To Talk, Or Not
Posted on June 13, 2020 Posted by John Scalzi 37 Comments
Easyrihiner asks, in the comment thread from yesterday’s Five Things post:
What’s your take on authors/artists that aren’t talking about current events right now?
I don’t attach a value judgment to it. There are any number of reasons why a creative person isn’t commenting on current events. Some reasons, and in no specific order, might be:
1. Deadlines are imminently looming and they have to focus on that if they want to eat;
2. Issues in their personal lives, positive or negative, might be taking up their attention;
3. The creator in question might decide they don’t know enough to comment usefully;
4. They don’t want to comment because they realize as soon as they do they will have to respond to/manage responses from others, and that takes a lot of time and energy they may not have;
5. Their opinion might be controversial or counter to the general trend, and they decide it’s smarter to stay quiet than have the Internet drop on their head and/or be “cancelled”;
6. They are trying to process what they want to say and how they want to say it in a way that best expresses their opinion, which sometimes is not collapsible to tweet length;
7. They may simply not give a shit.
Or some combination of any or all of the above, plus a whole bunch of other reasons, too; the list above is not meant to be exhaustive.
It’s easy for people to demand creative people, especially ones of some notability, have a public position on whatever topic those people think is important. But creative people are people too, and they only have so much time and attention to devote to… well, anything: work and family and friends and community and current events. They can’t and shouldn’t be expected to comment on everything, even if you (whomever you might be) think it’s important. I’ve commented about this fact before, in my own special way. And of course what applies to me here applies to anyone else.
I think it’s accurate to say that notable people, creatives among them, are sometimes in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation with regard to public commenting on social issues. I’ve gotten the “shut up and stick to writing” sort of comments when I have offered an opinion on a current event, and the “your silence equals complicity” sort of comments when I haven’t. In both cases the commenter can stick their opinion up their ass and twist it sideways; I’ll say what I want on any topic, including not saying anything at all. But in a world where people want creatives to comment and also not to, I don’t blame creatives who decide the best thing to do is to keep their head down and hope not be noticed.
People can and should comment on current events if they want to. People can and should not comment on current events if they choose not to. Creative folks are people. So.
One final note on the subject, which is that a choice by a creative person to be publicly silent on a matter is not necessarily indicative of their neutrality on the matter. A creative person (or any person) may actively have an opinion or support a cause, and choose to do so quietly, and again for any number of reasons (including not painting a target on those they are helping for abusers and trolls).
Which is another reason not to attach a value judgment to a public silence. All public silence means is that you don’t know what’s going on with that person. You may think you deserve to know, but no one else is obliged to agree with you, including the creative you may believe owes you an accounting or opinion.
“A closed mouth gathers no foot.”
There are also some creatives — just like plenty of other people — who have decided now is not the time for their voices to be heard and are focusing on amplifying the voices of others who are typically marginalized in some way. That’s just as valid and important as those who are speaking out for what they believe in and support. All of those options can be beneficial.
One particular thing to note is that creatives who aren’t straight, white, male, or whatever don’t owe you an explanation or education on what it’s like to be, or how you ought to act. If you can’t figure this stuff out on your own, it’s not their fault nor their responsibility. They almost certainly have enough stuff going on in their life right now, and stress levels are running high!
This, of course, applies to all people who aren’t straight, white, and/or male, but it’s no less true of creatives.
(I know you know this, John, and it’s actually covered by your points two and four, but has been coming up enough recently that it seemed worth highlighting separately.)
Now, I don’t know if I hold with this “creatives are people too” business. I prefer to think of you, in particular, as my personal (if often balky and pretty specialized) genii, subject to my arbitrary beck and call.
Yeah, as yet another white woman, I don’t think anyone needs to or wants to hear my opinion on this. I feel that I should keep my trap shut since I know nothing, really. But I am not anyone anyone’s heard of, so who cares anyway.
