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Should Writers Be Political?

Disclaimer: I am NOT talking sides. I'm discussing this topic from a non-partisan perspective.

https://twitter.com/ChuckWendig/status/237308768113803264

Let's be frank: Chuck was addressing the Todd Akin incident. That was messy.

It's one of those situations that pretty much everyone sided against him, with Republicans calling him to step down and Democrats shaking their heads vigorously. Women and rape victims were offended and everyone else who didn't believe the "legitimate rape" comment knew what he said was really, really wrong. That one comment, a reflection of his old opinions, will haunt his career for a long, long time.

Yet, it's easy to make a position in this.

The problem is when you get into more political issues.

Why Dystopians Are So Popular

Writers and storytellers have been making statements since the beginning of words. Maybe one clever tribesman made a yarn saying "Go west! Hot woman there!"

Throughout history, epic poems and minstrel songs made commentary on the state of the times. Kings are ridiculed by jesters. Foreigners were warped into monstrous savages. 

Many revolutionary art movements challenged the status quo. Many message-charged works resulted in thousands of deaths.

And then there are dystopians like 1984, satires like Animal Farm, and YA like The Hunger Games.

In the mainstream, dystopians are among the most politically-charged works. My former librarian said such books were so popular because "you guys like reading stories about how the adults screwed the world over". There's that implication, even if it's not a strong one. It's a part of the appeal.

On the other hand, very few, if any, are written to be partisan or to take a radical position. Most are stories first. Which is valid.

On the other hand, how about out of the stories?

The Strong Division

Stephan Colbert sewing a flag with Republican and Democrat symbols.
Is he worth checking out?
Politics, after religion and music, is the hot-button of the Internet. Press it, and rationality makes for the hills. Maybe not at first, but an extended discussion on a forum eventually have some nasty detours. Or even a conversation in person. This is from experience.

As a result, we writer bloggers keep away from the subject. It's not our job to talk politics. It's our job to teach writing, or talk about writing, or talk about books, or talk about publishing, and then publish our books to entertain and make our readers think.

Often enough, there's no reason to bring up politics, because we're often not talking about that kind of thinking.

The Stand

But in the end, authors are authority figures. One blog post, and they can sway the opinion of the audience. Roni Loren demonstrated that, getting many bloggers to stop using copyrighted pictures. Many other bloggers have also called their audience to action. That's power.

Question is: Should authors use their influence to do what they think is right politically?


Three Cases

My short answer? Rarely.

It's okay to be political with your group of friends, or even on Twitter/Facebook/whatever every once or a while, or even make throwaway references if it's apart of your blogging voice (which is probably something Chuck does).

But you shouldn't try to sway people toward your politics if you have a writing blog. It's irrelevant, and you'll most likely lose more than gain.

 My long answer?

  • If you're a political writer.
  • If the political issue in question affects all writers.
  • If you're willing to throw it all away.

Let me explain.

Political

If your writing is partisan, you don't have to worry that much about the other side. Most of your audience is on your side, and those not are not going to read your writing anyways. However, this only applies to a few of us.

An Issue for All Writers

If it's an issue that will affect the writing world in a major way, it's worth talking about. 

For example, SOPA. Yeah, it's political, but if it was passed, we all would be screwed. We had to be talking about it, to inform other people about it, in order to prevent a major breach in freedom of expression.

You can also throw in the Todd Akin incident in, even though that's a non-writing issue.

Take the Stand

This is Chuck's point. Sometimes, doing the right thing is messy.

For example, civil rights in the 1960's. Would you stand for it if it means losing some of your friends or readers? Most of us would say yes. But it's a risk for a strong issue.

At the moment, there are very few things we really, really have to make a strong stand for. However, if another bill at SOPA-level is passing through Congress, one that would screw your rights or life over big time, take the stand. Take it. Sometimes, your writing career goes second and it worth the risks.

If your family members will be hurt, take the stand.

If you will lose your house, take the stand.

If you will lose the right to marry who you love, take the stand.

Some people might not like it, and I might unfollow you if you take a strong stand I don't like, but sometimes we have to be political.

Conclusion

Note that I'm talking about cases which you're speaking directly to your readers via your blog or through an interview. It's iffier when you're on Twitter or at a writer's forum (like me), but there's a big difference between mentioning your political beliefs, and trying to convince people to side with you on a political issue.

But every once in a while, as long as your civil about it, it's worth being political.

YOUR TURN: What's your opinion on writers expressing their political beliefs?

PS: By the way, I lifted a lot of the restrictions on the giveaway! Now you don't have to be a member of my email list in order to enter.

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