Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Watch your language, young lady!

WARNING: Adult content, adult situations, vulgar language, immorality. Full frontal nudity. Reader discretion is advised.

“We got a fuck of a long way to go to make this thing with Allison Montgomery work,” Shrug offered.
“The language!” Kindle half-heartedly scolded. Shrug hoped his boss never gave up trying to reform him. Kindle’s chastising was the only thing reminding Shrug that he’d once been a gentleman and ought to regain that lost stature. Besides--Shrug tilted his head and stared across at Kindle--he didn’t want to have to think up a new way to annoy his boss.
Shrug cleared his throat. “We “have” a fuck of a long way to go to make this thing work.”
“I was referring to your choice of words, not the grammar,” Kindle muttered.
“Oh.” Shrug tapped his toes on the underside of the Sarge’s desk, a habit that he knew irked Kindle. He tapped his toes again. With so little gleeful happening in his life, antagonizing his old school mate was his most pleasant pastime.
The Sergeant sighed in resignation. “What is it you’re trying to tell me?”

*excerpt from “Noraebang”, copyright by Eileen Schuh

When the young adults in my life start ‘f’ing away on Facebook, or otherwise using the vulgar or blasphemous for no particular reason, I’m the first one to hop in with a comment. “Watch your language, Young Lady!” I’ve more than once chastised, “Sonny Boy, time for bed! You’re makin’ yer Granny blush!”

So where does the writer, the reader, the editor, the publisher, the law—draw the line on abusive, vulgar, hateful, profane language? Just how much freedom does the powerful pen possess?

One critic of my adult novel, Noraebang, drew the line—not at the ‘f’ word--but at God Damned and Jesus Christ, as she believed I was coming uncomfortably close to committing an unforgiveable sin by using her God’s name in vain. She suggested I try Mohammed dammit instead.

But just what is “God’s name?” And what is “in vain”? Although “Jesus” may well have been our Saviour’s first name, “Christ” was/is a title, not his surname. Likewise, when Moses complained to the Creator that all the other gods of that era possessed names and identities, God reportedly refused to provide Moses a name, simply saying “I am that I am, or "I-shall-be that I-shall-be." (Exodus 3:14). Leading to the obvious question, is it even possible to use a nameless god’s name in vain? [Ironically, later generations translated His response ‘I am that I am” into the name “Jehovah”]

Is asking God to damn something or someone, using his name in vain? Or is it a recognition of His power? The thought of asking Mars to damn my computer (or, at times, my Pomeranian) gives me shivers—Mars doesn’t have the power to condemn anything or anyone to the eternal flames of hell and I hesitate to insinuate that he does.

Why does one say, Jesus Christ? If the phone rings just as I open the fridge and the butter falls out and splashes across the floor and I slip on it as I reach for the receiver, I believe my “Jesus Christ” is a plea for help--somewhat like Jesus’ cry from the cross: “My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Of course, my cry arises from much less dire circumstances, for sure.)

Yes, profanity of all degrees is powerful and emotionally laden. And we tend not respect those who use it. Sometimes I don’t want readers to respect my characters, or rather, my characters don’t want anyone to respect them--only fear them. When Gator, the leader of The Traz Biker Gang calls 13-year-old Katrina a ‘fucking cunt’, he really doesn’t care what writers, readers, or editors feel about that language. And if I were to alter his words to read, “Katrina, you’re just a fricken Pandora’s Box”—Gator becomes someone other than the Gator that I know—perhaps someone more likeable.

I don’t want my drug-dealing, murderous, mad, and brutal bikers to be at all likeable. That’s one of the underlying themes of my Back Tracker series—society’s admiration of, fascination with, love and respect for these gangsters that grind their groins against Harleys, is badly misplaced.

If my bikers were from Quebec, they might clench their teeth and spit out “Tabernacle!” A British gangster might very well mutter, “Bloody, ‘ell!” However, my bikers are from Alberta, land of the rig-pigging, oil-patching, truck-driving, construction-workin’ Red Neck. So my bikers say, “Fuck” and “Jesus Christ” It’s not at all nice, but if we want to hear their stories, we’re going to have to look past their language to glimpse their evil little hearts and tiny vulgar minds.

If Christians feel comfortable reading the Bible stories about Lot offering up his daughters to the angry men outside his door; and about Judas betraying Christ, Peter denying Him, and the mob torturing and crucifying Him, they can likely learn to feel comfortable reading about someone whose main sin is cussing.

My Back Tracker series of novels and the parallel novel, Noraebang, are stories of lost and hurting souls trying to find peace. They are the stories of the abused, the downtrodden, the traumatised. The brutal and the beaten. They speak the language of the street and if we deny these characters their voice, we will never hear their troubled stories of pain and redemption. We will never understand them or their real-life counterparts.

