The politics of writing

4 12 2008

My wife told be she thought it was a bad move to post those Assholic articles on my portfolio. People are so easily offended nowadays. I can’t argue with that. People are easily offended, but not for the same reasons they used to be. People used to be offended by smut or Communism or something. Now people are offended by the notion that someone out there might consider their opinions wrong or invalid, and the easiest way to make someone feel like their opinions are wrong and invalid is not by rubbing them in other peoples faces or being argumentative, but simply by holding different ones. If you have a different opinion, and you have even a tiny bit of success, you’ve offended someone out there.

Well, as for my Assholic columns, I’m not really worried about them biting me in the ass. They were written not only under a different name but a different character, and when I was much younger. And frankly, I don’t think they’re that “edgy” anyway. But that does bring up an interesting problem some people have, and that is politics among colleagues.

I’ve worked in environments where I knew for a fact that my coworkers, who seemed genuinely nice (and they were) but who held different views than me on a cornucopia of topics. And not just different, radically different. And they were not just political people, they were rabidly political. Luckily, they were smart. Smart people know not to bring it up.

Not every workplace has smart people in it, of course, but you have to work with what you’ve got to work with. Don’t bring it up. Just don’t. It’s inappropriate. No matter what you’re opinions, you’ll get into fights, and that creates a whole new chapter of problems.

This is, hopefully, common sense. But what this has to do with writing can get very tricky. There’s a balance in every writer’s world where they have weigh being safe with being interesting, because they don’t have much to do with each other. Interesting usually means controversy. It was one of those writer’s rules I was told a long time ago. If you’re writing and you feel yourself tensing up, like you shouldn’t say anymore, that’s exactly when you need to press forward, and explore those thoughts.

It’s perfectly true. Going to dangerous places makes for good writing.

But…it doesn’t make for the best choice. Office politics seeps into a writer’s world every bit as much as politics politics. So how do you make the choice between safe and dangerous? That’s not so easy to answer, but I think the best thing to ask yourself is “does this target need to be attacked?”

Our country’s history is steeped in great political writing, but the point of political writing is to actually affect change, and going after the other side is the crux of the piece. If you offend them by stating your position, that’s fair game. That’s the idea, after all. But if it’s not the point of the piece, then why include it? In entertainment writing so many people like to throw in a dig at their political enemies, even when it has nothing to do with the plot. Yes, you’ll get an extra chuckle from the ones who agree, but you’ll like as not get cold disappointment from the ones you just attacked. Cold disappointment, and a station change. Is it too touchy of them? Maybe, yeah. But that’s not really your business, is it? When you’re doing any type of entertainment writing, your business is to entertain the audience. All of the audience whenever possible. Or at the very least, your job is to not make them switch you off. So who are you writing for when you do that? You or them?

Journaling is writing for yourself. Entertainment writing is for others.