1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

An attempt to have a meaningful discussion on dealing with sensitive topics

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by BWFoster78, Jul 20, 2015.

  1. X Equestris

    X Equestris Maester

    653
    246
    43
    Yet the story still doesn't treat his actions as a good thing. They are bad, though he doesn't see it that way. My argument is that you may have characters that do bad things, and even have other parts of their character that are somewhat likeable. But the theme doesn't support those characters. It stands against their points of view. If it starts to look like the theme is "Massacring innocents is a good thing" that's the bad writing I'm talking about.

    Edit: for example, I can find parts of Cersei Lannister's character sympathetic. Her love for her children, her resentment at being pigeonholed into a certain role by society. Those are understandable things. But the story isn't trying to make her out to be a hero.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2015
  2. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,950
    163
    Yes, with that I can agree, except for the sympathy part. In the case of Nabokov, he presents an awful human being who even admits to being a monster. It is the presentation of vileness and witnessing of sickness through a depraved mind that is so interesting about the character. It's not sympathy though. Further, the presentation is certainly not insensitive. It is quite the opposite.
    Quite simply, the discussion veered towards a debate over possible societal acceptance of rape, ways the rapists might be viewed as sympathetic, and reasons said rapist might think it's okay. I believe the idea of being a horny boy and owning the object of his desires was tossed about. That's a flippant treatment. It is the very same discussion responsible for the formation of new guidelines, rehashed in a similar fashion.

    That is not showing empathy and it is most certainly a callous presentation in violation of the new policy.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2015
    Feo Takahari likes this.
  3. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    947
    113
    I can, somewhat, live with that statement (though I stand by my "a good author can do just about anything" concept). My main objections was that you can have a protagonist who does bad things and doesn't see them as bad, but the reader can still view him sympathetically. :)
     
  4. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    1,908
    611
    113
    To get into my own views rather than mod views, I once read a story where the protagonist inadvertently wipes out an entire species. This is portrayed as horrifying, and he spends the next thousand years atoning by finding a safe place for the species to start anew. I also read a book once where the protagonist slaughters every man, woman, and child in a town because some of the townsfolk peacefully protested her reign. The story portrays this as a good thing because her long-term goal is to establish a society where women are equal to men. Which would you rather read?
     
  5. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    947
    113
    I think I've read that first one, and if my assumptions are correct as to its identity, I didn't really care for it at all, though I absolutely loved the previous book in the series where he actually killed the species.
     
  6. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,950
    163
    I agree with you on this point.
     
  7. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    947
    113
    This is where we're not seeing each other clearly.

    I thought the conversation went this way:

    Point: This really popular author used (a sensitive topic) in what I thought was an interesting way. He used it to create this specific conflict of the character's morality versus the character's carnal nature. The sensitive topic was basically, imo, a well-used plot device.

    Counterpoint: I don't understand how any reader could view what this character considered, or certain aspects of his society, as sympathetic.

    You're the mod and have every right to shut down the conversation at that point, but the discussion did not have to devolve along the same lines as the one to which you're referring. Had I had a chance to respond, I certainly would have completely ignored the specifics of the circumstances and made the topic much more theoretical.

    Again, though, your playground, your rules. I'm certainly left with the opinion that it's best not to refer to any of those topics, and if you do, do so as tangentially as possible.
     
  8. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,950
    163
    Brian,

    I hope you know me well enough from our interactions than to think of me as the "My playground. My rules" type.

    The conversation involving how Weeks handled a character was not the concern. It was the conversation and debate it was bound to spark. You're far too intelligent for me to believe the way the topic was presented did not have the purpose of eliciting that sort of discussion.

    Just two posts later, in response to your post, the discussion headed down the "how rape can be justified" route. That's the kind of debate we want to avoid. Pushing the discussion down that path was, in my view, irresponsible and in direct conflict with the new directives.
     
  9. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    1,908
    611
    113
    So if I'm understanding this correctly, what got the thread locked was the post by ChasingSuns.
     
  10. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,950
    163
    I didn't want to involve people not included in this thread, but it was the directions Brian's comments would lead that was of primary concern. I made the decision prior to the post by ChasingSuns, but that post made it through before closing.

    In my opinion, my assumption on where the conversation was bound, proved correct.
     
    Last edited: Jul 20, 2015
  11. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    1,952
    982
    113
    I think it is absolutely key to recognize the difference between sympathy and understanding.

    Sympathy is "fellow feeling", it basically involves feeling emotional togetherness with another person and supporting them on an emotional level. Whereas understanding is an intellectual process that does not require any sort of togetherness at all.

    Understanding a morally problematic character is common and even necessary to much storytelling.

    But sympathizing with a morally problematic character is a very different thing. In fact, I think sympathizing with a reprehensible character is morally problematic in itself.
     