All of what John (and Angelique) said. Plus this:
Temperament comes into play: For some of us, it just becomes, well, too much, commenting on the shitstorm. Not privilege, rather the opposite. It is such an all-pervasive horror, something that we cannot escape from, that we try not to dwell on it any more than we are forced to. That can mean not writing about it, because goddamn, it’s hard enough living with it.
This can vary from day to day. Even when we can write about it, some days are worse than other days. Also, maybe it’s just been an unbelievably shitty week, and we’ve simply run out of spoons and need to recharge. Consequently, commenting about Topic A on Day One but not commenting about Topic B on Day Two doesn’t mean we take A more seriously than B. In fact, it can be the opposite — we feel up to dealing with small shit but really big shit, not enough spoons left.
In addition, different of us have very different reactions to and psychological survival strategies for the shitstorm. My living-with partner, Paula, copes with the Trumpocalypse by learning every single detail of what’s going on that she can. She spends hours a day reading the political news. Knowing exactly what the situation is is her coping strategy for staying sane.
If I tried to do that, I would die. I don’t mean that figuratively, I’m serious. If I were forced to count and analyze every single piece of shit that’s coming down, I would end up killing myself. As a result, mine is almost the antithesis of her coping strategy, I have to restrict my attention to only what feel like the very most important and critical bits of shit or my sanity won’t survive this.
Fortunately for both of us, Paula can survive with mostly not talking about what she’s read and I can survive listening to the bits she does need to talk about. Although I had to request of her, early on, “Please don’t tell me every time Trump jumps the shark. He jumps it every day and I can’t deal with the overload. Only tell me if he jumps it HIGHER than he has done previously.”
So, please be kind to the authors who don’t choose to write about some topic of great importance to you. It may be equally or even more important to them, you have no way of knowing, but we all need to figure out how to survive in our own ways.
– pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. Dragon Dictate in training! ]
— Ctein’s Online Gallery. http://ctein.com
— Digital Restorations. http://photo-repair.com
Very good points. I typically do not hold authors/artists in any higher regard than the man on the street. People I actually know and as such respect I actually hear their opinions. Not that everyone I know/respect has like opinions on everything but my knowing them I can have good feeling I am hearing what is in their heart and not a potential response driven by their position or visibility.
As a result I usually gloss over headlines and such created by the voicing of a celeb opinion. Just me of course and nothing wrong for those that do look for celeb opinions.
I am a creative person and I feel like I am beating myself in the head with a stick. The world is swirling around in a vertical vortex that sucks the life out of me.
Some folk can make coherent thought flow like water right now., most can’t.
The best I could say right now is that good decent people are a rare thing at the moment. It doesn’t matter their sex or gender, they need to be cherished, for they are the lights that will drag us from this hole we are in.
Don’t place blame on those whose voice has dried up right now.
One more item for your list: (ctein brushes on this). Getting involved emotionally in what is going on can drain all of one’s energy and creative juices (and maybe even your will to live). So some people have to avoid the s**tstorm going on out of self preservation.
Writers have no obligation to comment on the current state of affairs. Each of us has a different tolerance level for getting involved.
To add: Uninformed people, whose opinions may not be as developed, for example, can often be a very stressful distraction during such a crisis. In the first few days after the death of George Floyd, I pretty much stopped reading any and all comment sections about anything, anywhere. Even during better times, commentary on important issues an be hit or miss, or spotty with some deeply regressive thinking, but now, most of them are simply a highly stressful sh*tshow, and as a member of at least a couple of those marginalized communities, I have neither the time or energy to deal with any of that right now. I also know that on a lot of issues that don’t directly affect me, it’s better for me to just sit back, listen, and learn.
” a choice by a creative person to be publicly silent on a matter is not necessarily indicative of their neutrality on the matter.”
I’m glad you said this. EVERY time something bad happens, I feel like if I say something then I’m drawing attention away from the people who need it, but if I don’t say something, I’m complicit.
