So Jackson Pearce decided to do a vlog about the death of Osama bin Laden a couple of days ago. I’m not going to say much about the vlog, since a) the death of bin Laden was nowhere near as emotional for me as it was for the Americans and b) she didn’t say anything inflammatory. For the curious, here is her vlog:
What disturbs me about this whole thing is this post. This blogger is apparently addressing the issue of whether YA authors should go public with their viewpoints. Most of the post is a diatribe against Pearce’s vlog, but I won’t go into that either. What I will discuss is this idea that an author should stay quiet on his or her political/moral/religious views, so as to avoid influencing impressionable teenagers.
Now anyone who reads this blog regularly knows how emphatic I am about the messages authors send out in their books. I believe strongly that YA authors should be responsible for direct and subliminal messages contained within the pages of their work. As readers, most of us tend to identify with characters, sometimes subsume our sense of identity during the period when we are transported into other worlds and other lives. When I’m reading a book, I’m not thinking, ‘Oh this author is trying to preach abstinence to me’, I’m thinking, ‘If this cool, fun girl thinks she shouldn’t have sex until marriage, maybe I shouldn’t either’. So in my opinion, messages in books are stronger than any direct preaching by an adult.
And yes, actually, I do think teenagers are impressionable. There’s a reason peer pressure works better on them than on any other age group. But at the same time, one needs to be realistic, especially in the age of information. While I stand by my position that teenagers are impressionable, I by no means think they’re stupid. And I really don’t think they’re going to embrace enveloping notions of moral and immoral because of a two-minute vlog. In fact, I’d bet that most of the people kicking up a fuss over this vlog are adults.
And some of these adults are saying things that are making me really, really angry. They’re saying that authors should not be allowed to espouse political or religious views in public for fear of negatively influencing their reader base. Do I even have to express why this is wrong? Yes? Well, I will.
Remember a couple of months ago, when there was this huge furore over Becca Fitzpatrick’s Be Nice post? Bloggers all over the blogosphere were up in arms over their right to express their opinions on the books they read. The debate expanded to cover several issues of freedom of expression, and threats to their future career, etc etc.
While pretty much everyone agreed back then that it was essential for bloggers to have free speech, it appears the same courtesy may not be extended to authors. The author of the post linked above specifically says that she will never buy any of Pearce’s books in the future. That’s fine, that’s her choice, except for the fact that it is being wielded as a threat. It’s implying that the penalty for free speech is a boycott of Pearce’s works. How is this okay?
And more importantly, when does an author stop being an author and start being a person? Sure, like every other author, Pearce also uses her blog/vlog as a marketing tool. But that’s not all she uses it for. Like every other blogger, she also uses it to talk about other books, and random animals and Cosmo magazine. If I expect people to allow my blog to be my personal space, why shouldn’t she? Is her role of ‘author’ really so all-consuming that we can’t let her be a person at all, anywhere in public? That’s not fair.
If Jackson Pearce had said on her vlog, “Buy Sisters Red, it shows you the right way to think on moral issues”, I would have been up in arms against her. If she had said, “Kids, don’t listen to your parents, don’t judge for yourselves, here I am telling you that you should be celebrating bin Laden’s death”, I would probably boycott her too. But all she’s doing is being a regular person, and expressing her views on a subject that many Americans hold dear to their hearts.
I’m a fan of Brandon Sanderson’s work. So I was very disappointed when I came across his blog post regarding Rowling’s revelation of Dumbledore’s homosexuality. As a practicing Mormon, Sanderson is, of course, anti-gay marriage. And the tone of his post was redolent of apologist concern-trolling. But will I stop reading his books? No. And here’s why – it’s because he doesn’t expect me to stop being pro-LGBT rights. He’s entitled to his opinion, as I am to mine. He doesn’t implant any of his religious ideology into his books (that I’ve seen anyway). So I am able to divorce author from person, and enjoy his talent. Not so much Orson Scott Card, whose later books just appear to have become vehicles for his propaganda.
So here’s what I’m saying. Authors, like everybody else in the world, are entitled to their opinion. And who are we to decide what issues are okay for them to discuss, and what aren’t? And what’s the point of having an opinion if you can’t express it? Not choosing to, is one thing, but imposing that choice on them by threatening their career is wrong. They are as entitled to freedom of speech as any other blogger. And as for influencing teenagers, maybe we should give the teens more credit, hmmm? When CNN is showing picture after picture of Americans in celebratory mode, when all the newspapers and the interwebs are abuzz, one author’s opinion is barely a drop in the ocean. No doubt this storm in a teacup will blow over in a couple of days, the same way every other internet controversy does, but in the meantime, here’s my plea for people to remember that authors are people too, and what I am entitled to say or do, they are too.