Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Money! Money! Money!

The pull is strong. We need more money. We want to be rich and famous, emphasis on rich.  Sometimes I joke that I will do anything for a dollar, but it is just a joke. Honest. Even though I have been tempted to join in the financial success of writers who have embraced the erotica genre, I have not stepped over an ethical line I hold dear.

That line has to do with our responsibility as writers as to what we are contributing to society by what we write.

What prompted this post is the lively discussion online about Fifty Shades of Grey ,and the messages that story gives to young people. I tried to read the book, but I couldn't get past the fact that Grey was an abuser and took advantage of Ana, a vulnerable insecure woman. Instead of empowering her, he overpowers her. Is that the kind of man we want our sons to emulate? I'd rather they become the kind of men that Terry Odell featured here in her post about heroes on Thursday.

Some people are dismissing the social impact of Fifty Shades of Grey by saying it is just fantasy, fiction, not to be taken seriously. Actually, folks, fiction is taken seriously and does have more impact than we might think. Here is what Kristen Lamb had to say in her post Does Fiction Matter? Fiction, Fantasy and Social Change :
To assert that any book that’s sold that many copies is just a story, in my POV, is naive and ignores almost all of human history. Societies have always been defined and redefined by its stories. Fiction IS NOT INERT. Why do you think dictators shoot the writers and burn the books first?
To claim that fiction is mere fantasy is to ignore the impact of every transformative work ever written. “A Christmas Carol” was not merely a sweet tale of a redeemed miser at Christmas.
It was a scathing piece of literature that eventually led to the establishment of children’s rights advocacy organizations and protection for children in the legal system (and also impacted the treatment of the poor and infirm).
During the time Dickens wrote this, children were considered property. The government regularly imprisoned and hanged small children, many of whom were orphans, for relatively small offenses from vagrancy to begging to petty theft.
In the early 90s I wrote a book about violence for a series Rosen Publishing was doing called “Coping With”. The books are aimed for teens to help them deal with social issues they face, and one of my books is Coping With Weapons and Violence in School and on Your Streets.  The first edition came out before Columbine, and the book has been revised twice since, as school violence and mass shootings continue to escalate.

During my initial research, I interviewed a criminology professor, and he pointed out the influence of all the violence kids are exposed to through film and television. As an example, he said there was a real danger of kids being desensitized to death and murder and violence after watching slasher film after slasher film. He believed that a young person who was immersed in violent games and movies could too easily begin to see that violence as normal.

To me, what that professor said back then is no different from the cautions being spoken today by people who are concerned about the messages in stories like Fifty Shades.

I am certainly not calling for censorship. We do have the right to free speech and free expression, and if you want to read, and write, erotica, that is your choice. What I am suggesting is that you consider that with the right to free speech, comes an ethical responsibility.  I join Kristen Lamb in encouraging writers to "Appreciate and RESPECT the power of art. Handle with care."

Posted by Maryann Miller - novelist, screenwriter, editor and sometimes actress. Her most recent mystery, Doubletake, was chosen as the Best Mystery for 2015 by the Texas Association of Authors. She also writes the critically acclaimed Seasons Mystery Series. All of her books are available as e-books and as paperbacks, and a complete listing can be found on the books page of her website. For information about her editing services, visit her website. When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas. 

24 comments :

  1. I have not read 50 Shades nor will I watch the movie. The fact that this book became so popular with so many people disturbs me greatly. What next? A story glamorizing child porn?

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  2. This is a hard one for me, because I've written and had published three erotic romances. All three had stories involved and the development of my characters. After judging the erotica submissions in a contest as part of submitting my suspense book in the contest, I also realized that my books were rather tame within the genre's parameters. I have one half finished that I will publish, and that one deals with issues that impact not only women but men. There's a difference between books written for purely sensationalistic/prurient effects and those written with a story that entertains. I hope mine are the latter. I haven't read 50 Shades and probably won't.

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    1. Polly, I agree that there is a difference between what is written just for the prurient effects and what is a story. I know several writers who write erotica and don't cross that ethical line.

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  3. Some people may question it, but I do have standards. Would I compromise them for money? How much are talking about here?

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    1. Just a buck, Christopher. Just a buck. LOL

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    2. Oh, just a BUCK?? Good lord, no. I have written sweater-fetish stories on commission, though... ;) Not even the pink angora was harmed in the making of that fiction, I hasten to add!

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    3. LOL, Holly. I'm almost tempted to read about the pink angora just to see what happened and how it came through unscathed.

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  4. I couldn't read 50 Shades either because I can't be entertained by an abusive relationship either. I do think parents have more responsibility to make sure their children understand fact from fiction.

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    1. The involvement of parents is crucial, Susan. They have a hard time separating fact and fiction and they need a parent's guidance.

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    2. I couldn't read it because I was bored to tears before their first meeting was over. I'm surprised so many stuck around to realize there was any sex, let alone abuse, going on.

