The Extent of Responsibility

I was inspired to write this post after reading an article in Canada’s Globeandmail.com. The author, Lynn Crosbie gives a sometimes compelling argument about the relationship between art and life, and the way the two often bleed together in the form of mimicry. Drawing parallels to the rash of teens burning homeless men in the seventies after seeing it done in the movie Fuzz, and the copycat killings ascribed to the movie, Natural Born Killers, I can almost see Lynn’s point. The rest of the examples, however–Marilyn Manson’s “responsibility” for children’s crimes and Ted Bundy’s supposed addiction to porn linking him to his first rape–fail to move me to emphatic agreement. Still, I’m willing to concede there is a correlation between art and life, and sometimes it’s a negative one. After all, as artists, we want our work to resonate within the mind of the ones reading it. And, we’re more than happy to take the credit when that shift in thought is positive. Yet, when the negative occurs, we put our hands behind our backs and take refuge behind the word, “art.”

But, is it all that simple? Monkey see, monkey do? I don’t think so. If that were the case, there would have been social upheaval of the worst order after the debut of Pulp Fiction: heroin overdoses everywhere, gangster-type violence and thuggish dinner knock-overs on every block. Most of us know the difference between reality and fiction, the immediate relationship between action and consequence, and we act accordingly. For some, however, the lines are blurred. Fantasy becomes reality and the intended thought-provoking words we put on paper transform into inspirational text. Since I can’t argue that some will take away only the evil of which we write, I move on to the next concern, responsibility. Can we, as artists, be blamed for the actions of those who use our work as an instruction manual?

The waters here are murky and gray. I’d like nothing more than to shrug the weight of it off my shoulders and hide behind the art. My novel speaks of darkness, of acts unspeakable in reality and just as horrifying to the imagination. It has bothered me more than once that one might see these pages as a permission slip, a validation of their own flawed belief system. These acts are integral to the story, to the formation of the characters and the relationships they have with one another. But, I cannot argue that someone with an already skewed perception of the world might not see that, will only see rote approval for their twisted lifestyle. Having conceded that point, can I remove all blame from myself if someone takes inspiration from my words? Can I, with all honesty, step away from this mirrored act without a speck of guilt on my soul? I’d like to, but, I don’t know. Once a connection has been established, cause and consequence, can there really be absolute blamelessness? Sure, the individual could have picked up “pointers” from any other book or movie, hell, the internet is a literal den of inequity. But, the source was not from them, but from me. My work. Like the rest of life, there is no black and white, here. But, there is right and wrong as far as fallout is concerned, and most certainly when the time for finger pointing comes around. The question is not if any fingers will be aimed in my direction, because they will. More importantly, I wonder, where will my own be pointing?

About Avery

I am a roller derbying, dark fantasy author. This blog chronicles my adventures in life, writing and skating. View all posts by Avery

12 responses to “The Extent of Responsibility

  • spyscribbler

    What a great post! I feel that weight, a LOT. With what pseudonym writes … (I hesitate to use the E word where google can get me, LOL.) … she feels the pressure of that responsibility often.Fantasies are different from reality. At some point, we have to realize that fiction is fiction. And let’s be grown up, here, and use our head.Still, I have disclaimers, actual disclaimers on p’s website.

  • Avery

    Very true. And what a great image you’ve provided. I’ll get my magnifying glass.

  • Lana Gramlich

    Ultimately the percentages are going to vary from person to person & incident to incident, as well. You might have better luck counting grains of sand at the beach, unfortunately. <:\

  • Avery

    Wow! So many good comments overall. Lana — I, too, am a believer in the ‘cocktail’ of factors that ultimately influence one’s decisions. I just sometimes wonder what the percentages are.Sqt — You’re right; accepting responsibility for one’s own actions do seem to be a large part of the picture.Charles — I agree. On a rational level, I’m pretty sure my work won’t be at fault, since (theoretically, hopefully) thousands of people will read it as well and not have subversive urges. Still, my emotional side wouldn’t let me let it go quite that easily. Steve — “1. If we don’t bear witness, evil flourishes in shadows. 2. IF we self-censor, our work goes flat in one hell of a hurry.”Two excellent points. And, not only does self-censoring make our work flat, it weakens us, our integrity, our styles, and, I think, our souls. Jon — “Humor won’t make you Robin Williams.Horror won’t make you Jeffery Dahmer.”You’re brilliant. That’s all I can say.Steve — Whee! I made your head rattle! I think you’re right; inciting others to do evil is much different than acknowledging its existence. Thanks on the pic comment. I think I look like I’m about to burst into a bout of smart-assedness, but, as that’s usually the case, I figured it was a suitable image. ; )Christina — That seems a little odd they would tell you that. I’ve heard The Man keeps a list of people who buy ‘suspect’ books from Amazon. I own The Anarchist Cookbook simply because of that; I’m not going to be cowed into not relinquishing the right to form my own conclusions about what information is or is not appropriate for my mind.

