Re: RARA-AVIS: Surprise Endings

Date: 13 Nov 2005

I wrote

"What really gets to me are contemporary writers who set their books in the past and use it as an excuse to revel in racial, ethnic and homophobic slurs. It too often seems like an excuse to spew those vile sentiments, whether because they agree with them or just to shock, while retaining the easy out of saying, Hey, it's not me, it was the times.

Lee replied:

"I understand where you're coming from here, Mark, but it brings up an interesting writing problem. If a writer decided to place their story in less "enlightened" times, how would they handle this issue without being offensive to our more tender sensibilities while still being authentic to the way many people used to speak? Especially - but certainly not exclusively - bad people? "

I think you and I are talking about this from two different angles. These things are okay, even necessary, if they are a part of a character. For instance, I'm not too far into Blood Meridian, but I've already run across numerous racial slurs. Although some made me cringe, I would not have taken out a single one. Same with most of Pelecanos's use of racial slurs. In both cases, they seem to be the language those characters would use.

My problem comes when those words seem gratuitous, like the writer is just looking for an excuse to use them. I was fine with them in many of Ellroy's books, but by the time I was done with American Tabloid, I was finding a uniformity of biases, particularly homophobia, among most, if not all, of his characters. The biases had gone beyond being traits of individual characters and become a blanket attitude, one that was taken for granted, without any reflection, much less a critical stance. It seemed to me to be the most apparent evidence that his characters were no longer fully distinguishable, but were starting to blur into each other, become interchangeable.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 13 Nov 2005 EST