The quick-fix society

I remember the days when people used to write something–a novel, a newspaper column, whatever–and it stood. Absent some blatant factual error, what you read was what you got.

The same used to be true about what people said, particularly famous people, who speak a lot, in public, with people listening. You researched your topic, you wrote your speech, knowing people would hear it, and you tried to be as accurate as possible.

Somewhere these tenets of publication changed. Society now seems to be running on a paper-towel roll philosophy: whatever is said today, if someone attacks it, you tear off the next sheet and apologize, and try again.

The 2008 presidential campaign has been rife with these episodes. Hillary with her Bosnian landing field, Obama and his “bitter” Pennsylvania voters, McCain as well, and all their staff people shooting off their mouths left and right, coming in as soon as a criticism is made with a “Oh, gee, we’re sorry, we misspoke.”

And there, in the public confessional, they say their Hail Marys, or whatever penance is necessary, and then the campaigns move on to their next outrageous attack–that they’ll withdraw as soon as someone speaks up.

(Don’t even get me started on Bill Clinton and his tilting windmills. Or the current president, for that matter. I wouldn’t believe anything either of them said at this point.)

Aren’t these people supposed to inspire confidence, instead of undermining it? With all their advanced degrees from prestigious universities, shouldn’t the rest of us be able to feel like they know what they’re doing? That they think before they speak? That they know the difference between the truth and a lie?

I’m equally disturbed about several blogs I’ve read lately about readers forcing a publisher or author to change their work. Like the postThe Jungle Book, for example, Amanda Marcotte’s effort to turn her successful blog platform into a launching place for the book It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments. This is what all the publishers and agents are telling us writers to do, when we go to conferences. So she did. But then women of color protested the illustrations from classic comic books, which showed a blonde woman battling assorted evils, and an “undifferentiated brown horde.”

So, does Marcotte say, I know my audience and this is my book, if you don’t like it, don’t read it? No. According to The Root, “the publisher posted an apology on its Web site and announced they would change the illustrations in any subsequent print runs of the book. Marcotte apologized as well, on Pandagon.”

So here we have the functional equivalent of all these big-name stars (Can we say Sharon Stone in China any more? I don’t think so.) who do something people don’t like, then fall all over themselves to apologize. Just before they go into rehab and emerge shiny-new. So, the author and publisher apologized, CHANGED THE MATERIAL despite their previous satisfaction, and that’s the end, right?

No. From The Root: “The more Seal Press and Marcotte tried to make amends, the more voices rose telling them just what was missing from their apologies; each renewed charge would spark new, and newly misbegotten, explanations or apologies.”

My question is, why did all these people, some of whom I’m sure had never even read the material in question, have the right to demand changes anyway? It wasn’t their work. They may not have agreed with it, but then don’t read it! I mean, how ridiculous is this? Does this open the door to demanding from the Melville estate that Moby Dick be rewritten because whaling is barbarous? Or that someone redraft Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn for all the reasons they won’t let it be taught in school any more?

Technological advances have made our world a little smaller and more intimate. We can hear campaign speeches 24-7, or read about them online. We can discuss public acts by public people with others around the globe. We have an opportunity to weigh in with our opinions on just about anything, still, as long as you stay clear of Homeland Security.

I believe this sharpens up certain rights and responsibilities. Speakers/publishers have the obligation to guard their words to make sure they are true and accurate–the first time. Readers/listeners have the right to consider the words and decide whether to accept them as given. But I don’t think the reader/listener ever gains the right to control that content. Content belongs to the author. Authors are entitled to opinions. Authors say what they have to say. Take it–or leave it. But don’t fix it.

6 thoughts on “The quick-fix society

  1. Heavens to betsy, I couldn’t agree more. Of course, if we started talking about all the asinine, childish, lowbrow nonsense masquerading as culture these days…well…who has that kind of time?

