By Sclavus on Sep 13, 2017 at 6:59 PM
  1. Sclavus

    Sclavus Active Member

    Aug 26, 2017
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    A Writer's Responsibility

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Sclavus, Sep 13, 2017.

    Fiction inspires, and where it has inspired good in the world, it has also inspired evil. John Hinckley, Jr. is infamous for shooting President Ronald Reagan, in an attack that wounded three others, including the late gun control advocate James Brady. He claimed to want to impress Jodie Foster after he became obsessed with her from her performance in Taxi Driver.

    More recently, two adolescent girls were arrested for attempted murder after luring their peer into the woods and attacking her, in an effort to impress the fictitious character Slenderman. Other attacks and atrocities have been tied to video games and music. Right or wrong, creators are often blamed for atrocities when perpetrators claim to have been inspired by the creators' work.

    Thankfully, many creators have not stopped creating as a result of such crimes. In fact, they sometimes respond to the criticism through their chosen medium. After being blamed for inspiring Columbine attackers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, musician Marilyn Manson dedicated a chapter of his autobiography, The Long, Hard Road Out of Hell to the outcry against him. To this day, he continues creating.

    Despite legal protections for creators against criminal liability in such cases, there are those who argue creators have a responsibility to abstain from content that could potentially inspire evil actions. Unfortunately, that argument does not take personal responsibility into account.

    The nature of motivation comes into play, and it is imperative for creators to realize motivation is internal. To use an analogy, the sun may inspire an artist, but it cannot pick up a paintbrush for him. A person may claim they were inspired by something to do evil, but they still made the choice to commit the action. Therefore, a creator is not morally responsible for the actions of those inspired by their work.

    That lack of liability on legal and moral grounds does not, however, release us as creators from any responsibility whatsoever. Early editions of Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk were rumored to contain a recipe for an explosive substance. Later editions of the book and the movie the book inspired omitted certain details, so anyone seeking to create explosives would end up with an inert substance if they followed the instructions given by Tyler Durden.

    More recent editions of the novel include a note from the author describing how people responded to the story. He tells of "fight club" themes in everything from rodeos to adult entertainment, mostly used as a marketing tactic. But there were also those who started illegal fighting organizations, committed criminal conspiracies, and even maimed themselves to be like the story's characters. It's clear from the story that the creators did not encourage these actions, yet people did them.

    If we as creators wish to avoid censorship, we must censor ourselves proactively. Common sense dictates there is a difference between telling someone about a violent event and laying out the procedure for the event in detail. There is a reason movies and books about crime often fictionalize the names, locations, and layouts of buildings destroyed or otherwise attacked by criminals in a story.

    The art of storytelling allows room for "telling it like it is" without providing an instruction manual for chaos. But even if we write a realistic story without providing too many details, there will always be the potential for someone to be inspired toward criminal activity because of our work. That's not our problem, frankly, and we would do well to keep from blaming ourselves for those actions.

    In summary, a creator's responsibility is to tell a good story, while utilizing common sense and empathy to avoid details that make immoral or criminal activities easy. Certainly someone could find instructions for anything, but it's important that we aren't the ones to provide that information. While no one but we can decide what we consider immoral, there is always a way to tell a good story and steer clear of dangerous content.

    If we do find ourselves at the center of controversy, we are at least in charted territory. Many creators have faced accusations and criticism for inspiring violence, but have continued to create in spite of--and often because of--those accusations. The most we can ask of ourselves is to live decently within the law, and tell a good story. If we've done that, we can be certain that anyone accusing us of inciting violence has no ground to stand upon.
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2017


Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Sclavus, Sep 13, 2017.

  • Tags:
    1. Mouthwash
    2. Oscar Leigh
      Oscar Leigh
    3. A.M.P.
      As a happy Ayndroid, this scares me.
      Vaughan Quincey and Oscar Leigh like this.
    4. Hwaigon
      "A person may claim they were inspired by something to do evil, but they still made the choice to commit the action. Therefore, a creator is not morally responsible for the actions of those inspired by their work."

      I agree, partially, and disagree, again partially. It is true that it is the end-user's hand or step that carries out the action in the end.
      However, inception. Hence I believe the creator, precisely for creating a reality or simulation thereof, bears some responsibility because he plants seeds of a thought. That is also why games have age restrictions.

      Hence I think - and have always thought - that Goethe bore some responsibility for the suicide-wave as a result of his
      Sorrows Of The Young Werther. People were inspired and took certain actions, yes, but they did so in a facsimile fashion. I think it matters.

