Art by committee is death

It seems to me that, if you’re the kind of shit writer whose characters are all their socio-economic, religious, racial, sexual stereotypes, then you’re probably also a shit human being; and no amount of corrective committee is going to fix that.

But, that’s just what the new trend of Sensitivity Readers seeks to do. (Read this article)

A competent and conscientious writer will naturally do his homework before penning a piece—short story or novel.

The serious writer talks to people and, more importantly, listens to them. He reads a lot, listens to a wide variety of music, watches movies and documentaries, and observes people in their myriad environments.

The idea that you can crap a walking stereotype onto the page and then have it fixed by calling in a crew of supposed “cultural experts” … whatever the fuck that means … is both frightening and laughable.

What’s worse is this idea of creating art by committee.

Don’t fool yourself into believing this emerging movement will be limited to advising authors and screenwriters and musicians and painters on where they might have “gone wrong” concerning the believability of a certain character’s behavioral traits.

And don’t get me started on the idea of someone else telling me why the character I CREATED is “wrong.” Regardless whether you like him/her, it’s my creation and I decide what’s right or wrong for them—not some pant-pooping lookie-loo cum literary oracle.

The whole idea in itself is problematic because who’s to say the behavior isn’t apropos?

You may be writing a story about a Chinese woman with Tourette Syndrome who comes to America, takes up Judaism and breakdancing while working her way through Clown College—but, even if you’re lucky enough to find someone who shares all those traits/behaviors/ailments/aspirations, that doesn’t mean their experiences or beliefs or morality are identical … let alone similar.

Besides, whoever claimed that one character in one book was intended to represent an entire religion/race/ethnicity/gender/occupation? OK, maybe a handful. But not most and certainly not a majority.

(I’d say bad writing will work itself out of a job but, every year, traditional and indie and self-publishers churn out heaps and heaps of unreadable crap.)

The idea of using a committee of censors-gone-moral-arbiters to decide whether your story is fair or accurate as they see it—because art, like everything else, is subjective—is some new level suppression.

We already have examples of book and television projects being scrapped—not because they unfairly portrayed certain types of people—but because the sensitivity squad didn’t like the premise of the material.

They didn’t like the premise.

Let that rattle around in your brainy space a few ticks.

So, as censors are wont to do, it became a matter of, “We don’t like this so it shouldn’t exist.” Then they cheered themselves as champions of diversity and inclusion.

Irony much?

This isn’t about stopping racism, homophobia, religious intolerance, classism or ageism.

It’s the same old cliquey high school bullshit where one group of like-minded aesthetic nitpickers dubs itself superior, convinces others that what they’re doing is not only acceptable but necessary, and passes sentence on anyone who doesn’t kiss the collective’s ass with the proper smooching technique.

Holding boycotts, ruining careers—destroying something that someone else worked really hard on because it’s not your taste—doesn’t make you a freedom fighter … it makes you an asshole.

Just because you don’t like something doesn’t mean it’s bad or “problematic.”

So, how about the next time you don’t prefer a book or song or movie or TV show you just don’t read it or listen to it or watch it.

And, for us writers, we had better think long and hard before portraying someone, regardless of whether they look like us, because good stories should feature real people in real struggles—not cartoon characters in oversimplified sitcom plots.

In the end, it’s OK for a thing you don’t like … to exist.

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood |