Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Policing Authors: Yay or Nay?

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.


  1. I want to hug this post. That is all.

  2. I LOVE THIS POST. You said everything I think I would have wanted to say. Well done.

  3. So I wasn't very fond of the video and I didn't agree with it, but that's my opinion, and I wouldn't go as far as saying that I won't read her work. I can see that she is expressing her thoughts and me not exactly agreeing with it shouldn't affect my overall thoughts on her as a person because yes we are all entitled to our opinion. The author was entitled to hers the blogger you linked to -- to hers and you to yours. We don't have to agree with each other but I do think we should take a step back first and see where the other person is coming from.

  4. Good post, Vinaya.

    My position is, authors are free to express their political/religious/moral views any way they want. However, they should be ready to potentially lose readers based on these views. I, for one, will not be reading Card or Saunders, simply because I disagree with their position on some issues and thus I doubt they can offer anything of value to me as a reader.

    It is safer to maintain a neutral public image, but for some people it is important to express their feelings publicly, to stand for something of value to them. I can appreciate that.

  5. The blogger you linked to seems very afraid that someone out there will influence her children before she can get to them. If they're reading YA you've had about ten years to begin imparting your belief system on them and it is NEVER going to hurt a young adult to learn more about the world, about other people's beliefs, thoughts, and opinions. Unless the blogger plans on sticking her kids in a closet and sliding her manifesto beneath the door for them to read every day then other people will influence her children. I'd personally much prefer that my children read authors who can clearly and rationally discuss politics, religion, and a whole slew of other issues. What's the alternative? Mindless vanilla fiction? Even Twilight has strong messages about love and marriage. Is it better your child get it subliminally or be invited to post comments in free form and read a variety of responses. Obviously I think the blogger has unrealistic expectations.

  6. Brilliant post ... this blog is just amazing. Thanks for sharing.

  7. My opinion which is clearly being blown out of the water was being asked from a marketing prospective only. Should an author risk readers via political views? I also didn't make any public comment on the Becca Fitzpatrick thing so I am not using any opposite argument anywhere. My comment about not buying Pearce's books is said as watching her vlogs for a long time I am finally turned off of her work. Not two weeks ago was I interested in reading her As You Wish via her Enthralled short. No threat a simple statement.

  8. thank you for pointing out the innate hypocrisy with bloggers telling authors NOT to do something. seriously, so many panties were in so many knots over the whole "i'm a blogger so i can say what i want!!!" thing...yet here is the reverse and the same expectations they defend to the extreme don't apply to authors. bizarre.

    i think you run a higher risk of backlash if you have an intentionally inflammatory post - either with a political/social topic or with a book review. but if you're being inflammatory, you recognize the risk you take. hell - if you write anything EVER on the internet, be prepared for peeps to backlash. but also treat others the way you'd like to be treated. should be obvious, but...

    thanks for this post! much to noodle over.

  9. It's really hard to seperate authors from their works, especially nowadays. I had the exact same feelings when reading Sanderson's post, and the opinions on it - I couldn't believe he'd write such insensitive things, but I was also mad because I felt like I wouldn't be able to enjoy his work now without being labeled as a homophobe myself.

    Which would be a crying shame because I loved Mistborn, and I plan on reading more of his books in the future. I wouldn't stop reading his books if he expressed views that were different from mine, but I wouldn't appreciate being judged for it. Which, I guess is a problem with the people, not the author.

    Anyway, I don't agree with some of the things Pearce says in her vlog, but that won't stop me from reading her books. That would be like constantly bringing up the plagiarism scandal involving Cassandra Clare when reading her Mortal Instruments series - even if I don't like her books, it would be completely irrelevant.

  10. I went back and re-read your post to make sure I wasn't getting things wrong, but no, I find that I wasn't.

    This post is [...] more about should authors, YA authors in particular go live with their viewpoints.

    There is no mention of marketing and/or risking of readers here. In fact, except for a phrase at the very end where take you "take offense to personal views being clouted about on a platform for author marketing", there is no discussion of marketing either. Now on the question of blogs as marketing tools, I have made my post clear, as also on the subject of authors expressing their views in public. But that's not what your post is really about.

    Half your post is dedicated to the reasons why you disagree with Jackson Pearce; this would have been fine - in the same way I disagree with your post, and in fact, also disagree with the content of Pearce's post. What wasn't fine was the fact that your disagreement was cloaked by a veneer of concern for the improper influence YA authors would exert on 'impressionable' teenagers by expressing any political or moral or religious views whatsoever. However, Jackson Pearce is not the only author who expressed her views regarding Osama's death. Why aren't you pointing a finger at Tamora Pierce, who had a long, beautifully detailed blog post about the political and moral repercussions of Osama's death? Why aren't you boycotting John Green who has made his opinion of Osama's death and the subsequent public response, more than clear on Twitter? A simple Google search would have given you several hits on YA authors who have blogged/Tweeted/Facebooked on the subject of Osama's death. To focus on Pearce alone, gives it the appearance of a witch hunt, which may not have been intended, but which is there nonetheless. Especially because your post doesn't mention any long-standing issue with Pearce's vlogs.

    All I got from your post was that Pearce said some things you didn't agree with, and therefore you decided to boycott her books. Again, your personal choice, and perfectly understandable, if you hadn't turned your choice into a larger one for the public - if you had said, 'I don't agree with Pearce, and I don't want to buy her books because of our ideological differences', nobody would have called you on it. Instead, because of your ideological differences with one author, you made an across-the-board call for ALL authors to stop airing their views in public, because of TEH CHILDREN. Nope, sorry, not buying it.

    Oh, and about the Be Nice thing, I didn't mean you specifically, I meant bloggers, in general. I'm changing the sentence to reflect that, sorry!

  11. Now that we have such ready access to authors & writers, it can be hard to separate them from their works. I think that I'd find it hard to continue reading an author if I lost respect for them because of something they'd said (although, of course, it depends on what they've actually said).

    Authors shouldn't be afraid to be themselves and to express their opinions. Maybe they'll win some friends and lose others - that's inevitable. Better that than to be completely censored.

  12. Just wanted to post this.

    It seems the blogger you mentioned in your post changes her mind about this issue daily.

  13. Agreed.

    I loved Ender's Game, so I'm not necessarily going to stop reading Orson Scott Card, but I won't pay money for his books, as he donated a lot of money to Prop 8 campaigns, and that's not where I want my money going. Opinions on Osama bin Laden don't matter to me, as I can understand all perspectives. (Why we need to get rid of an evil man, why killing is wrong, why his death really doesn't make much difference at all in the current state of the world, etc.)

    As I see it, as long as you're not paying someone, it's okay to like his/her work. Take Salvador Dali: Every time I tell someone I love his work, I hear something bad about him. ("He was really arrogant, you know." "He was a fascist." "Did you know that he threw his own baby down the stairs?")

  14. To people who read my blog a lot know all of my should authors do this posts are about their marketing platform. I could have been more clear. I wasn't clouted by links to John Green or Tamora Peirce and I just haven't seen them. I don't actively look for these things. I completely agree that I should have been more clear about the marketing/platform. I can't assume that only my regular readers will read something.

  15. As long as i t doesn't affect the quality of the writing. Even if it's someone I agree with, it's annoying to read a book that's nothing but a writer taking over characters to preach at me.
    OSC comes to mind. But, it's not as if there aren't billions of books.

  16. I totally agree with this post!

    People are up in arms about censorship in books, but when an author decides to express an opinion that someone doesn't like publicly people want to shut it down? That kind of logic doesn't sit well with me.
    I mean, it's that kind of logic that leads to book censorship in the first place, right?