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Are we crossing a line with our Political Correctness?

A place to debate issues or to rant about what's on your mind. In addition to discussions about historical fiction, books, the publishing industry, and history, discussions about current political, social, and religious issues and other topics are allowed, so those who are easily offended by certain topics may want to avoid such threads. Members are expected to keep the discussions friendly and polite and to avoid personal attacks on other members. The moderators reserve the right to shut down a thread without warning if they believe it necessary.
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Misfit
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Are we crossing a line with our Political Correctness?

Post by Misfit » Sat August 22nd, 2015, 3:55 pm

While I do understand some folks have trigger points, i.e. the common trope of forced seduction/rape so common back in the day, and why some readers find it offensive and that's why it's helpful to have reviews that caution potential readers a certain book might not suit their individual preferences. Or like GWTW and peeps freaking out over the "N" word, forgetting the era it's set in, when it was written, etc. I get that some folks won't want to read those books they find offensive, but I do hate to see the one-star protest reviews on the Amazon book page, like recently happened over the Kate Breslin book.

It didn't help that La Rice took one of her stands over the poor, picked upon author and book and 'censorship' and all, but that drama is over and she's deleted those posts from her FB page (what a surprise).

Anyhow, my drift is this - are we carrying this PC and trigger point warnings just a tad too far? I don't want to link to the actual blog review and draw drama (that blog had enough over the Breslin affair), but can I just vent here? The review was over a favorite book of mine, Calico Palace by Gwen Bristow, and it was overall favorable with this one little bit that just threw me.
Every time I review a classic, I run headlong into some kind of prejudice and have to issue a trigger warning/disclaimer. In this book, there is a fairly brief section in which our heroes encounter a group of California Native Americans who live near a trading post. Let’s just say that our heroes do not think highly of Native Americans, especially the ones that hang out near trading posts (although they do think highly of the Plains Indians, who had a very different culture than that of the California Indians). I find the book palatable despite this ugly aspect for the following reasons:
Really? A book set in the mid 1800s, written in 1970 by a woman about 70 at the time she wrote it. I barely recall the mention of the Indians at the trading post, and certainly didn't see that as offensive to my politically correct sensitive nature (sarcasm font on), and so small a moment in large a large book that it's not even worth a mention - or is it worth a mention? Are we that PC? I could see it offensive if it was in a modern day setting and characters took that attitude towards a particular Indian Tribe, but in the 19C? Seriously?

*gets off soap box*
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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Re: Are we crossing a line with our Political Correctness?

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Sat August 22nd, 2015, 5:59 pm

This came up at our local HNS chapter, where members read aloud a section of their work-in-progress and then receive feedback. A couple meetings ago, a member read his excellent first chapter of a novel set just before the California Gold Rush. The protagonist was a (historical) black man. The term 'nigger' was used several times in the back-and-forth dialog, which was very well done, full of tension and evocative of the period.

So most of the members are 50-plus, and we praised the dialog. But the four or five members who were 35 and down all felt the 'n' word was offensive, even though they knew it was appropriate in that setting.

Which got us to discussing the emotional impact various words have on us, and how it changes with the generations, according to the mores laid down in your childhood. When I was young, many racial and ethnic terms that are today considered pejorative were common parts of speech--and usually, no slander was intended, although it was understood that such slang terms were not 'genteel'. However, words like 'damn' were enough to cause parents to refuse to let their children see GWTW, for Rhett's famous ending line.

And as for expressions like WTF, sh*t, and other biological terms, they were thought very offensive indeed.

Our problem as writers was that we wanted to be true to the history, and the historical way of speaking, but since fiction is first about emotion and not facts, those of us who were older had to ponder the emotional effect on our word choices on a generation raised with different taboo terms. It doesn't matter how accurate a word may be, if it shocks the reader out of the story (at a time when this was not the intent), it hardly serves the purpose.

The constantly changing language forces me to think outside my comfort zone. Sort of when I was working with a group of teens from the 'hood---I had to get over my reflexive cringing at their language, and accept that the six four-letter words which were all they seemed to have available in the adjective department did not have the emotional punch for them that those words did for me. And I was there to help them, not to make them meet my artificial standards. So I learned to do a sort of mental 'tranlation'. I learned that, like Chinese, you have to consider the tone with which the syllable is uttered.

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Re: Are we crossing a line with our Political Correctness?

Post by Misfit » Sat August 22nd, 2015, 8:41 pm

I think age may have something to do with it. I can remember when words commonly used that are taboo now. It's Japanese, not Japs. And the Polish jokes. And the Mexican jokes. Can't tell them now. But then, I see some of the younger adults on FB or other forums and the F bombs they drop just shock me, I'd never dream of using that word outside of the ears of only one coworker, and that's still pretty rare.
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Re: Are we crossing a line with our Political Correctness?

