• Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us!

Should writers foresee grounds for misconstrued glorification?

pmmg

Vala
Well, I'm gonna stick to my answer of no, the author is not responsible for reader actions, save for maybe some type of extreme example, which I am sure I can imagine, but wont. And I will stick with, if I was Mr. King, I still would have pulled the book, cause why have that hanging around my reputation.

Beyond that though, I assert it is true that writing influences, and can change many things. Sometimes for the worse. Not just writing, but other forms of media as well. And a society or culture is wise to pay attention to what people are consuming and how it is affecting themselves and those around them. I'd be willing to bet (though there is really no way to measure), that if our news stopped making big stories of the school shootings, there would be less of them, which is not much different than the boat Mr. King found himself in. Can they do that? Not really, they have to report what happened, but it is the slow drip that has more permeated our cultures and for those engaged in it, there is a belief that it will make them big news and important, and to some degree they want to be bigger than the last one. In fact, the one dude even dressed up as the joker...When I was kid Caesar Romero's joker was not anyone anyone wanted to be like, but Heath Ledgers... And along those lines, villain's did not really become the cool thing in my generation until Darth Vader made the screen. Before that, Capt. Kirk and Batman, where what you were watching for. So the influence happened.

In the pursuit of persuasion, its not the one off that causes actions, but it is a science, and it is well used. Matching, mirroring, shaping, and repetitive re-enforcement work. If one person says serial killers are cool, one person is weird, if 100,000 people say so, it becomes part of the belief set. If one understands this, and many people do, things can be produced solely to rile people up, and attempt to bring about actions that have outcomes they desire. Many are successful with that, and so the motives of the orchestrator should be in question.

So I cannot simply answer, a writer is immune from all responsibility. Its just not that simple. But I will hold as a greater principle that we must allow it because the any alternative is worse. A fiction author, such as my self or Mr. King, may write something the causes small and undesirable fire. A responsible human being ought to give actions enough scrutiny to know when deciding to pull it from the public is a better course than letting it grow. I've no doubt Mr. King is not responsible for what those who read his book may have done, I am sure he would not have wanted that, and I think he was being a good citizen to self remove it. Its still out there, I know I have seen it brought up in Youtube, so its not exactly gone.

One cannot do what never enters their mind to do, but without exploring all of it, we cannot properly achieve our better selves. It takes both good and bad, and artists just help explore it. Better in fiction than real life for some of it. But then what can be done that wont be done? Without the freedom to explore serial killers, we also dont have the freedom to explore alien worlds. Its all got to be fair game.
 
I don't really want to get into it. But no effect on the level of violence doesn't mean they've had no effect at all. Video games are directly linked to widespread increases in anxiety and lowered emotional regulation, with violent video games contributing the most to the release of the relevant hormones with even short amounts of play. That isn't to say... well, I just mean to say that there are clear ways in which the media we produce and consume can cause harm, even if it's more subtle than what people expect.
I'm sure there is such an effect, just like how the internet (or railroads) changed society. The question then is, do you think these games should not have been made? Also, if "inducing axiety" is a reason not to create a work of fiction then we might as well just stop being writers (or content creators). The whole point of fiction is to evoke an emotional response in readers.

The whole discussion here was that some works of fiction can cause real-world actions, such as a school shooting, and if that should be taken into consideration by the content creator. It wasn't about what emotional response it has. And I would argue that both the real world actions can't be foreseen, and any actions that do occur are not the responsibility of the creator. And as such, that you should not take them into consideration when creating content.

As for glorifying certain illegal behavior: people are perfectly capable of distinguishing between fiction and reality. Just an example, but I very much doubt anyone decided that robbing casino's was a good idea after watching Ocean's 11. Same for breaking into safes full of gold after watching The Italian Job. And yet, both of those films glorified being a thief and a con-man. Does that mean those movies should not have been made?
 

Ban

Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
The whole discussion here was that some works of fiction can cause real-world actions, such as a school shooting, and if that should be taken into consideration by the content creator.
Not cause. They can trigger and guide such events and, if sufficiently detailed, serve as a manual. I have stated a few times now, as well as in the OP, that the blame falls fully on the perpetrator. But responsibility extends beyond direct guilt.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
I'm sure there is such an effect, just like how the internet (or railroads) changed society. The question then is, do you think these games should not have been made? Also, if "inducing axiety" is a reason not to create a work of fiction then we might as well just stop being writers (or content creators). The whole point of fiction is to evoke an emotional response in readers.

Anxiety is not a healthy or normal emotional response, but an unhealthy condition people suffer from that is fully capable of destroying lives. It is not my intention to take a firm stance for anything right now. But the evidence of serious harm is clear and should not be dismissed out of hand.
 

pmmg

Vala
It seems to me that entertainment requires anxiety. Watching bad things happen to other people seems to be an endless spectator sport. Course, we also like to see the bigger things, like justice, win out, but....it does continue to suck for all those murdered, cheated on, and tortured souls that make up a lot of fiction.
 

