Saturday, October 06, 2007

something in the water (does not compute)

Lately, in between working on a rough (rough!) draft of my dissertation proposal, and reading some necessary and additional, but ancillary fiction-- which constitutes feeling anything from utter ennui as I slowly, drowsily turn the pages of On the Road (yet again) to paroxysms of orgasmic excitement as I read the rest of Octavia Butler's oeuvre-- I've been trying my hand at fiction, once again. Mostly, I sit and play stupid eye tricks while staring at the computer screen (focused...unfocused!), swig bottled water and munch on a Trader Joe's Trail Mix Bar for an hour, before I get up and pat myself on the back for adding a comma here, a semi-colon there, and changing my characters' names. (More on that in a later entry.)

Initially, it wasn't this hard; it seems that I've written myself into a corner: I can't come up with things for my characters to say. It's among the variety of difficulties I encounter when I sit down to write. How can I inhabit, invent a perspective and accurately relay its actions, reactions, behaviors, and words? I read about the "Desperate Housewives controversy" from this perspective.

I've never watched a scene of DH. I don't think I'm part of their demographic. Yet I'm compelled to address Filipino Americans' demand for an apology from the producers of the show, which came to be after one of characters responded to her doctor's diagnosis that she might be in the beginning stages of menopause by saying, "Can I just check those diplomas because I just want to make sure that they are not from some med school in the Philippines." The petition states that the comment was "discriminatory and hurtful" and "not necessary to maintain any humor in the show." Now, I'm not quite clear on how the comment was discriminatory, but I concede that it could have been hurtful; I'm in no position to talk about the comment within the context of the show. I know nothing of Filipinos' presence in our healthcare system. But one question: are we so consumed with being politically correct that fictional characters cannot say stupid, bigoted, and hurtful things?

This "controversy" isn't new. I suppose there are still folks in the world who are trying to ban Huckleberry Finn because the young hero says nigger. To be sure, I'm not equating DH with one of the greatest novels ever; that would be misguided. As misguided, perhaps, as the petition when it provides the Isaiah Washington, Michael Richards, and Rosie O'Donnell incidents for comparison. For, it would seem to me that in this increasingly PC (politically correct, not personal computer) world, it is imperative that fictional characters utter such things.

Every time I open my mouth I offend someone. In fact, if I were famous, my publicist would have released a blizzard of apologies and "her words were taken out of context," press releases by now. My career, in essence, would be over. And it would be over because we don't allow people to say such things. Instead, we prefer a facade of civility, and pretend that our best straight friends have never noticed our gay lisps. We choose a code of silence.

Fiction can do more than teach us about other people and other worlds. Make-believe can, ironically, give us portraits of real people who occasionally fail to regulate their ids, who say the stupid, bigoted things they (we?) were thinking all along. Writers have the potential to render people in their most flawed and human light, to make them say the things they should not say, and do the things they should not do. So, then, if I create a character who is a racist (sexist, classist, et. al.)-- not a bed sheet wearing, cross-burning, back of the truck dragging racist; but you know, your unassuming, suburban white flight racist-- can I not allow that character to upchuck racist (sexist, classist, et. al.) thoughts? Or would we rather think that diversity training works, and does more than simply preclude us from thinking that we may actually be all of those aforementioned bad things? In my estimation, All in the Family (one of my favorite shows) would have never been greenlit, let alone aired in such a climate as this.

There are those, I'm sure, who see no value in creating Archie Bunker-like characters with all of their "hate speech." Yet how can an honest conversation ever occur if we're not honest in the ways we talk, and none of us knows what the other is really thinking? Can Isaiah Washington get sensitivity training if he never says the word faggot in mixed company? And since it's obvious that he can't utter those words in those "town hall" meetings we like to have, how can we ever have any sort of frank discourse? Well, I might suggest that we begin by creating characters who commit the infractions that are otherwise intolerable. And if we can't do that without the threat of petitions, and the suggestion of editing utterances of that kind of language, where can we do it?

As a (wannabe) writer, who struggles daily with giving her characters words, it would do nothing but further exacerbate my situation if I had to make sure that even my mildest characters didn't say anything offensive or hurtful. Further, such gestures would, ultimately, undermine part of the work that fiction-- televised and otherwise-- can and should do.

That said, I still hated Crash.

Link to the petition.


language alone protects us from the scariness of things with no names. language alone is meditation. ~toni morrison


Anonymous Anonymous said...

jeanius . . .


14/10/07 10:45  
Blogger Hollambeeee said...

you're so smart, it's ridiculous...i LOVE this's so poignant, sincere and intelligent...


17/10/07 09:40  
Blogger Harold Gibson said...

You still got it Ms. Summer. How ya been?

23/10/07 20:53  

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