For those of you who’ve followed my Half-Turn hero, LAPD Detective Kel Langston, his Taker friend Ray, his Half-Turn partner Levi, and his teenager Half-Turn Jess, you will not want to miss “Takers IV” – where all your questions get answered and then some! And if you haven’t met this unusual Family, now’s your chance to be drawn into the world of “Takers”…where your blood is only the beginning.
In Mr. Pogue’s article, he draws the conclusion that the reason people are jerks to each other on the internet, when they aren’t necessarily that way in RL, is because the internet affords something that a face-to-face meeting does not: anonymity.
While I don’t have the status of Mr. Pogue, in that I’m not a well-known columnist, far too often I have witnessed appalling behavior from one person (or a group of people) in the online arena to another.
I have had numerous conversations about this phenomenon with my publishing company owner, Jaimi Sorrell. She herself has been the target of internet attacks, as have several other online acquaintances of mine. Those against me have been few enough, and far enough between, that none of them really tweak a memory profound enough to share.
In addition to running her publishing company, Jaimi also works with me and a few others on a discussion board called Tracy Island Writers Forum. It is on that venue, and on the website fanfiction.net, that I have most often seen behavior that baffles both of us.
In a very small number of cases, we have discovered that the people who post nasty reviews on fan fiction stories, or send ‘poison pen’ emails to their authors, suffer from one or more mental disorders. While this doesn’t exactly excuse the behavior in question, it at least sheds some light on the cause of it. Sadly, we have come to the conclusion that there isn’t very much you can do where that is concerned. You simply have to not let their poisonous intent affect you, like water rolling off a duck’s back.
But in the case of what you might consider to be average, everyday netizens, the question does arise as to why they think it’s okay to do something online that they wouldn’t (in all likelihood) do if they were face-to-face with the person being subjected to their rudeness. (Although for all I know, some of these people are like that in RL too, which ::shivers:: yikes.)
As Mr. Pogue points out in his post, the internet is “a place for the anonymous and insecure to take potshots.” But what I want to understand is why. And for me, the most relevant parallel I can draw to what amounts to internet bullying, is bullying in RL.
There has been an increased focused on bullying over the past several years (you can see bullying statistics for yourself right here). We have all heard the stories of teens being bullied by other teens, which sometimes results in the victim taking their own life or getting their hands on a gun and shooting up their school. We see bullying on elementary school playgrounds all the time. Children, up to a certain age, haven’t really digested the “what’s right and what’s wrong” portion of their moral values (for the most part). I’ve seen children be downright cruel to one another on the playground; in fact, my own son was once bullied because he was “different” from the rest of the children. In his case, “different” simply meant that he was able to complete activities and homework much more quickly than his peers, to the point where he would have absolutely nothing to do for a good half of the school day. He also didn’t want to participate in the cliques they formed, was more interested in reading than being macho, and in general didn’t think the same things were important that they did.
Children always pick on anyone who’s different from them. They often sling insults (many of which they have heard at home) toward others, be they racial epithets or otherwise, and there’s only one reason they do this. Acting out is a way of getting attention, and if you have a group of friends who also are desperate for attention, and desperate to fit in, you get together with them and pick on someone different from all of you. This makes you and your crew feel better about yourselves.
Why do they do this? Because they have one or more problems with self-image, self-love and quite possibly with their home lives. Whether they feel ignored at home, inadequate compared to siblings or are just completely lost trying to figure out their own identity, this behavior is exacerbated in teenagers, whose hormones make every situation life and death. As Vivienne Parry points out, “Teenagers get a rush from intensity, excitement and arousal.” The difference among teens is what the thing is that gives them that rush. All too often it’s behavior that I still haven’t figured out how they get away with.
The same behaviors, however, exist among adults on the internet, both individually and in whatever groups they choose to become part of. Yet adults, unless they suffer from a debilitation that affects this part of their brain, don’t have the benefit of being able to claim their sense of right and wrong hasn’t yet developed. And they don’t have the benefit of being able to blame raging hormones or whatever other factors spur teenagers to act the way many do. So why does one person gather their sheep around them, declare war on another group of people who’ve never said a bad word about any of them, and attack that group so viciously that sometimes it curls your hair?
I agree with Mr. Pogue that a large part of the ‘why’ is that even if people on the internet know your real name, it’s still a largely anonymous environment. Rather than looking a person in the eye and bringing out your verbal weaponry (or putting up your dukes), you are simply sitting there in your living room or office or bedroom looking at a computer screen. Nothing bad will happen to you, at least not physically, for unleashing your putrid internal sludge in blog comments, emails, story/book reviews or discussion boards. Certainly the online community in question may give you warnings or ban you from posting to that place altogether, if that is possible for them. And in retribution you may receive responses from those group members or the friends of the person you attacked, trying to defend their friends/community from your attack.
But by and large, you can do and say whatever you want to on the internet without having to suffer any consequences at all because it is anonymous. And that’s what I think is the true reason people misbehave online: there are no consequences for their actions.
When I was a child, if I misbehaved – whether it was getting into a fight on the playground at school, staying out past my curfew, going to a place I was told not to go or not doing my chores – I was punished in some way. It might’ve been that I had to go to bed an hour earlier. It might have been that I had to stand in a corner for a period of time. Not being able to watch my favorite TV show was a frequent one. It might even have been a spanking or lashing with the belt. Whatever the punishment was, it was designed to teach me right from wrong. To make me take responsibility for my actions. To show me that just because I could do something, doesn’t mean I should.
I’m not going to debate the merits of different types of punishment for children and adults; that’s not what this post is about. What it is about, is the disturbing trend in the United States of children not being held accountable for anything from their actions to themselves. With No Child Left Behind, if a kid is failing their grade it doesn’t matter…they’re pushed along to the next grade anyway. What does that teach our children? That it’s okay if they can’t, won’t or don’t achieve a certain level of education or knowledge, because they’ll get to stay with all their friends and move on to the next class. Which, I should point out, they are ill-prepared for since they didn’t adequately learn the foundational information from previous classes. I shan’t delve too deeply into this, for it is a much broader topic deserving of its own post.
In addition to a broken educational system, there is the strange practice, now, of awarding trophies (be they statuettes, ribbons or gold stars) to every single student who does something, even if the student doesn’t “win.” When I was on the track team in my younger years, I didn’t bring home a ribbon if I lost the race or didn’t throw discus the farthest. When I participated in state and national singing competitions, I didn’t win an award if other singers performed better than I did. I had to work, and work hard, to achieve recognition and success. Actors don’t get Oscars for B-level performances. Olympic hopefuls don’t get a gold medal if they place second in their sport.
Yet nowadays, in many schools, all the children on a school sports team receive all sorts of ‘gifts’ just for being on the team. Even if they never take the field, or even if the team never wins a game, they are treated as though they have poured their heart and soul into playing and as though they have won every single game…when they have done neither. How does this encourage children, then, to strive for excellence? If you know you’re going to be recognized for just being there, where’s the incentive to work harder, do better, surpass your personal best? Answer: there is none.
There are more reasons than just these why we are now being faced with teens and twenty-somethings who carry with them a sense of entitlement that they have not earned and don’t in any way deserve. This issue was recently expounded upon by BabyZone in their article here, in which they talk about how parents allowing their children to do whatever they want with no consequences ruined a play date the author had. As well, Babble.com spoke of Parenting in the Age of Entitlement in their article found here, showing this truly is a modern epidemic. What it boils down to is that children and therefore young adults don’t understand that you can’t have what a fifty-year old has (wealth, family, house, car) just because you want it. You have to earn it just like that fifty-year old earned it.
