ditch my western and just write the SF story instead, but does that make me a coward? I can toss my plot and start over, but does that do justice to a solid premise? I can jettison accuracy or omit an ethnicity altogether, but does that respect the setting?

And so I find myself tied in a Gordian knot of indecision and dithering.

When I was in high school, my Civics class taught us that our individual freedoms ended where another’s began. In other words, I have the right to say what I please, unless my words hurt another individual deliberately. I have the right to walk where I wish, unless I trespass on another person’s property. An individual has the right to criticize town property, but not destroy what taxpayers have paid for. A person has the right to conduct a civic protest, but not smash windows.

There is a quote in my campus office that says, “Closing books shuts out ideas.” It was issued in support of banned books and celebrating the freedom to read.

But if writers are shut down at the source, unsure or too timid to write what grips their imaginations, will there even be books to ban?

My mind goes to HUCKLEBERRY FINN by Mark Twain. This book has stirred controversy through much of the twentieth century. Yet was Twain trying to be insensitive? I don’t think so. His focus was elsewhere. His words, dialects, dialogue, and comments reflected the times in which he wrote. They were accurate to the era. They mirrored the general attitudes of the culture and place Twain knew. Does that hurt some readers today? Yes it does. Should the book be banned? Should we say, “Twain never should have written this racist book” and hate him because he did? No we shouldn’t. We don’t have to force anyone to read it, but neither do we have to avoid facing the hurt it has engendered or avoid discussing that openly.

When did the public become so weak that it cannot bear to face the mistakes and wrongness of the past? When did the public become so fearful that it cannot accept any opinion but its own? When did the public become so spineless that it allows suppression of expression and wants only carefully edited history lest anyone be embarrassed or offended?

If I decided that I wanted to write about the Mississippi River delta in the nineteenth-century, what would I mention? What would I leave out? Must I tiptoe past so-called trigger words or omit them altogether?

Writers of modern children’s fiction are facing such issues daily. They want to include diverse characters, yet they must avoid descriptive racial tags. Are there ways to do this? Somewhat, of course, but it’s challenging to say the least.

Writers of women’s fiction might long to address the topic of weight and body image, yet will they inadvertently generate fat shame if they do so? It’s a statistical fact that Americans are becoming increasingly overweight–to the endangerment of their health–yet no one is allowed today to criticize another individual regarding obesity. While fat shame can spawn extreme reactions such as anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders, is it such a terrible thing if it keeps a mother from allowing her child to overeat and emulate Honey Boo-Boo?

How suppressed should writers be in the cause of sensitivity? I remember a time when people said what they thought and everyone rolled with the punch. Should writers be more sensitive, or should readers be less?

I know; I know–it’s all about balance. Which seems to be in short supply these days.

Meanwhile, I have a western to sanitize.

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Thank You, Veterans!

Happy Veterans Day! We are so blessed to live in America, and to have brave military men and women who risk their lives to preserve our precious freedoms.

Remember that we also have the freedom to read what we want, to write as we please, to complain, to criticize leaders when they fail us, to cheer for underdogs, to enjoy a safe, civil, peaceful transition of power, and to vote as our intelligence, personal choice, and conscience directs.

Not everyone in the world can do that. We live in a big, wonderful country. It has flaws, of course. It is far from perfect. I am saddened by the divisions rocking our nation, but even when our citizens are stressed, out of work, burdened, and unsure of what to do there is always a chance, always the potential to change, always a new path to seek.

I have seen divisions before and I have seen riots before and I have seen racial discord before. But despite them, Americans have held together. I hope we’ll continue to do so, recognizing that we have the hard-won right and privilege to change what we don’t like and to always dream as big as we dare.

Let us keep our common sense and beware of anyone–rich or poor, celebrity, politician, civic leader, or little guy–seeking to diminish America, to make it small, to persuade us that democracy is wrong, to tell us what to think, to muzzle our opinions, to force us to conform to a small, gray, vision of less, to shame us into feeling guilty for the privileges we enjoy, or–worse–to throw them away without understanding the consequences of doing so.

And those freedoms are due to our founding fathers, who risked their lives to create America, a nation like no other. Our freedoms did not come without a heavy price, and we should never hold them cheap. When Patrick Henry proclaimed, “Give me liberty or give me death,” he wasn’t just spouting political rhetoric like some bombastic modern-day congressman. Henry knew if the American Revolution failed, he would be executed for treason along with men such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. Every member of the Continental Congress that voted to rebel against King George III knew his vote would put a price on his head.

Today we vote, knowing that we can do so without fear of reprisal, without fear of being executed by a tyrant. Thanks to the first American army and the courage of so many, we vote freely today–unless we cow to anyone who dares to dictate otherwise. And if our choice does not win, we should remember we will have another chance, another election in the future.

We do not listen to propaganda that makes us fearful and timid. We do not throw away our judgment and common sense to blindly follow a celebrity’s personal views. We do not bow to tyranny. We do not set some individuals above the law while punishing others. We do not live by mob rule or damage our neighbors and fellow Americans that disagree with us.

And we do not forget our veterans and what each of us owes them for their brave service that keeps us free.

 

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Happy 4th!

On this festive day, let’s remember what freedom is, what it means to each of us, and the price American men, women, and children have paid for it. As writers, we possess the liberty to express ourselves without government censorship, coercion, or reprisal. But each of us is responsible for understanding what freedom means and our individual responsibility in maintaining it. Beware of social censorship, social coercion to conform to the agenda of the moment, and social reprisals when or if you write against fashionable trends. Whether you are conservative, moderate, or liberal, you have the right to your opinions, your feelings, and your words. And if we disagree, let us strive to be civil to each other. Let us be united in our love of our country and our pride in what she stands for.

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A heartfelt THANK YOU! to our veterans.

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A GOD BLESS AND PROTECT YOU to our military forces serving now.

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Happy Birthday, America!

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