Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Could I? Would I?


Terry here, with our question of the week:

Cancel culture: In these polarized times, and in light of recent events, are there any topics or viewpoints which you would not write about or which you think are off limits? First of all, I dislike the phrase “cancel culture.” It has the connotation that there are a group of people, a “culture” that delights in mass shaming. I think people who most deride the idea of “cancel culture” seem to lack understanding that there are in fact behaviors that deserve condemnation. And the fact that condemnation of behavior sometimes catches fire with large numbers of people doesn’t mean it’s a culturally-driven action. 

 As for the question of whether there are topics or viewpoints I wouldn’t write about there are no topics I consider off-limits. If I can write about the heinous “sport” of dog-fighting, and feature a character who engages in it, I can write about pretty much anything.
If I can write about a man maimed in the service of his country, and whose country fails to support his well-being when he returns, I can write about anything.
If I can write about a man who failed to act when his sister was being assaulted, I can write about anything. 

 Bigotry, racial animus, and police brutality have shown up in my books.
I have written about religious intolerance. I don’t shy away from showing bigots, corrupt police, and racists in a bad light. But I also don’t shy away from making them human, with more than one dimension. I think a rounded character is more interesting than a character whose only trait is “good” or “bad.” With that idea in mind, I can imagine writing about behavior I despise. 

I abhor the proliferation of guns in this country, and yet I have a recurring character who believes that if everyone had a gun, things would work out better, a viewpoint I am diametrically opposed to. My lead character, Samuel Craddock, sometimes gets annoyed with the man’s bombast, but he also knows that the man has a developmentally disabled son whom he is very kind to. I think it makes him more interesting than if he is just “one thing.” 

 There are topics I would struggle with—child abuse; human trafficking; and torture come to mind. But the bottom line is, I write about murder. Murder. The deliberate taking of another human life. And I try to explore what leads people to think the only way they can achieve their goals is to kill someone else. In the process of an investigation, Samuel Craddock runs into all kinds of unsavory behavior. I couldn’t write a realistic story if I didn’t bare those behaviors and their consequences. I wouldn’t be doing a service to my readers if I pretended terrible things didn’t exist. 

I once had a letter from a minister of a mega-church in the south, who said he loved my books because they were so “wholesome.” I was shocked. I write about murder. I use curse words. I write about the effect of crime on a community. Maybe he meant that I always see that justice is done, even if Craddock feels compassion for the perpetrator.
Writing from different viewpoints is another matter. There has been a movement in the past few years condemning writing that “appropriates” cultures/ethnic groups/experiences that don’t reflect the writer’s experience. I’ve thought about that and wondered if I would shy away from writing from the viewpoint of someone completely out of my experience. I think a writer has to call on imagination for almost everything she writes. I’ve never killed anyone, nor have I investigated a crime. And yet, I write about a chief of police investigating murder. I’ve never been a man. I write from the viewpoint of a man. 

So I’m not afraid to take on different viewpoints…up to a point. Could I write from the viewpoint of a black disabled woman? An indigenous American? A starving child? I suppose I could, but would I? Probably not. I’m not sure my imagination can do justice to them. I may be wrong, and it doesn’t mean I’ll never try it. Years ago, someone on social media asked if you could spend a day as anyone else, who would it be? I immediately thought I’d like to spend a day as a powerful black pro basketball player. Why? Because it would be interesting to be: an amazing athlete, black, and a man. All three of those categories would be an intense revelation. I would get to experience in my own skin things I know nothing about physically. Could my imagination conjure the experience? Maybe, but it would be a stretch. 

 And that’s the bottom line. Can I, as a writer, do justice to what I write about? I suspect there are limitations, but then never say never.


Brenda Chapman said...

A good post, Terry. Lots of room for thought.

Terry said...

Thanks, Brenda. I found it surprisingly dark to write.

Gabriel Valjan said...

Brava, Terry. I have mixed feelings about cancel culture, as I see its potential as a new and broad form of McCarthyism.

Terry said...

Gabriel, I just don't like the labeling and its implication that it's a set formula. We have plenty of McCarthyism rearing its ugly, though.

Susan C Shea said...

I abhor all the catch phrases used to demonize one group by a mob. I'm not even sure what "cancel culture" means, to tell the truth! I am intrigued by the challenge of who you'd be for one day if you could. I have always felt that to be a brilliant soprano who sings opera divinely at the Met would be nirvana. I can't, however, imagine it fully, maybe because I don't have perfect pitch, am a boring also, and would surely freeze and forget my lines!

Anonymous said...

Always great to see into your mind a little, my friend! Thanks for those points to think about.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. Didn't mean to be Anonymous! This is Chris Dreith.