  12. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

    1,908
    611
    113
    This reminds me of Emil Fackenheim's "double move." It's an idea he came up with when trying to figure out Hitler's true motivation for killing so many people. You try to find an explanation, but at the same time, you don't let that explanation become an excuse for his actions.
     
  13. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,903
    3,604
    313
    I think what we're saying is that, especially when it comes to sexual abuse, sometimes a discussion can be bad for the community even if nobody is specifically being a jerk.

    T.Allen identified BWFoster's post as "lacking empathy" and starting the discussion on a downward path. That isn't meant to be a judgement on BWFoster's opinion or behavior. Instead, it's a recognition that the subject hits home for people on different levels. And without a deeper level of empathy, it's easy to for some people to try and be "rational" and yet be oblivious to the fact that they're putting others through something of an inner drama at the same time.

    When we start to see that kind of disconnect cropping up, we're going to close the thread.
     
  14. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    947
    113
    I put forth the example of Weeks. If I'm reading this correctly, you seem to be saying that I made the comment in order to restart the discussion from the other thread.

    Did I even participate in the other thread? I don't remember doing so (though I post a lot, so it's possible). Frankly, though, that other thread didn't interest me all that much.

    I posted the reference because it was the first thing that came to my mind as an example of slavery in a mainstream fantasy novel and because I thought it was a) relevant to the discussion and b) interesting the way the author used slavery to create a moral conundrum for the POV character.

    I'm being completely honest with you here. Perhaps I should have put more consideration into the example I chose, but it was not, in any way, intended to discuss that subject.
     
  15. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    947
    113
    Mythopoet,

    I'm with you here. What I thought of what you said here is "sympathy is feeling and understanding is thinking."

    But I'm not with you here.

    To me, a "good" author (defined in this instance as an author I'd like :) ) is one that makes me feel what the POV character is feeling. A good author, in my mind, can make me sympathize even though I disagree with what he's doing.
     
  16. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

    4,369
    947
    113
    Okay, the way I'm reading this is still, "You know guys - it's just better not to bring up any of these topics."

    Which, again, is fine. I will try in the future to choose examples that stray far away from such.
     
  17. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,903
    3,604
    313
    I think that people are at root "morally problematic" individuals, and some authors can tap into that for literary effect.
     
    BWFoster78 likes this.
  18. Black Dragon

    Black Dragon Staff Administrator

    2,975
    1,550
    163
    Guys,

    We have no desire to unnecessarily censor threads or shut down the free expression of ideas.

    The problem with the slavery thread was that it was veering into the dreaded "sympathetic rapist" scenario, which has proven to be explosive.

    This is not about people being offended by the subject of rape. Rather, we have a number of members who are victims of sexual assault, and each time the subject is brought up they (potentially) have a painful, visceral reaction. Whenever the subject is handled without appropriate gravity, it unleashes a storm of emotions. We hear from these people, and they are truly, deeply hurt by this.

    This goes far beyond people being offended. This is about causing valued members of our community to experience intense psychological pain. Unless you have been a victim of sexual assault, you may not be able to understand this. If we can avoid causing further trauma to these members, we should.
     
  19. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

    1,952
    982
    113
    Sympathy is not "feeling what the character is feeling". That's empathy, which is a different thing. Sympathy, I think, comes dangerously close to approval and support, which is why I think it's morally problematic to sympathize with a reprehensible character. I'm not going to far as to say it is definitely bad. I think it requires serious examination.

    The example you've given thus far, Humbert Humbert in Lolita is a case I think where we are clearly meant to understand him, we may even empathize at times with him, but we should absolutely NOT sympathize with him. And I think it's clear the author did not want us to.
     
    Gryphos and Nihilium 7th like this.
  20. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    4,044
    1,950
    163
    Okay. I'll accept that on your word, Brian.

    You'll have to trust me when I say I understand where you're coming from. Now try to see things from my point of view.

    A discussion on slavery in fantasy didn't bother me in the least. It's a common element in the genre from Conan to Game of Thrones. However, your post switched gears, taking the conversation into the realm of discussing the potential rape of a slave girl and how that creates a conflict within the potential rapist.

    I understand Weeks did this and why. I like his books. However, it was bound to take the conversation down the road of discussing the acceptability of sexual assault in a society that wouldn't view it as a crime. And it did. How is discussing the possibilities for acceptable rape sensitive to other members of the community who may have fallen victim to sexual assault? It isn't, not in any way.

    I do want to be able to discuss sensitive topics, but we must be mindful of how we present and discuss those topics, and be pure in our intentions.

    I made a judgment call. I'm sorry you disagree, but I stand by the decision. The result, if allowed to develop, would likely have been derision and members overstepping the line, resulting in infractions. I'd rather not go there.

    If you want to discuss sensitive issues, they are not banned. However, you're expected to use caution and extra care when doing so. In this case, I don't think you did either.
     
Loading...

Share This Page