I’m very pleased to introduce today Mr. Greg Downs, writer and smoothie drinker. To be honest, I don’t really know Greg, but it’s relatively safe to assume that he lives on Earth and is, therefore, a carbon-based life form. This should give him some firm common ground with most people in general, as well as the majority of people who read this blog.
In defense of myself (I’m really not that cruel), I offered Greg a choice of topics to write on. He chose one of the hardest and most controversial ones: do artists have any sort of moral responsibility to their audience? It’s an issue I’ve puzzled over for years, and I’m still puzzling over it. Bringing up this issue (as I’ve done before) in writing circles these days immediately raises hackles. Anyway, kudos to Greg for tackling a grizzly bear. I haven’t read Greg’s books myself, but you can check the out via his Amazon author page. You may also investigate him further at his blog.
–Greg Downs on Moral Responsibility–
Do authors (and other artist-types) have a moral responsibility in the works they create? I’m going to tackle this from an authors-only angle first, because I have focus issues and because it should then be easier to apply to other artists: painters, musicians, filmmakers and the like. This is a question that weighs heavily in my mind, unique among the thousands of other questions I have. The reason is simple: if morality doesn’t have significance in art, what does? And if it is significant, then the moral responsibility an author has is crucial.
Well, originally I had planned to write something different here (same conclusion, different path). The intro paragraph was written before the shooting in Colorado that happened during a Dark Knight Rises midnight showing. I hope Christopher won’t mind me diverging slightly from topic… or at least, putting a different spin on it.
The Batman shooting, as we’ll call it, calls to the forefront of my mind a suspicion that has been lurking in the shadows for quite some time. I once wondered about the possibility, but now know it is truth.
Entertainment feeds culture, and culture feeds entertainment. Dark for dark, light for light. It’s a cycle that can mean life or death for a culture or nation.
Is it any wonder that the more conflicted our culture gets, the more conflicted our heroes become? Take the Dark Knight films. Don’t get me wrong, I like superheroes as much as anybody, but the hero here is a man who lives a double life and pretends to be a villain in both of them. What about the villains themselves? Monsters who kill simply for the sake of killing. What happened to power-hungry dark lords and naïve farm boys?
Over and over again, especially in my home genre of fantasy, I see this fairytale/ boy VS dark lord concept being skewered for “unoriginality” and “blandness.” But has it ever occurred to anyone that perhaps the reason the good/evil, boy/dark lord, Frodo/Sauron plot is used so often for the exact opposite reason?
Maybe we were meant to write stories about farm boys, not because it’s boring… but because it’s real. It mirrors reality.
That probably seems far-off to you. It kind of does for me, too. But look at what we read nowadays. Look at who we hold up as heroes.
A Game of Thrones. Fifty Shades of Grey.
“Real” now only means grittier, darker, and animalistic. Is it any wonder that the more “realistic” our heroes and villains get, the darker we ourselves become?
If you haven’t yet guessed, I certainly do believe that authors have a moral responsibility to their readers. Ignore both the religious implications and the implications for the relativist viewpoint, if you will. Fine. But to me the evidence is clear. What we put forth as entertainment will have a direct effect on society.
Not ‘can.’ Will.
Culture effects us, too. It’s not a one-way transaction. As authors, I believe we have two main duties, as it were: Firstly, to resist the ‘cultural pull’ and instead direct our energies toward influencing culture for Good. Secondly, to craft amazing stories that will not just improve the morality of entertainment, but improve its quality, too.
You can’t go wrong with the first, but let us never lose sight of it in our pursuit of the second.
~Gregory J. Downs, 7.23.12