A wise man once said never argue about football, politics or religion. Fine words for people who want a quiet life but I'm a graduate social science and psychology student so I just can't help myself. The prompt this week was "passport" and I had a few questions about freedom so I thought I'd go with them and see where they went. Not surprisingly my quandary gained some sympathy from fellow writers but I suppose it's all down to the readers in the end or is it?
A passport gives you freedom. It opens up boundaries and allows you to go where you want to or does it? The reality is it actually allows others to control your actions and prevents you from going where you want to go. Writing used to be gateway to anywhere. Outer space, different dimensions or even another creatures mind. There were no boundaries and no passports needed, you just went where your imagination took you. There were no restrictions only freedom of speech or was there? Politics and state security have always played a part in censorship whether it was travel arrangements or writing but are things getting worse in the information age?
My last book took account of our multicultural society. It wasn’t a celebration of culture, it was a thriller with villains and flawed good guys. No one likes their hero’s to be perfect but it would seem their villains have to be. My Turkish organised crime gang leader had a slight disposition towards a Romanian counterpart who was employing Somali’s. My Turk wasn’t fond of Somalians either and referred to his rival as a nigger loving ‘whatever’. Alarm bells rang, lights went on and my proof reader almost had a seizure. “You can’t use that word” was the general consensus and my racist villain’s counterpart had to become a negro loving ‘whatever’. Maybe it was politically correct but my villain was suddenly reduced from a despicable, racist, lowlife into an image conscious, conformer who was concerned about the feelings of his victims. Was it just me or with the censorship of a single word did his whole persona change. The proof reader was happy and I went with it to avoided controversy but my villain lost a lot of credibility in my eyes.
Once again, in my latest book, I find myself having to deal with a similar situation. On this occasion one of the good guys is a victim of the Syrian Electronic Army. In real life I believe these clowns are a couple of political activists who operate out of a bedroom in East London as opposed to the more organised electronic warfare specialists like Bureau 121, GCHQ or NSA but as they do in real life a couple of dudes with the handles Gezza & Hucknell hijack the poor businessman’s webpage and post a political message concerning oppression in Syria. In the background to the book there is a sub plot concerning another villain who goes by the name of Shadow. Anyway the poor businessman, who knows nothing about the two political activists other than the fact they are pro-Syrian and in his mind a couple of Bastards because they attacked his livelihood, refers to them as black bastards. Once again sirens sound, search lights illuminate and a different proof reader has a seizure. "You can’t call them black" was the main problem. It was ok to call them bastards and even more bizarrely, fine to use adjectives like murdering, terrorist or even because a distressed child appeared in the web post paedophile bastards but I was advised to avoid the B word. That was particularly inconvenient because the use of the B word was designed to fit into the sub plot concerning Shadow. It transpires he has black fur but there are no immigration or racist implications when the B word is used to describe him. He is a little thieving black feline bastard or a black cat. The idea behind describing the Syrian’s with the B word was more to do with confusing another character over which black bastard was being described but my proof reader was very concerned about the poor businessman, who was the real victim in the story, being labelled as racist.
When I grew up racism was a political tool utilised by politicians trying to get out of favour political parties back into power. Ian Hague was one of the worst offenders, when the Tories lost power, his rhetoric about immigration was in my opinion misleading and divisive. Scottish politicians dabbled with racism but we were too busy being bigoted to take it seriously. Whilst the UK worried about immigrants Scotland worried about whether they were protestant or catholic immigrants. Nothing much has changed except Scotland is no longer a country divided by just a sectarian divide, political pressure dictates we are racist too. Racism was probably the major factor behind the Brexit as political leaders like Nigel Farage blamed immigration for all of Britain’s problems. Scotland disagreed and wanted to keep the immigrants so they could get rid of the English. Are you confused because this is getting as crazy as the plots in my books? Politics is a passport for prejudice but like it has been all through history, it is also a vehicle for censorship. I was pro-European and happy to accept my fellow man irrespective of race, creed, colour or religion but maybe once Brexit is implemented it will mean that for good or bad we will all have to be British again. If that is the case, based on our past history, I think my proof readers will disregard their fear of the B word and as strange as it might seem I’m not entirely sure that will be a good thing.