Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Right to Offend.

"Like I give a shit what Louis Shalako thinks."

The other day I had some trouble sleeping, eventually going thirty hours without sleep.

When I finally laid down at eleven or so, with the light off, there was a kind of red vaporous mist floating and swirling around on the inside of my eyelids, like dancing cigarette smoke. 

For a while, I was worried that I really wouldn’t be able to get to sleep. All kinds of crazy thoughts went though my mind.

And I had the whopper of a story idea.

It was so good I laughed out loud, fist-punping there in bed, and thinking that for sure I had to write it up. I have a pen and paper right there on the bedside table, but the light was off and the room kind of chilly or I would have made a note of it.

The next morning I couldn’t even remember what it was. That’s frustrating, and I tried several times to regurgitate it back up out of my subconscious mind, but the next night, or sixteen hours later, it suddenly dawned on me right out of the blue. (Like a miracle.) I wrote down exactly nine key words and that afternoon I began work on it.

And it occurred to me that the story might be as offensive as all get out to a certain group of people, purely on religious grounds. Something like six hundred million of them, not all of them non-English speakers, and yet at the same time it is true that many of them live in secularized nations and some of them might have quite liberal, even tolerant views of the little idiosyncrasies of the average western writer. Most, but not all, live halfway around the world.

The trouble is with the combination of the story elements, the theme, the events that happen in the story, and the way it is presented. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a ripping good satire. It’s funny as hell in its own way and that’s what I like to do sometimes.

I have little doubt that I have the right, according to my own lights, to publish this story or otherwise do as I see fit with it. We have the right to offend one another, a thought some will find offensive! And yet they find it so useful, too.

There is also some awareness that other editors, in speculative fiction or whatever, would be hesitant or at least think twice before publishing such a story. Maybe the difference is that I don’t have a wife and three kids.

When I realized that I have indeed written and published other stories, ones that might have offended or even simply hurt the feelings or irritated other folks of and other faiths or group of faiths…easily six hundred million of them in the world too, you know.

No one ever seriously objected to Near Death Experience, although one editor told me it was ‘a political and religious hot potato,’ and eventually the story was published by Danse Macabre.

The point is that I never really worried too much about reprisals or repercussions. I never seriously worried that some Fundamentalist Christian guy would grab a shotgun and jump in a pickup truck and drive fifteen hundred miles to come and get me. Because some of them believe in reincarnation too, even though the story was about a Muslim cleric, while undergoing emergency heart surgery at the hands of a Jewish doctor. 


This forces me to confront not so much the issue of right to publish, and not even the issue of whether or not someone would strenuously object to the story.

The real question is one of my own perceptions—am I responding to a negative stereotype in terms of the average man in the street in any major city in that part of the world? What about some other part of the world?

Aren’t we all just trying to get along, and should I not just keep my mouth shut and my head down?

Surely this would always be the safest course, and the default position for many.

I’ll rephrase that in more offensive terms. Is the average Muslim mom or pop really a bloodthirsty killer with no tolerance whatsoever? I would like to think this is not true. I would like to think most have some objectivity, some sense of humour, and some sense of human dignity—even though the story in question is, on the face of it, uncomplimentary.

It is uncomplimentary to the quest for martyrdom.

And whose standards should I go by, if I could look at it from their point of view? Would it be middle-of-the-road or fundamentalist principles that should guide me? From their point of view, I mean. The point of view of the majority, I mean.

Being grabbed by the wrong band of folks, way back in the hills in the wrong part of the world, if the wrong guy knew I had written that story, there’s no telling how it might go. It’s a crap-shoot.

Some guy might laugh his head off, or he might blow mine off. A bunch of college kids at a party somewhere, that might be a whole different ball of wax. Even then there’s likely to be a very pious, very sincere, very offended, and very insecure person who might strenuously object. That’s because a good writer can make you think they are talking directly to you and you alone. Even though this blog gets hundreds of hits in a day and fifty people will read this in the first hour, probably more even.

But there is that whole question of my own perceptions, my own stereotypes, and just how realistic are those perceptions, and how realistic can that threat assessment be under those terms of reference?

Trust me, I’m not seeking martyrdom, for surely that is vanity, and not at all like surrender to the will of God, which is really more a kind of humility. I don't have that much to atone for, quite frankly. Surely one would have to despise oneself and one's life to do such a foolish thing. Because otherwise it really is vanity.

At least I took it into consideration. I asked the question and found my own answer—and I touched up the story somewhat, one that gives reasonable men of any faith an out.

That’s right ladies and gentlemen. I didn’t sensor it exactly, I rewrote it. That’s all.

I did that for a reason.

I left you an out—an excuse not to act, or even to listen. I gave you a reason not to bother.

Other than that, I sure hope y’all have a nice day.

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