Monday, August 15, 2011

To Soapbox or Not

GOP presidential debate, June 13, 2011

Political season is here, the Republican candidates for president are unavoidable, and that acrid smell you detect is the smoke coming out of my ears! It’s not just that I disagree with them on a lot of issues -- helping the little guy, health care, the environment -- it’s the level of intolerance they display towards …me.

David Remnick, the editor of the New Yorker, put it this way:

“One of the most striking aspects of the recent Republican Party Presidential debate was the way the candidates, each in his own way, tried to out-do each other in their disdain for gay marriage and their willingness—nay, their ardent vows!—to do everything possible to make sure that homosexual couples never gain the right to matrimony. One day soon, someone will play back that debate as an exercise in historical shame, much as we now watch documentary clips of serene racial bigots denouncing the efforts of the black freedom movement in days of yore.”

I added the emphasis because I think Remnick’s statement is so powerful. I mean this is the United States, isn’t everyone supposed to have the same rights?

The question I face as a writer is: Do I put my politics on the page? Do I use my characters to mouth my views? The answer is an unequivocal “no”.

I’ve read novels where the author uses a character as a mouthpiece for his or her political views and I find that it pulls me out of the world of the story and into the real world, which I'm trying to escape by reading the book.

I write about individuals, and I know that there are kind and decent (not to mention homicidal) people in both parties. It would simplistic, boring and jejune to define people solely by their political views. In my new Janet’s Planet mystery, Dead by Any Other Name, one of the prime suspects is a wealthy, ostensibly liberal woman who is actually a manipulative, condescending snob.

She may even be a murderer.


Shannon said...

I try to keep my political views to myself. I don't rail against liberal or conservative much, but every now and then I rail against the idiots and mud slinging politicians or cable news idiots and I get in trouble EVERY time because it comes off as a political statement when I really just want to tell people to play nice. BTW- I listened to your interview last week, very nice!

Lisa Bork said...

Women didn't have many rights at one time either, Seb, and we all know how that worked out in the end, too.

I like to have my "good guys" to role model what I consider to be correct behavior, or at least have their flaws be obviously flaws, and to have the "bad guys" behaving, well, badly.

Darrell James said...

Seb- I'm so weary of the political rhetoric(from both parties)that I've given up watching TV altogether. Particularly since the media seens to pander to the most outrageous. I'd like to think if we ignored them they would all just go away, but... probably not.

Just keep writing great books.

Keith Raffel said...

Seb, Maybe you should wear one of those "Careful or you'll end up in my next novel" T-shirts to a political rally. Good posting. Keith

Jess Lourey said...

Seb, as someone who had a Minnesota politician named Sarah Glokkman in her last book, I hear what you're saying. From my perspective, preaching makes bad writing, but humor is always funny. :)

Beth Groundwater said...

Good post, Sebastian! I don't like it when a fiction author gets on a soapbox and expounds on some political view in the middle of a story (or has a character do it for him). It really pulls me out of the story. That's why I hated Dan Brown's DaVinci Code, because that's exactly what he did in the middle of the book--holed up three characters in a mansion, with the bad guy circling it, and had the three expound for pages and pages on his religious theory.

I, myself, am an environmentalist who loves the great outdoors, which is why I enjoy living in Colorado. Rather than getting on my "save the environment" soapbox in my river ranger books, I show how environmental and water rights issues affect the lives of the characters and let readers draw their own conclusions.

Deborah Sharp said...

Oh, Seb, if you could only hear what's going on in my head when I watch the news or read the papers about politics! But, I almost never air my views in a public forum. A, when I came up in journalism, we were trained to at least aim for objectivity, and B, my mama always told me never to discuss religion or politics (or money, but that's another story).