The Problem With Broad Brushes


A tempest broke out in the kidlitosphere this week because a writer at the Wall Street Journal took a number of authors to task for their “depraved” works. The response was instantaneous and loud, centering most on the horror of “censorship.”

I find that interesting because there are similarities to the waves stirred by author and friend Mike Duran in his recent post about Christian fiction and his idea of two camps of Christians.

In both discussions, I see a liberal application of a broad brush, from all quarters, and it is against the broad brush I stand.

Broad brushes handle a big job in the shortest amount of time (apart from rollers or spray guns 😉 ), but they have an accompanying drawback — they can easily spread paint where it does not belong.

From my point of view, this was the case in Mike’s article. In holding to his “two camp view,” he made this comment about those he characterizes as in the camp where “law is the driving principle” — those writing Christian fiction:

As long as we Christians define our witness primarily in terms of Law — no cussing, smoking, drinking, dancing, or sex — and see our fiction as a tool to perpetuate those values, we are destined for tension.

Of course the problem is that a good many novels coming out of Christian publishing houses have no such agenda. They actually have higher goals, aim for and accomplish something greater than propping up incidental cultural mores.

The furor about the WSJ article was similar. The author, Meghan Cox Gurdon, made some broad brush claims. Here’s one:

Grim though these novels are, they seem positively tame in comparison with what’s on shelves now.

The implication, of course, is that there are no books that are less grim than the ones she named that came out in the ’70s. That statement splatters paint on a good number of novels that are not grim and do not deal with “damage, brutality and losses.”

Those issuing a rebuttal take up the same broad brush. From one comment:

I find it ridiculous that anyone might think it a good idea to censor literature

Or how about this one:

You are supposed to be telling those gatekeepers to DROP DEAD. Because they ARE censoring things and that’s SICK. A journalist who thinks that censoring is OK should NOT be a journalist. [So apparently, the commenter has a right to censor journalists, but journalists haven’t the right to censor anyone else. 😉 ]

Broad brushes. They hurt individuals. Christian novelists who are not driven by law, who are not remotely interested in promoting a set of superficial values are lumped in with those who may believe Christianity is primarily about meeting a prescribed list of do‘s and don’t‘s. In the end, readers will steer clear of Christian bookstores and the aisles where Christian books are shelved because they expect all those books to be the same.

In the same way, YA writers who are not dabbling in depravity (not used here as a theological term) may come away stigmatized and vilified by some, while parents and librarians and teachers who wish to steer children away from morally questionable books end up wearing the censorship tag.

So what does the broad brush earn us? Does the conversation become less entrenched? Are people on different sides of the issues more inclined to listen to one another?

As I see it, publishers will continue to produce books that sell. The writer who is making an effort to buck the trend is the one who gets hurt. All YA books are trash or all Christian fiction is law driven splatters paint on the worthwhile YA books and the Christian fiction that is not law driven. Those books do exist and they should be celebrated, not buried under someone else’s layer of paint.

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