Let’s be careful how we censor and/or censure our writers and characters. Legally, we must not use the power of the pen to incite hatred toward identifiable groups, must not libel, defame, or slander. Must not dramatize the mind and emotions of a pedophile. All these prohibitions are debatable—their results far-reaching—including the prohibition against written child porn. I, along with millions of other victims of child abuse, will never understand the heart, mind, soul, motives, and desires of my abuser because of this censorship. By shrouding the pedophile’s acts, mind, and emotions in silence, we are blinding ourselves--unable to spot the pedophile in our midst, unable to prevent him from inflicting pain. Perhaps this silence increases society’s risk of creating adults prone to pedophilia. It undoubtedly frustrates our attempt to educate the vulnerable and understand the victim.

Likewise, by silencing the stories of those whose language we find offensive, whose actions contravene our perception of morality we may be doing humanity a disservice.

I ask you, is my character’s language, my language? His transgressions, mine? Have I sinned by transcribing the voice of the wicked? Will the reader need redemption for vicariously experiencing the fictional transgressions of a mad man?

Back to Shrug and Sergeant Kindle--it is not only words that we must watch. Although Kindle may say otherwise, grammar is just as important as word choice. Rules of grammar ensure the meaning of our words are clear across many dialects. Don’t find yourself being both misunderstood and rejected because of poor sentence structure, like the manager who was tasked with cutting the company’s expenses to survive the recession. He did all he could, but it boiled down to the fact he had to let one of his staff go. It was a tossup between Mary and Jack—both of who were good workers and neither of which had seniority. He decided that the first one to visit the water cooler the next day would be the one to get axed.
Mary came in first, suffering the effects of party the night before and headed straight to the cooler.
“Mary,” the manager said hesitantly. “I’ve never done this before. But I have to either lay you or Jack off.”
“I’d rather you didn’t lay me,” she said. “I feel like shit this morning.”

Hey, Young Lady, watch your language!

For an upbeat and utterly clean video clip on this topic, check this YouTube link. Thanks to my cousin, Barbara, for bringing it to my attention:


p.s. for those seeking it, and for me to avoid being sued for advertising something I didn’t offer, or being castigated for "online lying," here it is:

Full Frontal Nudity

Eileen Schuh,
Canadian writer


Eileen Schuh: said...

Jim Szpajcher wrote:
Eileen -
I salute your courage for exploring this subject on your blog.
> In your latest piece, you have caught the crux of the issue with this:
> *Let’s be careful how we censor and/or censure our writers and characters....Likewise, by silencing the stories of those whose language we findMoffensive, whose actions contravene our perception of morality we may be doing humanity a disservice..."
> * *
> Humans are amazing creatures, with a wide range of habits, desires,customs and social mores.
> There are many who feel completely at home with language or acts, which you or I would have trouble accepting. We do not have to like everything - but if we are to learn to understand such ethical and social mores, it behooves some of us to study them. This kind of study is not for everyone.
> There are a couple of interesting explorations, written by women,containing material which is currently socially extreme, which I found to be very powerful. You may be interested in short reviews of the works at Amazon.com:
The End of Alice - A.M. Homes
In the Cut - Susanna Moore

Thanks for having the courage to address this issue in your blog.


Eileen Schuh: said...

Thanks for reading. Thanks for commenting. Thanks for sharing.

Pedophilia became part of my blog because a few months back I read that a Canadian man had been convicted of possessing child porn for having, on his personal computer, fictional stories about sexual child abuse that he had authored. There was no evidence that the stories were for anything but his own use. The man pleaded guilty, so this law wasn't challenged. Canadians have also faced child porn charges for possessing cartoons depicting pedophilia. Computer-generated images of children depicted in a sexual way, i.e. not photos of 'real children, is also considered child porn and creators, possessors, and distributors of such images, face the same penalties as people who film, possess, and distribute visual images of real children being victimized sexually.

This all leads me to wonder if the books whose reviews you sent me, will make it across the Canadian border and...if I were to purchase one...would I be committing a criminal offense?

While I certainly don't condone pedophilia, believe without a doubt that it is criminal to make money from exploiting the pedophile's obsessions, and find it absolutely and without question unacceptable for real life children to be used-in any manner-in the porn industry-- I don't think silencing the voices of the abuser and/or the abused alleviates pedophilia or any of its associated pains and problems.

As a writer, as an artist, as a mother--as a human being--I know that refusing to talk about things we find abhorrent and denying a voice to those involved or victimized by things we judge as evil actually empowers the dark side of our society. We do ourselves and our world a great disservice by refusing to acknowledge things, people, ideas, and/or situations that make us uncomfortable. We must allow our artists the freedom to both explore and communicate the entire spectrum of humanity.

Evil loves darkness. Evil breeds in silence. Nothing slays a demon as quickly as broad daylight and a prime-time TV spot.

Eileen Schuh
Canadian Author

Eileen Schuh: said...

Jim wrote:
Eileen -

Thanks for the heartfelt response.

Regarding fiction containing controversial content, particularly in the case you note: I remember this case well, though not all the details. I have a great mistrust of a society which attempts to monitor one's thoughts, although I do not think that Canada is significantly different in this regard than other cultures around the globe, or across the millennia.

