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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

3 articles on callout culture, fetishising problematising and writing

Writers blocked: how the new call-out culture is killing fiction

"According to a 2015 Pew Research Centre poll, only the barest majority of Britons—54 per cent—and a scant 27 per cent of Germans any longer believe government should allow people to make statements offensive to minorities. (Why only minorities? Wouldn’t equality under the law argue for banning speech offensive to anyone?)...

Given that the better part of the human race is crazy, stupid, or both, there’s nary a thought in the world whose airing won’t offend somebody. Doesn’t Darwin offend creationists? Furthermore, in granting so much power to woundedness, we incentivise hypersensitivity. If we reward umbrage, we will get more of it. We do reward umbrage, and we’re buried in it by the truckload...

The journalist Matt Baume decried Ryan Anderson’s controversial book on transgenderism, When Harry Became Sally, as “violent.” He didn’t mean it was full of gory shoot-outs. Baume meant it was full of opinions that he didn’t like... If words that cause umbrage are acts of violence, the state has every excuse to impound your dictionary...

Preventing writers from conjuring lives different from their own would spell the end of fiction. If we have the right to draw on only our own experience, all that’s left is memoir...

These days, straight white fiction writers whose characters’ ethnicity, race, disability, sexual identity, religion or class differs from their own can expect their work to be subjected to forensic examination—and not only on social media. Publishers of young adult fiction and children’s literature hire “sensitivity readers” to comb through manuscripts for perceived slights to any group with the protected status once reserved for distinguished architecture...

I have an obstreperous streak a mile wide. I hate being bullied, especially at the keyboard. If even writers like me are starting to wonder if including other ethnicities and races in our fiction is worth the potential blowback, then fiction is in serious trouble...

At the 2016 Sewanee Writers’ Conference in Tennessee, fellow authors accused Allen Wier of a “microaggression” because three old men in a baseball park ogled a young woman in his short story.

Is “hate speech” in dialogue prosecutable? Not long ago, I’d have said of course not. Now I’m not so sure. Minnesota has just withdrawn two great American classics, both scathing examinations of southern racism—Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird—from its school syllabus because the novels’ bigoted dialogue might make students feel “humiliated and marginalised.” Readers highly motivated to find fault often embrace deliberately unsophisticated interpretations of literary texts, for it’s easy to make passages sound atrocious just by taking characters’ assertions and word choice out of context. Indeed, searching for hidden offences has become social media’s updated version of the Easter egg hunt...

Unless handling the term with the protective rubber gloves of quotation marks, I plan to go to my grave having never employed the linguistic abortion “cisgender”—which suggests sissy gender—a word not only flagrantly repulsive, but one that in its contortion casts being born a woman and imagining that therefore one is a woman as one more sexual kink...

Fiction is under no obligation to reflect any particular reality, pursue social justice, or push a laudable political agenda. The purpose of any narrative form is up to the author. Yet contemporary university students are commonly encouraged to view literature exclusively through the prism of unequal power dynamics—to scrounge for evidence of racism, colonialism, imperialism, sexism, the list goes on. What a loss. What a pity. What a grim, joyless spirit in which to read.

How did we get so obsessed with virtue? A narrow version of virtue at that—one solely preoccupied with social hierarchy, when morality concerns far more than who’s being shafted and who’s on top. If all modern literature comes to toe the same goody-goody line, fiction is bound to grow timid, homogeneous, and dreary...

Anthony Horowitz, the author of the Alex Rider spy novels, was warned off writing a black character by his editor, who told him it might be considered “inappropriate.” Horowitz, who had previously run into trouble for saying Idris Elba was too “street” to play James Bond, argued that we were moving into dangerous territory. “Taking it to its logical extreme,” he said, “all my characters will from now on be 62-year-old white Jewish men living in London.”"


Lionel Shriver's full speech: 'I hope the concept of cultural appropriation is a passing fad'

"The kind of fiction we are “allowed” to write is in danger of becoming so hedged, so circumscribed, so tippy-toe, that we’d indeed be better off not writing the anodyne drivel to begin with...

You’re not supposed to try on other people’s hats. Yet that’s what we’re paid to do, isn’t it? Step into other people’s shoes, and try on their hats...

1961’s Black Like Me, for which John Howard Griffin committed the now unpardonable sin of “blackface.” Having his skin darkened – Michael Jackson in reverse – Griffin found out what it was like to live as a black man in the segregated American South. He’d be excoriated today, yet that book made a powerful social impact at the time...

However are we fiction writers to seek “permission” to use a character from another race or culture, or to employ the vernacular of a group to which we don’t belong? Do we set up a stand on the corner and approach passers-by with a clipboard, getting signatures that grant limited rights to employ an Indonesian character in Chapter Twelve, the way political volunteers get a candidate on the ballot?...

This latest and little absurd no-no is part of a larger climate of super-sensitivity, giving rise to proliferating prohibitions supposedly in the interest of social justice that constrain fiction writers and prospectively makes our work impossible...

When Truman Capote wrote from the perspective of condemned murderers from a lower economic class than his own, he had some gall. But writing fiction takes gall. As for the culture police’s obsession with “authenticity,” fiction is inherently inauthentic. It’s fake... I’m hoping that crime writers, for example, don’t all have personal experience of committing murder...

Here’s the bugbear, here’s where we really can’t win. At the same time that we’re to write about only the few toys that landed in our playpen, we’re also upbraided for failing to portray in our fiction a population that is sufficiently various...

