Wednesday, July 5, 2017


Writers are liars.

I'm not talking about those who write for newspapers and news sites; we know they are liars, with their slanted news and fake news and all. For the most part they've marinated in their own biases so long that they can't even understand an argument being made against them, can't even see how they treat identical subjects differently depending on what it says about their "side." American news is not only disgraceful, it's boring, which is unbelievable. If you're going to lie, shouldn't you at least give us entertaining whoppers?

But today I'm actually talking about writers of fiction, who like to think of themselves as Shelley's "unacknowledged legislators of the world," rather than the untruthful jerks that they are.

"But," you say (putting words in others' mouths being a favorite pastime of writers), "isn't that part of the job description? Fiction means untruth, and they're writers of fiction."

"Ha!" I reply, putting a word in my own mouth for a change. I go on to explain that this is the cute, furry gremlin that they disguise themselves as when you show them for the liars they are. "Oh, we're just harmless entertainers!" Then when you accept that they are just tellers of tales and spinners of stories, they knife you and the rest of society in the back.

How do they do it? Mainly by presenting the world as they want it to look rather than what objective truth tells them it is. Suppose you're a dyspeptic misogynist who blames all his problems on women. You write a novel in which all the female characters are cunning, vicious, or stupid, and present that as the realistic basis against which your made-up story is presented. Nowadays a Kingsley Amis or Norman Mailer would probably get a tersely worded e-mail from an editor based on his treatment of female characters, at least, and might get his contract voided.

But man-hating women, white-hating minorities, and Christian-hating atheists are thoroughly encouraged to lie in this fashion. Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is being celebrated as never before, and it seems clear to me that all the information she ever got about Christian living comes from her fevered imagination and the New York Times. And the editorial page, at that. But it is presented as a portrait of American Christianity run free, intended to make the reader hate and revile a segment of the population and culture. Of course it won every award her fellow writers could throw at it.

Sometimes lies told to present a false view of the world are fairly toothless. The middle-aged writer who has his lead character (often a middle-aged writer) get involved in an exciting story with amazing sex in it (looking at you, Peter Benchley) is just having fun. A writer who is an alcoholic usually comes up with characters along the way who drink alcoholically and yet remain functional and popular, unlike actual alcoholics. Wishful thinking isn't too dangerous. Crusades meant to hector your fellow man are.

Here's a small sample of famous writers who just made crap up to fit their agenda and presented it as storytelling in service of truth:

Parson Weems -- It's not so much that he made up a hagiography about Washington that irritates me, it's that he lied about it to teach children not to lie. "Here's a lie to teach you to tell the truth, like George Washington never said he had to do!" Maybe that explains some subsequent presidents' behavior.

Upton Sinclair -- Never mind his fiction writing; he was prepared to whitewash Sacco and Vanzetti even though he believed they were killers, just because he and his readers supported the killers' politics. He turned his lies into a novel called Boston

John Steinbeck -- Travels with Charley was supposed to be a nonfictional break for the fiction writer, but he probably made most of it up. More important, his famous Grapes of Wrath is largely a load of crap presented as a fictionalized version of the gritty truth.

A fiction writer who feels he has a mission tells his readers "Here is the world as it is" (he may say "as I see it" instead, but that's just for cover) and if he willfully distorts the facts, he is a liar. Writers as diverse as Wodehouse or Asimov or Christie invariably say something about the human condition, being humans (albeit ones with superhuman prolificacy), but they weren't selling their books as mirrors of the real world, so they are not liars. It's a fine line but easy to see when you know where to look.

How do lying writers get away with it? Mainly by feeding falsehoods to a ready audience. Upton Sinclair actually claimed to be afraid of what would happen to him if he told the truth about the Sacco and Vanzetti case, that his fans who supported the killers would take it out on him. As it was, his book did not claim the killers were definitely innocent, and he caught grief for it. I'm sure he trembled all the way to the bank.

I'm through with writers who willfully mislead the public. You may call it literature; I call it bunk.

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