I recently commented on the GoodReads forum http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1471999 discussing the subject “Would You Write About Controversy” or controversy for controversy’s sake
I said I might blog so here it is starting with my own comment, I haven’t reproduced others’ comments as I haven’t asked the writer’s permission.
“One of my favourite discussion subjects along with censorship. Freedom of speech in the UK is not as formally protected as it is in the USA, but it is protected. There are always controversial subjects although the USA arguments of religion and politics are not as ribald, neither is abortion.
One of the most interesting controversies, over the years, has been Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses. Irrespective of political viewpoint it is a work of fiction, but look what it led to and that was mostly in a pre-Internet Social Media age. Did this book sell more copies because its opponents were so vociferous in denouncing it and the author? Has Salmon Rushdie sold more of his other books as a result or has he changed writing subjects to avoid further death threats?
In my own work, controversial decisions and some politics are backdrops to my stories. In my first attempt, it was the creation of the dossiers to support the war in Iraq. With Syria going on, the recent UK decision to not support military action can be traced to the Iraq dossier debacle. In my second, I deal with several controversial subjects like rape and summary execution, hidden in a story about survivors. My third has insider trading to generate huge wealth and the misbehaviour of big business. Who knows what I might write next as news stories often provide a creative spark.
At the front of all of my books is a disclaimer. This is a work of Fiction, in other words I made it up, it’s just a story, I don’t necessarily share my characters opinions, although I like to have a basis of fact behind all my stories.”
That said, is controversy useful? In an age of trolls, flame wars, email barrages, and 24/7 media sound and video bites, should a writer of a blog, article or book deliberately try to be controversial. Another quote attributed to Brendan Behan
“There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.”
In the UK we have had threats of rape caused by promotion of the image on a bank note followed by more threats to female writers and journalists who had the temerity to comment on the threats. Opinion piece writers in newspapers and other media are supposed to be controversial, that’s why they are employed. A newspaper editorial and front page headline are designed to support the political leanings of the newspaper and act as an advertisement for sales.
Let’s be controversial then – Martin Luther King, Jr said
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
A nice uncontroversial quote, so lets dissect it.
The ultimate – really this is the ultimate meaning the peak, the top? Are we sure it’s really the ultimate.
Measure – by what metric is this a measurement and to what standard and against what comparator?
Of a Man – Many commentators would regard this as sexist, but of course at the time of the quote man in this sense meant humankind or to use the terminology mankind still shouldn’t the same measure be used for women?
I’ll stop there I have no wish to denigrate Mr King who was a fantastic orator on the speeches I have seen, I don’t know if he was a good man or not I didn’t know him personally or professionally.
So, if I write about abortion in a novel, will I face controversy and criticism regardless of the viewpoint the character, or characters, propose. Under-age sex or any sex often causes controversy. I’m not sure why, it has always happened and despite sex education, moralistic pronouncements, campaigns and so on it always will. Should I avoid that subject to avoid controversy? Because a character has under-age (a subjective legalistic viewpoint with different morals, laws and conventions around the world) sex in a story should that automatically rate a book as adult only content? If I write about it does that make me a paedophile (another nice controversy there)? If I look at a naked woman in a Rueben’s picture in an art gallery that is cultural, if I look at a naked woman on a porn site it’s bad or degenerates women.
For women, is a Michael Angelo sculpture porn? It’s a naked man! My word we cannot show that on prime time TV and if the man had an erection it would be porn and not suitable for any regular TV viewers. In case nobody noticed the human race has survived and expanded thanks to sex including erect penises. If you don’t want them described in a book or film don’t read or watch, but why would you avoid human nature. I don’t particularly like watching people chew gum, maybe we could censor that, but of course I might just be trying to be controversial so you will read my blog, if I tag it correctly for Internet searches.
If I argue for against creationism, Islam, Christianity, Scientology, Buddhism, etc., etc., will I attract more interest, more blog followers, more complaints? Will that sell more of my books? Who knows? There are millions of blogs, tweets, and emails. Thousands of newspaper articles around the world and nearly seven billion people on the planet each with their own opinions and beliefs. Just because a politician, media outlet, or journalist says something in Iran, the UK or the USA does not make it so or true. In general I think there is too much opinion dressed up as facts. If you hear the words common sense, the people believe, it is God’s wish, step back, ask if that is really true is it a fact or an opinion?
If you don’t discuss controversial subjects then you are simply avoiding facts which is often the advice given for polite conversation – no religion, sex, or politics. Whichever side of an opinion you may take, remember it’s an opinion not a fact. I like to argue, I like controversy, I think I’m right and so do you.
Now back to writing my next story about a homosexual atheist who rapes a disabled veteran on his nation’s flag whilst looking at kiddie porn having forced his 14 year old sister to have an abortion only because the father was a black Islamic preacher– or maybe not. Still it’s an idea… now for the tags, light blue touch paper stand back and….