I wasn’t instinctively inclined to insert a transvestite or bisexual, with issues that might distract from my central subject matter of apocalyptic economics. Yet the implication of this criticism is that we novelists need to plug in representatives of a variety of groups in our cast of characters, as if filling out the entering class of freshmen at a university with strict diversity requirements. You do indeed see just this brand of tokenism in television...

In the world of identity politics, fiction writers better be careful. If we do choose to import representatives of protected groups, special rules apply. If a character happens to be black, they have to be treated with kid gloves, and never be placed in scenes that, taken out of context, might seem disrespectful. But that’s no way to write. The burden is too great, the self-examination paralysing. The natural result of that kind of criticism in the Post is that next time I don’t use any black characters, lest they do or say anything that is short of perfectly admirable and lovely...

It’s largely in order to keep from losing my fictional mojo that I stay off Facebook and Twitter, which could surely install an instinctive self-censorship out of fear of attack...

Membership of a larger group is not an identity. Being Asian is not an identity. Being gay is not an identity. Being deaf, blind, or wheelchair-bound is not an identity, nor is being economically deprived...

We should be seeking to push beyond the constraining categories into which we have been arbitrarily dropped by birth. If we embrace narrow group-based identities too fiercely, we cling to the very cages in which others would seek to trap us"


Free Speech and the Necessity of Discomfort - The New York Times

"Journalism can only be as good as its audience. Intelligent coverage requires intelligent readers, viewers and listeners.

We cannot invest in long-form, in-depth journalism for readers interested only in headlines, first paragraphs, or list-icles. We cannot purchase the services of talented wordsmiths and expert editors if people are indifferent to the quality of prose. We cannot maintain expensive foreign bureaus if audiences are uninterested in the world beyond our shores. We cannot expect columnists to be provocative if readers cancel their subscriptions the moment they feel “triggered” by an opinion they dislike...

A newspaper, after all, isn’t supposed to be a form of mental comfort food. We are not an advocacy group, a support network, a cheering section, or a church affirming a particular faith — except, that is, a faith in hard and relentless questioning. Our authority derives from our willingness to challenge authority, not only the authority of those in power, but also that of commonplace assumptions and conventional wisdom.

In other words, if we aren’t making our readers uncomfortable every day, we aren’t doing our job. There’s an old saying that the role of the journalist is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted, but the saying is wrong. The role of the journalist is to afflict, period. News is new — new information, new challenges, new ideas — and it is meant to unsettle us.

That’s a good thing. To be unsettled and discomforted is the world’s great motivator. It is a prick to conscience, a prod to thinking, a rebuke to complacency and a spur to action...

Barely 50 years ago, it was an unpopular truth that there was absolutely nothing unnatural about the love that went by the horrible name of “miscegenation.” Other unpopular truths one could mention include gay rights, women’s suffrage, and evolution. These truths could only have made their debut in the public square, and eventually gained broad acceptance, under the armed guard, so to speak, of the First Amendment...

But not just the First Amendment. In addition to a legal sanction, free speech has flourished in the United States because we have had a longstanding cultural bias in favor of the gadfly, the muckraker, the contrarian, the social nuisance...

The astute presentation of divergent views makes us more thoughtful, not less; and that we cannot disagree intelligently unless we first understand profoundly...

We will not be able to preserve the culture and institutions of a liberal republic unless we are prepared to accept, as Judge Learned Hand put it in 1944, that the “spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right” — and must therefore have the willingness to listen to the other side...

How can we get our readers to understand that the purpose of The Times is not to be a tacit partner in the so-called Resistance, which would only validate the administration’s charge that the paper is engaged in veiled partisanship rather than straight-up fact-finding and truth telling?...

40 percent of voters seem to be solidly behind the president, and it behooves us to understand and even empathize with them, rather than indulge in caricatures. Donald Trump became president because millions of Americans who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 voted Republican four years later. Those who claim this presidency is purely a product of racism need some better explanation to account for that remarkable switch.

The deeper point, however, is that if one really wants to “resist” Trump, especially those of us in the news media, we might start by trying not to imitate him or behave the way he does... too many people, including those who are supposed to be the gatekeepers of liberal culture, are using these platforms to try to shut down the speech of others, ruin their reputations, and publicly humiliate them...

To what extent are people censoring themselves for fear of arousing the social media frenzies? There’s a reason why Katie Roiphe is writing about the “whisper networks” of women who aren’t 100 percent in line with the #MeToo movement. It should profoundly alarm anyone who cares for #MeToo that such a piece should have needed to be written, in the reliably liberal pages of Harper’s Magazine, no less. The job of #MeToo is to put a firm and hopefully final stop to every form of sexual predation, not to enforce speech codes.

This move toward left-wing illiberalism is not new, and the list of thinkers who have waged war against that illiberalism, from Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in the 1940s to Christopher Hitchens in the 2000s, amounts to a roll call of liberal honor. I think we are awaiting our new Hitchens today, in case any of you want to apply for the job. All you need is a first-class brain and a cast-iron stomach...

To hear such speech may make us uncomfortable. As well it should. Discomfort is not injury. An intellectual provocation is not a physical assault. It’s a stimulus. Over time, it can improve our own arguments, and sometimes even change our minds.

In either case, it’s hard to see how we can’t benefit from it, if we choose to do so. Make that choice. Democracy is enriched if you do. So are you"

Literally Nazis
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