      "Certainly someone could find instructions for anything, but it's important that we aren't the ones to provide that information."
      Last edited: Nov 9, 2017
      Chuck_Lowcountry and EelKat like this.
    5. GrahamLewis
      I am bothered by the phrase "censor ourselves proactively." I get that no one should explain how to do something illegal, like build a bomb, but that is such a small part of writing -- and really irrelevant anyway since all that is already on the web. And it doesn't apply to everything. I have a writers guide to poisons, but I'm not about to poison anyone except maybe in a book. And I don't think that book should be banned because the wrong person might check it out of the library and try to poison his wife.

      Charles Manson saw a hidden message in the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" but that was all him. The Slender Man case involved one girl who was clearly mentally ill, and another who was easily influenced by the first. The world is filled with all sorts of evil imaginary characters, but I would suggest that people who with a proclivity to do bad things will do them anyway, with one excuse or another.

      People kill in the name of the Bible, and of the Koran. The idea of protecting people from bad ideas has resulted in various lists of banned books -- take a look at some of the widely-respected books that have been on those lists. And conversely, I've read lately that Marilyn Manson was not the inspiration for Columbine. I don't like his music and the images it creates, but I think it should be tolerated even if it had been.

      So, I guess my view is that short of avoiding cookbooks for bombs and the like, what readers do with material they find in fiction is solely their issue, not that of the writer.
    6. An Enemy Spy
      An Enemy Spy
      Anyone who commits murder because of a book or movie is someone who was going to commit murder anyway. If we're to suppress anything that could inspire a psychopath, then we might as well just lock ourselves in closets and never let in any external stimulation. A murderer could be inspired by a book they read, or an event on the news, or just because someone rubbed them the wrong way and they decided to get disproportionate revenge. It isn't possible to predict what could set an unstable person off(like the previous poster said, Charles Manson took inspiration from the freakin' Beatles) and removing anything that could be considered provocative is a recipe for sanitized, boring trash.
    7. Farzaneelin
      So basically you're telling us that we have to handicap our creative abilities because we somehow tell people how to commit crime? That is absurd. We as writers have no obligation to censor ourselves to meet the comforts of the few. We have a right to express our imagination in full as you have the right to advocate against letting our abilities come to full fruition.

      If you want to blame someone for the Slenderman stabbings and such, look no further than the parents who clearly failed to teach them right from wrong. Look no further than the individual who refused to be taught right from wrong, and therefore suffered the consequences after committing crime. Don't turn around and blame us because parents didn't parent and kids didn't learn. We didn't give the slenderman girls the knives, we didn't tell them to harm anyone. It was their decisions that resulted in the incident. So why on earth should we give up our first amendment rights? Because people cannot hold themselves accountable? How fallacious.
      Last edited: Feb 10, 2018
    8. GrahamLewis
      I agree except I wouldn't be quite so certain about blaming the parents of the slenderman girls. At least one of them was found mentally ill, and I think the other was easily dominated. But the point is the same -- the book had little to do with their actions.
      Oscar Leigh and Farzaneelin like this.
    9. Asher_Elric
      no. We are not beholden to what people do after reading our stuff. We do not need to self censor unless we are uncomfortable ourself. I don't think we should hold any responsibility. as far as maybe saying "hey dudes who read this, don't do anything illegal"
    10. Andrew Alvarez
      Andrew Alvarez
      At the sight of this thread, wonder how Martin Luther should have pondered his own writing criteria when wrote his statement against Catholic church and posted it in plain sight of everyone. Had he to abide to law, or pacifism, or merely conformism, instead to denounce the vices of the church? I´m catholic anyway after reading them, and that´s because knowledge and criteria was more prevalent that a simple writing. You can differ on the importance of Martin Luther for faith, but not his importance on making a point.

      But as supportive as can be to free speech, also know that there is a bottom line. And that bottom line not necessarily is drawn by the mere law, which, unless common or archaic on certain societies, has to be written also. Bottom line is propaganda. Most of people who writes can tell the difference in between narrative and propaganda, and every person who reads should know it too.

      The point is that is not fair to attach responsibility to a whole generation of narrative writers for instruments that aims to spread influence to an specific aim. If writer´s responsibility was so prevalent onto Reagan´s murder attempt as diverse analysts have tried to link, he would have face at least a fire platoon, and not a single loonie, by example, and so with many other examples of crime supposedly "inspired by books"... wonder how long it will take to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise to be held accountable of what´s going on in Aden´s gulf or Somalia...

