To Be or Not To Be – Politically Correct

Song of the day: Say What You Will by Fastway

Political correctness hot button — Press here.

Zip it, honey.

We live in an age of vast technology, social networking and incredible free creative thinking. We’ve made leaps and bounds in what is socially acceptable within our culture. Entertainment media has pushed the envelope in nudity, violence and sex. The longer exposed to these moral deviants, the more society deems it acceptable. What was once considered outrageous even twenty years ago, when I was but just a wee girl, has become a part of the normal western social fabric.

I pledge alligiance to the flag. Yes I do.

Yet there is a certain hush about specific topics. Same gender relationships, race, religion and wild, kinky sex are to name a few. Now I won’t go into what is right or what is wrong. I have my opinion and then there is everyone else’s. We may not do the same hand jive. We may not see the same color horse. But our laws say we are free to express ourselves as we see fit. You got to love this country.

As writers, most of us probably don’t give this a second thought. We read what we like and we write what inspires us. At least not until we stumble upon our own unchartered territory in freedom of expression. We’re moseying along, weaving the next best seller, and suddenly we’re finding ourselves mired in a muck of political correctness. A critique partner, contest judge, maybe a beta reader suggests a scene too controversial, a bit of dialogue too divisive, or a character too steeped in bigotry.

Should we limit our creative harvest if something we pen may hurt someone’s feelings? Should we compromise a character’s foible, motivated actions and reactions, theme, or even a plot for the sake of sparing hurt or anger? Did Faulkner or King?

Watch your step. Ahhh!

I write historical tales. History, by default, is filled with atrocities. People were persecuted for their beliefs, race, economic status, ignorance, where they were born or for simply breathing their first breath. It’s sad and ugly. But out of these monstrosities arose tolerance, faith, love, greatness and lessons learned.

When I told my history professor whom I greatly admired that I wanted a degree in History, he groaned. Don’t take it to education, he had said. “You’ll never be able to teach it how it really happened. They won’t let you.”

Isn’t that a shame?

The American Civil War is taught in a terribly bias manner. People were either sympathetic to the South’s “peculiar institution” or they sided with the North’s abolitionists. The Civil War was not so much about slavery as it was about unfair economics. Yet slavery is seen as the motivator to the war. Seems there is a political correctness on equality still fueling debates today. No doubt slavery is an abomination. Unless . . .  Is it wrong to keep a hot, delicious man as a slave cooking, cleaning and performing hard labor seeing to my every whim?

Couldn't resist.

I’m well into my third WIP of my romantic sea-faring adventures where all my heroes are pirates. Historically speaking, pirates were one of the vilest derelicts of humanity. Thanks to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Walt Disney and Hollywood films featuring Errol Flynn and Johnny Depp, pirates have found a place in our hearts. That didn’t stop one industry professional from passing on my manuscript citing the politically correct responsibility of romanticizing pirates in light of the recent attacks by Somalian bandits. I respectfully disagree.

We shouldn’t omit the truth in history or ignore its injustices for fear of affronting another. Nor should we omit other sensitive more contemporary issues to avoid being politically incorrect. Because we are gifted with immense freedoms, so do we have the freedom to dodge that which may make us uncomfortable or insulted.

But hey, this is just my unsolicited hand jive.

Are you afraid of offending someone? Do you tiptoe around touchy subject matter or do you wade right through it? I love to hear from you.

22 Responses to To Be or Not To Be – Politically Correct

  1. “We may not do the same hand jive.” – Blatantly sexual reference.

    “We may not see the same color horse.” – Potential racial profiling.

    I’m shocked, Jennifer, shocked I say, to see something like this on your blog.

    (Everyone relax…I’m teasing, Jenn knows I’m teasing, and she’s going to kill me for this anyway, so what the hell….)

