RARA-AVIS: @$%$!!! (was Surprise Endings)

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 14 Nov 2005

Terrill wrote:

> 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 a key point is that Mark says "contemporary writers who set their books in the past and use it as an excuse to REVEL in racial, ethnic and homophobic slurs." (emphasis mine)

What's he's complaining about -- and I'm sure he'll tell you so himself in far better terms -- is overkill.

Ellroy, of course, is the prime example. He goes overboard with the fuckingniggerjewkikefaggotsblahblahblah, not because it's historically accurate or good writing, but to shock. Any word overused is annoying, never mind those loaded with cultural and social weight.

DEADWOOD, much as I love it, suffers from the same fate. I have no doubt cowboys sat around their blazing saddles farting and calling each other cocksucker, but a little goes a long way, and I think sometimes on DEADWOOD they're cursing just to remind us we're not watching network television. It doesn't make the dialogue seem particularly real or tough -- it just makes the writers seem to be trying too hard, and rather self-consciously at that, to be "real" and "tough."

It reduces what is often powerful and muscular writing to the level of grade four boys in the schoolyard trying out "bad words" to impress each other.

The key is to use words (or any other part of language, I suppose) to set the tone of the times; not beat the reader to death with them. Real life, as always, is a poor justification for poor writing.


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This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : 14 Nov 2005 EST