I confess, to escape my pathetic life I sometimes watch Spanish soap operas. Oh, the drama, the angst…the shirtless man riding a white horse, tossing his hair in the wind?? What does he have to do with the story? Who cares, all Spanish soaps must have a shirtless man on horseback. It’s a rule. He is the reason the woman is standing on the edge of a cliff in her nightgown, gazing down mournfully at the surf crashing on the rocks…
I love people. Sometimes I love them even more when I can’t understand a word they’re saying.
My favorite soap goes all the way back to Dark Shadows, the original gothic. I love the old gothic novels, too, just about anything prior to 1960. I used to comb old bookstores looking for their yellowed pages, their outdated clothing, the woman running along the cliffs with the ruins of a castle in the background. Sometimes I would find an old Nancy Drew in the mix, 1930’s or so, or perhaps a dime store detective story.
So why the oldies? Because something happened in the world of publishing, an editing, a political correctness, a bit of social engineering, that robbed me of the authenticity of my stories. Nancy Drew, my detective heroine, lost her elegance and grace. My gothic heroines became incredibly stupid and romantically obsessed. Detectives were feminized and no longer allowed to act like what they were, whiskey drinking men trying to right wrongs and keep the rent paid. The edge was just smoothed away until the playground of books became so safe, it just wasn’t fun anymore. My characters had been sanitized, my classics edited, and modern authors started reflecting back the changes in our culture, not who we really are as people, but who the world was expecting us to be.
There has been a great soap opera of drama in the sci/fi world over political correctness and the Hugo awards. I’ve followed the debate for over a year now, partially because it’s entertaining, and partially because as a reader, I still carry a grudge against whoever or whatever decided to sanitize my books. That same attempt to regulate thought, to engineer social behavior, to force authors into either compliance or silence, is marching through the sci/fi world. Some of it is entertaining, but some of it is downright scary. I’ve read dozens of blogs, comments and commentaries, and what bothers me the most is this attitude that some people seem to have, where they have designated themselves the gatekeepers of thought and imagination. Not only do they try to shame readers who read authors they don’t approve of, they seem to believe they have the right to personally attack the character of authors themselves. Forget the merit of somebody’s work or the quality of their stories, what seems to matter is the political correctness of the author.
There are a myriad of reasons why this is so dangerous, so wrong, but one danger is how it intersects with the political issues facing our country today. There is so much disunity and disharmony it often feels as if we are sitting on a powder keg. The boundaries that used to exist in political debates are now gone. We currently live in a country where if you say the wrong thing, think the wrong thing, or are perceived to be on the wrong side of an issue, we have to right to dehumanize you, to attack you professionally, to seize your property, to destroy you socially. You have no right to exist at all. We’ve spent years marching towards this final destination. I have watched it coming and yet it still startles me to look around and realize we have finally
The big sci/fi guys, they’ll stand tall, fight back, and eventually win the debate in the end. They’ll be just fine, it’s the rest of us I worry about. Censorship comes whispering in so softly, all you’re left with is the fading fragrance of what used to be.