An example more germaine to my existence online: someone joins a long-standing internet community, and immediately begins telling the owners and long-term members of that community what they’re doing wrong, and that they need to change everything to be the way the newbie wants it to be. If you don’t agree with the newbie, or if you tell them no, sorry, we created this place and it’s run according to our rules, then guess what happens? That person basically throws the internet version of a tantrum, and then sends emails to everyone they know maligning the community members, as well as making blog posts stating as much. They also attack community members individually via emails and by leaving nasty reviews on their fan fiction stories…reviews that have nothing to do with the stories and everything to do with their burning hatred of the author (or the group the author is with).
Why do people do that? Because they believe that they’re always right, that everyone else is wrong, and that you should change everything you do because they told you to. They feel that they are entitled to have things their way because nobody ever taught them the concepts of negotiation or compromise. Nor has anyone taught them compassion, or to think before they speak. In a great number of cases, nobody has taught them that you don’t get to the top by magic. You get there by working for it.
Parents today are faced with an unbelievable challenge. More and more of their time is being hogged by their jobs, their financial worries and the five thousand non-home and non-work activities that for some reason they feel the need to participate in. This has the direct result of their children being sat down in front of the television or video game console, just to keep them out of their parents’ hair so the parents can try to get one-tenth of their unmanageable load of daily tasks completed. And in many cases, children aren’t even being allowed to be children. What I mean by that, is that kids not allowed to just be; to play in the yard alone or with their friends, developing a sense of self, an imagination and social skills. To help their parents around the house, thereby learning responsibility and the consequences of not meeting obligations. They’re largely ignored in favor of the parents’ agenda which, at some point along the way, their own children – the future of this country – stopped appearing on anymore. Or the kids are carted around to dozens of after-school activities because, I can only assume, we’re trying to stress out America’s children before they even become adults, and teach them that taking time to stop and smell the roses isn’t important.
While the behavior problems associated with teenagers and twenty-somethings might be able to be explained by all of the above, what’s the deal, then, with those who truly are old enough to know better? Those from my generation, many of whom had stay-at-home moms, or who were spanked when they did wrong, who were held accountable for their words, their deeds and how they carried themselves? For the misbehavior I have seen online has in no way been limited to the generation after mine, and for me that is the most perplexing part of this entire topic.
How does someone in their 30s…their 40s…their 50s…someone who is definitely old enough to know better, and who grew up in a generation that taught you to know better, attack other people online? I can come up with four individuals off the top of my head who each act as though they have lost any sense of morality and decency, that they had to have grown up with simply because of the time period in question. In one case, I believe it’s because the woman is a very bored housewife who for some reason missed out on a typical youth, and is also a control freak. This person has gathered a following of teenagers around her that praise her every word and deed. And that has given her a sense of “Look how much they love me, that means I’m better than everyone else.” So when she finds another group of people who say, “No, sorry, you’re not our queen, but thank you anyway,” she then goes on the offensive and tries everything she can to rip them to shreds.
Why? Because in her mind she, and those members of her personal “cult” who have allowed her to be their leader, are the end-all and be-all to what is correct. Their opinions are the only right opinions, even if those opinions are highly illogical to the matter at hand. The older community which has stood the test of time, withstanding many attempts to tear it down, won’t bow to her perceived superiority. It’s rather like a king who is trying to conquer another territory. When the indigenous people refuse to convert to his beliefs or give up their land and their freedom, what does the king do? He attacks them with the intent of either forcing them to join him or killing them if they continue to refuse to submit to his rule. News flash for those of you out there who missed out on this: we don’t do that kind of thing anymore. We’re a little more sophisticated now than we were in medieval times. There is no single ruler of anything (let’s face it, these days even British royalty is little more than an homage to days past – the queen doesn’t rule anything), and when you’re talking about things in the public domain, you don’t get to set the standards for everyone else.
This article could easily become five times longer than it already is, but instead of beating a dead horse I’ll circle back around to my own opinion of why people misbehave online. There are no consequences for them doing so. There are no “internet police” to react immediately to their actions, like there would be if you got into a public altercation. Yes, you can be arrested for cyberbullying, cyberstalking and cyberharassment. But since so many online personalities go by pseudonyms, unless you have a lot of money or good hacking skills, prosecuting them for these things is nearly impossible.
We all become angry if we see story about a man who abuses his wife, or a woman who abuses her children. We are upset when one woman kills another woman because she was “trying to steal her man.” We are outraged when a man concocts a scheme to murder his wife because he wants out of the marriage.
But we have a double standard when it comes to online behavior. Because each and every one of the motivations behind the acts I just described, are the same motivations that misbehaving online people have. The only difference is that on the internet you can’t punch, stab, poke, shoot or kick your opponent. The only warfare you can wage there is psychological. And that, as we know from people killing themselves due to maltreatment online, can be just as deadly as a bullet to the brain.
Regardless of the psychological reasons, the rationalizations people try to make or the arguments that misbehaving people use as excuses, the point here is, as Mr. Pogue discussed in the post that inspired this article from me, that you wouldn’t walk up to someone in RL, stand nose to nose with them and begin hurling insults and curses, questioning their ancestry or spewing hateful and spiteful and vicious words at them. Not if you had to look them in the eye (and were sober at the time), you wouldn’t. If you would, then you need to seek professional help, because that is not acceptable behavior on the internet any more than it is in RL.
Stop to consider the one thing that I know all of you who misbehave on the internet haven’t considered: Just because nobody questions or goes after you for your bad behavior online, doesn’t mean you’re getting away with it. It is NOT okay to hurt other people, whether with your words or your actions. I don’t care if it’s online, in person, over the telephone or by making a hate-filled movie to unleash your questionable sensibilities upon a larger audience. It is NOT. NOT okay. It is NOT OKAY to hurt other people.
If they disagree with you? That is their right. If you ask for their opinions and they give them to you, but you hate their opinions? Grow up and deal with it. They have a right to theirs, as you have a right to yours. Doing unto others what you would have done unto you isn’t just an old quote. It’s reality.
Nobody in your house may see what you’re doing…maybe even your online friends aren’t aware of it, or because they are also sick and twisted, they’re encouraging you. But let me point something out: YOU are aware of it. YOU know what you’re doing. And not only your victims, but YOU are being harmed by your misbehavior. There being external consequences for your actions, words and deeds is irrelevant. Because whether it’s online or in person, and no matter how old you are or aren’t, and whether you suffer from a mental illness or are just having a really bad day, misbehavior is not okay.
It all hearkens back to childhood, when we learn from our parents, our peers, our organized religions, our grandparents and extended family. From television, from friends, from those in the town, village or city where we grew up. I believe that we come into this world as newborn infants not with a clean slate, but with karmic debts to repay, with lessons we have decided we need to learn and with agreements in place with other souls to fulfill one or both of those duties. We also come into our life under the trappings of when we are born, astrologically speaking. And all of these things – the karma, the lessons, the agreements and the astrological influences – were chosen by our Higher Selves prior to inhabiting the body of the newborn we became, in our attempt to fulfill these things.
So our personalities, our genetics and our environment growing up truly define the foundation we lay for this life we enter into. In my case, I was born “with horseshoes up my butt” as I have so eloquently described it to close friends. I have always been lucky…not in winning the lottery or having a perfect life, but in always inexplicably landing on my feet when disaster befalls me. I was also born with a deep well of emotion to the point where even I want to slap myself sometimes for how sappy I am. It’s something I learned to keep hidden to avoid the negative repercussions it brought me as a child.
Why am I baring this to you, my friends, readers, fans and the entirety of the internet world? Because even though I came in with promise, the environment in which I grew up formed me into someone who wasn’t emotionally or psychologically capable of living up to that promise. That I chose this life for myself, wasn’t anywhere in my sphere of awareness growing up. Most of us, if we come to that realization, don’t do it until we’ve already laid waste to people and places, and caused emotional pain and confusion to others.
