Friday, June 12, 2015

Too Easily Offended

It seems that these days some people are too easily offended. I freely admit there are a great many things in this world that we should get offended at and it is really telling if you don't, but what I am talking about are things in ficiton. Rather than being truly offensive, they can be very thought provoking and bring situations to light. Instead, people are jumping straight to offense and not stopping to consider what the fiction is doing.

In my last blog post I dealt with a particular scene in Game of Thrones that dealt with rape in marriage. This expands on that seems to be just the tip of the iceberg. To start with, the scene in question in Game of Thrones was tame. Another series, Outlander, tackled it more directly and more graphically. But here is the thing, both series are dealing with the stark realities of human history. True, George R.R. Martin reset his in a fantasy world, but rarely do the horrors and tragedies he portrays (and that the series portrays) stray far from history. While it is a fantasy world with magic, embodied in the dragons and white walkers, its appeal lies in the gritty reality of the rest of the world. For the era it portrays, gritty involves death in many guises, and many other forms of brutality. Tell me honestly if any person who endured Theon's torture, castration, and breaking did not expect the sort of wedding night for his wife that we were given.

As a writer, I strive for internal consistency. If I create a world that is brutal I am not going to skip one form of brutality because it may offend. I will use history to inform me of what sorts of things various cultures find acceptable levels of brutality and follow it in every way. Skipping rape or burning at the stake because that brutality offends more than castration and beheading is not going to happen. It should not happen as it is hypocritical.

When it comes down to it, fantasy is a retelling of history with magic. How much history makes its way in depends on the writer. It ranges from Tolkien who used history to form his world but crafted a unique story on top of it, to Martin who gives us a parallel to the War of the Roses with a little something else going on. But anyone who studies history will know that brutality existed. We don't even have to go very far back. Most people are familiar with the Holocaust that took that lives of so many Europeans during WWII, but it was not the last such event. There have been others more recently and far more going back into the past. The numbers that died under Hitler and Stalin's regimes are staggering, but the brutality is familiar. Rape, incest, torture, burning people alive, forced marriages, skinning people alive, drawing and quartering, execution, oppression, displaying heads on spikes, leaving corpses to rot in hanging cages, slavery, prostitution, assassinations, and the like fill history. Some can be blamed on insanity, but most was just the normal course of events in a brutal world.

And what fantasy writers, even Martin, portray is not even the tip of the iceberg of what I have read in history. There are chilling accounts from history that make the imaginations of fantasy or horror writers seem tame. So if you choose to take offense at something brutal in a fictional story, beware of how hypocritical you may sound. If you have sat through Game of Thrones to this point, nothing in the newest season should be shocking in the slightest. If it is, then you are picking and choosing what to be offended at and you have chosen to be offended at something you really have no right to be offended by.

I can hear some bring up their personal history and their concern for others with a similar history. Well, what about families of people who have died from knife wounds or beheading? You should have been offended from the outset and not now that the brutality being portrayed touches. All or nothing is my stance on this. Either be offended by the brutality from the start or deal with it when it goes where you don't want it too.

But it does not really end there. That is just one example. Others get offended at the depictions of prostitution or homosexual relationships. We are too touchy and easily offended these days. I really suggest everyone study a bit of history. The good stuff, not the delicate versions that are common knowledge. You need to know that they burned people publicly for being witches. You need to know that decaying severed heads were once a common sight. You need to know that many women were given no choice about what to do with their bodies in regards to sex and children. You need to read up on the brutality of the Mongol hordes that reached Europe and also how effective that tactic was for keeping the peace in what they had conquered. It is all there in history, the brutality of our species. Who can fault a writer for accurately portraying how bad we can really be? If you do you need a reality check.

And in case you go looking for this grittiness in my writing, you probably won't find it. That is not my goal in my stories. I stick to a smaller group of characters and focus on the mix of cultures and languages. That does not dim my appreciation for those who do tell the grittier stories, but I will live that sort of story telling to them a tell my stories the way I want to.