Like many of you, I’ve been struggling to process the results of the recent election. The nation is divided, the political opinions polarized, and there is a contentious tone coming from all sides. Throughout what seemed like an endless 2016 campaign, I took note of several high-profile writers and musicians who boldly conveyed their political views. I say boldly simply because an author, artist, or musician risks alienating a portion of his or her fan base (and future fans) by opining on political matters. This risk is tenfold for those of us who are significantly less popular than Stephen King or Beyoncé. It has been my observation that this risk deterred many creative types from speaking out politically, and I think that is a shame.
I remember going to rock concerts in the late 80s and early 90s and hearing bands rail against various political happenings. It was done without thought to alienating any fans, but rather to express whatever message the performers thought to be important. Similarly, it seems writers were more willing to be political and less concerned with the possible blowback from the opinions expressed. I went to several concerts this year and, for the most part, the bands were silent regarding politics. As part of the writing community, there were certainly many who were vocal, but I got the sense that many authors were hesitant to discuss political views. So, what changed?
Social media has changed everything. Whereas a musician or writer in the 80s or 90s might express a strong political opinion, the reach of that individual’s opinion might be limited to the audience on hand and the viewpoint would have a somewhat limited echo. Today, if a small press author tells a tiny book club that they believe Candidate X is a bigot, then word of this believe may spread to the Internet and even find its way into online book reviews.
For example, a book called Unloaded was published this year. The anthology consists of a collection of stories that support gun control and the proceeds of the sales go towards a nonprofit that combats gun violence. When first released, the book was immediately met with several one star reviews on Amazon although it was clear the reviewers had not read the book. Rather, the negative responses were simply due to the anti-gun viewpoints in the stories and to the association with the nonprofit. Occurrences like these can persuade those whose works are in the public eye to hold back politically and remain silent on social issues. Are those who remain silent correct? Do writers, artists, and musicians have a responsibility to speak up?
I don’ t know.
But, I do know this. This country has just entered into uncharted territory. For the first time, the U.S. political and social landscape has been completely reshaped by social media, fake news stories, and policy proposals that defy simple tests of logic – yet have gained traction. While I certainly understand the discontent that has led us to this point, I do not – and will not – accept racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If that refusal costs me a few readers, then so be it. History has provided us with a blueprint for times like these.
If those of us with a voice do not speak out now, we may not be able to do so later.
Note: The next election is not in 2020. It’s in 2018. Vote!
Feel free to comment below!
J.J. Hensley is the author of RESOLVE, a Thriller Award finalist which is set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, Measure Twice, Chalk’s Outline, and other works. Hensley is a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service.
Watch for my new book, BOLT ACTION REMEDY, in 2017!
An addict is killing Pittsburgh city officials, but Homicide Detective Jackson Channing has his own addiction.
In the Pittsburgh Marathon, more than 18,000 people will participate. 4,500 people will attempt to cover the full 26.2 miles. Over 200 of the participants will quit, realizing it just wasn’t their day. More than 100 will get injured and require medical treatment. One man is going to be murdered. When Dr. Cyprus Keller lines up to start the race, he knows a man is going to die for one simple reason. He’s going to kill him.
And look for my short story FOUR DAYS FOREVER in the LEGACY anthology