    [You wrote] – “My question is, why did all these people, some of whom I’m sure had never even read the material in question, have the right to demand changes anyway?”

    Indeed. This reminds me of going to see The Last Temptation of Christ in the theater, riding past all these protesters who never even saw the film, but were told to protest it by their church leaders or whatever.

    This trend you point out is absurd, to be sure, but in the end, we (as writers/artists) have the choice as to how much we will compromise our integrity to please “the focus group” mentality. The more one gives into that kind of thing, the more he (or she) reveals himself to be less an artist and more a greedy ego-hound. (BTW, I hate the word “artist.” It’s become too pretentious. But, I use it for lack of a better word.)

    Credibility and integrity matter.

  2. I couldn’t agree more.

    The whole political circus irritates me. I wonder if it would be possible to run for office and win without digging up dirt on one’s opponents, or lying about one’s self. I hate the whole thing.

    And I am disgusted how people will hang on every word that comes out of the mouths of their favorite “stars” and believe it as if it were spoken from a higher power.

    And the last part–about where people change their work to please the masses–equally as irritating. Political Correctness is out of control. (I personally think it was at the beginning.)

    What’s wrong with a) being honest and b) being able to take or leave an honest answer or opinion without getting offended?

    Extremely articulate post!

  3. I agree! Well written, except for the one part… could you change that… Just kidding.

    I agree that it’s up to the public to take or leave what an authors says. But I’d like to see it go a step further.

    Authors- step up to the plate. You wrote it, stick to it. Don’t apologize, don’t back down. You cared enough to write, edit, write some more, edit a lot more, write less, edit some more and get something published- stand up and let your voice be heard!

    Excellent post Momma. PS- Go Obama! 🙂

  4. You are absolutely right on this point. We don’t burn books anymore. We don’t crucify or burn at the stake those whom we don’t understand. It’s become commonplace to make them publicly apologize and profess their allegiance to the herd.

    I always thought money was power. I spend my money on things I agree with, and don’t buy things I disagree with. Child labor? I don’t buy the clothes. Oppresive politics in the country of manufacture? I don’t buy the products. Rude language in the lyrics? I don’t buy the CD. Offensive comments on a blog? I don’t read it. There a million books out there I don’t buy because I don’t like them – for many reasons.

    I’d never think of forcing the world to conform to my idea of decency. And I’d be disappointed if the world didn’t fight back against such an attempt.

  5. They don’t teach Huck Finn in schools anymore? My son just did it in his junior year and enjoyed it and he is as African/Americans say “a brother”.

    Oh the loss and so publications will now be skewed towards what the readers/publishers think is what politically correct, socially acceptable, morally right.

    Thank God for blogs like Awalkabout and others. I find so many bloggers write with confidence and a refreshing who gives attitude. After all the reader is free to buy/read or not and then the market will decide. And one thing the market seems to love apart from controversy is reality.

    The truth, that is what matters and the interesting part is the perspectives from which it is viewed.

  6. Well said! I hadn’t thought about the mea culpas in that way before. I recently had a Commissioner of a state department tell me not to send out written notes from a meeting because she didn’t think they were accurate. Huh? Talk about being insulted! They were MY notes! They were contemporaneous with the meeting. So if there were problems, maybe she should think about her communication, no? But don’t expect to stop me from sharing my own interpretation of a meeting. Nope. That will be my little stake in the groung against ‘state mind control’.

    As to frightened publishers — blame that on the extremism that has evolved over the past 10 years or so. Kids can’t play outside or they might get dirty. Don’t walk to school, or you might get picked up by a child molester. Don’t make a mistake or you may lose your job. etc etc. The culture of fear is rife at the moment. And we do know who to blame for that, don’t we?

    I think it’s time for a re-release of the good old film ‘Network’.

    One last comment on ‘political correctness’. Be careful. That has been coopted by the conservative side as an attack code for anyone who Does speak out. Newspeak is alive and well in Western civilization.

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