Humans are a tribal species, and those who appear to be different from some perceived standard, are often persecuted without mercy - largely out of fear, which is incited by those who wish to control a population which resides in their sphere of influence. Fear is a very powerful driver among humans: witness the frenzy which seized the community of Salem, Mass. in 1692:
... Or that of the population of the United States and Canada, against the ethnic Japanese residing in the west of the continent, in 1942.
... Or that of our current aviation security frenzy, after the second unsuccessful attack in over 8 years.

I am certainly not a sociologist, but Joseph Tainter made some perceptive observations about human societies in his groundbreaking work of the late 1980's: "The Collapse of Complex Societies".

In it, he makes four cogent points about complex society:

1. Humans are a problem solving species.
2. Humans solve problems by increasing levels of complexity.
3. Increased levels of complexity lead, at some point, to decreased levels of efficiency.
4. When complexity increases beyond a sustainable level (given that complexity requires energy), a complex society is forced to reduce its level of complexity back to a sustainable level.

re: "This all leads me to wonder if the books whose reviews you sent me, will
make it across the Canadian border and...if I were to purchase one...would I be committing a criminal offense...?" I am certainly not a legal expert, so I cannot advise you on this matter. I can say that I ordered the two books I discussed, and a couple of others by A.M. Homes, through Amazon.ca, and they arrived without problem.

Thanks again for taking the time to respond.


Eileen Schuh: said...

Jim wrote:
I have a passionate interest in history - particularly military history - I am one of those who finds a great irony in the fact that North American societies...have no problems portraying war to our children, while refusing to allow them to watch scenes of intimacy.

Of course, I understand why: Human sexuality has a power to it that frightens both the average citizen and those who wish to control society....

There are a couple of issues which are important here:

1. Few people feel moved to "push the envelope", when it comes to discussing behavior which challenges their understanding of society. This is a result of fear. (In 1998, I attended a demonstration outside a certain member of parliament's constituency office. One fellow, who had voiced disagreement with this MP, when invited to join in the demonstration, physically started to shake in fear at the suggestion that he join the one hundred or so protestors. It was a seminal moment for me. It was a powerful demonstration of why courage is rare among humans: few people are prepared to risk their position in society over issues which they may be willing to accommodate. Of course, this is a survival tactic which has worked well for hundreds of thousands of years among humans and their fellow primates. )

2. I'm convinced that while fear prevents people from examining their innermost thoughts, it does not - as you note - prevent them from having these thoughts.

Much of the behavior, which our society might brand "evil" is directed towards the prime directive to: "Survive", and to "Reproduce", which governs all life on the planet. The reason such behavior is not broadly tolerated in society, is that it is disruptive to the society, in some way, either through challenging the memes which control the society, or by creating fear among the inhabitants of that society...

...The fact that our society is the most complex in the history of the human species, makes it also the most fragile and among the most repressive (even while masquerading as "democratic" and "free". I saw on CNN over the New Year, that 40,000 new regulations came into effect across the United States on New Year's Day, as a result of legislation and ordinances which were passed by Federal, State, Municipal and City regulators.

While societies require a basic number of rules for the members to be governed by (and complex societies require more than less complex societies), no society can endure such an increasing burden indefinitely. Few seem to understand this...

Cheryl Tardif said...

Eileen, as per usual you have delivered up a sensational article that encompasses not only a common writing challenge but also discusses one of society's most prevalent evils.

Regarding the writing challenge, I believe it's important--vital!--for writers to be free to use any language appropriate for their characters and their main audience. I cannot imagine a rough and tough biker dude saying, "Aw gee!" instead of "For Christs's sake!" Or, "he's a real twit." instead of "What a fucking moron."

I would also expect that if a publisher or agent chooses to look at a sample of my work, they should realize from my query letter that I've written a suspense thriller for adults (and it's safe to say there could be swearing) or a romantic suspense (containing possibly explicit love scenes...or swearing.) Since I know you presented this work as a gritty crime novel, I'm not sure why she (the critic) chose to read it.

In the end, we can't really write something based on what one person says or feels. Writers must write from their characters' perspectives. Otherwise, the work falls flat and rings untrue.

You said it best here: 'It’s not at all nice, but if we want to hear their stories, we’re going to have to look past their language to glimpse their evil little hearts and tiny vulgar minds.'

Cheryl Kaye Tardif,
bestselling suspense author

Eileen Schuh: said...

Thank you, Cheryl and Jim, for contributing to this discussion.

If anyone wants more information, links, or reviews on the books Jim mentioned, please contact me. I was forced to edit that information from Jim's comments in order to meet the pre-set space constraints of this blog site's "Comments" area.

Eileen Schuh,
Canadian Author


Eileen Schuh: said...

I received two emails from a reader in which she explains why written blasphamy is unacceptable. Unfortunately, she refused me permission to post her views here.
I encourage those with ideas that conflict with mine to share them. My beliefs cannot remain stagnant if I'm confronted with well-thought-out and well-written alternate viewpoints, but will be strengthened, altered, suspended, or perhaps even abandoned.