I appreciate writers who are willing to share bits of themselves and their lives with their readers and fans. I appreciate those who have the courage to share their beliefs, even at risk of alienating a portion of their readers. On the other side of it, when I don’t agree with a writer whose opinions are public, it can make their work less enjoyable. I once admired Orson Scott Card’s writing. His writing is still excellent, but I can no longer read it.
Which is to say, I agree, well said, and I thank you.
To those who feel creative types (or whoever) have to comment on something, two questions to consider:
1) Why do you feel they owe you a comment?
2) Why do you feel they owe you a comment?
What’s your opinion? Sorry, I was just too dam’ lazy to form one ;-)
“7. They may simply not give a shit.”
7.a. The subject bores the shit out of them.
(And does anyone else have that friend who watches the stupidest crap on television and insists on sharing last nights’ glorious idiocy?)
Ctein, please tell me you’re writing another book! And TYVM for the chuckle. ;-)
” “Please don’t tell me every time Trump jumps the shark. He jumps it every day and I can’t deal with the overload. Only tell me if he jumps it HIGHER than he has done previously.” “
I still judge all the (well-off large platformed white cis able etc) bloggers I see who are keeping their mouths shut because they’re afraid of offending the conservatives in their audiences. Not every little thing needs to be discussed but when you have a huge movement like this current BLM, silence does kind of suggest black lives aren’t that important to some people. Luckily I’m allowed to judge.
As John points out, fans/followers aren’t entitled to anything more than an artist is willing to give with respect to remarks on…well…anything.
That said, I, for one, am always happy to know and pass on to friends the names of those creatives who need supporting or boycotting.
The boycotting isn’t simply about hitting a misogynist/sexist/transphobic/xenophobe/racist/ableist/religiously intolerant douchebag in the pocket.
It’s also about devoting my money and time to people who regard me as a human being whose life is as valuable as their own.
If they disagree with the above but want my money/time they better exercise some serious discretion where their…attitudes are concerned or I’m dropping them and alerting friends to what I’ve learned.
For example, if it gets out that the makers of a certain product never intended for my ethnic group to consume it, message received; I won’t sully their bank accounts with my filthy black money.
I’ll do them an even bigger favor and pass on their customer preferences to others, effectively ensuring that their products go into the hands of the “right” people.
IRL friends and social media pals will do their part to keep the metaphorical aisles clear for the “right” people”
Any little thing we can do! 😊
These efforts are probably akin to emptying oceans with teaspoons, as misogynist/sexist/transphobic/xenophobe/racist/ableist/religiously intolerant douchebags are equally capable of impacting sales and employing word of mouth, but there’s not much we can do about that.
At the end of the day, the only wallet and/or GR bookshelf I control is my own.
I think that those who don’t agree 100% with the current riots / demonstrations / anarchy need to keep a very low profile. Any words said, written, etc. have to be accepted totally by the ‘mob’ or that person will be piled on and his/her career trashed. Even well meaning thoughts and comments if slightly askew could mean curtains. Dissent and criticism of the mob’s actions are not acceptable. By the way, demonstrations against the terrible killing of Floyd and others is legitimate. Some thoughtful and logical changes are indicated. Total police defunding is lunacy. The BLM demands are extreme and the anarchists gang are taking advantage to further their goals of total destruction of our society.
@Gary: This comes across as a major knee-jerk reaction. I think you’ll be able to reassure yourself considerably that you are catastrophizing if you take a look at the BLM platform and related resources. Nothing about it is related to extremism, anarchism, etc. I’m white and a scientist and I actually think it’s all incredibly thoughtful and logical. Check out https://www.joincampaignzero.org, which lays out the data and the proposed policy changes in order to make communities much safer for a) Black folks and b) everyone.
