Thursday, October 01, 2020


Ryan Field commented on my post about cleaning up your social media before querying.

So you're telling people to self-censor. I see your point, given the JK Rowling debacle with regard to her transphobia, and the vituperative Don Winslow Tweets, but there has to be a civil, happy medium somewhere. You can't just never take a stand on anything. And I do self-censor all the time. But I'm not always ifs and buts and candy and nuts at Christmastime.

which prompted me to reflect further (I love the comments that make me think things over again, in case you're wondering.)

JK Rowling brought a lot of this down on her own head; she seemed clueless about how social media works these days. Then after the trip to the woodshed, she doubled down.

Her situation is not what I was talking about. Those tweets of hers are current.

Don Winslow's tweets seem increasingly mean spirited and I'm sorry to see that. But they are also current.

What I'm cautioning y'all about are the tweets that are from years ago. That you haven't looked at since Jesus played on the Nazareth T-ball team.

And I strongly suggest there's a difference between taking a stand on something and behaving like a boor.

I'm sure you know the difference or you wouldn't have survived here.
Putting Black Lives Matter into your Twitter profile is NOT behaving like a boor.
Attacking someone's minor child no matter how reprehensible the parent, that's being a boor.

Racist, sexist, demeaning and diminishing  comments are not taking a stand; they're boorish.

In a nutshell: take a stand but don't be an ass-hat.

You're right that we self-censor every day.

Who among us did not keep our mouth shut when a patron of the NY Metropolitan Opera turned up for Die Walkure  in a fetching Viking helmet..with lights, and a T-shirt emblazoned with "Lick Bush, Beat Dick"**


Perhaps we kept silent because we were struck dumb?

No matter.

We self-censor all the time. It's called being civilized.

BUT, there's a brand new sport of deep diving into your past that makes the Red Scare of the 50's look like a walk in the park. People ARE losing their jobs; people ARE being publicly vilified.

You need to be aware of this.

What you do about it is your choice.



**(I am NOT kidding--this was the 2004 election)


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Here's a thought.
I’ve been putting myself out there since the late 80s. What that means is that my articles, op-eds and columns have been on the community bulletin board and town walls for a hell of a long time. Over the decades I have written some pretty controversial stuff. Regarding many of those subjects I have changed, in a good and humane way. That’s what growing is all about. Dung-divers don’t care about that. I am who I am now, not the ass-hat of yesteryear, or am I? No I am not.
This boils down to, think before you write/post/publish. You will almost always end up as somebodies mouthpiece. Make sure it has lips you want to kiss not smack.

Leslie said...

Excellent advice, as always. But sometimes the frenzied mob decides that something or someone is evil, racist, offensive, etc., and try to destroy merely because they don't like it.

As I wrote (in a loooong comment) when the original post re cleaning up social media was made, I was the target of a woman who decided to tweet at my publisher -- 3 times in one night -- because she was angry that I didn't want my home firebombed (among other attempts) during the riots a few months ago.

nightsmusic said...

People change over time. Or most do. Those who do not are not in my circle, but I'm not going to dig up crap from the past about them. I have enough planks in my own eyes to worry about the specks in theirs. Would I like to clean up my very old mistakes? Of course I would. Some of them were doozies. But I made them, I own them, they don't happen anymore or at least I hope they don't.

And FWIW, social media is the new plague, far worse than covid or the flu or any other pandemic. It is a pandemic of its own and while I understand the push for authors to utilize it, for me, it's almost not worth the trouble. There will always be someone out there who takes offense at something you say, even if it's just that the sky is blue, and comes after you for it. I don't need the life sucked out of me dealing with that kind of stuff.

Amy Johnson said...

Thanks for looking out for us, Janet.

Leslie: I'm sorry that happened to you.

I had my turn several years ago, not on Twitter, but within a non-online group I was a part of for years. It was awful. Awful. Someone who observed what was happening took me aside, and to my complete surprise referred to the group as a "posse," and said I wasn't the first person they'd tried to drive out. I learned numerous things from the experience. One of them is that even if a person tries to play nice and be respectful, that won't necessarily prevent the awfulness. Another--and I think this is probably right, but I can't be sure--is that sometimes, perhaps oftentimes, the perpetrators of the awfulness may actually think they're doing something good, something noble. I dunno. But I do know it's not kind to be unkind.

PAH said...

I still think there is a bigger conversation here.