    Like

    • jbrayweber says:

      OMG! Will!
      Leave it to you to make something so innocent into a potential firestorm.
      You’re right. You’ll pay for this. 😉

      Like

  2. These are my thoughts. If someone is offended by my writing, good. It means they are brave enough to have an opinion and to voice said opinion. If my writing inspires a heated discussion between two opposing views, even better. I love to discuss the different beliefs of people. However, respect everyone’s right to have their own opinion. An opinion can be neither right nor wrong.

    Like

  3. Suzan H. says:

    Considering I insult the Republican Party by my sheer existence, I think I’m already ahead of the game.

    Like

    • jbrayweber says:

      Hi Suzan!
      Simply put. There is no winning in today’s politics.
      And honestly, I’d rather not know what political affiliation people subscribe to. It’s safer that way. LOL!

      Thanks for stopping by!

      Like

  4. You always unearth excellent topics for thought. I’m with you on freedom of expression, especially for sake of artistic license, and especially when truth is sometimes beyond stranger than truth. Why not? Aren’t historical romance writers the harshest critiquers, demanding exactness to the most minute detail of fashion ; the precise language and lilt of a regional branch of nobility or aristocracy….

    There are popular genres more tolerant of the cold, harsh realities. But mainstream romance? Popular romance? Salable romance?

    The hero and heroine may be flawed, but not distasteful. The antagonist may be deliciously evil, but necessarily sympathetic. All in the interest of characters the reader can relate to. And romance readers want the escape; they want to become that character, bigger than life. They want a fairy-tale. Unless a tragic and tortured character grows to rise above the harsh realities you mention, then it seems mainstream romance won’t pretend to identify with the story. Unless you’re wildly popular and a well recognized and respected…

    You’re a wonderful moderator, Jenn. Thanks for the inspirational!

    Like

    • jbrayweber says:

      You nailed it, Rounder.
      With romance, certain subject matter is skirted. And I understand this. People want to be whisked away to a time, a place, an idealized life, to experience adventure and to fall in love. I think with history, authors don’t necessarily gloss over atrocity, but utilize it in a way that the H/H rise above and eventually find their HEA.

      As for unearthing excellent topics, I just blog whatever strikes me at the moment and hope that someone will find my thoughts helpful. Isn’t that what we are about? Helping one another? 😉

      As always, thanks so much, John.

      Like

  5. Jessica says:

    What an excellent post Jenn! I don’t think I skirt around hard subjects in my stories, and I’m not sure I temper things either. If I do, it’s not a conscious thing.
    I’ve heard that history isn’t taught accurately either. Such a shame. 😦

    Thanks for making my brain think a little today! I hope the baby is doing well. 😉

    Like

    • jbrayweber says:

      I don’t think I temper the horrific, either. Instead, I lead the reader away from giving in to too much thought. Sometimes with humor. It’s a challenge. One I am glad to tackle, given I write about pirates.

      If you knew just how much of our own country’s classrooms sidestep certain variable of our history, you’d be shocked. All to spare ending up in court battles for offending people. It really is a shame.

      Thanks so much, Jessie, for popping in. It’s great to hear from you!

      BTW – The baby is super. She’s a perfect angel, so peaceful and happy. Thanks for asking.

      Like

  6. Thank you for your blog post, Jenn.

    Y’know, this reader and aspiring writer happens to be one of those people who would be offended by much of the romance genre if I were easily offended. Yes, I’m a liberal—and romance fiction in general is geared toward conservatives.

    This, ahem, inconvenient truth isn’t discussed much. Obviously publishers, editors, and critics don’t want to alienate members of the reading public who think and vote like I do. But we notice it.

    Why is it that in romance fiction, the system always works? Why are heroes virtually always at the top of the social ladder; or representives of the authority of the establishment, such as policemen, sheriffs, government agents, and military officers?

    Why are the most desirable men those who display the most reactionary attitudes toward women? How come social atavisms, such as marriages of convenience and the double standard, are not only prominent in the genre, but presented in such a positive light, even glorified?

    The answers to these questions aren’t simple, but a large part has to do with the conservative political/social/cultural foundations of the genre. It’s created for readers who hold with these ideas and ideologies, and want the comforting assurance that they are “proven right” through fiction.