I assume you’re just as outraged and horrified by the armed and predominantly white “mob” who gathered in the thousands and stormed blue state capitals in the name of spreading a deadly and highly contagious virus that, funnily enough, was and continues to kill people of color (many of these are essential workers) and devastate white families of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
I’m sure you’re equally as horrified and outraged at the cops and white supremacists who are using protests as an opportunity to attack minority owned businesses.
Speaking of vocal celebrities who probably should have kept low profiles, I’m glad to know which ruthless TV doctors to avoid when making viewing/streaming choices.
Finally, as a black woman, I’m as prepared to condemn the looting and the current covid-spreading activity as I was to drag the genocidal protests of April.
Are you as prepared to condemn the predominantly white/white supremacist protesters as you are to decry the destruction of what, for you, has likely been a warm, fruitful and stable society?
Are you going to practice what you preach or speak your mind?
Another question is, will you condemn the armed tantrums Trumpist mobs are likely to throw if Biden wins the election?
Will you decry the anarchists who work to dismantle a democrat run “society?”
Will you alienate likeminded friends, relatives and acquaintances and stand against the “extreme demands” of those who advocate for a whiter, and thus greater, America?
The problem is that when you start commenting, there is always another urgent topic that someone else thinks you should comment on and if you don’t YOU ARE THE WURST PERSON IN THE WORLD!!!!!
Talk about BLM, then you better cover FGM, and human trafficing and then… the list goes on. Miss one (Didn’t talk about people shouting at donkeys? You bad man) and it’s internet pile-on time again.
The web is full of people who all have opinions that matter a huge amount to them. All they ask for is that anyone in the public eye cares just as much as they do and had exactly the same opinion.
Not claiming to be a creative but, as a woman, I keep the lowest possible profile on the Internet because women get very badly treated by alt right people. Think gamergate. So I am proud of the fact that I have managed to have only 8 followers on Twitter. My sister wrote a book about this: Gendertrolling, How Misogyny Went Viral. (Karla Mantilla)
TV news anchor: [Person of note] has broken his/her silence about [débâcle du jour]. Details coming up after the break.
Me: Kept their flippin’ cakehole shut for, what, TEN CONSECUTIVE MINUTES, and then they blew it.
*switches off set*
Thanks for the recommendation, Linda; I’m adding it now if it’s available.
I’ve noticed that many of my local comment feeds are being spambombed by people with no real dog in the fight, but who looooove to stir the pot. I don’t have any real wish to paint a target on myself for the minimal gratification of posting my small opinion. You really have to bother me to make me want to jump into that cesspool.
My general viewpoint is that creatives/creators, insofar as they owe us anything at all (a questionable proposition, IMO), only owe us the integrity of their work: that it is as honest and deft as is possible for them. Nothing more than that; certainly they “owe” their fans no glimpses or insights into their private lives.
That being said, if a creator does come out with an attitude or opinion I consider hateful, hurtful, and destructive, I will stop patronizing that person. Orson Scott Card and Susan Sarandon are two that come immediately to mind, from opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Do you feel that the BLM and racism-related current events are at all a unique issue in this regard? I’ve seen a lot of sentiment along the lines of “if you’ve benefited from systemic oppression, it’s your responsibility to speak out against it,” and separately but often related, “staying silent about racism is one of the biggest historical factors in its perpetuation and it shouldn’t be acceptable anymore.” If you buy those premises, they would seem to hold even more true for the most successful people and/or those with public platforms.
I know your post covers that you don’t think “silence = complicity” argument is generally accurate (or in good faith), but I’m wondering if you think that it’s at all more applicable in this specific case.
I call “flip flop” on the idea of totally defunding and destroying all police Services. Like the flip flop of saying that if we allow persons of color into the proposed labor union the they will control the union to oppress whites. Like the flip flop that if we allow women into a job it will turn completely feminine. Like if Europe or Canada allows gays in the armed forces there will be hundreds of males in cotton dresses on parade.