Rather than go into a complete psychological analysis of myself to better draw a picture of why a recent experience was so profound for me, suffice it to say that I woke up to the fact that I had been unkind in my words throughout my adult life. I was closed off to other people, to protect the inner me, because that was how I survived my childhood. I couldn’t see past my own inner pain and my resultant behavior to realize several important things:
- that everyone else on this planet also came into the lives they’re in for multiple reasons;
- that those whom I blamed for hurting me when I was young, I had actually made agreements with to interact with me in that precise way;
- and that there was a very good reason for it all
What reason? So that I could learn a very important thing that my Higher Self was really and truly trying to understand: compassion.
Less than a month ago, through a series of occurrences too involved to go into here, I had an epiphany. I finally truly understood, and felt, what I have come to label as Love with a capital L. Some call it Divine Love, some call it Universal Love…there are many names amongst us humans for what it is. But there it was…something I suddenly comprehended so completely that it took my breath away and reduced me to a blubbering heap on the floor. Well, not literally…I was sitting on a chair. But the fact is that it hit me like a speeding freight train, and when it did, Life and Truth became so clear to me that I was instantly ashamed for things I have said and done to (or about) other people.
Not that I did or said these things on purpose out of true malice, but simply that my words and actions were the result of my ignorance of the concept of compassion for others. As if to put an exclamation point at the end of my epiphany, I had an experience two weeks ago, and that is what I want to share with you all.
I drive my roommate to work, and then go from there on to my own day job. One ordinary morning I was talking with her, thanks to my newfound understanding of compassion for my fellow man, about giving money to the people who are on the street corners needing help. The ones who stand there with signs saying they are war veterans (we should be ashamed of ourselves for how we treat them), or that they’re down on their luck, or simply signs that say NEED HELP. I told her, there is always someone standing to the left of the stoplight for the freeway exit I take en route to work. Many times it’s the same man, but sometimes there are others. I told her I’d always wished I could give them something but since I don’t carry cash, I never have anything but the loose change I’ve accumulated, usually totaling only 35 or 40 cents.
She said well, at the end of the day, added up with whatever else he gets, that might make it possible for him to get a room to sleep in that night, or a meal. I thought about that a lot the rest of that day.
The next day, I woke up with a ridiculous Happy – that’s the best way I can describe it. I had been basking in my experience of understanding Love with a capital L, and all the way to work was just so giddy that I think a unicorn would’ve thrown up at the sight of me. I got to that exit and saw a man there, the one who is usually there, and suddenly in my head there was this urgent voice that said hurry, get all that rattling change out of your wallet and give it to him.
After I stopped at the red light, I managed to get the handful of mostly pennies out of my wallet. I rolled down my window and called out to him just as he passed my car. He came over and I said, “I’m sorry, it’s not very much but it’s all I have in my wallet.” And he said, “Oh, that’s okay, thank you so much.”
He was wearing gloves – it was soooo cold out that morning – and after I dumped the change into his two cupped hands I put my hand on one of his and looked into his eyes, and he looked right into mine. In that moment of connection with another human being – a fellow soul – I said, “Bless you.” He said, “Thank you,” and I said, “Thank you.” Because although I had just given him a pittance of change, he had just given me the gift of being able to help someone in need, even though it was barely a few cents’ worth of help.
I was so overwhelmed and moved by that moment, by the rush of beauty, kindness and Love that washed over me like a tsunami, that I had to struggle to keep from crying the rest of the drive to work. And in those last few minutes of my drive I realized, that is what it feels like to actually help people…not all this mailing of checks to nameless, faceless organizations while we sit at home on our couches all warm and comfy, but actually one-on-one giving someone a hand. Looking into that person’s eyes, speaking to them, coming to “know” – even in a brief moment – the one you are giving to, brings on a rush better than any drug, better than any other experience I’ve ever had in my life.
No, I didn’t give that man a whole lot. And no, I have no idea what he does with the money he collects standing there day in and day out, asking for the help of passers-by. But what we must understand is that it’s not up to us what the money we give to someone is used for. That’s up to them, and it’s their karma that will be affected depending on the choice they make about how to spend that money. What we must internalize…what I finally get after nearly forty-two years in this life…is that our responsibility is only to give, not to try to direct what happens with that gift. We should only be concerned with what we are doing…not with how other people react to it or what other people do with what we give.
I didn’t give that guy those few cents to try to earn cosmic brownie points. I did it because I was compelled to help a fellow human being. Did I earn cosmic brownie points? Yes. But better than that, for me, was how good it made me feel. That I had done something for someone I didn’t know simply because I was moved to do so, just allowed Love with a capital L to consume me in such a way that I immediately wished I could afford to keep on doing it. That I had a whole bunch of money and could go to all the people in Memphis who are in need, and either give them the money directly or buy them whatever it is they lack. Food, clothing, medical help.
But alas, I am not yet a wealthy woman. So all I can do right now is help in tiny ways. I don’t know how my small helps will impact those I offer them to. They may mean everything to them or nothing. But with each little thing I do for another person, my understanding of compassion, and my acting on what I have now learned and internalized, simply increases my Love for all others, and improves me as a person.
Which is why I wanted so badly to share this experience with the world. Giving, even when you have little to give, isn’t less important (karmically or otherwise) than giving when you have much to give. No, I don’t have the wherewithal to feed all the starving people in the United States. But I can connect with someone in need, I can give them what little I have, even if it’s an old coat that will keep them warm during a cold snap, or just a few cents of spare change I manage to scrounge up. It might be that projecting outwardly that I care about them as a fellow human is more kindness than they have ever been shown. The fact that I took a moment to connect with them might mean everything to them. I have no way of knowing.
But it’s not my business to judge how they handle a kindness I try to bestow upon them. It is my business to be kind. Compassionate. To look at each and every person I pass or come into contact with on a daily basis and realize that whatever color their skin, whatever their size, shape or general appearance, whatever their disability – emotional, psychological or physical – might be, they are in those lives for a multitude of reasons. They are no better or worse than I and vice-versa. They are not to be mocked or looked down upon, but to be Loved.
Perhaps one of the reasons that man has been standing on the corner by the exit I take to go to work, for more than two and a half years now, is to show me what it feels like to give from the heart. I don’t know his name and I have no idea what his background is, but I am truly grateful for the gift he gave me that cold, early morning.
What giving really gives you isn’t bragging rights to your friends, or awards from organizations for giving the largest donation to their cause. What giving really gives you is the opportunity to show someone else a kindness. And the greatest gift given during that exchange isn’t whatever you give that person. It’s the gift they’ve given you in the opportunity to act on your compassion for a fellow soul.
One of the examples given in the radio broadcast was the use of the n-word in older novels such as “Gone With the Wind.” A specific line in which they replaced that word was: “I’m going to buy some more Afro-Americans.” And the question posed was, does that sound right?
Now, before I stray any further down the path I’ve chosen, I need to point something out. You’ll notice I didn’t actually use the n-word in my previous paragraph. First, I’m sure everyone reading this knows full well what word I’m talking about. But second, after a lively discussion with my editor, it was decided that if I printed that word…even in the context of simply identifying which word I was talking about, and with no connotation whatsoever attached to it…those who are offended by that word would stop reading the post as soon as they saw it, and start hating on me for daring to use it.
Why? Because I’m a white woman, and therefore am not allowed to say or write that word or any variation thereof no matter what the context. Don’t believe me? Two words for you: Paula Deen.
That said, and to get back on-topic, if I were shown words or phrases from older fiction, or even newer fiction, in which the n-word or any other word now considered a slur was used, and asked whether I thought there was something “wrong” with it being used, I would not respond until I had taken into consideration the context in which the word or phrase appeared.