We need more powerful, connected people CONDEMNING "cancel culture" ... not just warning us that it exists. We are all painfully aware that it exists.

Because here's the problem...

Janet writes: "Racist, sexist, demeaning and diminishing comments are not taking a stand; they're boorish."

Who gets to decide if a comment is any of those things? If I take a stand against, let's say, abortion then that is deemed "sexist" by the thought police. There was a time when society would have found the topic of women's suffrage as "boorish."

I think there are cases of OBVIOUS shitty content with malicious intent. These cases are few and far between. We lament when characters are binary -- black and white. We hate two-dimensional villains in fiction, but can't seem to fathom three-dimension humans in reality. Remember when people were mad at Jimmy Fallon for "humanizing" Donald Trump? Can you imagine that? Major media outlets criticizing a TV show host for humanizing a... HUMAN??? He might be an ass-hat, he may be a jerk, he may be any number of nasty things. But he also a human. He might be a good dad. Or a good friend. We need way more benefit of the doubts and way fewer #isoverparty parties. Every person -- all of us -- has a lot of good and a lot of nasty.

Today, there is no room for nuance. There is no due process. There is only pile-ons and ruined careers. Current or not, it doesn't matter. In fact, old tweets should matter less.

People keeping their mouths shut and deleting old tweets to conform is not the answer. People in high places keeping THEIR mouths shut and simply advising people to be aware of of the thought police is also not the answer. It's only going to get worse.

Bottom line: people need to be completely free to have and express bad or stupid ideas. If a culture doesn't support this, it will fail. And decent art will be the first to go.

Emma said...

First, what the...? About the t-shirt? The oughts, btw, are a complete cultural black hole for me because my child was tiny and I could absorb nothing from the outside world.

Now that child is 18, and I told him to stay off all social media. Which, thankfully, I didn't even have to say because he has no interest. When it will be time for him to look for a proper job, he will be a cipher in the social universe. GOOD. My lord, all the teenagers nowadays will be haunted forever by their stupid tweets and FB posts. I can only be grateful there was no social media when I was a teen.

As for this topic... there is just no good or happy place. Self-censoring your past self is a scary, and sometimes impossible undertaking. You don't always have control over things you've said that have been posted on other timelines or blogs.

I was having a discussion with my husband just this morning about characters in crime fiction and how I try to kill as few of them as possible because I believe there's too much collateral damage in thrillers. I said "all lives matter in fiction". And my husband said, "be careful who you say that to."

And he was right. I wasn't even thinking about that sentence. Or the fact that almost the entire board of ITW resigned over saying something similar. What if I had been on a panel on zoom and said that? How scary that I'm scared of speaking even of fictional characters and we live in a society where this is the norm?

And cancel culture from creative people, people who should be at the front of ideas and expression is even more awful.

I can only hope we can climb out of this as a society with our souls intact.

All in all to say, Janet, that yes, your advice is very good advice. But also very sad.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I really appreciate PAH's comment. Who gets to decide what is all the "isms" we deplore? Demonizing each other - well, what fun the actual demons must be having with us right now, watching humans do the work of demons.

Listening to each other with compassion, understanding, and a bit more humility can soothe the open wounds we are suffering right now. We are capable. I put forth this blog as a an example of people communicating with respect despite having conflicting views. I hereby officially elect Janet Reid as Queen of the Known Universe. She has earned it. :)

Humans, in general, are usually wrong about absolutely everything. Especially when we have no doubt that we are right in the collective.

As a world, we will work through this uncomfortable era. We will learn some lessons we wish we didn't have to learn the hard way. And we will need to voice what we've seen, what we've learned, what we did wrong if for no other reason than to spare our children and grandchildren the follies of the present in the future.

I hope we take care in labeling this person or that as a villain. It is too easily done and seldom the whole story. One-sided history serves no one at all. And social media is too often one dimensional. Dull and angry and virtue signaling smugness that is becoming more and more inescapable as we socially distance and so many of us forget in their fear and anger how to be good neighbors, good friends, good people.

I continue to hope for a better tomorrow. For all that share this tiny, bouncing ball in the middle of an eternal and ever-expanding universe. However, I will not be going to correct the errors of my past. I simply don't have that many days left for such a monumental task.

S.D. McKinley said...

