It seems that the big thing right now is pushing the edges as far as they can go.
You see it everywhere you look. Whether it’s in books or movies or TV shows. Not to mention routines by comedians. Wherever there’s a boundary, it needs to be pushed. Wherever there’s some kind of public or community standard, we need to throw it out the window.
I don’t feel like I need to list any specific examples. I feel like they’re all around for us to see. More sex. More drugs. More violence. More extreme behaviour of every kind. And this is always seen as some sort of step forward. Like there’s always some inherent value to being subversive. By breaking boundaries, we’re somehow moving the human race forwards.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against subversion, and I’m not against breaking barriers. Sometimes, there’s a very good reason for trying to push things along a little further than they’re usually pushed. Getting people to question their values and think about why things are the way they are is a worthwhile and necessary thing.
It’s just that, after a while, it gets a bit boring. Subversion for subversion’s sake barely seems to be subversive anymore. When everything you consume is designed to shock, after a while there becomes nothing left to shock. We just consume it mindlessly, in the same way we once consumed the old, non-shocking, non-subversive material, because that’s basically what it’s become. No more challenging of values. No more thinking about why things are the way they are. Because shock and subversion are the way things are now.
Which is why I’ve decided to come up with something different. I’m not trying to shock. I’m not trying to undermine social mores. I’m not trying to shift boundaries or smash through walls. Partly, because I’m not sure there are many left to smash through at this point. But mainly because I don’t see the value in it.
That doesn’t mean I want my stories to be consumed in a mindless way. It doesn’t mean I don’t want my stories to provoke thought in readers. Far from it. It’s just that, at this point, I reckon there are better ways to do it than shock value. I want to do it through engagement with ideas. Through characters that engage and delight. Through plots that surprise and enthral.
It might seem a little quaint. It might seem a little old fashioned. I don’t mind. Given how unsubversive most subversion has become, I actually see it as the opposite. In these times, I reckon a deliberate attempt at not being subversive as quite a subversive thing.
Who knows whether it will work. When everything in our public life, from weather to politicians to mass media entertainment, seems to be moving to extremes, it’s hard to know what approach will work best. I’m just wondering if chinking away at the edges may work better than trying to blow the whole thing up.
Posted by Jonathan Gould and tagged as