Saturday, August 28, 2010

Violence in Books...

The topic alone makes me feel violent. With the release of Mockingjay, a debate seems to be raging about whether there should be a line drawn about the level of violence in YA books. This is my opinion about it, but I would love to hear what you have to say...

To me, the line is drawn at gratuitous violence. I've lived in a area where gratuitous violence was rife for seventeen years. I can safely say that I've had enough of it.

The problem is that people seem to have this idea that their darling little angels should be shielded from violence at all costs...

No problem... Just don't buy their angel the damn book.  Actually I think that whether or not their kids read responsibly represented violence would make very little difference to whether or not the child is violent.

If the child is already torturing little animals, reading the violent book won't be what triggers him to do greater and more evil things.

Parents should take responsibility for their children's development. They should be there to guide them and to help them build a frame of reference about what is right or wrong. That way when children are exposed to things, they have a chance of coming to the right decision. Violence in books, if well used, can be such a tool. Read the book with the child. Put the tricky bits into context. Explain to them that although violence is OK in books, it's rarely the best option. If the main character is torn up about hurting or killing someone, even better to explain, no?

Yes, I know that parents these days are very busy providing for the young ones. I know that some parents think that teachers are responsible for raising and educating their children. Parents feel overwhelmed and that they absolutely cannot spend the amount of time I'm thinking of with their children. That's OK. I am not here to judge parenting skills. After all, I'm commenting from the view of a child that has been raised in the way I described above. If I say so myself, I turned out quite nicely, despite having read Kathy Reichs novels and Jeffrey Deaver and various violent children's stories since I was thirteen.

Point is... If children act out violently, for the love of all that is holy STOP BLAMING MEDIA VIOLENCE!

The problem as I see it lies in the fact that children and Young Adult readers don't have solid moral and ethical foundations. We as writers - although I doubt that most think of this - work under the assumption that the readers have a concept of what is or isn't acceptable in reality. Therefore, who is wrong here? The writer that assumed that children know the difference between right and wrong? Or the parents that didn't teach them the difference in the first place?

Shielding children from things don't work. How many children find ways to experience exactly what you are shielding them from?

The second general complaint is that the use of  violence is market driven. That violence sells...

I don't know about any other writers out there, but I include violence into my book because that's what moves my story along. But why does it have to be what moves the story along? Because I write about war. I write about repression and revolution. And... given the way my characters work, a revolt a la Gandhi isn't going to cut it. Excuse the pun. Market demand didn't come into my thoughts at any stage of the formation of my story. I think it is the same for most other writers. They write the story that takes over and rules their mind... If it sells in the market, great. If it doesn't? That I can't say, since I am yet to come to the selling stage.

But once again... that market is a free one. No one is forcing them to buy that book. But that also implies that people selling that book should be allowed to sell anything they want.

This brings me to my last point. Call me an idealist but writers function as chroniclers of our times. It's or job to call attention to the things that society would rather turn a blind eye to. Violence is one of those things. I believe that censorship is another. In South Africa, people are reacting in horror to what amounts to a governmental gag order on what journalists may or may not publish. Doesn't people insisting that writers only include certain things to their writing amount to the same thing? 

 Please comment, I really want to see whether I'm off base...


  1. The violence I've seen in YA is often part of a bigger lesson. And the description isn't often very gory. Compared with TV shows, movies, and video games, books are pretty tame. I think books are a great way for people to work out emotions and ideas.

  2. I totally agree with you there, Theresa. Books are where people can experience and ponder ideas that aren't really available to them in reality. For example, if I got thrown into a war, how would I go through it? Do I agree with what the characters do?

    I just think that kids find out about stuff no matter how much you shield them. Why try to hide violence from them if you can expose them to it in a safe, controlled environment and teach them about it?

    The idea is similar to my experience of alchohol. Due to the high levels of thirteen year old binge drinkers in my town, my parents allowed me to drink wine with my supper whenever I liked. I got so used to the idea that I have never felt the need to be drunk.

    Anyone think it's a safe comparison?


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