A Writer's Responsibility

Discussion in 'Articles' started by Sclavus, Sep 13, 2017.

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 'Articles' 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 'Articles' started by Sclavus, Sep 13, 2017.

  • Tags:
    1. Mouthwash
      Can't resist...

      EldritchKnight and Oscar Leigh like this.
    2. Oscar Leigh
      Oscar Leigh
    3. A.M.P.
      As a happy Ayndroid, this scares me.
    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
      EelKat likes 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.
      Primordial Knight and Odile_Blud like this.
    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.

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