Sunday, December 27, 2015

Writing on Eggshells

A writer I respect and follow on Twitter said that writing fiction scares her. Fiction is easy. Fiction is freedom. Writing anything else is terrifying. Axe that. Frustrating. I'm not actually scared of being told I'm wrong or even, gasp, problematic. I'm frustrated that anything, devoid of context, is possible fodder for the next internet rage-a-thon.

I grew up with punk rock. Ignoring the fact that once you utter the words "punk rock," you can no longer claim to be punk rock. (I dunno. That was the general rule when I was in high school.) Punk has a long and glorious history of using offensive imagery to shock. It wasn't a toy of the masses either, and its underground status allowed for that. Social media has changed that. Some for the better -- a band or artist can reach a wider audience with a few clicks. But when you have only 140 characters to in which to make a point, context doesn't exist. The joke you could easily share with your friends who understand your warped sense of humor is broadcast to the public who probably doesn't. Signaling is crucial if you don't want to be misunderstood, but caveats don't make for interesting, provocative writing.

Fiction hasn't been as infected with the social justice bug yet. Or at least, not to the degree that television and music has. Yes, Jonathan Franzen will always draw the ire of feminists, and a handful or respected writers boycotted the PEN gala after it announced that it was giving Charlie Hebdo an award for its bravery. (Not content, bravery. Somehow this got lost.) But fiction is still a place for subversion. I hope that doesn't change anytime soon.