Let’s look at this issue in broad strokes. If an author is writing historical fiction, they want it to be historically accurate to the time period in which they’ve set their story. Well, if they’re a decent author they do, anyway. If you are writing about the life of a black slave in the United States of America, then it would be completely inaccurate for a plantation owner to call his slave an “Afro-American” or “African-American” for no other reason than because those labels didn’t exist back then. Whatever the reasons were for the n-word to be used to describe enslaved blacks, it was indeed the word used at that time.
It is what it is. The past cannot be changed, only learned from. And in our attempt to correct negative attitudes toward others, we have now swung our racial pendulum clear to the opposite side of where it was by either banning books that use the n-word in the correct context of the word’s historical usage, or by deciding we want to reprint mainstays of fiction, and replace that word with some other label while we’re at it.
My opinion: The idea of removing what people now consider to be racial slurs because of our shifting attitudes toward others is as ludicrous as completely erasing the history of slavery in America from school textbooks.
My high school sophomore English teacher was a beautiful and elegant black woman named Mrs. Chapman. I vividly recall one day, when some of the lewd and crude teenage boys were trying to get a rise out of her, that they loudly pointed out the use of the n-word in “Huckleberry Finn.” Mrs. Chapman, after asking them to settle down, calmly and rationally explained why the n-word was used by Mark Twain in the novel. She basically took the wind out of their sails by stating the facts, rather than getting worked up over it. Perhaps if our teachers were taught to explain history to our children, there wouldn’t be such a free-for-all about what’s written in old novels as there is today. Alas, however, we don’t pay our teachers enough to put up with what they put up with as it is, which is yet another topic to be delved into another day.
The point is that there is much more at stake here than trying not to offend people. Books like “Gone With the Wind” weren’t written to exude hatred. They were written to realistically depict a specific time period in the southern United States, and were true to how life was back then…including women being good for nothing more than marrying and making babies, and being treated as property by their fathers and husbands. Are we going to rewrite “Gone With the Wind” so that Scarlett O’Hara and her sisters and BFFs aren’t around for the sole purpose of finding a husband and producing heirs? Personally, as a woman, I find that sentiment offensive, as do a great number of women who fight to be portrayed as equal to men rather than be treated as mindless chattel. Yet not once have I ever seen anyone suggest we should nix women-as-property from classic novels.
What about the names Chinese immigrants used to be called? How about Mexican or Latin American or Cuban immigrants? How about the current attitudes revolving around anyone who comes from places like Pakistan, Iraq or Afghanistan? What with all the hoopla about terrorists and Al Qaeda and the war in Afghanistan, do you think anyone who’s a Muslim (or who physically resembles someone from the Middle East) is enjoying being racially profiled right now and called a terrorist when they’re totally innocent of anything to do with terrorism?
If a historical fiction book was written about the time period shortly after the September 11th tragedy of the World Trade Center buildings, I can guarantee you that there would be racial epithets directed at Muslims contained within that book. Because never in my lifetime have I heard more racial slurs directed at a single group of people as I did after 9/11. Does it mean that the author thinks Muslims should all be called terrorists? Of course not – at least, not if that author is a decent human being. All it means is that the author wants to accurately reflect the attitudes and culture of the time period in which they’re setting their book.
I find it interesting that nobody cries foul when, in science fiction novels, a particular alien race is called something horrible by another alien race as a form of racial slur. After all, if we’re meant to be so PC that we’re wanting to reprint classic novels and take out all the offensive stuff, why are we okay with the same racist mentalities being utilized against invented races? We seem to pick and choose which bigotry we’re okay with and which we take issue with.
Are “blacks” and “whites” completely equal in the United States right now? Oh, hell, no. Not even close. I have lived in Memphis long enough to be very aware of that fact. But there are more than those two races in this country, and many other races have faced, and are still facing, racial inequality here and in many countries all over the world. And then there are women. We’re not a race, we’re a gender. Yet we are still battling monumental challenges in being considered equal to our male counterparts in so many ways I barely know where to start, regardless of what color our skin is.
People growing up in the past ten or twenty years often aren’t aware of the fact that until 21 years ago, a woman wasn’t allowed to be a fighter pilot in the US Air Force. Don’t believe me? Ask the owner of my publishing company, who would have gone for that career had it been even remotely possible in the time period she grew up in. Women were allowed to train as pilots beginning in 1976 (the Navy and the Army started it in 1974), but they weren’t allowed to fly combat missions. The USAF’s first female fighter pilot didn’t go on active duty in 1993.
Women have only been allowed to vote in the US since 1919…less than one hundred years. And in many places in the world, women are considered lower than dogs, some still can’t vote, some have only been able to vote since 1980, the list goes on. Some have their genitals mutilated because heck, they’re just property, right? Some are forced to stay quiet when raped by their male relatives or risk death, and many are simply bought, sold and used like a car.
The title of this post is “Are We Just Becoming Too PC?” The answer to that question, in my mind, is both yes and no. Some groups of people scream bloody murder over a classic novel that contains the n-word. Yet are those people doing anything to keep African children from being forced into rogue military groups where they’re given guns and taught to kill by the likes of Joseph Kony? Women can vote, and are given the lip service that we are in every way equal to men, yet go tell that to a female executive in a large corporation who, even though she has the same job title as her male counterpart, is getting paid less than he is.
Women are still, by and large, seen as a collection of body parts. When a man looks at our breasts instead of our eyes. When they’re in the locker room talking about “Baby got back” and “Oh, I’d do her.” Until sexual harassment policies were put in place in Corporate America, women could do nothing about being verbally abused by men’s sexual comments and physically violated by their advances. But it still happens, regardless of policy. I personally have experienced that.
The newer generations don’t think that way, you might say. I beg to differ because I have a friend, a young woman in her 20s, who lives in West Virginia. She recently decided to apply for a position as a Forensic Analyst with her local sheriff’s department. Do you know what both her grandmother and her father said to her when she told them? “You don’t need a job, you’re a woman.” If she hadn’t taken to the internet to learn what existed outside the two mountains she lives between, she might very well have believed what her family is trying to teach her rather than fighting to get out of that environment, and those are her words, not mine.
Let’s just say neither racism nor sexism are dead in this country, no matter how much we want to pat ourselves on the back for being politically correct.
Instead of allowing the racial and sexual pendulum to stay clear over on the opposite side from where it was back when plantation owners had slaves and women were property as much as slaves were, why don’t we move that pendulum right back to the middle? We get way too mired in worrying about offending others, yet we aren’t, by and large as a society, doing a whole hell of a lot to ensure that racial or sexual equality is actually a fact. That, in and of itself, is far more offensive to me than a word in a book that is used accurately for the time period in which that book is set.
And don’t get me started on the treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgendered persons. That’s a subject for a whole other post that I would have to be very careful to not burst a vein writing.
When we are truly helping our impoverished fellow Americans; when we are giving all young people in ghettos an alternative to joining gangs; when we are willing to give our fellow human beings who have mental disorders the medical assistance they need instead of casting them aside to become homeless; when we can stop making fun of “fat chicks” and “ugly people”; when we can pay men and women of any skin color the exact same amount for the exact same job; when men in the military aren’t sexually harassing women in the military; when we stop dissecting humans into groups based on religion, sexuality and skin color; when we as an entire nation start to look abroad and do something that’s actually effective to help those who live in other countries who are dreadfully mistreated…then maybe, just maybe, we can start worrying about rewriting history.
We need to go back and pay attention to what classic novels tell us about what was done wrong in the past, not try to obliterate that past by rewriting them. Because the way people in this country and around the world are still treated inhumanely due to race, sex, religion or any other thing you can think of, is proof that as a race…the human race…we haven’t learned anything at all. We just like to pretend we have.
