Social pandering has gone over and beyond ridiculous. We must be careful what we say and to whom, and even the most benign thing shared can cause outrage. Why is that? Words are hurtful, there is no doubt about that, but why must we walk on the proverbial eggshells anymore?
Bullies exist, they always have and always will. It is a toxic part of humanity and a reality most people face sometime in their lives. However, that doesn’t seem to be why people are so hurt by words lately. It appears that large masses of people have thin skin and have an axe to grind against anyone who shares a different viewpoint or vocabulary.
Below is a screenshot of a reaction someone had to a tweet. Keep in mind my wife runs my Twitter account and was the one that posted this, not me, which is massively ironic. The not-too-subtle accusation of sexism. The point isn’t to vent because I’m offended. It is to point out just how thin-skinned, so many people of our culture are. Why is something so innocent as my wife and I celebrating our teamwork in need of criticism?
Our culture is growing ever more sensitive to the point where it finds problems where there are none. No matter how benign a statement, social media post, or thought is, someone is bound to get offended, but not just offended, that person may feel the need to “educate” you and put you in your place. Offended people now are the social bullies. Attempting to silence any voice that is different from their own in the name of “good.” How do we fight this? Call it out for what it is, bullying. Us writers need to keep writing our thoughts and what’s on our mind. Not cater or pander to anyone, no matter how loud and obnoxious their voice may be. The irony is that it is typically those who speak of tolerance and acceptance that are guilty of the very things they claim to hate. Perhaps this is a window into everyone’s psyche, we are often guilty of the things we hate the most. Therefore, before getting sanctimonious over silly things on social media, let us examine ourselves and see if we live up to our own standards. We all need this. Certainly, there is a time and place to speak up, and that is where wisdom and discernment comes in, both qualities though seem to be sorely lacking in our society.
I am a millennial. We are known for two things, 90s nostalgia and getting offended, especially the later. While Millennials on college campuses are the poster men and women for offense. It seems to me that being predisposed to offense goes beyond my generation. I think that social media is the root of a lot of offense. How about instead of getting offended we get thoughtful.
We are steeped in technology and information. How companies get their information to you through all the other sources is to pander to what you want to hear and believe. As a result, we lose our ability to empathize with someone else. That, requires effort. We must seek out what the “other side” believes. It’s okay to disagree, but what happened with civil discourse and free exchange of ideas without someone feeling it is a personal attack?
In the era of knee-jerk reactions and visceral reactions on the internet, I challenge whoever is reading this and myself to respond thoughtfully. It goes against every instinct within us. When we are hurt we want to get even, make them suffer and feel pain. There is enough of that on the internet. Why don’t we instead learn why we believe what we believe and support it with facts and research? When replying to posts we disagree with, why don’t we keep calm and explain our position rationally. This is something we should all think about.
We live in an emotionally charged world. Ideology is shifting greatly in America and at an exponential rate. What the people held to be true three years ago, is now questioned. People are inevitably upset and demand change, while others want to silence voices that disagree.
As a writer seeing this stuff happen it makes me wonder how much of Fahrenheit 451 might come to pass. I’ve written quite a bit on how easily offended we have become as a culture, but the issue has deepened. Opposite sides of believes often don’t even want to hear each other. People who disagree are now deemed evil, whereas once upon a time both parties might have been able to understand they don’t see the world the same and leave it at that.
Now if there is information that people disagree with there are “safe places” in colleges. There is an ever-growing push to not offend, while on the other hand some take that as a license to be unapologetically offensive. Offending or being offensive is now the worst thing someone can do, and some call for those voices to be silenced and it is already happening. Look no matter where your beliefs fall, you have a right to be offended, and someone else has a right to be offensive. That’s how a free society works. The reason for this is “offensive” is relative. What you are offended by isn’t offensive to your neighbor and so forth. Of course, that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be some limits on speech, such as threats of bodily harm. When we get to the point in society where we cannot tolerate being offended is when things like art become repressed. Will we get to a point that art is banned or books like in Fahrenheit 451? Maybe not, but extreme censorship is not that farfetched. Despite cultural swings, a writer never panders and never censors. It is the job of the author to tell the story as it is, no matter how uncomfortable. That also includes being true to the characters, and once again, not pander to cultural leanings.
It is interesting times we live in. Will we continue to have thinner skin in our culture as time progresses? Will we push the government to silence voices that hurt our feelings? Will we rise above this and realize that being offended is subjective and a choice? Time will tell.
I am waiting for the day when someone asks me, “Why don’t you have a _____ character?” or maybe “Why aren’t you more inclusive with your characters?” Well, my first answer is it is fiction with fake characters and fake races and fake religions. The key word there is fake. My second response is that my characters are who they are because that is who they reveal themselves to be. Simply put, my characters are who they are and cannot be changed any more than I can because that is who they are. In our overly sensitive culture that looks for reasons to be offended, it is imperative that we think of a few things about fiction.
I strongly disagree with the notion that every people group needs to be represented in every work of fiction. I know that many people passionately disagree with me on this, but hear me out. I can relate to a completely fake character of a fake species, let’s say a Wookie, just fine as long as the character is developed properly. Character development is the most important thing in fiction, not that they appear the same, believe the same, or live the exact same lifestyle as me. Let me be clear that I don’t have objections to people who are different from me in fiction. My objection lies in the complaint that we need to pander to all people groups just so they can “relate” to the characters. It’s fiction. It is fake anyway. What if the story is comprised entirely of anthropomorphic rats?
There is a simple truth that people tend to miss. A writer may play a role in creating the characters, but well-developed characters are more discovered than anything. If a writer is true to her work, she will write the characters exactly as they are, not make them something else just to appeal to cultural demands. The same holds true on the other side. A character shouldn’t be limited out of fear of cultural backlash. Ultimately, the writer should follow where the character leads him, not pander, not worry about offending because guess what? It’s fiction, and we shouldn’t expect fictional characters to be exactly like us in order for us to relate to them.
There is something I have noticed. Some have claimed it is recent, other say it has been around a long time. I take a stance somewhere in the middle: I believe it has been around a long time but is steadily growing more and more common. What is “it”? The appearance that our culture is increasingly more easily offended. As a writer, it is important to keep an eye on these trends and learn what offends people and why.
I saw on the news a few months back that certain comedians refuse to do stand-up on college campuses because they feel these institutions are too “politically correct.” Maybe that is true, maybe it’s not, but that is the consensus of some comedians. On social media, every political group or ideological camp seems to have someone who is perpetually offended by something. It often seems like people look for a “hidden” meaning in everything, whether it actually exists or not.
An artist, whether an author or a film maker, should not necessarily refrain from making something out of fear of offending, but I feel it is important to understand the culture. As artists, we need to know how to effectively communicate with our audience, but we also need to say what we mean. It seems that it is so easy for something, even if it is satire, to be construed into being seen as sexist, racist, or generally intolerant. This highlights the importance of authors choosing to convey exactly what they mean in the clearest way possible, but realizing at the same time someone will inevitably be offended somewhere along the way.
I think it is important that we attempt to convey our message without offending someone, but we also can’t live in fear of offending someone. Sometimes it is unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.