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Graeme

Moral Obligations as Authors

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Sometime ago, there was the discussion of the use of smoking in stories.

At the time, the statement was made that smoking does occur and it can be quite prevalent at times. The story in question was simply reflecting reality.

A response to this was that as authors we had an obligation to not promote smoking, or to make it appear as something that is "cool".

Due to certain recent events, I have been thinking about these two views on the subject. While there will always be exceptions to every rule, it raised a question in my mind:

Do we, as authors, have a moral obligation to ensure that our stories are not seen to promote or glamourise what we consider to be irresponsible things?

I have used smoking as an example, but the same issue applies to things like unprotected sex and other things that DO occur in real life.

Opinions, anyone?

Graeme

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Do we, as authors, have a moral obligation to ensure that our stories are not seen to promote or glamourise what we consider to be irresponsible things?

Actually, that was me commenting to TR about his stories. What I said was there was TOO much smoking. I made the comment first from a literary standpoint because it was to the point it was distracting. (Everyone knows I like TR, and this isn't and wasn't any sort of knock at him, but simply my observation as a reader.)

Once I said that, I pointed out in a general way (but this may not have been done on the form but in a PM), that as an author, I don't think throwing in something such as "smoking" without a valid reason is a good idea. Now, it's certainly okay to have smokers if it's part of characterization. For example, if you had a newspaper editor and he didn't smoke and drink, nobody would believe you :)

But having half your teenage drama students smoke isn't believe. Having athletes smoke isn't so believable either.

This is just my two cents. I typed this fast and without thinking so let's see how I do.

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Do we, as authors, have a moral obligation to ensure that our stories are not seen to promote or glamourise what we consider to be irresponsible things?

I have used smoking as an example, but the same issue applies to things like unprotected sex and other things that DO occur in real life.

Aussie-

That's a very difficult question to answer and a tricky one to ask.

If a writer writes a murder mystery, could he be accused of promoting murder?

If a writer writes a war story, could he be accused of promoting war?

If a character in a story is an asshole, is the author promoting asshole-ery?

Maybe a character is an alcoholic bastard that hits kids like Aiden's dad in New Brother. Now I know for a fact that you weren't promoting child abuse.

I believe that some people are confusing plot elements with personal endorsements.

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[snipped]

Do we, as authors, have a moral obligation to ensure that our stories are not seen to promote or glamourise what we consider to be irresponsible things?

Graeme

No. No. No.

I'm not an amoralist or a nihilist. I write and my stories reflect my moral position quite deliberately. But I had no moral obligation to make it so. The writer's duty is to themselves (ugh, I'd prefer themself but it's just not possible) and to their imagination. That imagination can be dark, frightening, a place of horror, despair and even evil. The fact is of course that in the end it's almost impossible to do a good job of gamourising truly bad things. Look at de Sade. How many people could seriously say that they got a sexual kick out of One Hundred Days of Sodom? It's brilliantly written but you just can't make people like that glamorous and attractive to anyone with any moral sense. Of course, people without any moral sense can get a thrill out of reading about Buchenwald - there's nothing we can do about that.

If we make it a moral duty on writers to meet some moral standard then before long we'll have people denouncing literature as immoral.

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

It's not comfortable to say this but it's true. The alternative is the slippery slope from literature to moralising propaganda.

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Yes, there are a few and one of them is NOT to become a mere propagandist.

Another one is not to become a sell out and forget where you come from.

Last, but not least, is to tell the truth about the world as you see it.

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Do we, as authors, have a moral obligation to ensure that our stories are not seen to promote or glamourise what we consider to be irresponsible things?

No. Not to me, anyway.

Our only obligation is to write entertaining stories at the limits of our abilities.

Some criticized the drug use in my story Jagged Angel (including the Dude, who was initially put off by it), but I felt to avoid mentioning the drugs wouldn't be true to the story, because it reflects what's actually going on in California high schools (particularly in sports). As far as I'm concerned, I barely touched on drugs in terms of how serious a problem it is. My gut feeling is that I didn't glorify it -- I just showed that it existed, kids do it, and in some cases, it fucks them up.

But at the same time, my personal beliefs are that drugs are wrong for me, yet I think most of them should be legalized. I think a lot of stuff like drugs falls into the "victimless crime" category, and I think the U.S. would be a lot better off to legalize all soft drugs and go after the real problems we have.

But putting heavy anti-drug, anti-smoking, or anti-drinking moral messages in fiction (or movies or TV shows) is total bullshit to me. To me, it's preachy, it talks down to the audience, and it's condescending. It also pretends that the writer's opinion is the only one that matters, and I don't buy that either.

To me, I think people have to make up their own minds. As long as they don't hurt other people doing what they do, I say they should have the freedom to do it -- within reason. (That doesn't permit opening up a crystal meth lab next door, or selling crack to elementary school kids on playgrounds.)

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Guest rusticmonk86

I have to agree with the preceding poster.

Censorship is lame. I always get really worked up when a fellow writer broaches this topic because I don't believe it belongs here.

If you're afraid of writing something because of what other people will think of you, you shouldn't be writing.

That's all I have to say.

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I have to agree with the preceding poster.

Censorship is lame. I always get really worked up when a fellow writer broaches this topic because I don't believe it belongs here.

If you're afraid of writing something because of what other people will think of you, you shouldn't be writing.

That's all I have to say.

I agree.

-||

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Thank you everyone for their answers!

I should state for the record that when I asked the question, I was not implying my own position. I was merely curious as to what other people thought on the subject.

Graeme

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