Now, my focus here primarily isn’t fan fiction, although that’s the world I’ve dabbled in most when it comes to writing. No, this stems from television…specifically, the writing on a current television show which shall remain nameless, to protect me from hate-spam. (No, friends, it’s not my beloved Thunderbirds…that’s not current. *grin*)
Think of it: you start a brand-new show with stellar writing. You make it shine, tip-top above everything else, with an epic mix of everything that makes a show great, from the writing to the casting. The show goes like gangbusters for a season and then you decide hey, let’s completely and totally fuck up what’s working by making the writing go so completely south we end up in the Southern Hemisphere, and alienate half our fans in the process.
That sounds normal, right?
Er…wait, what? No? Well, let’s back out of TV shows and into something we might all be a little more familiar with. How about….McDonald’s. Sure, why not? We all know who they are, right? Huge fast food chain, home of the Big Mac, etcetera, etcetera.
Think of it: you start a brand-new restaurant with stellar food. You make that food something everyone loves, craves, with just the right taste to make them keep coming back for more, from the ingredients you use to the service your staff provides. The restaurant takes off like gangbusters for a year and then you decide hey, let’s completely and totally fuck up what’s working by changing McDonald’s from a hamburger-and-fries-and-Coke joint into a hot-dog-and-cabbage-and-water joint.
What do you think happens if McDonald’s stops selling hamburgers…or starts using tofu burgers instead of whatever kind it is they use now? What do you think happens if they stop selling french fries and only sell cabbage as a side? Or if they completely nix Coke products and only sell water? I’ll tell you what happens: they go out of business. Why? Because they took away what their customers loved about them the most, the thing that made them work, made them successful, and replaced it with something that makes no sense to their customer base.
Okay, now pedal backwards to the first thing I talked about: the show that started out with stellar writing. Can someone please tell me how it is that a TV show that’s doing everything right, that’s on top, and that develops a nearly instantaneous fan base (which is rabid and loyal and a marketer’s dream for all the social media-ing they do), decides it’s okay to change their “product” mid-stream when, in the world of business, any successful businessman would tell you such a move is a death sentence?
Good question, huh?
Now to tie this back to writing, I will dive into what about this particular show-that-shan’t-be-named went south and oh, look at that…it was the writing. You don’t need to know what show I’m on about to get the basic tenants of what my point will be. And what IS the point, you ask?
Don’t mess with what works.
What you have, if you are successful, is what put you on top. It’s what made you get fans to begin with, and only by keeping it intact are you going to keep those fans. Slacking off on writing just because you get too comfortable in your own leather desk chair is a discredit to the characters you created, and to the fans you have essentially made a promise to, when you get them hooked on a really good premise with really good characters.
I suppose I can tie this back to fanfic writing very easily, and be very much in line with my previous article about writing existing characters IN character, vs. twisting them into what you want them to be. And I’ll use Thunderbirds as my example.
Why do you think that little tiny marionette show still has die-hard fans this many years later? Because what they did, worked. Yes, some of it is outdated now…after all, the mid-60s were quite different than 2013. But as I will expound upon until the day I die, the characters at the core of that show are what made it work. They’re what got fans’ attention, and held it right through to today’s day and age, where you can mention it anywhere in England and they’ll know what you’re talking about. This is a show where there exists a thriving fandom that produces fanfic for a show continuing to live on in so many hearts.
That means what, exactly, to us fanfic writers? Oh, my God, it means exactly the same thing: Don’t mess with what works.
Why did you start writing fanfic for the show? Because you fell in love with some aspect of it, whether the characters or the machinery. You loved how the characters were portrayed, and you’ve decided you want to write about their further adventures since no one else is doing it (at least, not well, they’re not). The Spy Kids rip-off they tried to call Thunderbirds a few years back was an epic fail, why? Because they tried to mess with what worked. The recent novels are an epic fail (sales numbers don’t lie, people), why? Because the author just did not capture the spirit of what worked all those years ago. And the project that’s underway to do a new show where they’ve completely removed the patriarch of the family from the equation and made a secondary male character into a woman that’ll be in every episode, and where they’re going to make all the 21+ years main characters teenagers? Well, that’ll be an epic fail too, sorry. Why? Because rather than doing the REAL Thunderbirds…rather than sticking with what worked, and what made us continue to love them all these years later, they’re changing everything.
And I have no earthly idea why. You wouldn’t do that if you were McDonald’s. Or Best Buy. You wouldn’t do that if you were Wal-Mart or Costco. Up in Canada, you wouldn’t do that if you were Real Canadian Superstore or Tim Horton’s. Would you?
What if Paris took down the Eiffel Tower and burned the Louvre to the ground?
What if Egypt leveled its pyramids?
What if Hollywood relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia?
Those would all be very bad business decisions…the first two for tourism, the third for the entire economy of Southern California, including tourism.
Bad business decisions seem so obvious to us as consumers. Similarly, bad decisions in writing TV shows often seem so obvious to consumers, but the people who run the show are, somehow, completely oblivious. In spite of instant feedback via social media, showrunners are hiring hacks, or friends of friends, or members of whatever their inner in-bred clique are, to write for their productions, rather than hiring people who can string an actual story together that makes sense.
Sadly, this million-dollar OOPS they’re doing in Hollywood is recreated every damn day in places like fanfiction.net, where you go to find a good yarn to read about your favorite show, and wind up wading through stories that are labeled as being about that show, but whose characters you don’t recognize at all. Instead of writing what worked – the characters as they were created – people seem to want to twist them all to hell in the fanfic world, just like they tend to do in the TV world as well.
What a parallel, right? Life imitating art imitating life…
Oh, wait, we have too much testosterone in here, we need a hot, leggy female thrown in the mix, so let’s just ruin what we created by shoehorning one in there and pissing all our fans off when we get rid of a core character to do it. Oh, wait, there isn’t enough wrong with the character to give me enough angst to get high on, well, I’ll write him with such an out-of-character characteristic that it makes absolutely no sense with the way we’ve known him for the past season, just because I want a certain end game. Wait, this isn’t about gay men, we have to give them all girlfriends and wives and babies just to hit the audience over the head with the fact that no, they’re NOT gay.
The list goes on.
Why is it that when you write a book to be professionally published, your publisher won’t let it see the light of day unless it holds together as a real story that’s well-written…but that in the billion-dollar Hollywood industry, the most god-awful writing that rivals the worst crap on fanfiction.net is not only allowed through the gates, but encouraged, with those writers going on to get job after job after job, even when they’ve proven they couldn’t write their way out of a paper bag?
No, it’s not sour grapes on my end, so my detractors can stop right there if that’s what they want to say. I do not ever want to write for TV shows, no way no how do I want to become part of the cynical Hollywood machine. I’ve been on the inside (many moons ago) and it’s not nearly pretty enough to lure me back. I like the independence of being able to tell a good story the right way. I don’t want to be forced to write drek because the bosses say so. I’m perfectly happy to write and sell my screenplays and write and sell my books and keep control of what I’m writing, thanks much. At least that way if it DOES suck, it’s my responsibility and my fault, and not because my name was slapped on something that was forced on me, something so embarrassingly bad that my 13-year old son could’ve done a better job.
As I stated at the beginning, I think that what it all boils down to in Hollywood isn’t just what everything boils down to, which is money. It’s that, certainly, but when it comes to people who write on television shows, it’s all about who you know, not how well you write. Nepotism is alive and well there, and it’s sad when you start seeing shows tank because of the same reasons some of us complain about pieces of fanfic being awful: because of people not taking the time to a) write a GOOD story that makes sense, and b) write the characters the way that people fell in love with them.
