I just one year’s time, our reality, or at least our perception thereof has been altered (forever?) What does this mean for authors?
Reality v fiction: my husband and I greatly enjoy watching TV shows on Netflix. After long days of work, to just turn off your brain and binge watch a Marvel series or something else is liberating. Sometimes we end up talking more about what we see on the screen than actually paying attention to the action. We watch “The Arrow” and talk about how violence on the screen is depicted so much more graphically than it was just a few years ago, or – as we’re currently watching “Madam Secretary”, how this show about an American Secretary of State feels more like fantasy than reality, given that all the “awful”, “horrible”, and “reprehensible” acts the show lets various other countries unleash upon the U.S. are now coming directly from DC itself. Maybe Secretary McCord could take on the real White House and State Dept for a change?
All around us, our perception of reality (and what does as honesty) is changing and I keep getting the sense that it is changing in ways that were unthinkable just a few years ago. An American president who is boasting about his sexual assault on women, whose constant lying and conniving has us… No, wait! Let’s go back to the sexual assault part. I need no more examples. Would Obama have been elected after boasting how he’d grab women by their pussies? Of course not. Neither would Senator McCain or anyone before them. President Clinton was almost impeached for having consensual sex with an intern! Just as a perspective. Yet we seem to have accepted that it’s okay today, for the U.S. President to behave that way (and then some).
It’s not just in the U.S. I just listened to a press conference by our own PM about an IT outsourcing scandal where, much like the Russian debacle in the U.S., new meetings and details have come to light almost every day. Just today we learned that four government departments had been in the know about this for over a year, yet no one informed the minister in charge. And we’re not talking junior ministers nobody cares about: defense, interior, justice & economy. All four knew, knew that secrets of state and super sensitive data could be adrift, yet no one cared to act until a few months ago. And they all blame their underlings, others and each other. As a citizen it makes you wonder. Why does no one come clean and tell it all?
In another really warped world, our sense of justice has become so dominated by this sense of “me, me, me” to the last millimeter, that people are capable of unleashing all hell about literally nothing, as this scary article in the Washington Times demonstrates. I’ve always felt that political correctness can be pushed too far. And we wonder why the “silent majority” (which doesn’t really exist as such) votes for people like Trump who promise them a return to the good old days of the e.g. the fifties or medieval times. I attended an author-writer conference two years ago where we discussed “triggers” in great detail, and I was flabbergasted at the claims and demands from readers that we trigger-warn about literally everything and anything. In the end, we’d have books with more trigger warnings than text, because, let’s face it, even Corn Flakes could trigger someone to have a mental breakdown. We’re not just talking rapes or cold-blooded murder with a tea spoon… Trust me, some people really are going ALL the way in their demands for things, and in their radicalism, they don’t take prisoners and have no room for compromise. Common sense? R.I.P.!
What does that mean for our societies? Well, two things. People lie more openly, more brazenly and with less risk of being caught. I mean if Trump lies on a daily basis, why shouldn’t I (be allowed to)? Raising kids, to be honest people, is about to become really challenging… Fiction and fantasy are finding themselves in a space where the lines between what’s real and what’s not get blurred, not to mention that our fear of offending anyone scares us into writing what’s on our mind. Already, writers for U.S. comedy shows find it hard to caricaturize their own regime, as the reality is so warped. And looking at a show like Madam Secretary, where the U.S. is portrayed in the light we were all brought up under, a beacon of light, a fighter for freedom, democracy, and civil liberty, becomes almost painful to watch, as it’s so unrealistic. Almost a joke, but the laughter gets stuck in our throats. Six months, that’s all it took!
For authors, the impact might be felt the most in genres that deal with politics: thrillers, or books dealing with current affairs, but I think there is a risk that even other books, looking at social issues, family relationships etc. will face increased scrutiny and criticism from readers. Is the storyline graphic enough? Is what is credible, believable changing, do we (now) get away with unworldly claims in our books? I just edited a short story with several sensitivity comments. Yes, I get it, but what about realism? What about that certain people talk a certain way? Do I really have to choose between being untrue to my characters and my story or being bashed by sensitivity Taliban? I don’t know, but I wonder how writing is affected by the Trump era, beyond cheesy erotica poking fun at the president’s lack of substance. What is your take? Do you feel your sense of “reality” being challenged? Do you feel that your sense of justice has been affected? I’d like to hear from you on how you feel that the writing community is reacting to the changes in our world. Are we still writing about the big issues or are we bogged down by debates around the shape of the dot on the i? I for one am confused…
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