  • Christina

    This makes me think of this book that I saw when I was 16. It was a book on “Poisons” for the mystery writer. I wanted to buy it, but was told that I had to register with the CIA for having it because it was a book on how to poison people with the correct doses and how to make it. I never bought the book, but now that I think about it, I wonder if they only told me that to scare me. Talk about getting ideas from books, right?

  • Steve Malley

    That was a very thought-provoking post, Avery. It’s been rattling around in my head all day!I’m afraid I may have commented a bit beside-the-point, too. I guess where I was headed was, if you’re not *urging* action with your work, you can’t help what some misguided soul takes away from it. And if the writer starts to worry about what *might* influence a reader, or what a reader *might* copy, the work will end up with all the gritty relevance of 1970’s and 80’s children’s cartoons.**** True story: Thundarr the Barbarian was not allowed to TRIP the enemy guards for fear it would inspire children to acts of violence!Sorry for running on again. *LOVE* the new photo!

  • Jon

    Oh, and thanks so much for stopping by Avery. Good comments always.

  • Jon

    While I am not conviced that fictional bad behavior acts as a seed for real badness, I do believe that random acts of humor can generate a lightness of spirit in others…but it won’t make them funny. I guess both the dark and the light are acts of illumination for the reader/viewer. They can better see their own souls and I guess then behave as they will. In most of my writing I keep both the dark and the light as subtext, and just tell the story. My last post, “John Holland’s Story,” is dark, but my intention is that the tone is none the less kind of matter of fact. The same with my humor e.g. my post of several months ago, “Avast.” I just tell the story.Humor won’t make you Robin Williams.Horror won’t make you Jeffery Dahmer.

  • Steve Malley

    Seems to me free-speech advocates try to have it both ways: it’s important to write/draw/sing/etc. what we want *and* hey, come on, it’s only a book/picture/song…Art has power. Mostly not much at all, but occasionally enough to shake the world. Not many people remember that Uncle Tom’s Cabin *made* abolition popular among Northern voters. It was banned in the South, the ideas inside too dangerous. Assholes have always hidden behind ‘scary’ art. Terrible crimes have been blamed on the corrupting inspiration of rap, rock, Marilyn Manson, movies, books, comic books, TV programming, Opera and the waltzes of Tchaikovsky!It’s an old, old variation of ‘the Devil made me do it’, and an old dodge to shift blame and focus. Artists have to tell the truth as we see it. Good, bad and ugly. There are two reasons:1. If we don’t bear witness, evil flourishes in shadows. 2. IF we self-censor, our work goes flat in one hell of a hurry. Sorry to run on so long…

  • Charles Gramlich

    Great post. I’ve often thought about this myself. On a rational level, I believe very clearly that adult individuals are responsible for their own actions and that if they allow someone else to influence them it is “their” fault and their weakness. On the other hand, if anyone ever used one of my stories as a supposed influence to do something horrible, I would feel terrible emotionally. No matter how hard we try, it is very difficult to separate our rational and emotional sides, and to get them to agree.

  • SQT

    I often believe people join certain “causes” that give them a a sort of permission to do things that they already secretly desire to do. Take anti-abortion activists who kill doctors who perfom abortions. I think that’s heinous but they justify it by their so-called cause. But on the inside you know they’re getting a rush off of killing someone. I think copy-cat behavior is basically the same thing. If someone can point to someone else and say “they made me do it” then they can try to absolve themselves of any moral obligation– for doing what they probably would have done anyway. That’s total B.S. but people are always looking for a good cop-out.

  • Lana Gramlich

    Very interesting post & something I’ve considered frequently. Although there does seem to be a link, ultimately a person’s choices come from such a wide variety of sources that I don’t think anyone could fairly say “X made him do it!” X,Y,Z,Q,R blended with M & B with a touch of F, maybe…

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