I certainly cannot change what bigshot TV producers and moviemakers do, even if I find it really telling that a core fan base for a current TV show tells me I write much better stories than the show does (how sad is that, when I’m not even paid to do it?). And I can’t stop people who write for reasons other than to pay homage to good characters and a good show. But there’s one thing I can do: try to write whatever it is I write with integrity, rather than being sucked down the rabbit hole of popularity. If I am true to myself, and if I write my characters (whether someone else’s or my own original ones) by staying true to them, then I can be proud of what I do, even if I’m not getting a huge paycheck with a bunch of zeroes at the end.
I once had a discussion with a good friend of mine who wrote for a television comedy series back in the nineties. I loved his scripts, loved the episodes that were ones he got the credit for writing. And when I asked him, how do you do it? How do you become a writer like that on a show? His answer to me was, “I’m not a writer, I’m just a comedian. You’re the real writer.”
I’ve carried that with me ever since, and have talked to others “in the business” over the years only to find out he was right. Sometimes, writers on TV shows really are good writers. And sometimes, they’re nothing close to good writers. In the ensuing years I’ve mourned when television shows that started off so promisingly, seemed to somehow lose “real writing” and fall down the rabbit hole of “eh, it’s good enough to get by, we’ll just add more explosions or boobs so no one will notice.”
I’ve also mourned when a fandom’s fanfic went so off-the-rails that it was nearly impossible to find anything recognizable from the world that I’d loved of that long-gone show, that I could sit down and enjoy with a cup of coffee.
I just wish that everyone, showrunners included, understood that the reason good TV shows are good, is for multiple reasons…and at the base of all those multiple reasons, at the bottom of the pyramid it’s all standing on, is the writing. You can have the best actors in the world, but if the scripts you give them suck, they aren’t going to be able to save it in the end. If you alter their characters to get rid of the things that made everyone love your show to begin with, whatever your reasons are, then you’re going to lose your fan base.
And for those of us who write both original and fan fiction, remember that while it may be all fun and games and Barbie dolls and playing house to you, it’s not that way for all people. I won’t “kill” a character’s personality for the sake of a story. And I won’t write a story that makes no sense or has a lame-ass conclusion, and try to cover it up with a bunch of fanfare so nobody notices how bad it really is.
Maybe one of these days, instead of trying to resurrect things that worked 50 years ago and remaking them because they’ve run out of well-written new ideas, Hollywood will return to what made plays in the theater good…and made older TV shows good: the writing. Until then, I’m hopeful that fanfic writers will pick up the slack that the paid writers are just skating along on and patting themselves on the back for.
To the characters and the show that are getting tanked by these guys, I would like to offer my sincerest apologies. You deserve to be written well, not reshaped like you’re a can of Play-Doh being stuffed through a spaghetti-maker. No, I’m not saying what show, because the wrath of those who just want to drool over the actors isn’t worth outing its name. But if that show goes off the air because the ratings drop too much, you won’t have them to drool over anymore, anyway. At least, not as those characters.
Maybe, in the end, that’s actually for the best.
The impetus for this article largely stems from a fandom I’m very involved with, revolving around the 1965 television series Thunderbirds. This was a Gerry Anderson show produced in England about an American family by the name of Tracy who secretly operated as International Rescue (IR). Using ahead-of-their-time machinery developed by their resident genius, dubbed “Brains,” they saved the lives of people all over the Earth, who couldn’t be saved by any other means. They did this anonymously, never receiving kudos for jobs well-done, for lives saved or for putting their own lives on the line for complete strangers who’d never even be able to thank them.
Fast forward to the present, where there is still a small but thriving fandom for this series which is now 48 years old (!!!). Unfortunately, there’s a huge rift within this fandom. There are several reasons for this, however the one that boggles my brain the most really hasn’t anything to do with Thunderbirds at all. It has to do with a complete misunderstanding of what it means to write existing characters (i.e., any characters that have already been created and therefore have established personalities) IN character, versus twisting them into the people the writers want them to be.
I will, of course, get around to a Thunderbirds analogy within my article, but I first wanted to posit something to you, to see how you feel about it. Let’s look at Star Wars…and yes, I’m old, so I mean the very first movie ever put out, starring Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker, Harrison Ford as Han Solo and Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia.
We know from the film what kind of life Luke led. Having no idea that he had been placed with his aunt and uncle as an infant to protect him from his father (Anakin Skywalker aka Darth Vader), he was a typical teenager, wanting to leave the boring farm life and join his friends at school. But he couldn’t, because his uncle always told him he needed him at the farm for one more season. Luke was a good kid, just young, inexperienced, and completely clueless about the existence of the Force or the fact that he had something so powerful within him.
We know from the film what kind of guy Han Solo was. And we know what kind of young woman Leia was. We all operate on the premise that these characters were good, clean people – they were the “good” versus the Emperor’s “evil.” Luke couldn’t use the Force if he was addicted to Tatooine’s equivalent of crack cocaine. Han Solo couldn’t possibly fly the Millenium Falcon so well if he was drunk off his ass 24 hours a day. And Princess Leia wouldn’t be risking her life as part of the Rebel Alliance if she only gave a shit about embezzling money from the people of Alderaan, or how much money she was going to inherit when her folks croaked.
And yet when they’re writing stories based on these well-established characters, some fan fiction authors have them do these and other very out-of-character things. And there’s the problem, because if I read a piece of fan fiction which portrayed Luke Skywalker in a way that directly contradicted his personality as we got to know it in the movie, it would be clear to me that the author was writing an alternate universe they created themselves, not the established universe. Luke was not a drug addict in the movie. Han was not an alcoholic in the movie. Leia was not a thief in the movie. So if you turn them into that in your story, you are writing characters who have the names of existing characters, but are not the characters in question.
To preserve any characters as we know and love them, you can do all sorts of fun things with and to them…but they aren’t the characters we know if you give them traits that are at direct odds with how they were originally portrayed.
This thought moves me back into the Thunderbirds fandom, which many of you are probably unfamiliar with. But given the very short synopsis of the show I provided you with at the beginning of this article, if I were to ask you what type of family you think the Tracys are, what would your answer be? Philanthropic, because they spend tons of money and all their time saving strangers without any monetary benefit or recognition for their good deeds? Caring, because they think it’s worth risking their lives for complete strangers?
If I told you that six men, a father and his five sons, lived together on an island in the middle of nowhere, and worked together day in and day out in life-or-death situations, plus piloted amazing aircraft and other machinery that are all way more advanced than anything we have today, would your immediate reaction be, “Gee, those six guys must hate each other!”? Of course not! How could five men ranging in age from 21 to 30, live with their father and dedicate their lives to his dream of International Rescue, if they all hate him because he’s a bully and a tyrant? How could four of the brothers look to the fifth brother (eldest son Scott) for guidance and leadership out in the field when their very lives are at risk, if he is a jackass they don’t trust?
Could second son Virgil fly an aircraft the size of a football field, and operate gigantic, dangerous machinery, if he were drunk all the time? Could field commander and eldest son Scott fly the fastest aircraft in existence and coordinate complicated rescues if he was addicted to, and therefore always high on, some kind of drug? Would middle son John have agreed to give up his career in astronomy to join his family in this sort of business if he hated his father and would his father even have asked him, if his father hated him?
This isn’t intended to specifically point fingers at any one person, or even any one faction of the Thunderbirds fandom. The point I’m making is much larger than this or any fandom: it’s about what I see as a general failure to understand the difference between preserving an existing character’s basic personality as presented to us initially, versus twisting that existing character because a writer wants to write about a drug addict, or an alcoholic, or a pathological liar, perhaps…and wants to hang those problems or personality traits on an existing character who simply doesn’t have them. Can’t have them, if the original story or series is to work the way it does.
