We are in the middle of a war. It is a war few know about, yet so many take sides of without intending to or knowing the full extent of the damage they cause. It is a war of our own creating, which makes it more heinous than other ideological wars. We have fought this war many times before in human history, but it appears that both sides are losing.
What is this war? It is the war about personal choice and censorship. It is a war about intellectual and creative freedom. It is a war about securing a life filled with worlds to explore and dreams to dream for future generations.
There was a time in the not-so-distant past when people saw something and made a rational decision about its personal value and interest. If there was no interest, they simply moved on.
Not interested in watching a horror movie? Go see a different film.
Not interested in reading a love story? Pick up a different book.
Now, this is an over simplification, and yes, challenges to literature and films have been made since their inception. Modern history though focuses on local challenges. School board X declares Harry Potter a bad book to put in their school’s library, for example. Individuals both supported and rejected these decisions. This is normal and micro-battles in the larger war.
What is the larger war raging today – this very moment – and has the power to change all forms of creativity? The rise of the social media activist.
I have nothing against activism. It can be a positive force. It can, however, also be a negative force when applied in the wrong way that removes personal choice and declares censorship the law of the land.
There have been many instances lately of books in either print or nearing publication that have been pulled due to social activism. One book was recently pulled by its author because he “dared to not consider the ramifications of the book’s setting” and “for turning a genocide into a love story.” Let me be clear, that after reading the book’s description, I would not have picked up the book to read. That is personal choice. However, I will now not have the freedom to exercise my personal choice because Twitter users determined the book to be racist, another “whitening” of history (this is odd considering Kosovo is in Europe and clearly part of the “white culture” as some define it today), and because he “dared” to portray a Muslim as a terrorist.
Now, an interesting note about this book, is that the author did quite a bit of research on the war, used factual events to create the setting, and focused on two Americans trying to escape without being killed. One Twitter user was irate that the author did not focus on a Muslim doctor that saved many lives during the war. Another user was irate because the author focused on the Americans during something that was clearly not their “business.”
Really? Really now! Let’s take a moment to really understand the reader’s argument and why the author pulled the book. The users are upset the author did NOT write the book THEY wanted to read.
Okay, sure. Um, I am going to have to disagree that writers should only write what a select group of social media activists want to read.
Here’s another example for a book that I have already read myself.
This month a book is due to be released that these same social media activists are now calling to be pulled from publication. In this story, a young girl is born with a birthmark on her face that grew and now covers a large area of it and she is very self-conscious of it. So much so, she has convinced herself that there is a monster inside her trying to come out (she is obsessed with monsters). In the story, she goes looking for a cure and uses a local legend to help. The author uses the character to retell the story of a Native American chief and his daughter. In the end, the girl learns to like herself, and her mom’s new boyfriend.
Social media activists are exploding because they claim the author “used their culture for her enjoyment.” Excuse me, but WTF! Many chimed in on how this was another case of “whiteness” and “white appropriation.” Again, excuse me?
Now, let the second example simmer for a moment. Apparently, according to social media activists, one can only write about, speak about, think about, or know about their own culture.
Really? That would be a hellish world to be sure.
If social media activism wasn’t bad enough, there are literary agents chiming in stating that they do, in fact, keep a list of writers who do not have POC (people of color) support.
So, now the literary world is mirroring Hollywood during the “Red scare.” Great! We know how well that worked out for so many innocent people.
You may be saying, “well, that sucks, but isn’t it a good thing to have inappropriate books pulled?”
The problem with that line of thinking (and many do say that very thing), is that who decides what is appropriate?
On an individual level, it is clearly the person – the reader or viewer. If I don’t like the advertising or blurb for creative project, I simply do not watch/read it. Simple, right? We’ve all probably seen or heard about all the commotion in the art world over the last fifty years about what art is “obscene” or “inappropriate” and the art world’s response was basically, “don’t like it, don’t look at it.”
The difference in what we are seeing today in the literary community and then in the art community, is that it is the literary community itself that is turning against authors to appease social media activists.
Imagine a world where books can only take place in the author’s personal space (whether it’s country, ethnicity, voice, etc). Sure, we might see more diversity in what is available, but the chances of that are slim. Why? Because social media activists want final approval for what is published.
Another writer on Twitter had a hard time finding a publisher for her book because “no one wants to read a book about a teacher in Oakland.” There have been harsh words about her book as well because she is not African American.
What can be done to stop this movement toward complete censorship? Stop supporting people complaining about a creative output. There is a market for everything and, unless it violates a law (like pedophilia for example), leave it be. Take back your right to personal choice and fight for the creator’s right to produce. This is the future we are trying to save.