It has been a volatile week so far on the net and in the world. In France, twelve people including a political cartoonist were slaughtered by extremists. This is my response.
[Let me say up front that I do not believe for an instant that extremists and fundamentalists of any religion necessarily represent fully the truth of their chosen belief systems as a whole. There are some schisms of faith whose sole foundation seems to rest on hate, but most religions seem to have a moderate base at the core.]
To all artists and writers and musicians: we MUST NOT allow fear to rule our art. We must not let threats of violence, threats of being ostracized, or anger from any particular group silence us. As long as our work does not involve death threats, rape threats, or incitement to commit hate crimes against others — and I do NOT include characters in fiction going against other characters in this — as long as we are not out there shooting the hell out of somebody, beheading somebody, or torching their house, then we need to stand up for our right to speak.
Art of any sort and artists of any kind — whether our medium be words, music, or visual art — both reflect and help shape society. When I was young one of my favorite books that both terrified me and fascinated me was Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. The book scared the hell out of me because I could so easily see the future it portrayed coming true.
“Authors, full of evil thoughts , lock up your typewriters. They did. Magazines became a nice blend of vanilla tapioca. Books, so the damned snobbish critics said, were dishwater. No wonder books stopped selling, the critics said. But the public , knowing what it wanted, spinning happily, let the comic books survive. And the three-dimensional sex magazines, of course…
If you don’t want a man unhappy politically, don’t give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible, chock them so damned full of ‘facts’ they feel stuffed, but absolutely ‘brilliant’ with information. Then they’ll feel they’re thinking, they’ll get a sense of motion without moving. And they’ll be happy, because facts of that sort don’t change.”
― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
The moment you try to please everyone, you cease creating viable art. In fact, the moment you try to please everyone you’ll stop creating because nothing in this world will be universally approved.
When we allow ourselves to be silenced, we allow ourselves to be victimized. Unfortunately, this does mean that people get hurt…in this case—murdered—because extremists of any belief system tend to be radical in their reactions. Charlie Hebdo was murdered because he refused be silenced. Was it worth his life? Only he can answer that, but my respect for the way he stood behind his work is absolute.
Most writers I know, including me, often receive email comments from a select group of readers — meaning a vocal minority section of the whole — demanding we write our books the way they want us to. They tell us what we did wrong. They tell us which characters they want to see together. They judge us based on what we write. I have friends in both the nonfiction and fiction worlds of writing who have received death threats.
I personally have been called a whore and a slut, a pornographer, I have been called a racist and a barbarian. I have had people threatened to stop reading me, I have had them plaster insults against me across different sites, and I’m not talking about just my books — I’m talking about me personally. I have been cyber stalked in the past.
My answer to this is as follows: I write the books I need to write. I write my books the way I choose to write them. I do not hold a gun to the head of my readers to make them read these books. Just as I have the choice to read or not read a book, so do they. I will not adjust my writing style or content based on the opinions or threats of others. I write the stories I am meant to tell.
I encourage every writer, artist, and musician out there: Stand strong in your opinion, make the art that you need to make, don’t apologize for being the artist you are, and please, be cautious. It can be a brutal world, and there are people in it who believe everyone in it should think and act the way that they do.
Remember: art is vision. A word can become the world with the inclusion of one letter. We have a responsibility to our profession. We have a responsibility to remain true to ourselves and our visions.