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  5. For me it's not about erotica for women. Men have had magazines forever. It was the portrayal of an abusive character as a hero and a helpless, insecure girl curing him with her "luv." Even the BDSM community had problems with 50SOG's portrayal of their pasttime. Stories have the power to shape the collective consciousness. You can write with brutal honesty about what has happened and what could happen without suggesting that it should happen. Your work has a slant - perhaps a subliminal one. As a writer, you should at least be aware of the message you send and make sure it is the one you intended.

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    1. "Stories have the power to shape the collective consciousness." Absolutely, Diana. That is what that professor told me those many moons ago when I wrote Coping with Weapons and Violence. The fact that we have no moral or ethical boundaries anymore weakens the collective consciousness.

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    2. "The fact that we have no moral or ethical boundaries anymore weakens the collective consciousness." Maybe that's because there aren't enough of us writers doing our rightful jobs. And not enough readers. And maybe that's by someone else's careful design, and our too-careful, too-comfortable reticence to rock the boat. What do you think?

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    3. You are right, Holly. We are ever so much more comfortable "going along" than taking a stand. The same is true when confronting racism or any other social inequity and prejudice. I'm not so sure about "someone else's careful design" but I do know that we tend to go with the sway of the masses.

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  6. I don't see why women would want to read a book or watch a movie which degrades them. I don't understand the appeal.

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    1. I'm with you, Morgan. Rape fantasies were so common in some of the earliest historical romances, and I couldn't understand that, either. That is why I read very few romances until I found a few authors who celebrated women instead of degrading them.

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  7. If you can't write erotica without abuse, you're doing it wrong. I used to post erotic stories on a writing site. One day, I realized that my reader demographics showed these stories had their greatest appeal among 15-17 year old readers, both male and female. As a mother, that gave me pause. Then I remembered discovering the fiction, jokes, and yes - the centerfolds - of old Playboy Magazines when I was about 12. It hadn't exactly warped my psyche or turned me into a sex-crazed teen. So, the next story I wrote was hot - but in the end, it turns out my protagonists are middle-aged and happily married - just having a randy romp in a slightly inappropriate place and time. ;) If figured two things might happen: My younger readers would go "Ewwwww!! Old people have SEX? Ewww!" or they'd realize there's still fun within marriage.

    Slightly manipulative? Of course. That's what we writers do. We can use the Force for good or evil. Our choice.

    Long story short - your "ethical line" and mine are different, but maybe not so very different at all, if you consider why we draw them where we do. Did you want to run out and eat people after reading "Silence of the Lambs"? Do you occasionally encounter someone very rude, and wish Hannibal Lecter would deal with them? :)

    My ethical line? I am not comfortable "outing" people - revealing others' confidences in a way that would be merely hurtful, not enlightening to anyone. I wouldn't want to glorify crime or abuse and show it without justice and consequences. I don't think I'd want to incite a riot, but I leave the door open - perhaps there are times and places, as history has shown, when it becomes important to stir the pot and boil the blood. But as you say, with great power comes great responsibility. And then pen, while perhaps not as mighty as the sword, can lift the sword and guide it home. We should always be careful of that.

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    1. Great points, Holly, and I love the story of the romp and the kid's reactions. While I've never written anything that is pure erotica, I have a few steamy sex scenes in some of my stories. I realize that sex is a normal part of a relationship between two people who care for each other. And that caring is what I found lacking in 50 Shades.

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    2. So there you go - our ethical lines are drawn pretty close together, really. I used to tell my son that the one thing I'd object to, when it came to surfing the Internet, was not if he stumbled onto porn and looked, but if he stumbled onto WEIRD porn and was disturbed or unnerved by it before he was mature enough to have experienced a healthy, loving, sexual relationship. I'm not saying a little odd kinkiness between consenting adults is a bad thing - just that it needs to be consensual and mutually enjoyable. To get turned off or terrified before you ever get turned on would be tragic.

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  8. I didn't read the book and won't watch the movie. On the other hand, I do write about abuse -- not sexual abuse (although it may be alluded to) -- but any abuse that overpowers and harms any human or animal. News reports almost daily tell of the horrific effects that violence has upon society; as a writer, I feel an obligation to show readers the consequences of that behavior. I also show that both abusers and victims can choose to rise above past behaviors and make changes, not in a Pollyanna scenario, but rather in a real-life drama that requires courage and effort and very likely therapy. Without those changes, the outcome may be tragic. Great post, Maryann.

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    1. Thanks, Linda. I think it is just fine to write about abuse when the writing is done to show some kind of positive outcome. What I object to is when it is done purely for the prurient effect.

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  9. Fascinating discussion here! I tried the free sample of 50 Shades on my kindle. Possibly the worst writing I have ever read. That's what stopped me. But sex sells. I'm sure sexy hieroglyphics drew crowds back in their day as well.

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    1. You are probably right about the hieroglyphics, Elspeth. There are some people who like the titillation and don't care about the quality of the art that delivers it.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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