(Note: The Edmonton garrison did fly the rainbow flag for a special occasion, after a warrant officer (Sgt-major) asked the base commander, but no dresses)
When something scares us we flip flop it to extremes, but we don’t need to do so.
The non-extreme? Well, years ago I was crazy-angry at a certain major city that dumped all the mentally ill out of the asylums and into the street, but without hiring any supports. Angry enough to say that if someone from that city sat down at my tavern table I would get up and leave. For years the experts and newspaper reports said it was no good to have no support workers. Years have gone by without funding. Now, at last, we have a chance.
Some of those ill might grab a screw driver or a knife and threaten people and cops. If we can defund, then fund support workers, so that police are called, say, 90 per cent less often, then surely even the police union would applaud such defunding.
Only a flip flopper would say the police would never be called, that all the ill would be magically cured. But it would be a good start.
David Gerrold and I have a manuscript out there right now, a natural disaster thriller (contains big waves but no jumping sharks). Given that our agent’s in New York, we haven’t been inclined to bug her for several months. They have bigger concerns there.
John Sandford and I don’t have anything in the works at the present time, because we haven’t hit upon an idea that tickles both our fancies. If we do, I’m sure we’ll write together again — we had a lot of fun doing Saturn Run.
pax / Ctein
I find the looking for what creatives have to say about things to be akin to stalking someone, especially when the subject is controversial. Those who have such expectations of creatives and obsess about it on social media are best avoided.
I think it all boils down to a single thing. Freedom of thought. They (the creatives) get to think whatever they wish to think. But many, including John, understand that published words have consequences. I can say that after discovering how certain authors act, as I don’t want to give them any money to contribute to hateful causes, that has had “consequences” for them vis a vis my spending. The First Amendment protects us first and only (at least on this issue) from governmental “oversight” of our words. That means nothing about restricting the rest of us. You say something that is offensive to others, wherever they stand on whatever issue, and, if you’ve said it in a public forum, you can “have the internet fall on ‘you'”. That is the First Amendment in action. Quite frankly, as much as I depend on the internet, and is important as it is, I believe it may well have the most chilling affect on freedom of speech than anything else ever (sorry about the sentence structure, I got into it and couldn’t figure out how to say it otherwise). I know that I have been on the “internet’ since 1988 (I worked for the Air Force) and I can tell you that I have avoided any kind of social media statement that I can. I have never had a Facebook or twitter or other account. I do have a reddit account, but that is only to interact on the technical forums. I feel awful about that. I have useful and meaningful ideas to share, but I am unwilling (yes, even to the point of cowardice, I have to feed my family …) to risk my “place” by offending people out there on the internet (waving my hand vaguely). In-person, we’ll talk, and I will have a vigorous and difficult conversation with anybody. But where it can be repeated ad infinitum, no. And if I am recorded against my will in a conversation, my kid’s university just got paid for.
Amazon has ‘The Camp of the Saints’ Kindle edition ‘under review.’ It seems to me that indicates we’ve gone pretty far in the wrong direction. As I recall, when it came out it was only moderately controversial. What do you think?
I haven’t read it and don’t intend to. It’s way to literary for me. I’m just opposed to censorship on general principles.
Thank you, John. Thank you.
Possibly it was “only moderately controversial” … 37 years ago. But times change and so do sensibilities. To put it in perspective, 37 years before that book came out, we were still in the midst of the Great Depression and the Nazi party was barely on the rise– Kristallnacht was still two years off.
Should we use the sensibilities of the 30’s to inform the 70’s?
Refusing to sell a book is not censorship. Amazon is not a library nor a governmental entity, it is a bookstore (among other things). It has no power to prevent the book from being sold or distributed… by someone. Your “general principles” are being misapplied.
In a world where 8chan, reddit, facebook and twitter exist (and probably dominate the world of discourse), plaintive cries from the right (or any camp) that they are being censored more than ever before are charmingly naive. There are fewer and less effective gatekeepers than at any time in literary history.
pax / Ctein