      If you write propaganda, you should abide to the rules and consequences of it, because it has precise objectives; but if you write tales, hardly you can foresee the effects, positive or negative, that your tale has over someone else´s mind. To suppose the opposite it would be like to recognize that pop artists have a responsibility over stalkers, or people who obsesses with them, which is not even close to be a logical, nor ethical thesis in most of cases. I think that the most and foremost duty of a writer is to write a good tale. The rest is just criteria, ethics and, of course, creativity.

      Sorry for the length of this! But I´m really passionate about these kind of topics. Greetings.
    11. IowaLez
      Wow, suddenly we're only supposed to write goody-two-shoe tales so people only do "good things" after reading our work? We can't have any "evil" characters and actions in them? No way! That's lunacy! And, although the comparison to the worn out, old "guns don't kill people, people kill people, " phrase could be trotted out here, comparing guns to stories is apples to oranges. A story isn't a tangible, lethal weapon. And we've got to get rid of that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names (words!) will never kill me" nonsense since now they supposedly are doing just that.

      You don't have to read a story, nor actively look for instructions/recipes on the internet, to find out how to do stuff. Safety information, how to prevent something, is plenty of info, if you reverse engineer it. Let's see how far we have to go to eliminate "inspiration".

      About Chuck Palahniuk and the recipe rumor. If it's true, I'd like to get my hands on that original version of the book to compare notes. It was the recipe for making napalm being referred to. And no, it wasn't "part of the process" of making it that was left out, he changed one of the ingredients so it wouldn't work. In the "redone" version of the book, and in the movie, Tyler says it's diesel fuel and orange juice concentrate. I really rolled my eyes when I saw/heard/read that idiocy! It has water in it, and any moron knows water isn't going to help make things burn like an instant bonfire. The ingredient is phosphorus, in dry form, and there's a ton of easy ways to obtain it. And just one additional, coomonly available material will make it into jellied napalm. Oh, my bad, now you all know what it is and "how to"! I guess I better be locked up in jail, since it's my fault if you decide to use what I've written to annihilate your obnoxious neighbor the next time he throws a wild party and keeps you up all night. I learned about it several decades ago from a backwoods person, and many, many people like that also know. Do we cut their tongues out so they can't tell others?

      People who are involved in building fireworks, doing it legally, already know how to build a pipebomb, because building certain types of pyro effects, like salutes, is pretty much the same thing. Just not with remote detonators and shrapnel inside them. I used to be involved in pyro, I've helped my ex-husband build big salutes (and handled them with kid gloves, sweated rivulets until they were sealed up and slightly safer to handle). No more fireworks, of any kind, for any reason, and erase all knowledge of physics, since that's how you explain the exothermic reaction (explosion) between an oxidizer and a fuel when ignited, combined with compression (powdered aluminum or titanium, "flash" powder, etc, PVC pipe, cardboard carpet roll cores, glue and paper tape). No more science and pyro books, magazines, fireworks shows, textbooks, and pyro clubs.

      If you're a farmer, or an advanced gardener, then you know more than enough about other "ingredients", there's more out there than good ol' ammonium nitrate fertilizer that will work just fine. Better erase farming and gardening from the planet. No more farming education, magazines, and gardening books.

      Even wheat flour and grain dust will explode with an oxidizer! Gotta get rid of that, so no more flour mills, no more grain bins on farms and granaries! Especially no more written worker safety information.

      What about mushroom id books, since you can poison people with them? And for amphibians, too, since there are poisonous frogs/toads you can utilize to make poison to kill people. Man, I guess we have to exterminate the actual fungi and frogs/toads, eliminate stuff all the way back to the source, to keep humanity safe, and destroy every mushroom identification book so people can't look up which ones are safe to pick and eat (no more chanterelles for you!) and thereby know which ones they can make poison from. No more food preservation books, either.

      No more soap, since just understanding the saponification process with lye can be used to dissolve those pesky corpses you need to get rid of. I can't write a book about soapmaking, now.

      Do I have to stop handspinning yarn, since I could make a garotte with it and strangle someone? Like, I can't post any more photos of my latest creations on my Facebook page because someone might see them there and say "Wow, that's a pretty nice yarn she made, it looks strong. I think I'll spin some like it because it'd be a good one to strangle people with"? No more Spin Off magazine, no more handspinning books, burn all the spinning wheels.

