You didn't know this was Ethics Week here at Crimespace, did you?

Okay, so far we've examined the ethics of practices that might interfere with authors making money. (I admit to being utterly bemused by worrying about losing a sale instead of losing a culture of readers, but I digress.)

Let's turn our attention to something else: Is it ethical to make entertainment (and money) out of the suffering of others?

Let's propose a scenario: You're giggling with a friend at a cafe about ways to kill people and a woman at the next table leaves in furious tears because her sister had been murdered and she's upset and offended that you think it's so damn funny. How do you respond?

Or - you write a bestseller inspired by the headlines about the war on terror in which your intrepid hero battles the odds to thwart another attack on US soil and, the day after the movie based on your book is released you grab your newspaper from your porch, flip to the entertainment section, and are delighted to see it's number one at the box office. Yes! Then you glance at the front page and find an angry crowd set fire to a local mosque.

We often say crime fiction satisfies people's yearning for justice. It also apparently satisfies a yearning for vicarious and painless violence that has a happy ending. Is it ethical to make money by exploiting that fascination for violence and providing a false sense of resolution?

Please discuss these matters at your earliest convenience.

Yr. most humble servant,
Lucy Fer, J.D.
Devil's Advocate

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No, it's not a one-way street - but bear in mind we do but jest, poison in jest, no offense i' the world. (I'm on a Shakespeare kick.)

Thanks for the thoughts on poetry. It's the "saying something worth saying" that I'm trying to get at. Maybe I'll have my pomo credentials yanked for saying this, but that's where truth comes in - when you say something worth saying, you're trying to say something meaningful and true, no? The "ethical" issue for me is whether you're doing that or avoiding it. Not that a work of crime fiction should focus on ethics, but that it should try to be true - or at least, not lie.
I knew you'd report me to the pomo police! Damn you, Jon!

Seriously ... let me really contort myself into a pretzel and say that a really interesting lie is only interesting if it's telling me something worthwhile (though perhaps not technically true). If it makes me think and it's not jerking me around in such a way that I'm prevented from putting up a bit of a fight, then it's not a problem. That's what I mean by truth - it's not just jerking me around and is trying to do something that makes me figure out more about the world. And thus do we of wisdom and of reach by indirection find direction out.

(Who put that shit in my drink???)
I'm not sure Raymond Chandler felt the same way, Jon. He once said something I find very interesting: "My theory was that readers just thought that they cared about nothing but the action; that really although they didn't know it, they cared very little about the action. The thing they really cared about, and that I cared about, was the creation of emotion through dialogue and description." The action equals entertainment, no? The emotion equals something more than entertainment, no? You can't induce emotions in readers without getting into the important stuff in life.
Well said, by both you and Chandler!
What are the standards we can use to judge this? Do we set "contemporary community standards" by the guy who sees rape fantasies in "Pippi Longstocking"?
I consider poetry's job to be pretentious and boring, and 98 percent of it never lets me down.
That's a good question. I don't think I'd like to see "community standards" as such emerge - whether you feel a work is ethical or not is something the individual reader (and writer) has to decide. (Or not, if that's how you want it). I wouldn't want to impose my feelings about what's irritatingly inane, pointless and in bad taste on other people. But for me, it's not just entertainment. Or at any rate, it can't entertain me when it's aggravating me.
Depends on the poet.
Ogden Nash, Don Marquis, and Dorothy Parker haven't let me down yet.
Of course, they're all dead......
Let me see if I can clarify one thing. I'm not talking about writing with a message in mind or writing fiction that is about ethical dilemmas or writing for a cause. I'm talking about writing that doesn't mess with people unethically - inducing a false emotion through manipulation, lying deliberately about things that really exist in the world, exaggerating the fear du jour to exploit it. (I get enough of that from my government, thank you.)

And when I say "it's more than entertainment" I mean "entertaining, but also well written, engaging, and the sort of book that makes me think." That's just my personal preference.
You cannot separate the author from his book (though we may try to hide behind it and claim that you must not confuse the "voice" with the author). We construct a tale out of billions of possible scenarios, choose characters from an amalgam of billions of people we have known personally or from our reading, and we make these choices convey -- what? The message depends on the author -- the author's character and background, his or her priorities, his or her world view, his or her purpose in writing the book. How "ethical" or "literary" or "entertaining" or purely commercially viable a mystery is has a lot to do with the choices its author makes.
Is it ethical to write/publish mysteries? Of course it's ethical. Since people have been telling stories of crime as long as we've been putting pen to paper, it's not even a question.

Ethical!

Will some people be offended by what we write? Of course they will. I know some writers who feel they’re always skating a fine line, trying to make sure they don’t offend anyone. Personally I tend to not pull back from plotlines or fictional situations that some readers might find offensive. You just can't go there. It's like trying to please everyone and ending up pleasing no one. But if you please yourself and stay true to your heart, there are others who will share you passion and enthusiasm. And others who will not. That’s just how it goes.

But ethics? Geez: that's a dangerous road to go down, dontcha think? Every age has their idea of what is and is not ethical. To a certain degree, these ideas follow a trend; form a fashion. If we begin to question their right and wrongness the result will manifest itself on our art.
It just seemed a logical follow-up to whether it's ethical to loan books to other people. Personally, I do try to consider applied ethics in a lot of ways. I'm not going to tell others what they can and cannot eat, but I care about the ethics of food production when I buy groceries (or, more accurately, I try to). Doesn't mean I won't eat!!

I'll sound like a tendentious prat for saying this, but I find not considering ethics dangerous. That's not saying I think books should be banned (good Lord, I'm a card-carrying member of the radical militant librarians union), but I do feel it's a question worth considering. In all kinds of situations, including one that matters a lot to me - reading and writing.
It was an excellent question to ask, IMO.

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