Had an interesting article pop up on my Twitter feed this morning. It was posted by a youngish (and increasingly successful – good on him!) New York publishing agent and linked to an article titled, “Why the First Novel Created Such a Stir”
Here is a quote:
“…This was one of the reasons book inspired something of a moral panic, too: “an enthusiasm that supporters viewed was sentimental identification and skeptics diagnosed as a contagious madness, allied to methodism and sexual mania.”
…One is tempted to note that times have changed, but there are enough efforts to censor books (and other media) all over the world to suggest otherwise today.”
The gist of the article (at least for me) is this: Fiction at its best (and its worst) is a thing that can, among other things, inspire, anger, agitate, amuse, entertain, educate, and push society toward deeper reflection.
Ah, but if those who declare outrage, be it true or manufactured, are allowed to silence words, music, film, speech, ideas, are we not then a society in serious trouble? And having posed that question, is it not impossible to deny we are living in that sad condition right now? I wonder if an Orson Welles would be allowed to create in this current environment of perpetual protest? What of Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, J.D. Salinger, James Baldwin, Harper Lee, or Earnest Hemingway? How many remarkably talented and insightful voices of the past would be banished for having offended collective convention had they lived in this version of today?
Everything is outrage. Everything has been given a political bent. People are divided, pushed aside, thrown down, judged, attacked, and ultimately silenced. In this age of electronic-instantaneous-social media-self-importance-and-self-indulgence, so many are talking but so few have anything to say. We are all alone together screaming in silence. We live in an age of “shadow banning” and “idea shaming” where collective morality shouts down (or directly threatens) the individual. This is nothing new. Human nature at its worst has devolved into such a sad and frightening state before. More would know this, perhaps even understand it, if they took a moment to learn the history we ALL share. It has come in many forms, but the general premise has always been the same, be it Idi Amin’s Uganda, Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, Leopold II’s Belgian Congo, or Mao Zedong’s China, it all begins with totalitarian-approved group-think.
Something eerily similar is going on now in America as millions communicate what appear to be pre-fabricated bouts of daily tantrums that have led to the creation of a “If you don’t agree with us you won’t be allowed to exist” environment. Alternative views are charged with being voices of opposition to the collective, and then routinely silenced.
Some of you reading this know exactly what I speak of. It’s happened to you already, hasn’t it? And for those it hasn’t…it’s only a matter of time.
That is, unless we change course and once again embrace the rich potential our diversity of ideas can, and should, offer to all. Choose to listen, to watch, to be inspired, revolted, turned on, turned off, or not. The choice should always be yours.
Otherwise, this is the future we leave our children…
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