Ban

Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
That's a very different form of anxiety than what Devor is talking about. Being anxious for a character is not the same as being anxious as a person.
 

pmmg

Vala
That's a very different form of anxiety than what Devor is talking about. Being anxious for a character is not the same as being anxious as a person.

I was talking of the audience. The audience wants stories that make them anxious. Its entertainment.
 

Finchbearer

Minstrel
Recently I've read about Stephen King's decision a number of decades ago to let his 1970s book "Rage" go out of print after it had been associated with two deadly school shootings back in the 80s and 90s. These shootings, as well as a number of non-lethal instances were (as far as I found) carried out in a copycat style reminiscent of the way that the protagonist of Rage carried out his. Furthermore, the book was found in the possession of the perpetrators.

To be clear, I believe blame should be put entirely on the people who carry out such evil. Nevertheless, regardless of culpability, my question to you all is whether or not such a potentiality is something we as writers should foresee and counteract before it is too late? Should we foresee grounds for misconstrued glorification, even if such glorification is not at all our intention? And if so, how far do you think such foresight should extend? Regardless of your opinion on others' responsibilities, how much does this weigh on you individually? I hope this conversation will be fruitful and we can all gain some insight on this matter.
It’s the whole nurture vs nature argument, are people born psychopaths or made?
Can we really blame popular culture for peoples independent actions.

But then you look at the communist manifesto and think hmmm….
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
>So too, I think it is commendable for writers to do the same.
(in regard to guard rails etc)

I tried to think of what I could do as a writer along these lines. The best I can come up with is to avoid what I know will be offensive. Racist slurs can be avoided, certainly in the context of fantasy (though, ironically, it's possible to write something offensive in the context of an invented world). I'm not going to use sexually-based slurs either, even though some could be historically correct, but that crosses my own lines; the fact that it might cross lines for others is coincidental.

But I can't for the life of me think of anything I might do as a writer (in the act of writing, leaving aside actions and activism) that might have such potential of causing or aiding violence that I would impose guard rails. I don't care for grimdark, but that's a writer (and reader) preference not a social one. That said, if a scene calls for some gory details or lingering on violence, then that's the way I write it.

That said, maybe someone prone to violence is going to gravitate toward violent literature. Maybe they'll gravitate toward other violent media as well. I don't think removing all such, or toning it down, is going to change anything. At most, media--especially visual media--can help such a person visualize the act. All media can certainly romanticize such acts. Here I'm reminded of the 60's film If, and its oft-quoted line "one man can change the world with a bullet in the right place." By making the speaker a kind of hero, the film does romanticize an essentially cruel and possibly evil act, not to mention making an over-heated claim to historical influence. It's exactly the sort of thing a helpless and hopeless person wishes were true.

And all that said, assassins have been practicing exactly that long before movies and even before books. The worst I can hold is that making a glut of this sort of thing cannot be said to be helping matters.

Anyway, I'd be interested to hear from Ban (the op) and others on what actions an author might take along the lines of guard rails. Here I will repeat that we're not talking about writing things that might offend someone; that conversation has been had more than once. This is specifically about writing that is somehow contributory to violence.

And a postscript: it's curious that we seldom talk about writing that leads to good actions on the part of our readers. That we might write something that causes readers to be kind or generous. More often it's about writing that comforts or inspires (which is sort of the flip side of writing that offends or angers), but rarely about leading to specific actions taken by individuals. We humans talk more about the end of the world than about its continuation.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Ban

pmmg

Vala
There is the example of Mr. Kings book, and I used Dexter and the Joker as an example...but none of those are mine. If they were, I might find myself more in a position to have to consider how this might influence people. I think for me, since I am not actively engaging in trying to encourage a bad behavior, it would have to be something I was made aware of after publication, and then consider, as I think Mr. King did. I am highly doubtful anything I wrote would cross any type of line in that fashion.

And along the lines of self governing, well, I already do that, cause I don't write things that are far out of my nature to write. I don't see myself say "lets see if I can make Joker something all the kids want to be", but if I did, and the culture changed for the worse...I might be compelled to make some statements of being unhappy about that. But...if I was to pick a topic, say suicide, and show a MC that teens would relate to finding it to be the best of all possible solutions, I could see parents getting upset if that was to show up in school libraries. But, I am governed. I would not write such a book. Its not a story the screams out from inside that I need to tell it. For me, and likely for you, the guard rails are already baked in.
 

Ban

Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
skip.knox regarding my suggestions for guard rails, I earlier on wrote the following: "We can add preemptive content warnings, ensure that homicidal plans and actions in our fiction are not replicable, ensure that a troublesome character's actions and motivations are countered within the story, and that this character does not receive their happily ever after."