Now, that doesn’t mean I “write the show” (preserve all the details from the original) when it comes to Thunderbirds. I don’t use reel-to-reel tape on Thunderbird 5, as they did in the show – you have to do SOME updating, because it was produced in the 1960s and back then all their futures contained basically present technology. We know better now, of course. Neither do I inflict clothing on the characters that was the height of fashion in the 1960s but very outdated now. And I don’t put large, colorful ascots and sweaters on guys who live on a tropical island, because I don’t have neck and arm joints to hide when they’re on the page (the characters were marionettes). I also wisely leave behind popular beliefs of the era in which the show was made that we now know to be wrong, like all women are horrible drivers or that men that fit and healthy (which they would have to be to do what they do for a living) sit around and smoke a pack of cigarettes before breakfast.
But I do write the Tracys.
When those of us who founded, created and have run the Tracy Island Writers Forum since 2003, and its brother site the Tracy Island Chronicles since 2004, talk about wanting to showcase stories in our archive which preserve the original series, we are not at all talking about “writing the show.” What we really mean, is that we want to see and showcase stories which preserve the spirit of the show as it was originally intended. And at the core of this are the original characters. Because whether or not you love the Thunderbird ships and all the associated awesome vehicles that IR uses, the fact of the matter is that the core of Thunderbirds was the Tracy family themselves. Period. They are what made the show beloved to so many fans at the time, and they are the ones I write about.
If you’re interested in writing about a pilot who has a drinking problem, you cannot possibly name him Scott Tracy, put him in a Thunderbirds story and think you’re writing in-character. It’s clear in the television show that Scott isn’t a drunkard. His former Air Force father wouldn’t have let him near the fastest aircraft in existence if he was! That’s taking the character we saw on the show, adding some common sense and logic, and deciding that no, Scott cannot be knocking back a bottle of Scotch before breakfast every day, because if he was, he wouldn’t have been able to be in charge of his four brothers’ and countless strangers’ lives. And what, you ask, if his drinking was a secret? Well…not so fast. With the entire family, their grandmother, their engineer Brains, their friend Kyrano and his daughter all living on one island together, and all working together, is it even remotely possible that one of them could hide a serious drinking problem? I don’t think so.
If you’re interested in writing about a tyrant of a man who bullies his children, and whose children therefore grow up hating him, you can’t possibly name this family Tracy. Five grown men, each with their own careers underway, are not going to give up their own personal lives to move back in with a tyrant they all hate, and put their lives on the line to make his dream come true. And let’s face it: if Jeff Tracy (the dad) was really a bullying, mean sonofabitch of a tyrant, why the ever-loving f**k would he want to spend his billions of dollars saving other peoples’ lives? Especially when he’s getting nothing for it? IR is nothing but an expenditure for the Tracy family. You think a billionaire’s going to spend his money on this sort of organization if he’s a bastard? Yeah, not so much.
Nowhere in the series was there even a hint that these men disliked each other, in any way, shape or form. Of course they’ll have their brotherly family squabbles and poke at each other like any family would. But at the core of who they are, all six Tracys are “good” men. “Bad” men don’t risk their lives for no other reason than they want to save the lives of people they don’t know simply because they feel it’s the right thing to do.
Yet recently, to hearken back to my opening paragraphs, there has been a rash of public comments made against those of us who simply want to read stories about the Tracys, and not about original characters who’ve had that name slapped on them but aren’t recognizable to us as the Tracys we fell in love with. One of the accusations is that we’re stifling the creativity of writers by only allowing characters to be portrayed as recognizably being the people we know. Huh? I have never had a bigger facepalm moment in my life than I did when I heard that.
People can write characters however they want, I hear. Well, of course they can. There’s no law saying they can’t, and no reason that fanfic writers can’t do whatever their hearts desire. But if you change the character’s basic personality, then you’re not writing the character we know. You’re writing an original character.
Many fanfic authors have been ridiculously creative with characters from the Thunderbirds fandom…and the Star Wars fandom…and the Hawaii Five-0 fandom…and The X-Files fandom. I’ve taken Mulder and Scully into situations that never happened on the show, but when fans read my work, they recognized both characters because I stayed true to the personalities of the characters even with all the shit I put them through. I have sent the Tracys to some truly out-of-this-world (and even out-of-this-dimension) places, but I didn’t twist the characters to act a certain way or have certain traits that were at odds with what we know of them from the show. I have whacked fans over the head nonstop with hilarious carguments between Steve and Danno from Hawaii Five-0, and those resonated with fans because the men I wrote acted like Steve and Danno.
This has nothing to do with being creative or not being creative. Nobody is saying you can’t get creative in playing with other peoples’ toys…or in this case, other peoples’ creations (the characters). But what is seriously lacking, surprisingly, is the fundamental understanding that making one of the Tracy boys run around and screw anything on two legs, and wind up with 10 illegitimate children, all of whom they’ve basically abandoned, is so highly unlikely for someone as ethical and responsible as these men would have to be that there’s simply no way to reconcile a Tracy written that way with the good, decent, hard-working characters we saw on the TV show. And good luck with them getting away with anything like that in even the world we know today, let alone the future…can’t you see the headlines? SON OF BILLIONAIRE JEFF TRACY ABANDONS 10 ILLEGITIMATE CHILDREN – PATERNITY SUIT PENDING! So much for the secret organization, folks!
When you write stories in an existing fandom, you have two choices: you write the characters in such a way that it dovetails with the actual characters from that fandom…or you don’t. And if you choose to give them traits which make no sense whatsoever with the way the characters from that show were portrayed, then whose fault is it that your story is not then considered by others to “preserve” those characters? Writing Tracys who all have so many faults and Achilles heels that they’re barely functional individually, let alone as a team, is like saying that the very first time Luke Skywalker ever flew anything was when he hopped into an X-Wing fighter. I don’t care how desperate the Rebels were for pilots…they wouldn’t have let that kid set one foot in a cockpit without the certainty that he was a fully capable pilot, otherwise he’d be an easy kill for the Tie Fighters on his tail and of no use to them at all in the fight against the Emperor.
It’s all very logical. And it’s simple to apply some common sense to making it work. Here’s how I write existing characters: I take that existing character, put him into a situation, and ask him, “What would you do if this happened?” If you truly know and understand that existing character, then he will react the way that he would’ve if the same thing had happened on the show. If, however, you’re approaching your story from the angle of “I know this existing character isn’t a suicidial womanizer but I want him to be one for the purposes of this story,” then you must sit and figure out, through the use of basic psychology, logic and common sense, what it would take for him to become that. If the answer is “he’d need to become a different person,” then you’re not writing the character from the TV show anymore. And the logical next step is to branch out and write an original character who IS a suicidal womanizer.
Remember this: just because a writer names a character John Tracy, doesn’t mean he’s the same character that was named John Tracy on the television series Thunderbirds. And just because they name a character Luke Skywalker doesn’t mean he’s the same character that was named Luke Skywalker in the movie Star Wars. What makes them the same character is how they react to what’s going on in the story…not because the writer is forcing them to do what they want, but because the writer is listening to that character and writing what he is telling them he would do in that situation.
Why do I feel qualified to talk about all this? Well, I’ve created original characters of my own for my published “Takers” series of novels. I established the personality of my lead character Kel in the very first book. Hard-boiled homicide detective, good man, but a gruff loner who keeps everyone at a distance. He obviously cares about other people or he wouldn’t bust his ass to bring murderers to justice.
