I got into one of those “what would you do if…” conversations today, mostly because people know I’m writing some nasty crime stuff and because of this. The question was simple – what would I do if someone committed a murder after reading one of my stories. I didn’t have to think about the question for long, because the answer seems entirely simple… I would do nothing. That may come across as rather more blunt than it should, but the process I went through to come to that answer follows entirely logical paths, disregarding emotional blackmail and (wrongly) presumed moral obligation. I would do diddly-squat because there is no way that a novel – or a video game, television show or film, for that matter – can have any possible input into a criminal act. It’s not possible. I’ll go one further than that, and claim that there are only a handful of books which have the ability to drive people to violence.
Before you bring up some infamous cases, you really ought to think carefully. Has a novel, or a game, or a crappy horror film, ever managed to bring someone to the point where they are so deluded that they are able to put aside morality and take the life of another? No. Everything you have read in newspapers, seen on television and heard on the radio about “evil” media is wrong. All of it. Even when someone famous has made the assertion. It’s all crap.
Lets go back to the early days of the comic-book industry for a historical perspective on this. Remember the story about the little boy who tied a red dish-towel around his neck, clambered on to the roof of his house and jumped, all because he read an issue of Superman? It’s a famous tale. Now, can you answer me this… What was the boy’s name. I’ll let you take your time; don’t rush to a conclusion. Think about it carefully. Stumped? Want the answer? That little boy never existed. One of the major incidents which brought into existence the Comics Code Authority is an apocryphal tale, no doubt woven by a bored journo who needed to fill a space between adverts for Red Ryder BB guns and Kooba Cola. The story has been successfully disseminated through hand-me-down accounts, embellished where needed (his shin bone popped straight out through his skin, blood spurting all over the back yard) and remains unquestioned in some circles to this day.
There was a shameful time in British newspapers after the James Bulger case when national newspapers lied their assess off to implicate the motion picture Child’s Play 3, a fairly unexceptional film, in the murder of the child. Their loose acquaintance with the truth didn’t merely stop at insinuation, but drew on artistic license rarely seen in ‘news’ to fabricate an elaborate web of “coincidences” to back up their lies. It was a mightily impressive distortion of the case, leading video rental outlets to pull the title from their shelves – presumably to stop any members of the public watching it and calling the tabloid editors out on their bullshit. I kinda admire the way that certain people in the public eye managed to keep a straight face while spouting some of the most blatant untruths heard during the nineties. Astonishingly, the owners of the franchise never stepped up to tell the gutter press that their observations and conclusions were cut from whole cloth.
The most audacious ‘spin’ in recent memory was reserved for Grand Theft Auto, a game which deserves massive praise for elevating RPG games from the creatively bankrupt swords and sorcery sub-genre it languished in for so long. The most vocal opponent of the game was (and presumably is) the rather disturbed former American solicitor Jack Thompson – a man who is obviously ignorant of the First Amendment. Hell, he even had the balls to compare the game to Imperial Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II, losing any respect he may have had before that incredulous statement. As of this date, there hasn’t been a single car theft, murder or misdemeanor committed which has, in any real way, been associated with a person playing the game. That salient point is, however, disregarded by the salivating, ratings-obsessed vultures on television channels such as CNN.
It seems that the only books which really have the ability to twist souls and drive people to kill are the ones which are off-limits to any eager ban-happy librarians. The Bible and the Koran, together, have caused more deaths than every other book combined… And then some. Those two books are responsible for more atrocities than any political or social movement in the history of the human race, driving their most ardent followers into frothing blood-lust at the prospect of spreading their delusions across the face of the planet. I did point out that no novel had the power to drive people to kill, and my point stands. Those books have but the hint of structure, jumping all over the place. If I didn’t know better I would suggest that D*n Br*wn had a hand in their scratched together, half-lucid witterings.
But back to my original statement… I would say nothing, in addition to the reasons I have already given, because the families of murdered individuals really don’t need another voice spouting armchair psychology and platitudes. As you should be aware, we’re living in highly litigious times, and the prospect (even the slightest glimmer) that a novelist accepts some portion of guilt or remorse for their writing, can lead those left behind to consider the payday waiting if they decide to chance their luck in a civil court. It isn’t worth the hassle, so my take on the problem is simple. SAY NOTHING. If you remain silent, your words can’t be used against you.
I’m off to play GTA4. Screenshots of me popping a cap in a cop’s ass are forthcoming. 😉