      Oh Lordy, the list is endless! And you don't have to provide "instructions", or a "recipe", which, broadly construed, could be a scene in a story. It's the innocently written, bits and pieces of information you randomly run into here and there over time and later put them all together, that's more than enough for a smart, creative person who's bent on doing harmful things. Survival skills can be used to do harm, like how to move silently in the dark of night, hunting skills, trapping animals, it goes on and on.

      You better just erase my entire brain, like wiping a computer hard drive, and never let me touch another pen to paper, ever, because "I know way too much". I've just spent my entire life innocently accumulating pioneer and backwoods skills, even bits of trivia (my ex-husband nicknamed me "Clifford", the mailman from "Cheers", who was an encyclopedia of "facts", as well as, "a little pit bull who won't let go once she's latched on") so I can survive a SHTF scenario, do things without technology and modern means, and I'm too curious about a million more things to stop learning. Just shoot me now, before you learn anything further from me, lol.
      Oscar Leigh likes this.
    12. LoaDyron
      We writers are passionate people that love to create imaginary worlds. So "real", that our readers love to dive in and imagine being on our fantastic creations. Is not our responsibility to censorship our work, is other people respond to avoid our stories if they find themselves to be inspired to do evil acts. We can try to warn our book isn´t suitable for people with mental problems, however, we all know nowadays society ignores warnings.
      Some Guy and Cave Troll like this.
    13. Some Guy
      Some Guy
      I've become interested in censorship because I need to understand it. It's just occurred to me that the real issue is not so much 'what' censorship is, than 'when' censorship becomes tyranny. That's right, tyranny. Any beginning, whatsoever, to any control over the voice of any person, is the beginning of tyranny, regardless of it's well-disguised form. Anything that survives after that, whether approved by society or government, is propaganda. Anyone who follows repeated recent history is aware of that. It began here (or wherever), mark the date.

      So what's the answer? Try the phrase "keep your friends close, and your enemies - closer". Vigilance is the price of freedom. We cannot accuse anyone that they might commit a crime - not without being a conspirator. Law, imposed morality, populism, or whatever will not prevent crime, or evil. Only the vigilant guardian has a chance, and slim at that. Like it or not, the Constitution upholds freedom of speech. The reason it's there is populism.
      The Founders knew there would be days like this.
      "There would be days like this, my mamma said... "
      Andrew Alvarez likes this.
    14. Matt E
      Matt E
      As writers, our art is to capture the truths of the world around us, and to weave them into stories that help us examine those truths in a different light. If we do not write the truth, then the words we write have no connection to reality. They don't resonate with people. They don't educate, inform, or encourage thought.

      This is art. Photographers capture images of the world exactly as it is, which are iconic in their meaningfulness. Painters jot down on canvas not the things we see, but the things we feel when we look with our eyes. Music is about taking the truths of everyday emotion and crafting them into sound. And writing is about taking these truths and expressions them in stories.

      The world around us is real. It's gritty. It's filled with pain, suffering, and hardship. To ignore these things is to ignore the world around us, and to ignore life. To tell a lie. True art examines the world as it is, in full. Yes, some songs are intense, with swearing and all that. Some of the greatest paintings of all time aren't exactly Disney-approved. And so is the same for writing. Not every story has to be like this: to be extreme, and to present the bad sides that are in all of our souls. And indeed, many experiences in life are thoroughly positive. But to ignore the darkness in our world is to paint a picture that is not real.

      That's not art. That's lying to ourselves.
    15. MindfulMenace
      You had me until you suggest we censor ourselves proactively. I feel that statement might be made out of fear. I understand that this world can be distasteful, and there are people who mean to do harm and if they are equipped with certain knowledge it can spell bad for those who are trying to live their best life but I make a clear stand when it comes to art.

      Art is an expression of oneself and because of that nothing is sacred and everything should be explored especially in the realm of fiction. I am not responsible for anyone reading my work, gaining knowledge, and using that knowledge to do harm. That person chose to act immorally and he will reap what he sows. He shall pay the consequences for his actions like every other man. If a man or woman wants to do harm the cataclyst isn't my art. It was always in his heart and it was bound to happen. It is our jobs as creators to create regardless of how anyone may take it.

      I would also like to introduce facts into this matter. It has been proven time and time again that if you give people an outlet they are least likely to act upon depraved desires. There are games out there that incentivse players to murder yet studies show video games are responsible for the decrease in crimes. In Japan, there is this genre of illustrated porn called "Lolicon" where underaged girls are drawn in lewd manners. Japan crime rates in regards to pedophilia is extremely low. If you censor things, people will feel deprived of it and actually seek to commit acts because of the lack of exposure. CENSOR NOTHING. It's all fiction.

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