Since he’s fully established in the first book, and fleshed out even more in the 2nd, I can’t then, in the 3rd book of the series, make him act in a way that directly opposes what my readers know of him. For instance, if I suddenly started writing that he loves to kill people, that he gets off on it like Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy did, I would be skewered by his fans for changing the character mid-stream into someone who doesn’t at all match what he’s been like over the course of the first two books. Fans of a character don’t want you to fundamentally alter who that character is. They like him because of who he is. My readers would eat me for breakfast if I did that to them. I’d get hate mail instead of fan mail, I would stop selling books and my publisher would fire me.
Isn’t it funny how exactly the same reaction in the fanfic world by people who want to see their beloved characters written in character, is seen by others to be restrictive, unfair, unusual, overbearing and wrong? To be “limiting their creativity?”
That boggles my mind.
I’m thrilled to make it even this far with that screenplay, because it is my first attempt at an original television script. I’ve done spec scripts before, but never anything that came from my own imagination, my own original characters and ideas. So while I’m definitely excited to find out the actual winner next week, I’m also happy as a clam to get even this far.
You can see my screenplay in the list for this year’s CWAs, by clicking here.
To find out more about CWA, click here.
And for a synopsis of what “Morph” is about, click here.
All my life, since the first time I was ever allowed (okay, I snuck a peek at it, I wasn’t actually “allowed”) to see a horror movie, I have absolutely loved them. Now the first thing I need to do here before I go any further, is qualify what I mean by horror.
Unlike the film industry, I don’t call movies like “Friday, the 13th” or “Saw” horror movies. I call those slasher movies or, in times of uber-disgust, blood ‘n guts films. Some movies do walk a fine line for me, such as one of the two movies in the tie for my all-time favorite films, “Halloween” (the 1978 original starring Jamie Lee Curtis). Because while there is a ‘yuck’ factor to that movie , it’s less on the grisly side and more on the horror side as far as I’m concerned.
For me, horror is something scary, not something so totally disgusting that you want to empty the contents of your stomach for, let’s admit it, no good reason. My other favorite all-time movie, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” shows some chocolate syrup on Marion Crane’s body, in black-and-white no less, and you never see the knife penetrate her skin. Yet that film has got to be one of the creepiest, scariest horror films ever made. Similarly, “Halloween” is Creepsville because you never know where Michael Myers is going to show up next, who he’s going to get, if he’s ever going to kill his sister…and there’s an actual story behind it.
“Friday, the 13th” (the original movie from 1980) goes over the line into slasher for me because truthfully, if they hadn’t actually shown all the gross stuff, I think the film would’ve been even scarier than it was, especially with a female serial killer being behind it all – that hadn’t been done before.
No, for me, horror movies are better defined by the aforementioned “Psycho,” or my favorites from the Hammer House of Horror with awesome actors Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Oh, how I adore those two men! “The Mummy” and “Frankenstein” to name but two. Horror movies are movies that are horrifying not because they make you turn green and run for the nearest toilet, but because they scare the begeezus out of you. Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” was terrifying, especially if you’re already afraid of heights. And then of course we have all the variations of Dracula which, when not done with sparklies (facepalm), are fantastic horror films.
“Saw,” “Hostel” and even “A Nightmare on Elm Street” are just plain gross. Whether the stories behind these are good or not is irrelevant to me, because all that is completely overshadowed by the major squick factor. And now that I’ve clarified what I mean when I say horror movies, let me get back to the point of the post…yes, there really is one, honest.
Am I just creepy? Or are there way more people like me who just don’t admit it, or hide out in small enclaves on the internet? Nothing gets my juices flowing like all the creepiness associated with Halloween. Indeed, it’s my favorite US holiday. Ghosts, goblins, witches, monsters, demons, dark magic, conjuring of spirits, graveyards, haunted houses…this is like describing my own personal heaven. I have often wondered if Stephen King would be there as well, given what’s made him famous over the years. So I think maybe he’s creepy like me, too. And maybe all the people who read his books and see the movies that come from those are creepy, too. Like “It.” Tell me that isn’t a horror movie. It is, because Pennywise is one scary-ass mother***ker.
People these days are always so certain that they’re the only ones out there with a certain quirk or kink or however you want to put it. We all sit here in our own little bubbles day after day thinking “Oh, my God, if anyone found out how much I want to meet a demon, they’d put me in a straitjacket.” And of course there are much more innocuous thoughts like “Oh, my God, if my coworkers knew I had an ankle fetish none of the women would ever wear skirts and sandals again!” (Um, I made that last one up by the way. I personally don’t even know if that fetish exists, but I suppose it must!)
But the truth is, that the answer to my question of am I just creepy, is yes…but the answer to 99.9999% of everyone who asks if they’re alone in some quirk or hidden enjoyment, is no. Society – whether via the media or our own immediate families or workplaces – teaches us what is ‘normal’ and what is not, and if we fancy something that falls outside what the definition of ‘normal’ is, then we have to keep it hidden to avoid ridicule. It does not mean we’re alone!
While revealing your ankle fetish at work might not be the best move for your career, the fact is that if we all stop believing there’s something wrong with us because we like something that seems uncommon…if we all just say to ourselves, yeah, I’ve got a real thing for ankles…well, so what? Pretty soon it’ll get out there into the ethers that a bunch of people like ankles, and then we’ll get a rash of ankle movies.
I’m being a bit facetious here, but the point is valid. After all, we have horror movies galore that go way back to the day when films were silent. And before that there were horror stories in books and magazines, and even before that there were legends and stories told verbally by the fire at night. So evidently there has to be some creepy-loving commonality amongst human beings or horror writers and moviemakers would fade away because nobody would go watch their stuff or buy their books.
Along the same vein, obviously there are people who love the blood ‘n guts films. They enjoy seeing victims eviscerated, intestines and brains flying all over the place, people getting covered in blood head to toe, eyeballs popping out of heads…and I need to stop before I make myself ill. The point is, if you walked up to a friend and said, “I really wish I could see that guy’s intestines spill out of his body” about some random dude walking down the sidewalk, they’d look at you wide-eyed, wondering if you were going to carve them up while they slept.
Yet you and your friend would think nothing of paying through the nose to go to a movie theater with a bunch of other people to see a movie where this sort of thing happens frequently. It’s socially acceptable to pay to go watch a movie about that just as much as it is socially acceptable to watch a movie about a guy having to saw his own foot off thanks to the depraved games of a guy who likes to watch people saw their limbs off.
Um, I’m willing to bet my editor is turning a lovely shade of green at this point, so I’d better move along…
Am I just creepy? Of course I am. Am I alone in that? Nope. But did I hide it for years because of the environment and family I grew up in? Yep.
I mean, I write novels about vampire-like beings that consume human blood and souls to survive, so I’ve obviously outed that I have a creepy side. But whatever it is about you that you hide from people…while I’m not saying go ahead and do it and damn the consequences (wouldn’t be very healthy for that guy whose intestines you fancied seeing!), what I am asking you to do is simply acknowledge it as a part of your personality, your makeup, and don’t be so freaked out. I’ll guarantee you that your next-door neighbor…the kid who sits in class next to you…the man in the cubicle behind yours…your boss…your teacher…and in all likelihood your significant other…are all hiding something they like to indulge in thoughts of that they ‘re sure you’d think them crazy for. You’re not alone. None of us are. It’s high time we all realize that, rather than continuing to go through life thinking there’s something wrong with us.
Now, don’t go committing crimes and then point to me and say, “Well, she said I should let it out!” I’m not saying it’s OK for people to become criminals, or hurt other people. I am asking you to simply think about what you hide, why it is you hide it, and convince yourself there isn’t anything wrong with you…you’re just you, and to paraphrase the immortal Lady Gaga, “You’re on the right track, baby, you were born that way.”
What say we all be creepy together? I know a demon or two I could invite to the party…