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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Taking and Giving Offense

Miko clearly hit a major nerve last week with "Petey," and then I turned around and tapped it a few more times with a ball-peen hammer, just to make sure. I think this is a discussion worth continuing. Have we really become so overwhelmed by political correctness and so terrified of the possibility of giving offense that we are no longer able to function as writers?

I mean, I think of a friend of mine who was once a successful fiction writer, but who got fed up and quit the field. One of his last stories was one in which the narrator's antagonist was a simpering, effeminate, obnoxious homosexual. An editor my friend had previously sold a lot of fiction to leveled the guns and wrote him a point-blank broadside of a rejection letter, telling him he either had to make that character straight—which would have required rewriting the entire story—or lose the simpering and effeminate qualities—ditto—as there was just no way the editor was going to publish a story that would result in his being buried alive in hate mail from offended gays.

Likewise, I think of a promising novella of my own that I gave up on, because the first-person P.O.V. character was a Native American, and one of the members of my then-current writing group (who was not herself Native American) lit into me big time for presuming to write from that character's point of view. (Funny, I've also never been an alien from another planet, a robot, or a genetically modified manatee, but she'd never objected to my writing in those character's voices.)

Has it come to that? Have we been so inculcated with political correctness that we preemptively self-censor our work, and are no longer capable of functioning as fiction writers? What are the moral implications of writing in the voice of a character who is of a different race, gender, sexual orientation, or other (possibly aggrieved) identity group than the writer him- or herself? (Well, at least a different species is still okay. But give PETA time...) Is it merely being sensitive to the feelings of others, or actually in itself an act of supreme condescending presumption to presume to be offended on behalf of the members of some other identity group who might some day read the work of fiction in question?

Your thoughts, comments, and observations please, as frankly, this whole topic baffles the living hell out of me.
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