    Which, of course, proves nothing, seeing as it’s just fiction. Still, the illusion of validation persists. And sells.

    Sure, you can find exceptions in a book here, an author there. But overall, this principle applies.

    When I’ve voiced my objections to this conservative agenda, some romance fans have come away with the notion that I’m calling for romances with a liberal agenda. Actually, what I’m doing is even more radical than that. I’m calling for romances with NO agenda. Not even one in line with my own politics. I don’t need to be “reassured” about my values through fiction. I can see enough validation in real life.

    Do I sound like I’m complaining? I’m trying not to. I’m merely pointing out a fact of the romance-fiction business that makes it hard for this reader and many others to find works in the genre that are ideologically neutral. And you’d better believe it makes it even harder than usual for me to market my writings.

    Still, I keep trying. And if I ever get published, some readers will inevitably get angry because I don’t validate their dearly-held ideologies. But there are plenty of other writers who do. And there’s room in the publishing business for all of us. Well, should be.

    Keep up the good work!

    Like

    • jbrayweber says:

      Hi Mary Anne!

      With all due respect, I’m a bit puzzled by your observation that romance is geared for conservatives. As a writer of romance, I have no hidden agenda. As a reader of various sub-genres of romance, I don’t feel any one author is trying to prove their ideologies as the “right” one.

      Now, speaking for historical romance, it’s just a fact that most eras, most settings, most cultures lived by a way of patriarchy social systems complete with all its hypocrisy. These ways may seem glorified and I can see this may be offensive. Can’t change history…unless the story is written in an alternate history.

      At any rate, I respect your opinion and I appreciate your comments.
      Thanks so much for sharing with us. 🙂

      I’m so glad you believe in your work. That is key. If you believe in it, so will others in the business.
      Good luck. And may we share book shelf space one day!

      Like

  7. carolyndee says:

    What a great and thought-provoking post–and comments. Although I am a liberal, I don’t believe my politics shout from my writing. I intend for my books to be non-political, but entertaining. Is it wrong to read purely for pleasure? Not for me! If I want to read about politics, I’ll read non-fiction. When I read a romance or romantic suspense. I read to escape everyday problems. I’m not alone. You know, Logan Pearsall Smith said, “What I like about a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers.” I have “whispered” about bigotry and prejudice in several forms. In various books my h/h have been illegitmate, half-breed Cherokee, illiterate, and poor Irish. But the story for each was overcoming life’s obstacles, finding true love, and achieving Happily Ever After.

    Caroline Clemmons

    Like

    • jbrayweber says:

      Hi Caroline!
      Escaping, isn’t that what it’s all about? 😉
      I love that quote. I hadn’t heard it before. It certainly is powerful.
      I can relate to your characters.Kudos for making them the undesirable. My characters are not of aristocracy. They are not the fortunate. My heroines are not virgins. All have a issues. All have to work at being likable (or maybe I have to work to make them likable). LOL It’s the journey to the HEA, the prevailing, that makes the read so much fun.

      Thanks for stopping by!!!!

      Like

  8. Jenn: Thank you for your response to my comment, including the encouragement. Coming from you, it means a lot!

    As for the part of my comment that puzzles you, perhaps I should have put my thoughts into words more precisely. I didn’t mean to imply that you or other romance writers have ideological agendas (with obvious exceptions, such as writers of inspirational romances). In discussing the conservative bias in the field, I’m talking about an impersonal aspect of the romance genre: its rules and the objectives behind them, some of which I alluded to in my initial comment.

    And authors certainly didn’t make up the rules. Nor do they enforce them—and they’re enforced with Draconian stringency.

    As a reader and a writer I wholeheartedly believe they should be loosened up. But never mind me. It’s other readers and writers, indeed the romance fiction field in general, that’s being hurt.

