There are more and more stories online now about mobs in artistic communities attempting to shutdown wrongthink. As you may remember, I experienced this in 2013 when I was writing dirty stories, scratch that, passionate stories that involved monogamous, heterosexual couples. Walter Kirn captured my experience in his Harpers article last year Illiberal Values.
Holiday works in accounting, not a colorful field, which is why she originally assumed her pen name. Soon she had another reason: politics. Though Holiday considered herself a liberal (“I was on the ‘coexist’ team”) and held impassioned environmental views that she’d promoted on an earlier blog (“I crusaded against plastic bags and all things plastic and taught how to pack a perfect lunch for kids that wouldn’t cause any waste”), certain readers began to attack her as a reactionary. She hadn’t expected this treatment.
“I started getting trolled from the left. They didn’t like that my stories only had one female and one male. But the even bigger objection was that I didn’t write about BDSM and kink. They were accusing me of not representing diverse relationships, but my thought was that I’m not the person to represent those things, since I don’t know anything about them. They also were treating me like I was betraying women because I had female characters respecting and appreciating strong men.”
Holiday was shocked.
The experience caused me to take down most of my stories, and redirect my efforts to less interesting topics. Thankfully, the experience taught me a lot about the state of the arts world, mob outrage, and growing a thick skin. I still have my old stories and may publish them in a collection someday but for now, I can say they served their purpose in my creative life. I learned the pacing and timing of a great narrative arc: Sex follows the same narrative arc as a good story. A good story follows the same narrative arc as sex. If you’re ever struggling in building up the conflict and finding the pace for your resolution, just make your writing feel like sex and you’ll get it all sorted.
I also learned how important it is to stay true to your own voice and that you have to be ready for your ideas to be challenged but you don’t always have to respond to those challenges. Art is supposed to make you think, not to do the thinking for you. This is where the current arts community is completely wrong. They try to silence any thought that challenges or contradicts the currently accepted groupthink. This is not art. The best way to ensure you are creating art is to remove yourself from the group, go it alone, and if you can handle the social isolation, go offline.
The mobs are really taking over and it’s good to see a few brave souls pushing back, or pushing forward despite the culture of creative censorship.
Last month, in my newsletter (that you should really subscribe to, by the way), I posted links to two articles about this mob outrage censorship in the literary community. One young author, a Chinese immigrant, pulled her forthcoming debut novel with the publisher because of accusations of racism from the ignorant online vigilante: Y.A. Author Pulls Her Debut After Pre-Publication Accusations of Racism
This morning I read an article in Quillette about a poet, Rachel Carter, who wrote the poem, How I am Like Trump, in October 2016 and who is still facing backlash more than two years later for humanizing Trump in her poem. The article, “Poetic Injustice and Performative Outrage” describes how even now, as Carter should be celebrating being awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Grant for her poetry, she is instead still facing backlash for her poem.
“The main complaint seemed to be that I had written a poem about Donald Trump that not only did not condemn him outright but actually humanized him,” says Custer. “I find this ludicrous. First, I would suggest most of these critics re-read the poem, because the poem is not, in fact, about Donald Trump at all, except tangentially. That being said, of course, I would humanize him. He’s human…Dehumanization is ubiquitous and boring and easily done. It can be done in a bad tweet. Why in God’s name would I seek to do it in a poem? The challenge of good art lies in humanizing those with whom we disagree, not in simply preaching about why they’re wrong.”
In this case, the editor did not appease the mobs with an “I’m listening” apology. All these recent apologies include the phrase “I’m listening” to signal that the accused has memorized the only acceptable script to recite when accused with a thoughtcrime. Reciting the proper script doesn’t mean their apology is accepted, mind you. No apology is accepted as the intention is to intimidate and silence, but it does tend to force the accusers to scale it back a tad and look for a new target, one who will apologize and say too much, thereby opening themselves up to more attacks and complete censorship.
Even though the editor did not apologize for publishing the poem, his Twitter account has gone silent, meaning the mob was successful enough. Hopefully, more artists and publishers will start to stand up in defense of art, creativity, thought, and imagination. It seems to me the tide may finally be turning as truly brilliant artists are being pushed into corners by ignorant imposters hungry for an undeserved spotlight.