plainly and simply parasitical on the obvious or univocal reading

Monday, July 24, 2006

An Open Letter to Edgy Writers Who Write About Really Real Real Life

I cannot censor you. I wouldn't if I could. As a matter of fact, I may be more interested in the blossoming of your career than you are. I just don't want you to be a talentless hack. You don't want to be a talentless hack, do you? If you do, just say so and we can reevaluate the terms of our relationship honestly, like adults.

I am aware that rape happens in real life. In fact, I am aware that it happens more often than people are comfortable acknowledging. You can be sure that when I critique real life, it's on the "needs improvement" list. Curiously, when I bring it up in reference to real life, I am never accused of trying to stifle anyone's creative vision.

But all of that is rather beside the point, isn't it? The point is the text, and whether it is any good. When I am critiquing someone's work of fiction, I am (and I admit that I was foolish enough to think that this was obvious) not critiquing real life.

See, much as there are good and bad ways to deal with murder, bank robbery, whacked-out cosmic shit and world domination plots (you know, the real-life stuff), there are good and bad ways to deal with rape and its consequences. For example, using rape and/or serial rape as a shortcut to show how really really bad/serious/big threat your bad guy is qualifies as a bad way to do it. Even aside from the rape thing, why do you need to take shortcuts to establish anything about any of your characters? Why do you care so little about your creations? Same goes for using it as a motivation, by the way. If I were to break it down mathematically, it would go something like this: sexual assault + cliches and hackery = trivialization of sexual assault. And that is offensive. And when you think about it, doesn't that make it a less effective way to show how bad the bad guys are? And doesn't it, in fact, undermine any gritty realness that the introduction of such a high-impact real world issue may have introduced? I'm not just trying to bust your chops here, I simply think these are things you may want to consider as you refine your craft.

You may think that this means that I think there's something inherently wrong with dealing with sexual assault and rape in comic stories. This is not precisely true. Dealing with it is fine. But simply introducing it into the text is not the same thing as dealing with it. Simply presenting it as bad, or taking a textual stance against it, is not the same thing as dealing with it. We all know it's bad. You won't be blowing any minds with that stunning revelation. And yes, the same could probably be said for all violent crimes. What sets rape apart, however, is that it is a crime that, the overwhelming majority of the time, happens to women, and happens to them precisely because they are women.

So you see, I'm not interested in stifling your creativity. I am not taking a stand regarding what you should or shouldn't "be able" to write about. I am not calling for your work to be censored, and even if I did, nobody would listen. I don't matter that much. What I am saying is this: as long as you continue to produce texts that deal with rape and sexual assault in a cavalier or trivializing way, especially if you do so because your writing is poor, I will continue to bring critique. I want you to be a better writer. Edgy, even. And good writing starts with good thinking. I wish you well, I really do. See that you don't bring the hackery, though. And if you do, and I express my disappointment, please don't act as though I'm attacking your freedom of expression, when I am merely exercising my own in kind.

Yours always, except when not,


SallyP said...

Umm...Dear, I would like to comment on your blog...but I couldn't read it, since it was printed in white lettering on a
flaming background. Talk about


Dan Jacobson said...

Yeah, I'm working on that. Sorry.

redlib said...

Another confirmation of a post I made recently regarding The Walking Dead. The 'rape happens in real life' excuse can be just that- an excuse to be a lazy writer to give a character motivation. See also: killing a man's family so he wants revenge.

Susan Francis said...

SallyP, try hitting Cotrol and A. This was the reply on another blog I was reading to somebody who complained about the background, and it works (at least, it works in IE, which is what they've got at this library).

I still think people should make things legible to start with tho. White on that background? If you love the picture that much, can't you use black text? At least some of it would be legible.

I've written TOO MANY letters recently complaining about magazines printed in colour/background/font/size combinations that are problematic even for people with normal eyesight. At least on the web, people can light up the text with Control-A.

(On the actual topic: hear hear.)