Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Both Joe and I love to read. We try to read a variety of books. Primarily we read historical fiction and of that sub-genre we typically choose mysteries. Even so we try to vary what we read - science fiction, contemporary, political thrillers and humour. We believe it's best to give the old neurons a shake every now and then. So both "Cloud Atlas" to "The Book Thief" are on our book shelf. This would explain why I picked up "Skippy Dies". I'd just finished a heavy book set in pre-war Germany and wanted a bit of comic relief.
The book involves the inner lives of the modern teen. I can't tell much more than that because I'm only 50 or so pages into a book that clocks in at nearly 700. Here's the thing, I should have expected that any honest depiction of teens would be flooded with slang and, therefore, the 'r word' would be used frequently. And, it's reared its ugly head early on in the book.
There's two things about this that make me wonder. First, is the fact that the word is only used (so far at least) by what would be considered kind of 'thugish' teens who use racist language, terrify people for fun and crush up prescription drugs to snort. It's like it's another way to indicate the poor character of these kids. Another way of telegraphing to the reader that these are kids that you'd have to be wary of, physically and emotionally if you knew them. I wonder if this is then a 'good' use of the word. To pair it with anti-social and racist behaviour. Is there a 'good way' for the word to be used in literature and art?
I hate to admit the second thing and therefore am going to preface this by saying that I'm not happy with myself here and I recognize that I need to do some deep self examination and some plain old pondering. OK, take a deep breath and keep writing ... I find the use of the 'r word' much more disturbing and upsetting than some of the other racist language in the book (they have not used the 'n word' which I know would equally appall me). I'm not sure why I am more sensitive to words that demean one group of people than another. I don't like this and don't understand it. But there it is. If I'm going to tell the truth then I have to tell the truth.
So I thought I'd ask two questions:
1) Can the 'r word' be used acceptably in art in order to define character and to make realistic some one's language and culture?
2) Do others find themselves reacting more strongly to some words than others? Why is that? Isn't all oppression wrong?
I'd like to know your thoughts on these two issues.