    This is just my opinion, but I believe much of the current economic trouble in the romance market can be traced to this strict adherence to the rules. Publishing companies offer readers plenty of works in the usual molds, and their target readers go for them. But there aren’t enough readers for all these works. And publishers offer nothing else.

    Readers who would enjoy works other than the usual romances, including those that defy the rules and the spirit behind them, go without. A huge potential revenue stream never reaches publishers—or writers.

    There’s more I could say on this matter, but this will do for now. It’s a huge topic, and a blog comment can’t cover it. Maybe I’d better get back to that WIP.

    Good luck to you and everyone who joined in this discussion. I’m looking forward to more Musetracks posts.

    Like

  9. Joan K. Maze says:

    What a great, thought-provoking blog. It really got me to thinking. I haven’t had to grapple with anything of this type yet, that is, anything serious. However, I suspect that if I come across a situation in either one of my historical WIPs, that I will have a problem. I like to describe things as they are, not as someone wants them to be. Recently, because of all the political talk on TV, I have been wondering what in the world is so bad about being liberal, and so good about being conservative. It is my opinion–though I could be wrong–that liberalism is more conducive to innovation, to progress. Perhaps the conservatives are afraid. I guess if I encounter such a situation in fiction, and write exactly what I want, I would risk, figuratively speaking, being run out of town on a rail.

    Another thought. If you’re writing about a situation that really happened, wouldn’t it lose a lot if you doctored it up to get rid of what some would consider offensive. I recall some years back when I worked at a restaurant named Sambo’s. This was named after the well-known story Little Black Sambo. Someone took offense at the name, made them change it, and the restaurant then failed – after an impressive start. This isn’t about writing, but certainly could be a topic in a book. The names we give people now are not what was given in the past. How would one solve that?

    It’s even possible to get in trouble in contemporary fiction. For example, whether to call a waitress a waitress or a waitperson.

    My opinion is that fear is behind much of this.

    Like

    • jbrayweber says:

      Hi Joan!

      I too will describe things as they happened and thus my reason for writing this blog.

      It’s kind of funny. I really had no intention for this to come off as a sounding board for politics. I have to wonder how that happened. LOL!

      Anyway, I won’t speculate about the political rhetoric of our politics today. This wouldn’t be the right platform and like most, I would have plenty to say.

      I am not out to offend anyone. However, if I do offend someone by using the name Sambo or referring to a flight attendant as a stewardess, that really wouldn’t be my problem. It’s a choice the reader makes. Read for the enjoyment of the story or simply put it down and read something else.

      I will add that I can assure anyone who cares to know that I am unafraid to write the dark and ugly truth, be it something I agree with or not.

      Thanks so much, Joan, for your comments! 🙂 And thanks for your support!!!

      Like

  10. Katharine Ashe says:

    I wade. My favorite romance authors wade, too–Liz Carlyle, Tessa Dare, Suzanne Brockmann, many other wonderful authors. Romance drawn from reality speaks most powerfully to me, the HEA so much more satisfying if the challenges the characters face are based in real troubles, societal troubles as well as personal ones.

    Thanks for this marvelous post, Jenn, and everybody for the thoughtful comments. What a satisfying way to end the week. (And sorry I was late to the ball, but I’m nonetheless grateful for it!)

    Like

    • jbrayweber says:

      >>>>Romance drawn from reality speaks most powerfully to me, the HEA so much more satisfying if the challenges the characters face are based in real troubles, societal troubles as well as personal ones. <<<<

      Isn't that the truth, Katharine?! Your comment is dead-on. We'll wade through together. 🙂
      Thanks so much for stopping by.

      Like

  11. Katharine Ashe says:

    [OT – Okay, I have no idea why my post was assigned that grimacing icon. How did that happen? Lordy, give me sticky societal problems over internet technology any day!] 🙂

    Like

  12. Ken says:

    Hey, I think your blog might be having browser compatibility issues.
    When I look at your website in Chrome, it looks
    fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some
    overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, great blog!

    Like

  13. Lavonda says:

    Hey! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my old room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

    Like

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