The way I see it is there is a bunch of "personal Jesus" people around always offering their quick advice. Stick to your guns, stick to your beliefs - and yes, allow people to influence you and do take the advice into consideration, but ONLY after careful consideration with some possible experimentation. for anyone else to conduct their selves like JK would be silly because, well they aren't JK. I like this opinion article, thank you for sharing. -S.D

Steve Forti said...

Sees the political commentary start, gets out the popcorn.

Kidding. But for real, the post the other day prompted me to remember some stupid blog I had 20 years ago. Made me dig it up and delete it. Not because anything in it was offensive to others, but because it was offensive to my sensibilities as a 40 year old to read the innocuous drivel of 22 year old me :-P

Brenda said...

Tidying up four years of twitter, and I’ve learned my lesson. It is taking hours out of my precious writing time. Even a ‘like’ can be taken as endorsement, and 2020 is no excuse.

Barbara Etlin said...

I did delete a bunch of old blog posts years ago, but saved some others that I feel are still good writing or express something interesting or useful.

I've been self-censoring myself on my blog for the past three years, avoiding anything political.

Brenda, I don't think we, as non-politicians and non-bestselling authors, need to worry about or spend time deleting likes on Twitter. Unless we're celebrities or running for public office, no one in their right minds has the time or energy to go through all of that stuff. I'm sure even agents checking us out won't look at Twitter likes. It's tweets and RTs that show up on our timelines.

Unknown said...

Who gets to decide what is boorish?

Me. In my classroom you cannot call your peer a “Jewish American Princess” or any other demeaning, race-, religion-, or gender-based epithet. Rude language is unnecessary. However, you can say that you don’t support abortion rights. I might point out that your position is inherently sexist, but I won’t say that you are, therefore, overtly sexist. Relativism is dangerous. It’s particularly disastrous when espoused by individuals in positions of power. Of course they should say that racism, sexism, and other similar -isms (like JKR’s biological determinism) are vexed. Let’s speak up and have these important conversations. But let’s simultaneously make sure our dialog is civil.

Julie Weathers said...

BTW Books have already been written about her, but one of y'all need to write another one anyway. Stagecoach Mary.

Fearless Reider said...

Being too lazy to tweet or start a blog might be the best thing I've done for my career so far.

But, seriously... while I don't dismiss the hazards of our accelerated cancel culture, Twitter feeding frenzies, and pile-ons, people have been griping about political correctness since I was in college three decades ago. Following the golden rule of "Don't be an Asshat" and cultivating the ability to read the room will help most people navigate their impending fame. I think J.K. Rowling's comments blew up in her face because she was impulsively flippant, sarcastic, and callous about an issue that is literally a matter of life and death for a number of people who are every bit as worthy of dignity as anyone else. She started out by punching down. Later, when she published a more nuanced, more moderate essay that -- agree or not -- people could actually have had a reasoned discussion about, it was too late because she had pre-poisoned the well. She can obviously afford to alienate scads of people, but I prefer a diplomatic and productive approach that brings readers to the table instead of shooing them away.

Casual-T said...

One person's boorishness is another person's speaking up; one person's offense is another person's humor. Who has the right (or wisdom) to say unequivocally where one begins and the other one ends? Of course, every person has the right to make those decisions for themselves and shape their personal lives accordingly. But does that mean one can demand that society at large adhere to those particular standards (or else!)?

And the words racism and sexism have lost all meaning in the year 2020. Everyone and anyone who commits (or is merely accused of) Wrongthink against the Church of Woke, can and will have those and other "isms" thrown at them. And that is only the beginning!

It is shameful, sad, and ever so disheartening, that we live in a time and place where the seemingly best advice one can get, is to censor one's self-expression for fear of being accused of the "ism-du-jour" (often retroactively!) or having the hashtag "Whatever-phobe" prefixed to one's Twitter handle, and, after the mob has acted out its egregious fantasy as judge, jury, executioner, and cajoling bystander to the sickening spectacle, to be shunned and ostracized from the community; rather than to be encouraged to speak one's mind with honesty and conviction, and to let those who disagree challenge one's ideas with theirs.

I'd rather be offended by harsh truths, than lulled and pacified by deceitful conformity.

charlogo said...

It’s a business.
As with any other endeavor, a brand evolves. An outward facing persona emerges, intentional or not. Asshattery works for Howard Stern. Not so much for JKR.
I need to self assess my sensibilities and modify my behavior accordingly.