RARA-AVIS: violence, sex and race

From: Mark Sullivan ( DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net)
Date: 03 Sep 2003

Kevin wrote:

"But for every writer who uses it well, there are a thousand hacks and pretentious gits out there who miss the point entirely. . . ."

Names! We need names! Not necessarily of the "thousand hacks and pretentious gits" (not that I'm above cheap shots, myself), but at least of the writers who handle violence well. Then again, maybe we do need names of the hacks, as counter examples.

I think we all agree that some do it well, some more poorly, but I think we need some specific examples if we are going to discuss what well and poorly mean in the genre.

I'd also like to float another idea, that reception of violence depends upon the era. For instance, I've read enough about Mike Hammer to know that the violence (and sex) were pretty shocking back in the day. It now seems kind of tame (at least partly because Spillane opened things up). On the other hand, many of us are now more sensitive about violence against women and might find some older scenes far worse than they were initially perceived.

I think the same goes for racial depictions -- for instance the argument over whether or not Marlowe, and by extension Chandler, were racist for their use of certain words and depictions. I would say it's one thing for someone to casually use the language (not claiming Chandler chose words casually, but that he did not question certain assumptions of his place in society) and preconceptions of their own time and quite another for someone to choose to set all of their books in a past time so they can trade on those ideas. Again, some do it well (Mosley, who explores the history of race in the LA) and some less so (Ellroy, who I now believe sets his books in the racist/homophobic past of that same LA in order to have a ready excuse to use "bad words" -- it's not me, it's the characters and the times -- well, who chose to focus exclusively on those characters in those times?). I believe Mosley examines racial division, while Ellroy increasingly exploited it while wallowing in it.

It will be interesting if I live long enough to see what taken for granted ideas of our time will prove to be troublesome when read in a then old book or interview.


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