You make a good point that those readers with violent tendencies are more likely to gravitate towards violent fiction. I think it is than especially important to give some thought regarding the possible effects the work may have on triggering or guiding the reader's desires. It would be commendable for that writer, in my opinion, to work with some of the guard rails I mentioned above, though I'm sure there are more such possible guard rails to consider beyond what I wrote.

Ultimately I think it is up to each writer to individually decide what they do and do not wish to bring into the world. I also think that most writers are well within bounds and do not need to worry too much about this subject. Furthermore, I don't think that the average writer of fantasy (even grimdark) has much to worry about. Fantasy as a genre tends not to be highly replicable. You won't find detailed school shooting plans in any book on the fantasy shelves in your local library. On this note, I think fantasy is also insulated by the fact that most of its tales take place in alternate worlds, which creates more distance between the reader and the work. So this discussion is more of a general writing discussion that is perhaps more relevant when considered from a non-fantasy perspective.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
Totally missed that, Ban. All those suggestions are reasonable. I can see some grimdark objections to that last item, but I stay away from such anyway.

It seems to me that external warnings (or exhortations) are small potatoes compared to the actual content. That's where we do our strongest writing, in the novel itself. The external warnings are right up there with Parental Guidance warnings on music. It's not really going to deter those who are the most likely to be negatively influenced. That doesn't mean we stop trying. Sometimes I think those warnings are there mainly as a crutch in litigation.
 

Ban

Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
I agree. If anything external warnings simply make a work more alluring, but narrative considerations can have an impact on at least a subset of people. You're also correct that no matter how well-intentioned, such considerations can't deter everyone. A truly bad actor can spin anything to suit themselves, regardless of the content and context. That being said, from what I've read about Rage, the main character did receive a remarkably positive ending (got off scot-free due to an insanity plea), was given sympathy throughout the novel in the form of his classmates confiding in him and followed a very simple, very easily replicable plan. I bring this up for the discussion, not to harp on mister King who is of course not guilty of others' actions. These are all pitfalls we (as in writers as a whole) can use as examples to avoid. Luckily most of our fiction will never run into those pitfalls to begin with.

On a side note, in regards to your previous comment's "postscript" I wonder what books and stories I and others could point to that have directly impacted us in a positive way, specifically in terms of bringing us new ways of thinking and strengthening our beliefs in certain virtues/values. That could be an interesting thread on its own.
 

pmmg

Vala
How about the bible…

In sure thats not the answer you were meaning, but i think most stories try to achieve this. A few i could name are Lotr, star wars, narnia, bambi, charlottes web… to they not deliver messages that one might consider positive?
 

Ban

Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
Certainly, if you're of Abrahamic faith. It could be an interesting list to compile, but perhaps it would be best to reserve it for another thread. I can open one if people are interested.
 
Last edited:

S J Lee

Inkling
I read that RAGE tale long ago...turns out it is VERY unrealistic. Protagonist shoots teacher then he and classmates sit down for a long heart to heart that is half genuine and half forced and they wait for the cops to show up. The long yakky heart to heart isn't realistic, methinks. Real school shooters shoot their classmates too....So what exactly could SK be accused of encouraging?
 

Ban

Troglodytic Trouvère
Article Team
I haven't read it, so I will trust you that this work is overblown in that regard. I am using it as an example, it's not the central discussion. Still, painting the protagonist in a sympathethic light, having him be celebrated and accepted by his classmates (who stick up for him even from what I have read) and not having the character face real consequences sounds like the sort of idyllic fantasy that a potential shooter might entertain.
 

skip.knox

toujours gai, archie
Moderator
How about the bible…

In sure thats not the answer you were meaning, but i think most stories try to achieve this. A few i could name are Lotr, star wars, narnia, bambi, charlottes web… to they not deliver messages that one might consider positive?
Positive messages, sure, though I'd put the Bible in a different category (and would actually put different books within into different categories), but the question was about what led to positive actions. My logic there is that if we grant (we don't all grant this; I'm merely postulating) that certain writing can contribute to people taking bad actions, then we can suppose certain writing can contribute to people taking good actions. Founding a charity, being kind to dogs (or spiders), and so on. In that regard, I guess we can point to all sacred texts as contributing to both good and bad actions, though I can also make an argument that such texts are used merely to justify actions that would have been taken anyway. But that's another thread!

It's interesting to consider those works. I'm going to remove Star Wars because it's not a book. But it could be an interesting discussion to consider whether the authors of those books *intended* the positive actions that ensued from reading them (I'm willing to suppose someone somewhere did something good inspired by one or more of these works). Discussing the positive side rather than the negative might lend a different perspective.

For one, I can see looking at the OP question not so much in terms of guard rails, which already tends to negative connotations, but in terms of goals. One goal could not to provide obvious fodder to those who hunger for violence. Another goal could be to provide inspiration or example to those wishing to find a way to better the world, or even just themselves. That way, we aren't talking about restricting our writing but improving it. Each author will have different notions as to what constitutes improvement.
 
Top