Sunday, April 21, 2013

Recipe for Disaster

It starts with the idea that anyone with an internet connection can go and find instructions on how to make a bomb with a common kitchen appliance. Sadly, this idea isn't new. The information has existed for decades, but the technological age in which we live makes this information all too easy to obtain. You would be right to think that there must be violent motivations behind the desire to create such a device and put it to use, but that's not always the case. 

There's a company in the U.S. currently publishing blueprints that you can simply plug into a 3D printer and then print yourself restricted parts for firearms, like the lower receiver for an AR-15 assault rifle. When asked about what his thoughts were on the fact that this was one step closer to anyone being able to manufacture a gun that could pass freely thought a metal detector the co-owner of the company, Cody Wilson, replied:

"I think there’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing in a moral sense. We’re pursuing what we think is a step toward liberty..."

The first time I was exposed to the question of social responsibility when it came to published material was in high school. There was a rumour floating around that someone in the school had acquired a copy of The Anarchist Cookbook and people were freaking out! Well the adults were, but the students, they just wanted to see something blow up. Several years after publication the author of the book had a change of heart and wrote the publisher requesting it be taken out of print. Due to the manner in which the copyright was assigned (to the publisher, not the author) the author was told that that wasn't going to happen. William Powell, says of his infamous book:

"The central idea to the book was that violence is an acceptable means to bring about political change. I no longer agree with this."

While I applaud William Powell's change of heart, the content is still readily available and it continues to promote violence. You can't un-ring a bell. But this isn't a post about gun control or anti-terrorism (though I happen to feel that both of those things are generally a good idea). All of the above are examples of content that's driven by an agenda (terrorism, civil liberties, political protest). But what about when the agenda is simply to entertain? What happens when a work of fiction becomes the Anarchist Cookbook for the sociopath living next door? 

This is a question that recently popped into my head when I was driving to work and listening to Metallica's Nothing else Matters. For whatever reason, a spectacularly disturbing scene popped in my head as the song played. I imagined it as a soundtrack playing over the events as they unfolded, the main character singing along as he committed heinous acts of evil and atrocity. If I think about it, there's nothing unique about what I envisioned - I'm sure several movies, televisions shows, or books have captured the essence of this scene several hundred times over - but when the song ended I paused my music and drove the rest of the way in silence thinking to myself, What is this crazy serial killer's motivation? What would drive this individual to commit such unspeakable acts of violence?


Before long, I had established a back story for my antagonist, the motivations behind his actions, and a suitable ending that, depending on which way I want the story to go, could either please readers or make them scream in frustration (i.e. getting caught or getting away with it). Once I had these ideas in place, and after a day's worth of work of thinking about something else, I was left to ponder, What if any of this were to be used by someone in real life? 

Part of me thinks it's ridiculous to worry that a work of fiction would end up driving someone to act on it, but it happens all the time. It's not in the same as distributing bomb making instructions or blueprints for restricted gun parts but is the fact that the book is labelled as fiction enough? I would like to think so, but at the same time I still feel somewhat responsible of making sure that it's crystal clear I'm talking bullshit for your enjoyment and that it's not a how-to manual or some demented personal wish list. I suspect a lot of artists struggle with this, but I'm not really sure.

Anyway, at the end of the day I can always get Bono to step in and make things right.



~ Andrew

6 comments:

  1. I think writers are the prophets of our time. We imagine it for a story, but some freak is imagining it for real life.

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    1. Just for our time, DS, or since the dawn of time? Hmmm...

      Thanks for reading (and commenting)!

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  2. Good post! I've thought about this, especially for the Hit Man Series. I breathed a sigh of relief when President Obama made it through his second inauguration without incident because in Higher Than Jesus, an attack is planned. I step up to the line of being instructional about how to cry havoc and let slip he dogs of war. However, I think I stop just short of being instructional (though I keep the reality).

    I also think that, though I come up with some pretty clever shit about homicide, weapons and tactics, it reflects reality but it doesn't create reality. We can't run Art with the worry that someone will take it as inspiration. Art would be awfully dull if we did. It wouldn't even be Art. Besides, terrorists are evil, but they aren't so dumb they can't come up with nasty ideas without me. (And I can't imagine many terrorists are huge readers of my kind of work.) Jesus Diaz is an assassin with a very skewed moral compass. He's bad but he's not evil. My Jesus wouldn't hesitate to shoot terrorists in the nuts.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Chazz. I like the "it reflects reality but it doesn't create reality" point you made. I know in the case of my recent disturbing idea that's pretty much the case, but who knows what over crazy shit I'm bound to come up with. I wonder how The Beatles felt? :)

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  3. I think the central argument to any discussion on this topic has to do with personal responsibility and mental illness. It's easy to blame someone (or give them credit for your actions) to dodge your own responsiblity.

    - "Why did you slap your wife?"

    - "I was angry because my boss pissed me off and then I got home and she just started getting on my nerves. I needed her to shut up."

    People get mad all the time and some of them choose to be guided by their anger and others choose to count to ten or walk the other way. That's personal responsibility. We don't immediately cite 8000 different media or art forms as being the mitigating factor in the slap. We assume the dude has anger issues and needs counseling.

    Mental illness also plays a part. You mentioned Helter Skelter but if you've seen Charles Manson in any interviews, I doubt you could claim with a straight face that one song by The Beatles caused the slaughter of innocent people. Manson instigated it.

    People ARE more desensitized to certain things - blood and violence would be included amongst those things. Does that make you a deranged killer? No. Surgeons cut into people several times a day. They have the tools and the wherewithall...not all surgeons are sociopathic slaughtermerchants. So being desensitized isn't enough.

    Media coverage and a "glamorization" I think is primarily responsible for the uptick in more high profile killing sprees. It's the infamy that is more important to these killers. We give them too much coverage. We list them in Top Ten's of the most prolific murderers. That's dumb. Does that make a murderer though? No.

    Great artists can be inspiring but to censor yourself would be removing the point of creating art in the first place. Even bad art is still art and without it, I don't think we would appreciate our lives. Lions don't look at a sunset and see the beauty in it. Sharks can't contemplete the complexity of Da Vinci and monkeys would rather fling poop than wonder what motivated someone to build a pyramid.

    We would murder each other without art and I would argue that it is imperative that we continue to explore both the beauty and the darkness of humanity so that we better understand it.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by and responding with such a detailed and well thought out comment. I completely agree that censoring diminishes the point of creation in the first place. All I can do is continue on and hope that in the grand scheme of things I'm adding more than I'm taking away.

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