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The Cult of Personality

Now everything is out there like knickers on the clothesline, blowing in the wind and practically waving to the neighbors.
| Dec 13, 2017 | No comments |

When it comes to famous people, we naturally gravitate towards those whom we admire or whose values are more or less aligned with ours. A punk rocker is going to have Sid Vicious on his wall; the power player CEO will have a quote by Elon Musk (or maybe Gordon Gekko) on his computer background; the eager young activist will read books by Nelson Mandela or Malala. Everyone looks up to someone, and when we find those people, we want whatever content they produce.

It’s the same yet a little bit different with writers. There are some exceptions, but writers are more on the private side of the celebrity spectrum (those who are celebrities, at least). They’re not visible like singers or actors, even though they are producing an entertainment product. And they generally don’t broadcast their beliefs and values as religious leaders or politicians do. To say they “hide” behind their books implies a willful act of secrecy, which may be true in some cases, but for most writers, they hide behind their books because that is the nature of their entertainment product. Their values and beliefs are contained in their words but unless they write something with an explicit message, it may be impossible to know where they stand on religious, political, and social issues.

Of course, this was before social media. Now everything is out there like knickers on the clothesline, blowing in the wind and practically waving to the neighbors. This was especially evident during the last election. The creative community generally leans left and many authors whose pages I follow on Facebook were tooting Hillary Clinton’s horn as loudly as they could. There are many writers who lean the other way, and there were plenty of Trump-eteers making just as much noise. And when The Day After arrived, the sobs of dismay and shouts of exultation drowned out any news about their raison d’être, their books.

It’s been my observation that in the speculative realm, particularly in science fiction, the writer’s political and religious beliefs are more easily discerned than in other genres such as romance or mystery. Perhaps this is because the science fiction writer usually has to create an entire fictional world, and in a realistic world, religion and politics play crucial roles in how that world would exist. It also gives the writer a chance to air grievances, issue warnings, foretell perceived catastrophes, and sometimes indulge in some wishful thinking about what life would be like if everyone thought and felt as they do (at least the good guys). Personally, I have little patience for blatantly political speculative fiction, with the classics being an exception (there’s a reason they’re classics).

But here’s a growing problem that I see creeping over the literary world: because of social media and the ease with which people can find out about other people’s political and religious beliefs, readers are gravitating more and more towards writers who hold similar beliefs and values as they do. Writer: “#notmypresident.” Reader: “Yes! Fan for life.” People read books from this or that author because of who they are, not just because of the books they write. He is so handsome, she is so beautiful, he loves animals, she loves Australia as much as I do, he’s pro-gun, she’s anti-gun, etc., etc. This isn’t a new phenomenon – an interesting person who writes a book is always going to get more attention than a boring person who writes a book. Yet with social media and blogs, writers are becoming like Hollywood actors, crowing their opinions from their virtual rooftops. How often do we roll our eyes when a coddled, self-important Hollywood star weighs in on the issue du jour and we retort, “Stick to acting!” I’ve wanted to say the same thing to many writers when I see them spouting off on something that has nothing to do with writing. Of course, writers are real people with real beliefs and values, and there’s no reason for anyone to change simply because of my feelings, but I’m sure I’m not alone when I say: writers, stick to writing.

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