Post by Mythica » Sat August 22nd, 2015, 9:01 pm

In my opinion, anyone who gets upset over a historically accurate mindset/dialog, or real-life facts/situations probably shouldn't be reading books to begin with, let alone historical fiction. I struggle to understand how people like this can even find books they enjoy, because most books are about things that happen in real life and guess what? Offensive things happen in real life. There seem to be a lot of readers out there who think the portrayal of anything offensive means the author is condoning it. :rolleyes:
FTR, I'm 33.

Also, books are supposed to push boundaries sometimes, and get us questioning things. If someone is offended by this, maybe books aren't for them.

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Re: Are we crossing a line with our Political Correctness?

Post by Madeleine » Sun August 23rd, 2015, 11:23 am

Absolutely Mythica.

As regards swearing, I think a lot of people didn't think that words like the f and C words didn't exist before the 20th century; this had happened with some historical TV dramas - Wolf Hall had one use of the C-word and there were quite a few complaints, mainly along the lines of using a modern swear word to "jazz up ~" a historical drama. I suppose the word could hsve been cut out or had a less offensive word put in it's place, but it certainly would have been around back then.
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Re: Are we crossing a line with our Political Correctness?

Post by Mythica » Sun August 23rd, 2015, 7:34 pm

Madeleine wrote:Absolutely Mythica.

As regards swearing, I think a lot of people didn't think that words like the f and C words didn't exist before the 20th century; this had happened with some historical TV dramas - Wolf Hall had one use of the C-word and there were quite a few complaints, mainly along the lines of using a modern swear word to "jazz up ~" a historical drama. I suppose the word could hsve been cut out or had a less offensive word put in it's place, but it certainly would have been around back then.
Yeah, according to dictionary.com, the F word dates back to the late 15th/early 16th century, and the C word dates back to the late 13th/early 14th century.

In my experience, the British are much more laid back about these words. When I lived there, the F and C bombs got dropped in my place of work all the time and no one blinked an eye, but when we moved back to the US, I had to make it clear to my husband that this is generally not acceptable in places of work in America.

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MLE (Emily Cotton)
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Interest in HF: started in childhood with the classics, which, IMHO are HF even if they were contemporary when written.
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Preferred HF: Currently prefer 1600 and earlier, but I'll read anything that keeps me turning the page.
Location: California Bay Area

Re: Are we crossing a line with our Political Correctness?

Post by MLE (Emily Cotton) » Mon August 24th, 2015, 5:23 am

Different cultures have different words set aside when the speakers deliberately intend to offend.

The Brits use F quite freely, because it isn't rated as offensive as it is in the US. But my dad used 'bloody' all the time, and I didn't actually know it WAS a swear word to the English until I was an adult. And 'bugger' meant somebody who 'bugged' you. like a mosquito. Unless you were talking about the popular bicycle trailer, the word a variant of 'buggy'. I wonder if they still make that one?

As a Renaissance re-enactor, I use words like 'futter' and 'fie' right and left. They mean the same thing as 'F', but I can say them in front of the kids and nobody cares. They don't even care if I tell them that these are crude16th-century English words for 'fornicate'. So long as I don't say the f-word.

For that matter, in the years before Thomas Crapper marketed his water-closet, the term 'shit' was a variant of 'sit' -- because, for men, that wast the position in which one shat. A past-tense version of the infinitve, 'to shit' which appears to lack much obscene punch.

When my lower-class characters in my WISP (work in slow progress) have dialog that requires cussing, I just have them swear in Spanish or Arabic. The expression are actually quite foul, but unless one was raised speaking those languages, they won't schok my readers a bit. Not even when they know what it means.

Cussing seems to be a culture-specific phenomenon. And every culture, every time and place, needs a list of such words. It's part of the job of language.

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Re: Are we crossing a line with our Political Correctness?

Post by Madeleine » Mon August 24th, 2015, 12:55 pm

Some people are still offended by "bloody", and other words such as "bastard" (used out of it's context ie describing someone who's illegitimate) and words with religious connotations, such as damn and Jesus Christ, are also found offensive by some.
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Re: Are we crossing a line with our Political Correctness?

Post by Vanessa » Mon August 24th, 2015, 3:33 pm

I really don't like the c word. Bad language doesn't normally bother me unless it's every other word, especially in books. I think a lot of Brits do find the f word offensive, especially in public places,mbut we probably have become more immune to it!
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Re: Are we crossing a line with our Political Correctness?

Post by Misfit » Mon August 24th, 2015, 4:36 pm

Vanessa wrote:I really don't like the c word. Bad language doesn't normally bother me unless it's every other word, especially in books. I think a lot of Brits do find the f word offensive, especially in public places,mbut we probably have become more immune to it!
The company I work for has one customer (he's a sub-contractor) who swears a great deal. I can get when it's just the guys talking, but over the phone with a business contact you've never met in real life or talked to before to toss those words around and doesn't bat en eye that he might be speaking inappropriately.

This new blog post might make interesting reading: http://www.marionstein.net/2015/08/24/r ... e-part-ii/
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